It has come to my attention that there seems to be an unusual pattern that can be recognized by examining facts of The Elder Scrolls series. If you look at the forums,you will probably see that there will be groups of people saying that an older game of the series is better than the new one. That doesn't happen only now,but it happens for years. I get in to the series with Oblivion,the fourth part of the series,and it had come to my attention that there where many people saying that Oblivion was a bad game,and that Morrowind was much better. But Oblivion was far from a bad game,it was a unique experience that left me surprised when I played it,because I had played nothing like it before. Time passed and Skyrim came out. After finishing playing it I realized that I enjoyed Oblivion more. And it wasn't only me who enjoyed Oblivion more than Skyrim,but other people who got in to the series with Oblivion also liked Oblivion more than Skyrim. But at the same time Oblivion had multiple sales than Morrowind,and Skyrim has multiple sales than Oblivion. What is happening here ? Why do Elder Scrolls fans say that the game that got them in to the series is better than later games,even if said later games receive critical acclaim,sell more copies,and got loved by more people ?
To answer that we will have to examine the games,how each game of the series changed in comparison to the older one. My main comparison will be between Skyrim and Oblivion because they are the latest games of the series,and the ones that probably most people would have played,but I'll refer to Morrowind many times. For this comparison I will note some specific important features of the series,and compare how they where executed on different games. Let's start.
In all Elder Scrolls games from Arena to Oblivion,when you leveled up you where allowed to spend 3 points in the attributes of your preference. Attributes like Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Endurance, Agility, Speed, Personality and Luck. These were working pretty much the same as the attributes of the classic pen&paper Dungeons and Dragons game. Strength governed how much weight you can carry,and how powerful your melee attacks where. Intelligence governed how much Magicka you had. Willpower governed how fast Magicka would regenerate.Endurance gave you more Health Points and Stamina Points.Agility allowed your character to maneuver faster,be better at using a crossbow,and Sneaking better.Speed made you move faster.Personality determined your charisma,how average people feel about you when they meet you. Luck governed a variety of things like your chances in winning in-game luck games (like betting on the soldier of the Blue Team in the Arena), the chances of critical strikes,the chances of getting non-leveled unique items in random containers,etc.
In Skyrim we got to hear from Bethesda that leveling up your character by spending 3 points in a menu was frustrating and thus had to be removed from the game for the shake of "streamlining" the game.
So instead of having 3 points to spend in 8 attributes,in Skyrim you can only spend 1 point in 3 attributes. Skyrim's 3 attributes are the basic Health,Stamina Magicka. I don't know for others and I don't want to play it smart,but I really don't think that by reducing the attributes to 3 and the points to 1 point,suddenly the leveling process is easier to understand or something. What I do see is that there is less choice in this game,and less character customization options,which in my opinion is a bad thing. By scrapping the attribute of Luck, everything the attribute was responsible for is scrapped too. There are no luck games in Skyrim,and there is no chance you will find rare unique loot by chance,as all Skyrim's loot is leveled. By scrapping Personality, a part of the immersion past games provided to me is absent,since NPCs now can't dynamically feel something for me,be it hate or liking. I could continue with examples,but I think you get the point. It wasn't only the leveling system that got streamlined in Skyrim,but a number of many gameplay features where also scrapped too,leading to an experience that overall has less choice and options,and is more directed and empty.
2) Birthsigns / Standing Stones
In Oblivion and past games of the series,early on in the game you where able to choose your birthsign,from Tamriel's Zodiac.It was something you would do only once. Bethesda seems to think that a menu where the player can choose something is hard,so they scrapped the concept of choosing your birthsign via a menu,and instead applied the powers each sign gave to the character, to 'Standing Stones' that the player can find throughout Skyrim. I'll disagree that choosing something through a menu is complex and frustrating,but I can't say that the alternative method Skyrim has is bad. It actually feels nice finding a Standing Stone and activating in your travel. It's a good idea for exploration,and perhaps it actually is a better way to provide bonuses to the player, as every time you will find one,it will be like an Easter egg. While I disagree with the reasoning behind that,I can say that I prefer it now that you get bonuses by easter eggs.
In Skyrim the 10 races of the series got nerfed. The idea behind it was once more that the had to be streamlined,so it's not complex and players won't get frustrated. By choosing a race in Oblivion,you where actually choosing your gamestyle in a way. Each race played differently,had unique abilities, and would gather different reactions from NPCs. In Skyrim though when you choose your race, you basically choose your character's skin and almost nothing more. If you where a Khajit you could see in the dark,and thus you wouldn't need to carry torches with you.If you where an Argonian you would never care about carrying Cure Disease and Cure Poison potions with you. If you where an Imperial it would be easier for you to get people to trust you and hand over valuable information. In Skyrim for the shake of streamlining a lot of the series's features where scrapped,because of this decision of the developers to make choosing your race have no impact in how you play the game.
It is interesting to see how they managed to make it so races doesn't matter in Skyrim. They basically scrapped all the mechanics that the race's abilities where counting on.
There is no environmental hazards like Cold Weather in Skyrim,so your Nord who has natural resistance to cold won't have an advantage over the other races. There are no diseases in Skyrim,so your Argonian that is immune to diseases won't have an advantage either.There are no dark places in Skyrim,so your Khajit who can see in the dark won't have an advantage,there is no dynamic persuasion system,so your Imperial who has natural charisma won't have an advantage either. It is clear to me that when Bethesda is fixing one thing,it kills 10 other things or so in the process. This huge nerf of the races greatly reduced the replay value of Skyrim for me. In Oblivion I'd wanted to play with the difference races,so I can play the game drastically different,and approach the various situations in different ways. There was a quest in Oblivion where the character had to jump deep in a well,find a dead body,and retrieve and bring back a ring on the surface. The ring was enchanted and the moment you picked it up,it added 150 weight points to you,probably not allowing you to get outside in the surface in time,and ending up drowning yourself. If you where an Imperial you would probably have to drink a potion that would fortify your Strength.If you where a High Elf you could use a Magicka-Expensive Water Breathing spell to get outside alive. If you where an Argonian,you would just swim without having a time limit at all. This kind of choice,the choice you had to complete same objectives and quests,but with an entirely different way,added lot of replay value to Oblivion. Unfortunately Skyrim misses lot of that replay value,and it also misses something more important: Gameplay variety,and the choice of having different playstyles to choose from. From my perspective what have been done in Skyrim's races is a bad thing. If you don't care about more variety of gameplay mechanics and choices in the game,you might even find it convenient that now you can choose a race without also choosing your gamestyle at the same time, meaning that all the other gamestyles where completely removed from the game just for that.
4) Persuasion and Charisma
This is about something that Skyrim completely misses: the gameplay mechanic of alternating people's feelings towards your characters dynamically. In Oblivion each NPC had a feeling-meter ranging from the low 0 to the high 100,with the lowest being hate and the highest being adoration and love. There where many ways to affect people's feelings towards you in Oblivion. Depending on your Personality Attribute each non-quest specific NPC would have a certain feeling towards you. If you didn't liked that,you could change how someone feels about you,by either attacking them or intimidating them,to make them fear you or hate you,or by adoring them and bribing them to make them like you. In Skyrim you can get some NPCs to become "friends" of you,but the difference is that this happens not dynamically,but because of pre-scripted events. And even that is not that much fleshed out. When you got someone to lets say like you in Oblivion,the words they would say to greet you,even the look on their faces would be different,but in Skyrim even if someone is considered a friend of you,he will have the exact same lines of dialogue,spoken at the same tone,and he will have the same look. Delphine becomes friend of you in Skyrim,and her look is always the same.Her voice tone is always the same. Only thing that changes that lets you now that this person is a friend of yours now,is that you can take everything from her room without being considered a thief. But she becomes a friend because it's scripted. It wasn't because you specifically wanted it to be that way and you did something for it. If you wonder why Persuasion seems that big of a deal for me,it's because up on that mechanic I managed to role-play my own roles,and set my own goals in Oblivion,something I can't do in Skyrim. One of those roles was a charismatic and well known bard that everyone seems to like. So I added lots of points on my Personality Attribute,and I started playing the persuasion mini-game and got everyone in the Imperial City to like me. Thus every time I passed from Imperial City after that,everyone would stop to happily great me,and I would see everyone's faces happy. It made much of an experience to me. I spent time setting my own goal (getting everyone in IC to like me) and role-playing the person I really wanted. I can't do that on Skyrim. And I can't play the opposite guy (someone who everyone hates him) either. I don't have the freedom to role play these roles,or other roles,because a whole mechanic that could do so much in Oblivion is completely absent in Skyrim. We supposedly got "Speech" as a substitute,but it's nothing like the original Persuasion system. All the Speechcraft skill does is that it makes it so you can buy things for cheaper and sell things for more money. Absolutely nothing to do with how characters feel about you.
Facegen is a third party program that was added in the Gamebryo Engine,the Engine used for Oblivion. It is a program dedicated to everything that has to do with faces. What it did for Oblivion was to generate random faces,and also animate them. There have been a lot criticism about Oblivion's faces looking ugly,and I'll say that yes,looking back at most of Oblivion's faces,most people in it look ugly. Partially the reason for that was,that Bethesda decided to not use the full definition Facegen provided for performance reasons,which ended in-game faces to look a uglier and cartoonish. Yet there are two things that Facegen did right: Thing number 1 is that in Oblivion every single NPC looks like a different person. Thing 2 is that NPCs had facial animations. Bethesda decided to create their own face generation system,which is lets say less sophisticated than Facegen. Where Facegen allowed you to completely adjust every single line and part of your character's face dynamically,allowing for both very ridiculous looking people,and also very identical to real-life people,Bethesda's face generation solution uses pre-made parts like noses and eyes,and the problem is that they are very few. So in Skyrim most people ended up to look much like someone else. Most NPCs except from Main Quest characters,look very much the same,which is one of the things that make Skyrim overall feel somewhat bland. Another bad thing is that in Skyrim NPCs have no facial animations to show their feelings. Their eyes only open and close,as their mouths when they are talking to you. Other than that,it's like the don't have face muscles. In Oblivion it was different though. You could see the disappointment in their faces, their fear,their happiness,their surprise,their sadness... In Skyrim NPCs feel less alive and believable.
The samey faces on Skyrim's NPCs,and their lack of facial expressions had a big hit on my immersion after having played Oblivion.
The Journal also lost functionality in Skyrim. But that actually lead me to get more frustrated in Skyrim,instead of removing my frustration. In the past games quest where nicely organized,and you would get much detailed and helpful information by its entries. You could also read all the entries of a given quest at any time,even of the quests you had completed. Skyrim only shows you the latest entry of a quest in the Journal. That brought problems to me sometimes as the latest entries of some quests assumed you remembered the info that past entries gave to you,and didn't included some information that was valuable,leaving me with no clues. And in a game like Skyrim,where you discover 5-8 new quests in your way to complete a single quest,you can't remember all the quest entries you have read. It's impossible with so many quests. To make things worse,some quests (the Miscellaneous Quests) doesn't even get a detailed entries,but you only get the quest's title. At a point I wanted to do a quest that I didn't remember its name,but only its story. So I went to the list of my Miscellaneous quests,and I came to face around 60 quests,and none had some words under it explaining what is going on on these quests,so I couldn't recognize the quest I wanted to play. In most cases even the titles are bland and doesn't offer any helpful info,something that killed my motivation and interest in actually playing these quests.Why to travel so far to meet a person I don't remember,if I don't even know why am I supposed to meet him in first place ?
I don't know how they managed to fuck up the journal,honestly. Such an essential piece of the games,that was working so flawlessly in past games.
7) Radiant Story
Skyrim brings a new feature,called Radiant Story. This feature will automatically generate new quests,choosing in random an NPC,a dungeon,and an Item,to generate a new quest. The idea behind that is that the game should offer you the most quests available,and what's more than unlimited ? So Skyrim's quests will never end,but after doing about 2-3 of those quests,you easily recognize the pattern they follow,and they become bland and boring very fast. To make a never ending game is a nice and romantic idea,but one has to put some limits somewhere. It might work on games who are only mechanics like Chess,but if your game has any story at all,then it's not possible. The only way to make a story to never end is to repeat it again and again for an eternity. But as the classic tale from the fairy tale compilation 1001 nights tells us,eventually the never ending story will get so stale and boring it will bore everyone to death.More isn't always better. Perhaps Bethesda should really think about the matter of Quantity vs Quality.
8) Main Hero
I often hear that what Skyrim gets better than Oblivion is the story of the main character you play as,the Dragonborn. I might say that yes,power-wise the Dragonborn is much more powerful and an important person than the Hero of Cyrodill from Oblivion. In Skyrim your character is your classic chosen badass with supernatural powers that beats everyone and saves the world. It's a tried and used concept that works,as the majority of people do want to feel more powerful than others in their games,and be the heroes and center of the worlds. But it sticks to the cliches of video gaming. If you think about,in about 80% of the games you play,your character has a super gift which is why he is winning. Few games have the main character of the game be a simple man / woman like everyone else,the common folk. In Oblivion though,you weren't a prophecized legendary super-hero. You where just someone who decided to fight for the good of the world,with his courage. An ordinary man or woman. The gifted person of the story was Martin Septim,the emperor's son,which was the last (at that time) Dragonborn. But Martin didn't knew he was a Dragonborn,he was just a monk grown by monks,so he didn't knew how to fight at all,and you had to tell him how to act like he should! Some people say that the fact that the one who is 'chosen one' in the game isn't the player's character but someone else,is a bad thing. It seems gamers have become too used to playing characters who are way better than everyone else without doing anything for it,that they can't stand playing a game where its story doesn't make the playable character a person who has a unique overpowered feature over all other characters. I will say that I felt more of a badass as a dragonborn,and that I really liked that. But I wouldn't say that Oblivion had a bad story,just because in this game you are not the 'chosen one',but instead you are a random person who has to tell the chosen one that he is a chosen one. While I agree that playing a badass character is a nice experience,a story doesn't have to give to its protagonist supernatural abilities to be good. I see being a Dragonborn more enjoyable than be an ordinary man,but I also see that Bethesda's move on writing Oblivion's story was an attempt for originality.
9) Athletics and Acrobatics
Athletics and Acrobatics where two skills that where on Oblivion but where not in Skyrim. By raising your Athletics you would walk faster,run faster,and swim faster,while by raising your Acrobatics you would jump higher and would get less damage when falling from high places. By running fast you could roleplay a runner,or get yourself out of hairy situation and escape easily some really hard battles.By jumping high you could reach places that could give you a battle advantage in some fights,or jump over hurdles and reach faster your destination by travelling using different routes.
In Skyrim you can't change your running speed,neither the high of your jump or the damage you get when you land from a fall. These skills where not for everyone,but they could be very precious to some who liked them.
10) Smith and Enchanting
In Oblivion you could enchant anytime considering you had an Enchantments Workstation in front of you,and enchanting wasn't a skill. The power of your enchantments was dependent on the size of the soul you had captured on your soul gem. Skyrim scraps that system and makes enchanting a skill,so the power of your enchantments is tied on your skill level. Personally I don't see the reason for such a change,and I can't say that its something worse or better. Smith is a new skill that allows you to make new weapons and armor,and reinforce them. By the time you will be able to smith a weapon,you will already have found it in your travels,but you can still upgrade your weapons. But there is still something here that makes it seem pointless to me. That is that what counts most on how easily you get killed or you kill in this game isn't dependent on the rating of your weapon or armor,but on your character's level and the enemy's level. Even if you have the most powerful weapon you can find at a given level,and have reinforced it,you will still drop like a fly if you try to fight some enemies who are at a higher level than you. Your reinforced weapon will still not do them enough damage,while your reinforced armor won't do that much more to protect you from a higher leveled enemy.
In Skyrim you can become a Werewolf,and be one gives you special bonuses as well as weaknesses. Being able to become a werewolf was a much requested feature that Oblivion missed,and fans were waiting and asking for years for them to be included. Skyrim has a clear advantage here over Oblivion.
12) Dungeon Puzzles
One thing that made Skyrim's dungeon experience better than Oblivion's was the addition of puzzles. Still,I wish they had more variety of puzzles,as turning the turning stones and finding the Golden Claw,the Ember Claw,the Silver Claw,the Iron Claw etc gets stale after a while. Non the less,puzzles where a great enhancement for the dungeons. I hope and wish than in a future Elder Scrolls game they won't get scrapped by Bethesda for poor excuses like "They frustrated the players",like so many features from previous games where absent on Skyrim. Instead I want Bethesda to spend more time in creating a larger variety of puzzles,and adding more of them in the dungeons. I love puzzles!
13) Leveling System
The leveling system also differs in the two games. In Oblivion the game always scanned your level and presented you only with the enemies appropriate for your level,so the game's difficulty never gets too hard or too easy. In Skyrim some areas have a predetermined level,meaning in all enemies on that area are on a specific level. That means you will often visit places that aren't for your level yet,and thus get killed very easily,in a few seconds. Now both systems have their positives and negatives. Oblivion's system good was that it never allowed the game to become to hard or to easy for you. Skyrim's system good is that after you level up enough,you will feel more powerful than you where before. Oblivion's system bad is that you will always get to fight enemies on your level,so you will never feel as a super-powerful badass. Skyrim's bad is that you can get stuck somewhere and not be able to progress,which could lead you to frustration. Personally I can't choose one of them. I enjoyed both games and their leveling systems.
14) The Ending & After Ending
An ending can make or break an otherwise good game. There have been games like Mass Effect 3 that frustrated and disappointed the fans so much,only because of its ending. So which game has the best ending,is it Skyrim or Oblivion ? Well I didn't enjoyed Skyrim's ending that much. I was all excited until the point where I got out of The Hall of Heroes and started shouting to spread the myst away.But the Final Boss fight disappointed me.The so much hyped final boss was a rather easy opponent,even easier than most of the ordinary dragons you get to fight.After you kill him along with 3 other people,you get back to the mountain where Parthurnax calmly talks to you like he did before,and that's it. The closure you get is some words from Parthurnax in the same tone he talked before. Oblivion in the other hand didn't had a Final Boss,at least with the traditional term. Instead the last thing you do yourself is to talk to Martin,and then a cutscene plays. But oh,boy what a cutscene that was! The Daedric Prince of Destruction Mehrunes Dagon jumps out of a portal and forms up in Tamriel,and specifically in the Imperial City,the largest city of the Empire throughout Tamriel. He is 7 stories tall,has 4 arms and is wreaking havoc! I watch the so beautiful Imperial City getting devastated by this gigantic demonic being feeling that the world has come to an end,and then Martin makes a ritual to summon Akatosh,the King of the Aedra and protector of the Mortal Realm known as Mundus where Tamriel is located.Martin sacrifices himself so that Akatosh can take over his body and use it as an avatar,and I watch Martin's body getting transformed to shape up the true shape of Akatosh,and there he is,a Huge Dragon made out of Golden Light. But it's not over. The two deities are fighting each other in an epic and colossal battle and I stand there watching this feeling so much awe by the deities's power and size,so helpless like I can't do nothing else but hope and pray for Akatosh to win.And he does,and banishes the Daedric Prince to his realm of Oblivion forever,and then Akatosh gets petrified and turns to a statue left in the Imperial City. I might didn't gave the final fight myself,but the emotions I felt during Oblivion's last battle where unique and Skyrim didn't manage to reproduce them,let away surpass them. What's interesting is also how completing the main quest changes the game's world. In Oblivion you get everybody talking about this even. You eavesdrop conversations about how huge Mehrune's Dagon was and how Akatosh saved the world. The people you meet recognize you,and greet you as a hero . In Skyrim it's like nobody knows what happened. You even pay a visit to Delphine and Esbern,and if you didn't killed Parthurnax they are still mad at you and only tell you to kill him,like never killed Alduin. Except from the Greybeards and Parthurnax no one knows you killed Alduin. Heck,most people don't even seem to know that there was a dragon named Alduin,and seem to think all dragons are the same. I will confess that up until the end Skyrim's main story was more interesting than Oblivion's. But in the end,I felt that Oblivion's main storyline was more rewarding. You get Credits rolling on your screen,and you even get the Imperial Council to give you as a present a unique set of armor as a token of gratitude.
Conclusion I could go on and keep on writing about things that Oblivion did better than Skyrim,and features of Skyrim that weren't at all in Oblivion. If you take a list of each game's features,the list of Skyrim's features will be larger,and many of those features will sound cooler too. Yet Skyrim suffer from blandness,you get the feeling that everyone in it looks the same,talks the same,behaves the same, dress the same,whatever NPCs tell you after you complete the game is the same they would tell you before you do it,most quests play the same... Oblivion had less features in numbers,and perhaps they don't sound as cool. But the thing is that Oblivion had more variety in its less features. Every NPC looked and felt as a different person,you could see their feelings by the look of their faces and the tone of their voice,you could make them like you or hate you,there where more playstyles,more choices,more quest variants with better written plots... It felt like everything that was included in the game was included for a reason and it made sense for it to be there,as everything was more fleshed out. I believe I know the reason behind it. Perhaps it is because Oblivion's development lasted 5 whole years,while Skyrim was developed in only 3,as the 2 years right after Oblivion was released Bethesda was busy making Fallout 3. Perhaps if Skyrim had been worked another 2 years its features would be as fleshed out as Oblivion's where,but that would also mean that the game would come out on 2013,probably on new consoles.