What can Skyrim teach Bethesda moving forward?
The company constantly iterates and learns from the mistakes of previous games, coming out stronger with each new effort. After all, while Fallout 3 is one of the great games of this generation, Skyrim looks, feels and runs a whole lot better. Progress is written into Bethesda’s DNA.
With Bethesda undoubtedly preparing to look ahead towards its next project, what lessons can the studio take directly from Skyrim? Here are five things Skyrim did well, lessons that Bethesda should consider as it crafts Fallout 4.
Alter the Morality System
Fallout 3 is one of those games that keeps you firmly tethered to the choices you’ve made. And there’s certainly a place for that, especially in those titles that place a distinct emphasis on exploration and non-linearity. The thing is, when you compare Fallout 3 to Skyrim, you realize that Skyrim’s lack of a cohesive morality system gives you more options while removing the need to play a certain way just to keep up the guise of consistency.
Fallout 4 shouldn’t be held back by a static morality system.
Skyrim makes you pay for doing the wrong thing by putting bounties out for you if you get caught wantonly stealing or murdering. But you’re never locked out of parts of the game just because you went on an ill-fated killing spree or stole some potions when a shopkeeper has his back turned. It’s not to say that a morality system shouldn’t be in Fallout 4, but rather that it should be grayer, more nebulous, and a little more open-ended. Heck, Bethesda doesn’t even have to look to its own work with Skyrim for help on that. Obsidian took the gray morality route with New Vegas, and it worked out wonderfully.
Organic Leveling and Skill Progression
RPG veterans are all too familiar with the typical conventions of leveling. In many JRPGs, for instance, you earn experience in battle and level-up automatically, with all of your statistics taking some sort of boost regardless of how useful they happen to be to the character in question. A game like Bethesda’s Fallout 3 stepped things up for the gamer by giving them a high degree of customization, continuing an established trend for the series with an existing formula. Leveling had its own perks, of course, but players could associate skill points to build up any statistic they wanted whether or not it was actually being used.
Skyrim’s leveling system allows you to better embody your character.
This system works fine, and in its own way it’s quite rewarding. The thing is, Skyrim’s leveling methodology is something Bethesda should take a close look at when it develops Fallout 4. Skyrim’s leveling is, at its core, rather basic. You can only upgrade one of three statistics when you level-up. But then, things get much more complicated as you associate a very finite amount of skill points to impressive skill trees that require you to choose your course carefully. You simply cannot master everything in the game. Better yet, individual skills level up as you use them, not the other way around, which feels more organic and allows you to better embody the character you’re playing as.
A More Interesting World
There’s nothing pretty about a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Whether you’re playing Fallout 3, Borderlands or Rage, it’s clear that when everything has gone to hell, you can expect a certain sort of blandness to the aesthetic. But that’s not really necessary, is it? Think back to Fallout 3’s expansion packs. The best one of the bunch – Point Lookout – took players away from the doldrums of Washington D.C. and into a place that’s somewhat serene (by Fallout’s standards, anyway), away from nuclear blasts and the devastating aftermath.
Let’s face it. This is bland.
Skyrim is reminiscent of Point Lookout, not because the snowy forests of one harken back to exploring the swamplands of Maryland, but because both have a sort of topographical and geographical diversity that Fallout 4 is begging for. It makes sense that Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland looks the way it does, but Fallout 4 should take place somewhere far from nuclear destruction, in a place that gives you a feeling of wanting to explore. New Vegas went in this direction, but again, there’s little to differentiate between a nuclear wasteland and a desert. Here’s hoping Fallout 4 takes place somewhere fresh, even if the world around it isn’t.
An (Even) More Non-Linear Affair
It’s true; there’s nothing more non-linear in all of gaming than titles like Fallout 3 or Skyrim. You can pretty much do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it, as long as you can survive. That’s what makes these kinds of games so engrossing, popular and enduring. But the beginning of Skyrim draws a stark comparison to Fallout 3. The former gets going very quickly. The latter takes time to build itself up before ultimately setting you loose. It’s really a matter of what you’re looking for in the game, but at the end of the day, Skyrim’s opening fluidity should be mimicked by Fallout 4.
The Vault told a story, but held you back from the sandbox.
In Fallout 3, gamers began in a vault, where they had to trudge through your character’s childhood before ultimately being set loose into the sandbox several hours into the experience. Skyrim gets you into the action much quicker, mere minutes after everything begins, and lets you explore immediately. It’s true that Skyrim’s story is far looser than Fallout 3’s as a result, but players want action, too, and Fallout 3 began a little too slowly. Fallout 4 should begin more like Skyrim does, but it should also do a better job of fleshing out its story regardless of where you choose to go to next.
A Cleaner Aesthetic
It goes without saying, but Skyrim looks a hell of a lot better than Fallout 3 did. Considering Skyrim came out in 2011 and Fallout 3 came out in 2008, that makes perfect sense. But there was never a time in Fallout 3 that players could expect to be absolutely floored by what they were seeing. In Skyrim, the single act of staring up at the clear night sky is enough to give gamers pause time and time again.
So, so pretty.
But it’s not the attention to pretty graphics that’s most important. Think about how much cleaner the screen is when you talk to someone in Skyrim. Think about how insanely clever the leveling system is, using fictional constellations to put you in the time and place Skyrim takes place in. Pip-Boy is clever in its own right, sure, but Skyrim could certainly lend its finer artistic touch to Fallout 4. This would contribute greatly to making Fallout 4 really pop, especially if Bethesda decides to stick with the tried-and-true devastation of the Fallout universe.
Can’t wait! Wonder where “Fallout 4” Will take place O.o