No, this is not a surprise announcement of a new instance in the series. After having completed the main quest of Skyrim, and spending around 40 hours in it, I have thought about the memories I had of Morrowind and Oblivion. It is almost three years now since I finished Skyrim, and I don’t have much memories of it. Is Skyrim worse than the other ones ? I don’t think so.
So what ?
It is not about the games, it really is about the experience I lived. I spent almost 100 hours in both Oblivion and Morrowind, but never completed them. I spent countless hours wandering the country, looking for new cave to loot, abandoned castles, hidden passage through the mountains, etc… I chose carefully among all the secondary quests the ones that made me travel most (I loved the shrine pilgrimage in Morrowind for that). I wasn’t looking for experience, and I ended with very low experienced characters relatively to the time I spent playing them. I even installed in Oblivion a mod to remove fast-travel so I was constrained to make all my travels in real-time. That’s how I lived the most memorable moments of my gamer life: riding my horse down the mountain towards the citadel, with its huge tower pointing to the sky, under the moonlight while listening to this amazingly peaceful and beautiful score.
In Morrowind, I loved traveling and discovering a new city, with its unique design and environment. It was the time of GeForce 3 graphic cards, with their water ripple reflection shader. It was so beautiful traveling along the sea, or discovering a mountain lake. The music is very important from this point of view, since it’s a way to reimmerse yourself into this mood.
Rushing to the end
On the other hand, when I played Skyrim, I started by exploring the world for a few hours, then focused on the main quest so I can complete it, because I felt frustrated for not completing the previous Elder’s Scrolls games. I played something like 40 hrs to finish it, and then I left it to play other games. Three years later, I don’t have much memories of this game, though I know for sure that I had a very good time playing it. I really feel now that I need to let my instinct guide me, instead of following written, linear quests, because following a series of quests just changes an open-world game into a linear game, and that’s the mistake I made in Skyrim ( I even used fast-travel 🙁 ).
What about other games ?
Games like Minecraft (at least until recently) pushed this kind of design really far. Nothing is written to guide the player, which leaves him to decide his own missions, quests, tasks, etc… whether it is exploring, fighting, building, crafting. The same goes for The Elder’s Scrolls games, minus the quest log which guides you to the completion of each quest. Many games sacrifice this “hardcore” experience for accessibility, by making the game more compliant to most gamers. Games like GTA or Assassin’s Creed Black Flag were frustrating to me as they required to play the main quest to unlock side activities, when I just wanted to wander and do whatever came to my mind anytime. I understand that devs want to introduce features smoothly through a few hours of gameplay, but it’s a long time when all you want to do is go where your instinct leads you. In Elders Scrolls games, you can ignore (almost) completely the main storyline and play the world as you wish, but very few RPGs allow you to do so. Even MMOs have evolved from a very open model to a quest-driven assisted one.