A number of GamesRadar staff members admit to playing unhealthy amounts of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, with at least one editor clocking in 150 hours and completing every quest in the game. So it could be said we enjoyed it. That doesn’t mean the game is perfect, and after considering the potential release of The Elder Scrolls V (there is no impending release - that was a mistake), we sat down and thought of some ways to improve on the incredible foundation of Oblivion. This isn’t a list of random ideas like “Add golden dragons that breathe nuclear explosions!” (Although that does sound stupendous). We’re going to pick at the flaws of Oblivion in order to point out how the next installment can trim the fat where it’s flabby and flesh it out where it’s bony. Things like…
An intuitive skill system
Initially, Oblivion’s skill system seems like a great way to customize your character from the start and have a “class” exactly how you want it. It lets you choose your major and minor skills. However, the actual way to be powerful in the game is to do the opposite of what’s intuitive. If you assign yourself major skills that you’ll use often, this will cause you to level up quicker. However, you won’t have as many points to assign when you do level up. This actually means that if you want to have particular powerful skills, you’ll want to assign them as minor skills so that when you level up, you’ll have more points to assign because it took you longer to level.
Above: We selected Topless Dancing as a major skill, and it left us severely underpowered
It’s complicated to explain, but the main point is that Oblivion makes it so when you build your character how you think you should, you’ll actually be weaker per-level than if you did the unintuitive, opposite build. So with Elder Scrolls V, we want a system that works how it makes sense to the player: if we choose certain skills, our character should be strong in those skills, not simply level faster if we use them. Leveling too quickly can be a problem because we need…
Monsters that either scale properly, or don’t scale at all
In Oblivion, all of the monsters level up as you do. It’s annoying for two reasons. One, what’s the point of leveling up if the monsters just get powerful along with you? It’s like not really leveling up at all. Two, the monsters don't level up evenly. What this means is, let’s say you gain level 5. Now, all the monsters have leveled up to “5.” While they'll level up as you approach level 10, they won't necessarily get the equivalent equipment. So for levels 5-9, you’ll actually get more powerful compared to the monsters. If you reach a tricky quest that’s killing you a lot, you can (naturally) grind up some levels and come back to win. However, if you level up too much, and say reach level 10, then all the monsters might get some higher tier armor and weapons, and you’re back at square one with that difficult quest. Except, of course, the game doesn’t tell you when these tiers happen.
Above: Ooh, such a scary looking monster. Except he could be a pushover
So, for Elder Scrolls V, we’d prefer if monsters didn’t scale at all. We understand why they scale in Oblivion – in an open world, you’ll travel across the same places many times when you’re higher level, so the monsters in the beginning areas will eventually be too easy to kill. Fine. Yet instead of making those weak monsters stronger, how about introducing rare but powerful random spawns, so we have something new to fight? And we don’t mean adding an extra bear or troll, but something really intimidating. Or, if the monsters really must scale, tweak the system to be more forgiving and more transparent. Follow the MMO template and just let the player know “Hey, this monster with a RED name is too powerful for you, come back when you’re level 13.” It doesn’t have to be super dumbed-down, but it should feel fair and not deceptive.
Balanced player tools
When we say tools, we mean things the player has at his disposal, like spells and weapons. Now, we understand it isn’t easy to balance every weapon and ability when there are so many, but at least take the time to eliminate the tempting super powers. Like invisibility. It’s so overpowered in Oblivion it completely breaks the game. You can walk up to guys and hit them, then turn invisible again and be impervious to harm. Another example is the life-stealing weapons. These things grant you healing every time you land a hit, and make it so you can plow through most enemies without having to use any tactics whatsoever.
Above: You sure look badass with that bow. Too bad it shoots toothpicks
Yes, crazy powerful toys to play with can be fun in games, but if you’re going to introduce them in Elder Scrolls V, perhaps let the player feel invincible for a while, and then introduce enemies that can thwart those super powers. That, or build better AI to deal with disappearing, life-sucking heroes. Also, if you’re going to let us use a bow and arrow, don’t make it an awesome weapon for the first few hours and then useless for the rest of the game by introducing enemies so fast that the player’s range advantage is nullified.
More than 5 NPCs
The one thing that shattered Oblivion’s attempt to immerse the player in a huge, living world was its population of laboratory clones. Not only were nearly everyone’s voices pooled from the same handful of actors, but even the characters' faces were almost all the same. It really took away from the sense of interacting with a thriving, diverse fantasy community.
Above: Why do you look familiar? Is it the helmet?
If it’s too much work to have a bunch of artists make tons of character models, just use the random face generator. Sure, we’ll get some freakish looking peasants, but at least they’ll be different freakish-looking peasants. However, on that note…
Yeegads. Have you really looked at the women in Oblivion? We’re not saying we want some adolescent male fantasy where every woman we see is a super model, but goddamn. In the real world, not every woman looks like someone carefully heat-softened the face of a mannequin, peeled it off with a razor, and then Elmer’s Glued it over a horse carcass’s shnozz.
Above: She may not look so bad, but that’s due to clever use of soft lighting
Heck, there’s already a mod for the PC version of Oblivion that makes the women (and men) into lovely creatures. If some lone modder can do it, surely Bethesda can with its army of artists.