So another Bethesda open-world RPG has come out way and even though the Honeymoon bed is still fresh and relatively unstained, I wanted to discuss the future of their flagship settings, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout.
Both games follow a very unique approach to role-playing, one rarely seen in the modern era of video games. You create a character, enter the world more or less in medias res, and despite a few voices nudging you towards that supposedly all-important plot you're free to kill bandits/raiders, fight monsters/mutants, and engage in all the colors of the morality rainbow (within limits, obviously).
But I know I'm not the only one to observe that the main plot quest in a Bethesda game is probably its most unimpressive feature. They try their best, of course. the big overarching threats are given a lot of narrative weight, celebrity voice actors show up to read lines to let you know Bethesda wants you to know these characters are important, there's some plot armor involved, but at the end of the day they can only present as much a danger as the simplified RPG system can offer, so defeating Alduin comes down to hitting him really hard with your weapon and President Eden can be defeated with a high enough skill rank. There's very little chance involved in any of it, and almost no real risk.
Its unfortunate, but its something we've come to just accept as a given. When there is so much more to explore, and so much more you can do, a lackluster main quest. Many of us don't even pay attention to it. Maybe that's something Bethesda should pick up on.
I'm reminded of an old PC title, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. That game presented an interesting new premise: the world isn't threatened by some diabolical evil. It's achieved peace after years of instability. But people aren't used to peace and not having a common threat to unite them, so the lord of the land calls for the eponymous Quest, sending the hero out to study the meaning of virtue and become a kind of living spiritual icon for others to aspire to. No big villains show up, your character completes the game when he's demonstrated enough virtue to be considered a living embodiment of all that is good.
I think that Bethesda could try for an approach like this in at least one of their open world franchises. Instead of hanging some lingering but immobile threat over our heads and insisting we do something about it, we're just dropped into a world that is dealing with the usual threats. You're free to do all the things you normally do in Elder Scrolls and Fallout games, from dungeon crawls to building settlements, but at the end of the day you're not a chosen one destined to fight a great evil, you have no destiny and are free to make of your life what you please. The game gives you a year to basically do whatever you want, and then ends with a quick recap of how your character affected the world (if at all). After that you have the option to end your game and save that character, and when you start a new game, it will be the following year and your old character will be around living as a farmer or a guildmaster or a king. You can overthrow him if you want or ignore him to become your own hero/villain. The game can use the modding community to add tons of new material, and DLC's can be introduced to create distinct plot threads for a character to face if you want to bring such features back. There's never any pressure, passive or otherwise, to indulge in any overarching stories.
This way Bethesda and its fans gets the best of both worlds: a wide open land to grow in and a modding community that can literally introduce entire casts of characters, locations and even plots to populate your world in if you so chose.
Its an idea I think has some merit.