The Elder Scrolls VI Should Focus on AI Interactivity Over Visuals
With more and more rumours, suggestions and speculations making the rounds related to the upcoming The Elder Scrolls VI, it is a good time to speculate on what the game will bring longtime fans and newcomers to the genre. Will it be more of the same in terms of offering massive open world RPG with many things to do within a sandbox game world? Or will the game be a giant step forward and offer an advanced engine like we have never seen before revolutionizing a genre? Time will tell, but some things are already coming to light.
On Dec. 31, a tweet was sent out by the official Elder Scrolls Twitter account, which is run by Bethesda itself, celebrating the New Year. However, it also left fans a possible suggestion or a hint on the upcoming Elder Scrolls 6. Here is what was the tweet looked like:
PC Gamer reported that fans have been speculating on the tweet’s meaning and came to the conclusion that the game will take place in Hammerfell, home of the series’ middle-eastern-like race called Redguards.
However, like many other rumours going around, this is still far from confirmed. What is known is that the game has been in development for years now and may take quite a while longer to see the light of day as it is slated to come out after another Bethesda project that is still just in its production called Starfield.
Here is a recent video I found detailing the wait for The Elder Scrolls VI, the rumours and speculation we have had until now as well as official feedback by the man in charge of the series, Todd Howard:
It is going on near 10 years since Elder Scrolls V Skyrim was released and fans are clearly eager in anticipation. The technological gap should be quit large going from a game released two generation of consoles ago to a game still in early phases of pre-production (still not confirmed, but it is suggested it went into this phase recently as the video above mentions).
Apparently, only recently had Todd Howard said that the technology for what he and Bethesda had planned for TES VI has finally caught up to the vision. This as said to be the reason the team has been sitting on Elder Scrolls and focusing on other games. It is interesting to speculate just what this vision entailed.
If Howard is not just trying to hype the game up with fancy PR talk, then the jump from Elder Scrolls V to VI could be even bigger than what it was the last time around. Keep in mind that both of the previous games came out during the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 generation of consoles alongside the PC, although an enhanced version with mod support came out on the newer consoles, which are now last gen.
I am right now playing both Oblivion and Skyrim on my (can almost be now considered retro) Playstation 3 console and to tell the truth I did not notice much of a jump between the two games and either visuals or artificial intelligence (AI) of NPCs and enemies of the game world. Skyrim has more immersion in terms of movements and how NPCs react to the game world as well as visual effects such as waterfalls and droplets of water or mist coming at you as the player from the environment.
For a game to truly take advantage of the latest features modern PC graphic cards can produce alongside the latest consoles, it should be developed with the hardware in mind. Thus, the enhanced versions of Skyrim on the last gen of consoles and PCs cannot really measure up to what the upcoming leap Elder Scrolls VI could offer.
In fact, I do see a big difference in both loading times and game hangups on the newer of the two titles. Yes, Skyrim does have enhanced visual fidelity such as the way you see your character use an armoury to fix armour and how you as the player can see your character make potions when using an alchemy table in-game. It also seems to offer more options in terms of having NPCs follow you in the game world.
However in terms of the AI interactivity, I have not noticed much of a difference. In both games, unlike the predecessor Morrowind, which I also have on PC, you can run into conversations between the NPCs and ask them questions later. Skyrim does seem to have slightly more interactivity with sometimes NPCs fighting inside a bar or inn or even challenging you as the player to a fist fight.
However, do not take my word entirely face value with these slight observations as I am mostly in the beginning of my Oblivion playthrough and have not played the game for years although at one point I was close to completing it. Currently, I am still playing and concentrating on completing the main quest of Skyrim and it is a more recent game I have put some efforts into.
My idea and suggestion for Bethesda is to focus much more on AI and interactivity within the game world and creatures as well as NPCs within it rather than graphics or flair. This is a suggestion I think is plausible as waiting so many years just for visuals to improve does not seem to make as much sense to me as waiting for other game world options to improve such as AI algorithms.
However, I also do understand Howard could simply be attributing what he said about waiting for tech to catch up to the vision with visual resolutions we have seen recently such raytracing being widely available across consoles and PC video cards.
What I would suggest and like to see in the upcoming Elder Scrolls is AI to improvements to the point where NPCs react differently depending on if they see different NPCs walk by or even be in the same area. For instance, in Skyrim I have recently had a situation where an NPC told me to deliver a letter to a woman and warn her of his rival’s intuitions toward her and he said it right as this rival of his walked by in the game world.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to see these NPCs react different or change their tune in such situations? This would offer much greater immersion and take the player out of the fourth wall so to speak where he or she realizes they are playing a game and not interacting with a virtual world existing inside their screens.
I am the type of gamer that would much rather give Bethesda money on day one for such a game, even if it had the same graphics as Oblivion, then a game with much improved graphics, but interactive AI that remained the same as it has been the last couple of Elder Scrolls.
I would also like the NPCs in TES VI to have fights or quarrels that happen live or at random moments such as you can see with the fire fights or squirmishes within the Stalker series of games. Of course this would not include shop keepers or the main ones needed for the game’s various quests. Although an option could have other NPCs step up to fill those roles.
I recently have started watching a playthrough of The Elder Scrolls II Daggerfall with the latest mods, enhancements and additions to the engine, and that game had creatures fight one another independently of the player. It seems older games had more immersion in this respect, but there are some slight NPCs that do fight within Skyrim as I previously mentioned inside inns or taverns. However, it is nowhere to the same feeling as seeing creatures within dungeons or in the wilderness duke it out or interact more fully with the surroundings.
I would also like to see more variations in schedules of NPCs sleeping in certain times of the night and doing different things in the day. What truly immersed me within Skyrim’s game world would be when I saw a character fighting with another in an inn or another sleeping with next to his wife while during the day they were in separate parts of the city. More variation of scheduling and changes to behavior would be welcomed in my book.
Skyrim’s world is the most lively the series has been so far as you can hire or call NPCs to join you on a journey and see them sometimes react to their surroundings or other characters saying things like, „wow what a sight” to a nice cavern backdrop. You also see them react to one another sometimes. For instance, when you have a bounty on your head or are an unfavored race, you nay hear NPCs kick you out of a dwelling and if you have another NPCs ally alongside on your journey, he or she may say “lets go,” when clicking on their avatar, thus giving the situational immersion.
However, the world still often feels like it is not alive and instead it often feels like it is filled with props. For instance, south of Solitude, off the doxks below the main town, you can see ships in the middle of the river and they never move or reach to the environment.
I also really love Skyrim’s slow motion kills animations. In the game sometimes your character will go into slow motion as he kills an enemy and it zooms in as well showing the weapon penetrate the enemy. It really is a satisfying experience when these slow kills occur and I hope to see them in future entries of the series as well.
Maybe during battles we can see enemies not just run away when on low health, but be able to call or yell for backup or change tactics like switching between weapons more often and magic use or from missle weapons to meelee while using hide-and-seek tactics. I have also noticed in the last games when one enemy is hit sometimes his allies newrby do not react even if he gives chase. This is another thing I would like to see addressed.
I would also like to see more inter-guild or inter-house (if we are talking about Morrowind) feuding and changes to different clan leaders stepping up and characters having more interaction with one another. This would also include guilds having meetings or even battles with one another you as the player could observe. Again, the Stalker series sort of had things of this nature take place.
If we want to draw a comparison to Morrowind and take all of its strengths into the upcoming game, I would also suggest a return to its magical mechanics. Spells like levitation should make a comeback and allow the player the option to finish quests any way they like or even go further into the game world than their level allows for (Skyrim seems to have prevented too much explorarion through the use of overpowered dragons appearing on certain segments of the map).
Morrowind also allows just for many options in terms of spells like causing enemies blindness or frenzy and even combining various effects. Imagine if the upcoming TES VI had other nearby enemies or characters react differently to a frazed or blind an ally NPC during a battle or inside a dungeon.
It would simply be awesome if the core of the next game went back to Morrowind’s exploration and open ended options of discovery rather than focusing on scripted events and a main storyline to go through. Morrowind’s main quest actually felt like another quest of many in the game, rather than the main focus. The game was actually as much of an exploration and adventure than an RPG in the traditional definition, which I would love to see the upcoming title go back to.
The last game within Stalker series, Call of Pripyat, has great immersion that the Elder Scrolls games could implement in future outings as well when it comes to dead enemies. That game has other NPCs loot a corpse for instance after the player takes an enemy out or even as they right amongst each other in faction wars. I would like TES VI to even take it a step further and instead of dead bodies just being left in the streets after say a dragon raid, to have other NPCs gather around or react more strongly to such situations and even have guards take the dead NPCs away.
(Note, I have seen a kid in a town grab a dragon bone I threw to the ground in Skyrim and return it to me saying I dropped something, so Skyrim does have this sort of immersion from time to time.)
There is also the issue of immersion consisting of the game having more AI present in the game world in terms of the way domesticated animals and wildlife act in the game world. Skyrim had some dogs, for instance, or domesticated animals in villages running around, but none of the games seemed to have much of a presence of cats or dogs within city walls. This could open the game up to other NPCs reacting to these animals in different ways and them having their own schedules or interactivity within the game world.
I also recall some Morrowind mods, including a greater bird variety mod, showing the need for a greater diversity in birds or creatures. I would like to see more diverse behavior from birds or critters such as different flight patterns and them reacting to enemies or other creatures within the game world. For instance, even flying out of the way of a carriage or you as the player. Skyrim’s wild life ran somewhat but then would pause and just sit there waiting for the player to approach.
Finally, hit detection as well as a more realistic and balanced damage system should be implemented in the upcoming gam. Although hit detection seems much improved in Skyrim than what it was Oblivion and Morrowind. In Oblivion you can see two characters fighting or sparring with one another, for instance, within the imperial city and they are not even connecting their strikes, although a sound effect suggests a hit took place. I think even Skyrim’s system had issues with this occasionally and I would like to see it improved in TES 6 with also a wider variance of strikes.
Although Morrowind is still my favorite in the series I have to acknowledge the jump from Oblivion to Skyrim was not as large as from Morrowind to Oblivion in terms of AI interactivity. In Morrowind there were text boxes and multiple selections you had to go through to get information out of NPCs, meanwhile in the latter two games everything was voiced and you got to pick from an easy to follow list of questions to ask NPCs rather than have the same standard options to weed through for all NPCs.
The latter two games were also toned down for console gamers or made more accessible as quest markers appeared and there was a directional arrow to guide the player to current goals. In Morrowind you had to know where each town was and either remember or constwntly check in your journal for information. I remember this being a slight drag when I would take breaks from the game and come back to my save without remembering exactly what I was supposed to do or where to go in the game.
This is obviously a balancing issues where some players prefer accessibility and ease of play over fidelity and not being taken out of the game’s immersion or reminded it is just a game. After all, in reality there are no virtual arrows guiding us to our daily tasks or objectives are there? Well, there are none yet as with constant advances in augmented reality and mobile apps, who knows if this is entirely not true, but that is another discussion.
There are actually some things about Oblivion I prefer overall such as how the game zooms in on characters faces that you interact with. This is particularly nice and immersive when you wake an NPC up and they walk around the bed to talk to you vs how generic it seems to be in Skyrim. Both games however have characters repeating dialog even amongst different NPCs to exact point, which should be fixed for the next title.
I remember talks about a super advanced AI engine called Radiant A.I. being developed for TES IV Oblivion as it was being hyped before release. However, let us hope or just imagine this engine now being a reality or the technology being caught up with the visinon and hope this is what Howard was alluding to.
Make no mistake about it, TES 6 will be huge and should offer a wide range of changes including both graphics and interactivity. However, the question will be what the main focus on will be. Will it be the former or the latter? We still have quite a ways to see.
One thing that I hope will not be altered too much or revised is the staple music and soothing sound effects the last three games of the series have been known for. I actually hope for a return to a main tune closer to that of Morrowind (think main score of the game playing at intro screen), but all of them have great music and we can only hope this will remain the case in the upcoming title.
If Radiant A.I was a serious thing that Todd Howard was truly working on alongside his team at Bethesda, I can only hope they will make it a reality with TES VI. I would much rather have an Elder Scrolls game with half as much landmass space and things to do as Skyrim allows for (which is still massive for most games up to this day open world or not) with an amazing AI capable of interaction and reaction to events around the player automatically, than one focused on length or space.
Sometimes in gaming the best stories are told in small doses or andedotes within games are what will stick with you after you are done with the game. I just played Skyrim and run into a funny situation that really put me into the game and brought me out of the fourth wall.
I was at Dawnstar, a town I fast traveled to in order to return an amulet to a Khajiit on the outskirts of the town who gave me a quest to do so. After I completed the quest or returned the amulet I went to the main part of the town a dragon attacked.
The scene escalated to the outskirts where the Khajiit camp is located thus bringing my former ally into the battle. After the dragon was slain I saw him running at me and had to kill him in order to save my game progress after the dragon battle and progress in my save file.
However, the crazy thing was that he basically treated me like a brother and offered to join me on my quest as a companion, but I already had someone along with me. To see him just attack me like that due to a dragon was a but offputting but at the same time made sense. He was a thief or criminal after all and me brining the dragon to his camp disrespected him or brought attention to his trade.
The game has many nuances or anecdotes like this and this is what makes it special. Let us hope the next Elder Scrolls takes this to the next level and focuses on this or AI interactions and anecdotes over bread-and-butter storyline gameplay.
I took a screenshot of the scene following the fight with the dragon and Khajiit and added some of my own flair of design to it and got some interesting results you can see below just for fun. It came out like an of old-school pixel art scene out of Elder Scrolls in a way. Can you tell where the slain dragon is laying?