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Release Date: November 11, 2011

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EGM’s Backseat Designer:
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Posted on November 11, 2011 AT 06:57pm

Bethesda’s latest RPG is awesome, but what would make it even better?

Welcome, loyal readers, to the debut installment of EGM’s newest feature, Backseat Designer. The basic idea? We make it a point to reflect on games in the review process, giving you guys our takes on what makes and breaks these multimillion dollar blockbusters in the EGM Review Crew, but what about the things they missed? Just like a backseat driver who can’t help but chime in at every stoplight and missed turn, we’re going to take a quick look at newly released titles and give our two cents on design elements we think would elevate the game to new heights.

This week? We’re taking a look at Bethesda Game Studios’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a title whose depth, beauty, and intense gameplay have quickly catapulted it into our short list of must-play RPG experiences. While Skyrim’s certainly an unqualified success, what does Elder Scrolls need to take the next evolutionary leap? Hope you enjoy it!

1. Cooperative Companions, Hooooo!

Look, Bethesda—we love AI buddies with limited scripting and a few lines of repetitive dialogue as much as the next gamer, but seriously, it’s time to take the RPG back to its tabletop roots and deliver a feature that any D&D gamer worth their Potion of Strength is secretly pining for: 4-player cooperative online play.

Think about it. Unlike some games that cram this sort of thing in—*COUGH* Rayman Origins, Sideway: New York, MindJack, et al *COUGH, COUGH*—the pen-and-paper games and novels you often borrow from were born on the idea of a group of mighty adventurers facing impossible odds and banding together to perform feats to fuel bard-based ballads for generations to come. So, what gives with the lack of love?

Granted, you just rewrote your engine, and it’s not exactly a technological afterthought, but the pros added by drop-in, drop-out co-op in a series of this ilk leaves a dangerous puddle of drool at our collective feet. Combine this feature with more restrictive skill trees that encourage a natural, more traditional sense of teamwork, and you’ve got some major gameplay wizardry to work with.

2. Ambiguous Evildoing

We love the fact that we can get down and dirty as thieves in the world of Elder Scrolls, but what gives with the fact that everyone seems to know how shady we are? And, yeah, you don’t always get caught with your hand in the tchotchke chest, we can’t help but be annoyed at the fact that we can steal stuff while no one’s around, yet the average settlement’s guard population somehow knows we jacked the local jeweler for a few dozen Soul Gems.

The lack of town-to-town enforcement’s a start, but honestly, we’d love to see you up the evil ante and allow us to do as we please when we’re all by our lonesome, whether it’s killing the occasional smart-mouthed citizen in the cover of night or relieving someone of their precious powertools while they’re fast asleep with getting thrown in the clink.

Can you imagine getting a dynamically generated sidequest to investigate a slew of murders or thefts you’ve been behind the whole time, only to frame an unsuspecting NPC? We can, and it makes our carefully articulated virtual hands wring with chaotic evil glee. Make it happen, gang!

3. More Detailed Deed-Doing, If You Please

One of Skyrim’s undeniable high points is the large number of random-ass quests you find yourself entangled in, but for the love of Talos, is it necessary to explain them with such minimal trappings in the quest menu?

We recently slew a dragon for a little bounty, only to find that the “Find on Map” feature failed us miserably; it suggested that we wander to the middle of the woods to turn the damn thing in, yet we were 110 percent sure we got it from one of the dozen or so Jarls who take so much glee on our errand-borne status.

We’re pretty sure this was some sort of bug, but honestly, an expanded description that includes more info about where we’re supposed to go would do us a world of good. Granted, you’d need the ability to reveal details as certain aspects of the quest are complete, but a simple “turn in the bounty to Bob in Whiterun” wouldn’t kill you. We promise.

And while we’re at it, a quest level that indicates difficulty and time needed to complete alongside a reminder of the quest’s reward would be swell as well. Call us crazy, but these elements might actually come in handy while we’re deciding which of the game’s 5 billion quests is actually worth our valuable, world-saving time.  Just sayin’.

4. Dynamic Character Sheets FTW!

So, the new perks system kicks more ass than a room full of magically enraged donkeys, but that doesn’t mean we RPG nerds have stopped caring about our characters and their attributes. As such, we’d do some serious backflips for a little more exposure to the numbers under the hood alongside our skill trees, if you please.

Ideally, this would come in the form of a character bio à la Dark Souls that shows a rotatable representation of our character next to a chart featuring things like strength, wisdom, constitution, and such that dynamically update based on where you opt to put your perks. It’s pretty clear something of the sort’s happening behind the magic curtain, and frankly, we’d love a little more info on our decision before we plop down precious perk points on something.

Plus, it’s always nice to see your character change and grow over time, and aside from perks and the three primary attribute meters, the game’s pretty frickin’ bare, and besides, if you’re dead-set on removing attribute tweaking from the game, this would certainly give us tweak-fans a viable alternative.

5. Lords of the Loadouts

We know you folks spent oodles of hours on the new menus, and while they still cause us physical pain on occasion, they’re worlds better than Oblivions Mensa-mandated clutterfests. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the fact that the game’s open nature encourages leveraging multiple weapon loadouts depending on what you’re trying to do.

As such, we’d love to see you guys step into the wonderful world of modern game design and give us the ability to swap out our entire inventory at the touch of a button in the way most major shooters have done it for the better part of the last decade.

For example, how about a nice radial menu featuring up to, say, six custom equipment sets that feature armor, left-hand item, right-hand item, and emergency equipment (like scrolls and potions) that could be hot-swapped in the heat of battle.

Otherwise, we’re left to gimp it out manually, spending hours in menus performing menial tasks like changing out our sword and shield for a bow and arrow, swapping out our Medallion of Two-Handed Thuggery +1 for our Necklace of Archery Awesomness,  and then back to our Necromancer’s Robe, Staff of Evil Oogly Eyes, and Ring of Mass Magicka to finish the job. Meh.

So, there you have it. Our roadmap for five functional fixes that would bring the booyah to the next Elder Scrolls entry. It’s not our whole list, but it certainly gives you folks a brief glimpse into the sort of things we’re hoping to see next from the talented team at BGS. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some giant lizards to yell at.

Want to tell us how awesome this list was? Think we’re high on Troll fat? Got some ideas of your own? Let the dialogue begin by dropping a comment below!


Brandon Justice, Executive Editor
Brandon Justice spent the last 17 years in the game industry wearing hats as an annoying retail weasel, an overly opinionated journalist, and game-development ninja—until he got tired of the all the caviar and groupies, returning to the ring as a rowdy, rambling writer in 2010 for EGM Media. Follow him on Twitter @jokeontheworldMeet the rest of the crew.

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