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Elder Scrolls A personal experience review/perspective on the Elder Scrolls main series (thus far)

Discussion in 'Bethesda Game Studios' started by MWaser, Jan 19, 2020.

  1. MWaser Learned

    Nov 22, 2015
    Where you won't find me
    Over the past 7 months or so I have played through the entire main series of TES games (the 5 numbered games), and I would like to share my observations regarding their value and playability, for reading interest of those people who somewhat enjoy reading other people's thoughts on games/media and as invitation to discourse regarding the series in a comparative fashion.

    To begin with, let me say that I did not play the games in some attempt to judge them objectively, or intentionally trying to do all sidequests in games with their limited amount to judge the full scope of content. Because of that, I also played the game with various mods that seemed worthwile to me, because my intention was to see for myself how entertaining and valid for recommendation the games are even with the potential of modifying the games, and thus, so to speak, the more genuine extended potential of these games. Avoiding things as full overhauls and story/area content mod not because it wouldn't be fair to judge in this case, but rather because they tend to come with major game stability issues for the overhauls, and content mods offer very underwhelming or unfinished content in most cases.

    That being said, let me start by talking about each game on its own:
    The Elder Scrolls: Arena
    Show Spoiler
    Technical: Arena is, by all means, a terribly outdated game which did not ever get any attempted remake project worth a damn that stayed around (as far as I was able to find). The game offers tank controls (turning with arrow keys), non-remappable key mappings, involving jumping with J and jumping forwards with Shift+J (whereas moving forward and just pressing J will stop you dead in your tracks). There is no mouse-based view and mouse serves only for attacking and navigating inventory or clicking on objects on screen to interact with them directly. You cannot look up and down, but the game also doesn't feature much of a Z-level, strictly speaking. The maps/areas are 2-dimensional, but they do feature holes that go deeper under "ground level" walls, walls of differing heights, and sometimes even top-wall holes to crawl above. All very difficult to get to and out of due to the game physics being centered around strictly 2-dimensional movement. For instance, the levitate spell sets you at a specific height bobbing up and down, and getting past certain higher-than-ground-level fences due to it can be impossible or more difficult while the effect is active. Combine all these features with confusing textures, map which is difficult to look at, and excessive movement speed, and you get a game which is actively tiresome to play, and in fact I wasn't able to play it for more than 2 hours at a time without getting a legitimate headache, presumably from some kind of motion sickness.

    Strictly speaking, the game would be much wanting for a remake that's technically functional more than Daggerfall Unity required one.

    Bug-wise, there's your typical getting stuck on vertices. Game sometimes crashes or freezes when trying to talk with NPCs. Saving in a few scripted quest areas resets their scripts when loading and you can get permanently stuck on that save. Enemies holding quest items like keys can despawn their corpses, forcing you to re-enter the entire dungeon to reset everything in it.

    Gameplay: As mentioned in the technical section, the game is headache-inducing. But bad controls aside, there are just a lot of design decisions combined with sloppy implementation that just make the game very frustrating to play. The game's enemy spawn rate, for instance, is pretty ridiculous. Enemies will not only spawn in packs behind you in areas you already explored, but because everything in the game including you seems to move at the same speed (read: unreasonably fast at low detail setting, which you should play at anyway because the alternative is 5 fps and getting nowhere, ever), meaning enemies that spawn behind you will catch up to your position almost immediately and so you will spend roughly half of the game inside dungeons getting attacked from behind.

    Melee combat is your typical dice rolls to hit, fling mouse around to do attacks from different angles (which the game seems to be pretty bad at detecting often and it's tiresome for the hand without high general mouse sensitivity), you will kill enemies and enemies will kill you very fast. Armor works on the Armor Class rules of reducing chances of you being hit and not the damage taken.

    Magic is horrendously overpowered. Since you can spellmake spells that scale with level (almost identical system to Daggerfall, if you're familiar with it), levelling up can bring these spells to an extreme power level. But what's even more ridiculous is the fact that the magicka cost of spellcasting is [Spell's base cost]/[Character level], meaning that while in the early game you won't be able to cast any strong spells whatsoever, in the lategame everything including really powerful one-shot spells (due to scaling) are relatively cheap. Exponential scaling at its most classical.

    There's a few nice utility spells that aren't in other games as far as I've seen, and by few I mean 1: Destroy Wall. You can't use it to skip past key-door blocked areas and quest-riddle-door blocked areas, but you can use it to make your own convenient shortcuts around dungeons. Very handy and the more you play, the more you learn to make use of it.

    Unlike all other TES games, you level up by getting xp from killing enemies and finishing quests. There are no skills, only attributes and your character level + class which matter for calculations.

    Gameplay is almost entirely class based with meaningful racial influence. Races provide resistances, base attribute values and extra aspects such as bonuses to archery hitrate/damage or melee hitrate/damage, while classes do the same, but also affecting steal rates/picklocks/hp per level/magicka amount/spellcasting ability/weapon and armor draw. I played a Sorcerer, that can equip any weapon but only chain armor, has 3x INT magicka multiplier but can't regenerate magicka normally, only absorb it from enemies (the archetype class that later turned into the Atronach birthsign). In the early game there's no spellcasters and you'll never have magicka while being inferior to warriors in health, armor and melee damage, but even in the early-mid game there are always enough spellcasting enemies in dungeons that will happily restore your magicka to full while you can heal and shield yourself with very cheap healing spells. I consider in that way that I probably played the game easy mode, but I have no regrets, as it was annoying and tedious enough even with that.

    Itemisation is quite boring, but not the worst. Artifacts can be very powerful, such as Necromancer's Amulet or Oghma Infinium, however you can only have 1 artifact at the time, so you won't get to experience their potential in the game a whole lot. Besides that, you find the best items in stores, and they are all pre-set. There's no enchanting on your own, and you shouldn't expect to find anything useful and usable in dungeons.

    Dungeon design can be extremely annoying and tiresome, sometimes requiring you to walk crazy loops around big-ass maps to find X amount of keys before you can reach the final quest room for the story dungeon. All the story dungeons culminate with at least 1 riddle door, with a varying complexity level for these riddles, at least one of which is completely unreasonable as far as I'm concerned.

    Story: I feel like I should write "Story" in quotation marks because the game hardly has any. Collect 8 pieces of the Staff of Chaos to defeat Jagar Tharn. Even without checking, I can tell you there are 18 obligatory dungeons to go through before you finish the main quest of the game. 1 (starting prison) + 2 dungeons per each piece of the staff of chaos + 1 final dungeon. The design is extremely boring and formulaic, there is virtually no established sensible setting yet, and most of what you can find in Arena will be contradicted in the later games anyway (including basic geography). Jagar Tharn is also a silly cartoon villain who keeps telepathically taunting you while talking about how "his minions" will get you.

    I guess, theoretically speaking, there is some just because you can't do any playstyle as any class. However, I don't see why you would want to play a lategame-unviable rogue class which only has the benefit of easy money and items (most of which they can't equip). While I can't imagine playing a warrior-type to be much fun, just because melee damage doesn't scale nearly as well as magic, even with the proper classes, and enemies get ridiculous amounts of HP later in the game.

    Skip it. Even for curiosity sake I wouldn't recommend it, it's boring, tiresome and not offers nothing unique that I would recommend anyone should see for themselves.

    Future Potential:
    If someone ever remakes it adding some basic quality of life features (like gameplay and controls that don't promote motion sickness), it would be a bit less aggravating to play, but I sincerely don't see any potential to try and squeeze out of this game. It had a strictly past potential and value, and its time, as well, is now well past.

    The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
    Show Spoiler

    Technical: So, as a starting disclaimer: I played Daggerfall Unity, shortly after the Alpha 1.0 version came out, with complete main quest and "Feature parity" with the original. If I had waited some more, I'm sure I could have avoided seeing some of the jank I encountered, but I guess I didn't really want to wait.

    Features such as better map (in cities and in dungeons) and better collission detection to avoid falling through walls and getting stuck in monsters are really the 2 major boons of DF Unity compared to the original, various other quality of life improvements are less noticeable to me.

    Much of the original's infamous jank like getting stuck in "the void" all the time has been successfully removed from Unity, but it wasn't without its own share of flaws. At the time I played, the Quest Log kept writing down wrong dates for quests (really frustrating to only notice it during the timed Mynisera Courier quest), levers are janky and only agree to be activated from a specific angle, I got completely stuck in vertices such as levers or boxes forcing me to load anyway, and the biggest offender: a bugged Mages Guild guard quest caused me to fail the given guest every single in-game second for god-knows-how-long, giving me probably int.NegativeInfinity reputation with the mages guild (I got kicked out very soon to notice), and bloating my journal save file to a whopping 36 MB (of just the one .json coded part of the save-file for my quest journal). That sucked. I don't know why the game's save files are in .json anyway, I don't believe it to be a good way of storing information such as save game data unless you want to manually hack and alter it all the time.

    Oh, and the game, when turned on, even in the menus, constantly took up 80% of my CPU. Quite annoying and not well optimized in this regard.

    Gameplay: I enjoy the gameplay of Daggerfall. And Daggerfall Unity has also added in certain improvements that have made it more enjoyable. Better combat AI, enemies navigating rooms to pathfind to you properly, bonuses such as enemy infighting and, few updates after I played, things like being able to select side quests which you want to take all end up enhancing the experience positively. Daggerfall is, in its nature, a Dungeon Crawler like Arena was. However, unlike Arena, it offers dungeons that are much bigger in scope, but also with a design much more tight and solid. There's no silly searches for X numbers of keys, but simply navigating to find the 1 goal in a dungeon which due to the dungeons' complexity and sizes is a sufficient challenge in of itself, which is far better design.

    The game offers by far the best custom class creator in the series, and maybe in RPGs in general. Being able to mix and match your own preferred set of character advantages and disadvantages allows not only for good power gaming potential in character planning, but even some aspects of role playing if you enjoy that kind of deal.

    Introducing Skills after Arena, levelling them up can be pretty janky. The level ups are permitted in 8 hour interval for skills, so when you use them for more than that a lot of skill checks end up being wasted. Because of this weird system, some skills level up unreasonably fast, like Running and Jumping (which, if you tried levelling up Acrobatics and Athletics in Morrowind/Oblivion, are considerably more difficult to level, and Athletics in particular is like 40+ hours of non-stop running in those two games to max out). The system works out fine and is balanced all right, but skills like swimming, climbling and other environmental skills are made completely obsolete with even cheap and easy to cast magic that any character with access to the spellmaker by joining the mages' guild could afford with minimal training.

    Magic is similar to how it was in Arena, however since spell cost is now depending on skill and not infinitely scaling dividing by your level, as well as the fact that enemies are quite prone to resisting your spellcasting attempts make magic less powerful. But also less necessary, since melee combat is by far the most efficient option to take out enemies in Daggerfall, since your attack speed and damage potential is similar to Arena, whilst enemies have greatly reduced HP values.

    The game's "magic item creation" option is wonderfully versatile and gives you potential to create very powerful items. Regrettably though I'd say, it allows you to create items that are way more powerful than any artifact you can get in the game, which as a result makes those artifacts seem rather underwhelming - especially since summoning Daedra Princes in order to get their quest and their artifacts in Daggerfall is a tremendous pain in the ass, requiring 100 000-200 000 gold pieces per summoning attempt, with a high chance of summoning failure, and either allowed only on 1 specific day of the year per daedra prince, or, in a witch coven (which are almost impossible to find in their own right), you can attempt to summon any day of the year... but each summoning attempt tries for a random Daedra Prince, making this endeavor extremely obnoxious.

    In this regard, in tems of classic gameplay, I'd say itemization is by far the lamest aspect, since the best bet for getting high quality items is high quality stores, as in any case the loot you find is random, and the dungeons don't offer valuable, usable loot either, and so you'll just be getting things to sell for gold to buy actual usable items, and then get even more gold to enchant those items in order to achieve power. However, while in Unity you can use Cast When Held items freely because magic items don't degrade from that effect, in classic DF only permanent enhancements that aren't Cast When Held are long-term viable since those lead to very minor, if any, magic item degradation. Otherwise your magic items would break pretty fast (and by default that is their magic potential as well, since you cannot repair them).

    Quests, aside from the main quest, being randomly generated means that in most cases it sends you to a random dungeon, or a random town. Since town quests and dungeon quests offer the same reputation rewards when it comes to faction quests, and the dungeon quests are infinitely more difficult, there really isn't any incentive to do dungeon quests except for if you want to do dungeon diving - which is honestly more for fun than utility in Daggerfall, and for people who don't enjoy the complex dungeon crawling there are ways to become powerful without necessitating dungeon visits whatsoever.

    Story: Probably my favourite out of the series, Daggerfall offers a fairly reasonable task given to you, as a kind of spy/agent on a mission to investigate documents, ghosts and royal deaths. The simulation of court intrigue is quite decent, but the lack of long-term consequences from your actions are the biggest drawback in this regard, since it doesn't really feel like the things you do end up being of any merit. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the story unfold, learning things piece by piece and understanding the whole affair by figuring out how they tie up. It isn't some exceptional storywriting, but it is entertaining and sufficiently immersive, which I think is exactly what I would expect and want from a game which is primarily a dungeon crawler, and not a more typical story-RPG.

    A gripe I would have is with the fact that the biggest main consequence you can encounter is just locking yourself out of the possibility to finish the main quest - but the quests don't have any particular loss conditions, rather some are timed and if you fail them by timing out then the main quest will become impossible to complete. This, I consider, is bad design and unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, since the arbitraryness of those time limits means they do not serve the immersion and narrative, while they are simultaenously generous enough that you won't fail them out of difficulty. If running out of time for these quests meant that something unwanted happens and the game reflects on the events that transpired, then it would be more interesting and valid to have that inclusion, but as it is it just seems unnecessary.

    Replayability: If you highly enjoy the dungeon crawling in the game, the game has incredible replayability - just wander random dungeons as different custom character classes, tell your own story variants with different factions or whatever else you want. If you don't enjoy the dungeons, you won't enjoy the core gameplay, and as such also won't enjoy it on multiple playthroughs anyway. But for those who enjoy the game at basic, I consider it has incredible replayability just courtesy of the custom class creator potential.

    Recommendation: It's a good game, for all it's worth. With Unity, it's also far more accessible, and so if someone enjoys dungeon crawling in a 3D environment (something that I haven't seen other games really do to that scale) then I think Daggerfall is definitely worth giving it a shot at least once.

    Future Potential: As Unity fixes jank/improves features and modders add in more content, people who liked the game in the past or maybe tried it in the past and weren't fond of some of its features, I can see the game gaining more value for these people as time goes on. There is potential to be had, for sure.

    The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
    Show Spoiler
    Technical: A similar disclaimer to Daggerfall, however the nature of the remake itself is quite different. I played with OpenMW, "Nightly" build of overall version 0.36. In spite of that not being the official "stable" release at the time, I have had absolutely no problems with the game in terms of any instability. Modding wise, I played with mostly various graphical mods, a marksmanship rebalance, some unofficial patches and fixes, and a dedicated mod to delay the Dark Brotherhood attacks. I also altered some .xml data files to increase the maximum magnitude for spellmaking and enchanting to 1000, which, while admittedly unbalances the game quite a bit, I would say adds to the fun potential of it. Incidentally, a surprisingly major gameplay balance change came from installing a lighting mod, which made dungeons and nights very dark, and necessitated using some kind of light sources, which are tight to get a hold on in the early game.

    The only technical issue I encountered was the game control-locking me once, in that my inputs stopped registering and I had to restart it. Otherwise, no crashes or other issues I ever ran into, compared to the original game which had a tendency to crash every now and then in unpredictable ways. OpenMW is kind enough to even enable some original game's exploits if you want to use them, which I found quite interesting. Performance wise, it seemed to use 40-50% of my CPU no matter what I did in it, which means it fared better in optimization than Daggerfall Unity.

    Somewhat on the verge of technical and gameplay aspect, I should mention the UI for the game: it is stellar. Morrowind has one of the best if not the best UIs in any RPGs I have ever played, and the ease of access to information in it is fantastic. If Oblivion and Skyrim could have shared this UI I think in of itself it would have made them better games.

    Gameplay: Morrowind is a game which is difficult to get a grasp on at the start, because even for experienced players the start is slow, difficult and even a bit obnoxious if you avoid exploits and cheap tactics - an issue that is no doubt exacerbated even more for new players. Regardless, if you get over these hurdles of learning difficulty and early game difficulty, the game becomes more comfortable to play with time.

    A common complaint about this game is the melee and ranged combat system, and the extraordinary tendency to miss attacks, especially in the early game. This is understandably frustrating, especially for ranged combat, as it makes ranged options quite unviable in the early game for characters which aren't ideally optimized. What adds onto this problem is the stamina system, which will quickly drain from just moving around the world, since walking (and even running) is extraordinarily slow, slowest in the series at normal attribute and skill levels, and stamina drains the fastest and influences everything you do, both spellcasting and physical combat. So, you run out of stamina from just trying to move at a decent pace, and then you can't fight all the wildlife that will block your way (especially the omnipresent and ever-annoying flying cliffracers).

    However, the game simultaneously presents aspects of good design to counteract this frustrating measure in a mechanic carried over from Arena and Daggerfall and significantly improved - magic items with active effects. Just by visiting a few merchants in the first major city you go to, you can very likely find 1 or 2 magic items that can be used to restore fatigue so you can run and have it ready for fights, magic items to heal, and magic items that will improve your combat effectiveness (which starts out very low). These magic items are cheap and if you had the idea to use them you would find that they greatly reduce the difficulty of that frustrating early game, as their charges regenerate in real time (and quite fast) without having to sleep-rest, while magicka itself does not for your character.

    Skills level up in real time with skill checks now and not at arbitrary limits, and using the skills does reflectively help you reach adequately high skill values fast enough. Training skills is not limited by anything, which, while a bit exploitative, gives something to spend money on for a large part of the game. Most of them even scale and have a purpose above the regular maximum of 100, giving purpose to fortifying both skills and attributes no matter their current value.

    Magic, while difficult to make good use of in the early game, has a lot of potential both in direct spellcasting and in magic item creation. Effects such as elemental weakness and resistances have valid uses, depending on circumstance. Alteration exploration spells are useful throughout the game for simple necessary accessibility early, and have potential for entertaining exploitation later, allowing you to do crazy things such as single-jumping between cities at impressive speeds. Mark and Recall, Divine and Almsivi Interventions are useful travel spells, and using them combined with NPC travel services work out in a great fashion to allow you to reach relevant locations even without the game having default fast travel. Not all effects are of course useful, some are prohibitively expensive and others too situational to be properly used, but the game has many ways to reward creativity with its spellmaking and enchanting.

    This is also the game which codified the alchemy system for the series. I would say the following games improved the system, by adding in poisons (in oblivion) and ingredient multiplier values (in Skyrim), but the alchemy in Morrowind is nonetheless useful and functional, and in many cases being able to creatively whip up a potion of a given resistance can affect outcome of battles, while situationally useful invisibility/night eye/levitation can help in out-of-combat situations.

    Itemization is by far my favourite in the series, as the existence of active magic items with actual unique and genuinely powerful effects (as opposed to only limited to casting circinate spells in Daggerfall) makes some magic items worthwile to keep around long-term for extra buff-stacking, while artifacts for once are uniquely and definitely powerful - outclassing generic magic items and objects you can self-enchant by far (for many of them), while there are still not enough artifacts to occupy every item slot and thus leaving opportunity for self-enchanted items still serving a good purpose (in both active cast enchantments and constant effect enchantments).

    Story: While the story is not quite as subtly interesting as in Daggerfall, and has a rather irritating nagging aspect of a "chosen one" being mentioned, it regardless manages to be even better in some ways. At its basic it is serviceable - there is a growing threat in the land, but it is not sudden or major enough that in-game delay and sidequesting feels like it's threatening the balance of the society and world. Quests are presented to you in a rather logical fashion: investigate things, prove yourself before people give you tasks and positions of great responsibility. Not too unique, but also not too ridiculous. The faction sidequests work in a similar fashion - tasks given to you are sometimes less or more important, but because the game doesn't impose time limits on you, they are very rarely presented with a sense of urgency, as it wouldn't make sense to do so when there is no time limit enforced.

    The game doesn't prevent you from killing any NPC, including plot-critical ones, which is unique for the series (Arena and Daggerfall had unassailable 2D NPCs, while Oblivion and Skyrim had immortal plot NPCs), and instead informs you with the by-now memetic formula that the thread of the prophecy has been severed and you should reload a previous save. A bit overly meta in the save mention, but an interesting (if hamfisted) solution, somewhat.

    What is unique and fascinating in the story is the so-called "backdoor" to the main quest, which involves killing Vivec, taking inactive Wraithguard, activating it yourself and then finishing the main villain. Since the entire regular main quest in the end results just in getting Wraithguard, getting it a roundabout way skips everything except the finale of it, allowing you to even finish the game without bugs or exploits even after the game has told you in a meta fashion that the world you have created with your murder spree is hopeless.

    Replayability: There are a few factions in the game which are exclusive to one another, in terms of what unique things you can see per playthrough, and there are a few different gameplay styles you can attempt. Mostly though if you are already experienced with the game the difference will stem from how many features or minor exploits you limit yourself from using (such as training, Creeper for gold, alchemy, self-enchanting, 1 second skill/attribute buffs etc), which can affect the difficulty considerably. I played 3 characters through the main quest last time I played, with some considerable differences in playstyle each time. Sunk about 100 hours over 1.5 months into it even though I had known the game in the past.

    Recommendation: I admit, the game has its fair share of issues, but I nonetheless think it is completely worth playing for people who have some patience (to deal with the early game hurdles and bits of annoyanecs) and creativity (to properly make use of the fun features the game offers later). It is, in the end, a pretty casual game that is easier to get into than the previous 2 entries, while still containing enough sensibility and complexity that people who enjoy something less brainless can find to their liking.

    Future Potential: I heard some mod content provides better story content than the original game, maybe if Tamriel Rebuilt is ever finished it will make the game into something grand and incredible. However I don't think the game necessitates that much more to just be a good game as it is, and I think the functionality of OpenMW will serve to improve the game in various ways over time regardless. I heard with OpenMW, multiplayer gameplay is possible in Morrowind. I haven't tried it myself, and I can't honestly predict how much it would add to the game's value, but it an interesting thing to consider nevertheless.

    The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
    Show Spoiler
    Technical: Oh boy, Oblivion. I didn't mention graphics as a separate paragraph anywhere because I didn't consider it too important to mention, however let me just say that it is impressive that the lighting, color rendering, special effects and especially character faces are just god awful due to this early period of shifting to a high resolution more modern 3D, and other RPGs from 2006 also look similarly horrid. The design for armor sets and weapons is similarly embarrassing.

    But aside from that, Oblivion in its technical aspects shows the pathway of console game design. The 8 circular hotkeys, awkward tab-based menus. The game advertised its Radiant AI and NPC behaviours but as is common knowledge by now it was just rather famously bad to a memetic level.

    Finally, the game has a tendency to become really unstable and crash-prone, even with minimal modding. I did play with 2 magic mods and a descaling mod, because otherwise the gameplay aspect would be crazy awful, and very few graphical mods (mostly to change the faces), and yet the game managed to become impressively unstable. After around 20-25 hours of save-displayed gameplay time, the save became too bloated apparently for the game to load while initialized, failing to clear its memory, and trying to load a saved game without first quitting to the main menu resulted in a crash, 100% of the time. And since then, until the end of the game, I encountered multiple areas in the game which were extremely unstable and crash-prone. Peryite's realm in particular I think I must have crashed 20-30 times while inside. And checking online, these types of crash issues happened to people who claimed to have not modded their games whatsoever, so I think it's viable to assume mods were not the main perpetrators behind these issues.

    Gameplay: For the first time in the series, combat has stopped being reliant on hit-chances and instead with proper hit detection, if the weapon strikes the enemy, it hits. Thus combat attributes and skills have been rebalanced to instead affect the damage each successful hit deals. Blocking is finally added as a function that can be willingly done, as well, improving the basic feel of controls, and combat now relies on these basic features. I consider it an improvement from the previous games, but I would note that I still wouldn't call it good. It is rather simplistic and featureless, and there isn't much strategy to be had, besides "block until enemy attacks you and then attack during their stagger animation". But it does feel somewhat less awkward.

    While magic itself was significantly downgraded with many effects having been removed (in particular travel map effects such as jumping and levitation, mysticism teleportation effects), spellcasting itself has actually been made very convenient. The ability to cast a spell while having your regular weapons/shield equipped and spell casting being so fast allowed to new kinds of spell comboes to creatively make use of weakness to magicka spell effects when cast on enemies. Additionally, I must say that the mod-added spells and special magical effects can be both entertaining as well as tactically valid, making magic in Oblivion actually not that bad in many circumstances.

    Enchanting and itemization, however, suffered a lot. Artifacts are pretty underwhelming for the most part, and you can achieve better results with sigil stone enchantments at higher levels. Regular self-enchantments, buffed with the mod, without the mod are significantly weaker than sigil stones and have virtually no purpose. Enchantments are only constant effect, which removes versatility and viability that active effect enchantments had in Morrowind for an all-purpose spellcasting arsenal. Now the only active effects are on magic staves, which are rare, awkward to use and generally speaking - pretty underwhelming. What's absurd is that the most powerful items in the game are not artifacts, but simply random, generic magical apparel. From level 20+ in regular level lists you can find 4 different rings as generic magic apparel, those rings being: 100% resistance to fire, 100% resistance to frost, 100% resistance to shock, and the 4th ring: 50% magic resistance + 35% spell reflection. Items like these are by far the most powerful objects you can find in the game, and available as random, unimportant loot.

    To make things worse, in the unmodded (not descaled) game, artifacts and unique magic items from quests are scaled, and you can get horribly underpowered and pathetic variants of items that for all intents and purposes should be impressive and powerful, but are no stronger than generic magic loot you can find at the same level range. Additionally, some effects which would seem nice on paper are useless, because skills and attributes don't scale beyond 100 - no damage bonuses for weapon skills and strength/agility beyond 100, no reduced mana cost for magic skills increased beyond 100, and breaking skill requirement limits with temporary buffs for magic schools don't allow you to cast higher-tier spells either, making a lot of skill-enhancement bonuses pretty pointless.

    Of course, scaling is the infamously bad part of the game. Fortunately, a good descaling mod fixes that issue to a point where it is almost seemless, however it's worth bringing up just for the sake of discussion - I won't write too much about it because there has been better discussions about it before, but let's just say that in the base game as it is, you get comparatively weaker as you level up because the world around you gets stronger by a greater margin than you, and the new enemies that appear at higher levels display aspects of quite silly degrees of power-spiking, going from comparatively weak, low damage creatures with low hp to tanky mofos which hit like a truck.

    The dungeon design is quite weird - many dungeons include inexplicable short cuts back to the entrance or a secret exit, no doubt because with teleportation spells having been removed and the intended audiences having no patience to backtrack, they couldn't allow the deep dungeon to force a player to leave on their own. Oftentimes the quick way back is just an unreachable ledge instead of even a one-way door/passage/lever, which means that if the exploration skills still existed, they could have been reached unintentionally early and the player could reach the "boss area" too quick.

    In terms of quest design gameplay wise, a lot of quests featured some kind of dungeon diving, but a similarly large amount involved dealing with various issues and threats outside of dungeons. The quests were overall pretty varied in what actually happened and what you had to do, as even basic fetch or kill quests with an overall same goal had quite different ways of going about it, even if the quest progression itself and end result ended up being often quite lame and/or predictable.

    Story: From the start of "I have seen you in my dreams" and through trusting you with tasks beyond your capability and forced responsibility, forcing you to make bad decisions and arriving in the nick of time for things regardless of how long you took to do stuff, the storytelling shift is very clearly made into a more "cinematic" and "intense" story then the previous games had been. Combine that with the nonsense aspect of the world-shattering crisis actually not starting until you manage to worry about your very important task, it makes the entire game world appear completely unnatural. The faction questlines are similarly pretty intense, linear and scripted in storytelling, with varying degrees of believability. Generally, they were better than the main quest in this regard, but the Mages Guild in particular presented another large scale conflict that wasn't really properly addressed nor had genuine urgency to it. Though it must be said: There were some exceptionally idiotic scripted moments in the game that have ruined a lot of my good will and suspension of disbelief - just watch how the Dark Brotherhood final quest ends if you want to see what I mean.

    The Shivering Isles expansion pack provided some... vaguely amusing quips, albeit sometimes you could definitely see the large amounts of simply trying too hard which was tiresome to bear. Similarly, there were aspects of urgency that wasn't genuinely enforced, and everything centered around the main character. And the quest design itself was sometimes very aggravating for the purpose of having this fancy scripted cutscene aspect as well. Knights of the Nine did not fare better, as its quest design was also interspersed with some annoying scripted aspects (although it had at least some nice concepts in it at least to compensate), and the overall theme was just... generic and lame.

    Replayability: There's a bit. The factions and side quests themselves are not whatsoever exclusive to one another, so the replayability would involve doing completely the same things if you had already done everything in one playthrough, however different playstyles do play very differently in terms of progression as well, and I would say there is some merit to trying out different builds such as hightly-stealthy assassin, pure destructive direct conflict mage or tanky conflicting fighter, however probably not as completely pure builds since everything might need some mix and match depending on situation.

    Recommendation: Honestly, I even surprised myself with it, but Oblivion ended up not being too bad. I was a bit tired of it after finishing it, so unlike Morrowind I didn't attempt other playthroughs, but I could see myself playing it again and being more stealth-oriented or combat-oriented (as I played a mage, mostly), because when the game wasn't being extremely crashy or particularly bullshit with some sneak/escort quests, the basic gameplay and potential with spellmaking was surprisingly entertaining. I don't think the game offers that much, in the end, and I wouldn't recommend it to people who want a somewhat well told story or an intricate/complex gameplay experience, but as an action RPG it has some merits with a few well-placed mods.

    Future Potential: As one of my main gripes with the game throughout was unintuitive UI (that even with some mods just ends up being jankily replaced but can't be perfectly put back together) and crash issues with saves/areas, it would probably be somewhat nice to have an actual proper remake project like OpenMW has had, but I don't see that happening. Regular mods and overhauls could maybe put some extra life into the game, but there is the typical issue with excess modding that things start breaking, especially with that goddamn unstable old version of Bethesda's engine.

    The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
    Show Spoiler
    Technical: So, I played the old version of the game, not the x64 Special Edition. That is because I was playing all these games at a very slow pace, and the SE has a tendency to break modlists with its updates due to Creation Club shenanigans and presumably other things which don't really happen to the old version. Of course, as a result, I was dealing with the jank of the old version, with its infinite loading screens, occassional more traditional crashes to desktop and save games breaking with custom scripts from mods. I had less overall crashes than Oblivion, but the infinite loading screens were a bigger annoyance on average, and in the endgame my mod scripts started breaking inexplicably more and more often, which I presume is due to the game's instability with bigger savegames, or maybe some other issue.

    To discuss the UI at the edge of Technical and Gameplay aspects, let it just be known that the vanilla, unmodded Skyrim UI is absolutely horrendous for PC usage, and even modded you will encounter various aspects of console jank therein. But at least it is usable with UI mods - the very first time I played the game, I quit within a few minutes, because as soon as I had access to the UI and seen it, I knew I had to do something about changing it.

    Gameplay: Skyrim returns to the series roots... somewhat. While also taking an entirely new direction.

    Skyrim, at its basis, plays around a very clear and noticeable core gameplay loop, where you get a quest, go to a dungeon, loot the dungeon, sell the loot in town, enchant, smith equipment, make potions, all to level up your skills. The actual rewards you get for said quests are pretty meaningless most of the time anyway and whether they're gold, artifacts or other items you're pretty likely to just convert them to gold later anyway, and then use the gold to fund your smithing/enchanting escapades and regular training sessions with NPCs. Because of this, majority of quests send you to some dungeon, either randomly chosen from a list of less-interesting random dungeons with their own little variants inside, or more detailed and scripted dungeons for more meaningful quests with more quest-unique content (rather than just the quest item you are looking for being conveniently located in the dungeon's boss chest after you pick up the quest).

    This is all fine and well for the first few hours, but once you notice this monotony and repetitiveness, the charm of levelling up your skills to get better equipment, stronger enchantments etc. starts fading over time and you just want to get it over with quickly. Once I maxed out my enchanting I became so powerful that I started rushing through quests in spite of having set the difficulty to Legendary at that point, just doing the quests to see if they had any interesting unique storytelling or gameplay aspects individually, but most of them just felt the same no matter what was the context of the quests I was doing.

    What's more is that the quest themselves are sometimes so scripted and forceful that the quest compass has to direct you step by step to do specific actions like a retard because the game is very unclear in relaying information on what you have to do in order to progress.

    And on that note, let's talk about the itemization and power progression of the game. The game's most powerful items are by far and uncontested the items you can custom enchant yourself (ideally that you have also crafted yourself and upgraded yourself with all the smithing perks). This makes the artifacts you find really rather embarrassing by comparison, and even many daedric quests offer different items than in the previous games as a result, almost as if they didn't want to put in the items that the players might have actually wanted to use.

    On a positive note for itemization (but not entirely positive as a whole), because the attribute system was completely remade and skill system overhauled in implementation, items now provide stacking, viable bonuses with constant effect enchantment buffs, and thus you can stack them to high levels with great effect, unlike in Oblivion. Removing attributes introduces some arbitrary aspects, such as encumbrance functionality, and gives seemingly increased value to the stamina stat as a value, but these are design choices that aren't directly harmful to the game, but confusing to have been made.

    The melee combat and magic are, even with some modding, really awkward to use and weird. Because the game now functions on a 2-separate-functioning-hands system, spells now take up hands as almost some kind of metaphysical objects. But because of that, it introduces weirdness such as not being able to block if all you're carrying is a 1 handed weapon in one hand, because the other hand is simply treated as a free hand, or used up by something else. And spells themselves are also so different - spellmaking is gone, since spells are now all pre-made effects in the game with defined values. Many spell effects themselves are also gone as a result, and the vanilla available spell effects are really quite lame. Mods can increase spell variety to an interesting and usable level, at the very least, but nonetheless the loss of spellmaking and awkwardness of this system of spell usage seems inferior to Oblivion's convenient and handy spellcasting which allowed for spell comboes.

    I played with a descaling mod, but without it the issue is similar as in Oblivion - enemies start out very weak but can reach levels far beyond your ability to deal with with a few levels of progression. However even with a lot of things scaling, there are some unscaled items and enemies even in the vanilla game that can make things interesting by being very difficult to try and deal with at early levels, while quite managable at higher levels. And some of the mod-descaled high-level enemies/areas/bosses were one of the more interesting things to deal with in the earlier parts of the game.

    Like in Oblivion, the dungeons themselves have this uncanny design that after reaching the end, there is an inexplicable exit back to the entrance or a quick secondary secret exist - this is even more prevalent in Skyrim, and it seems like every time there is a convenient barred door somewhere in the main room of the dungeon that you will open and leave using after you kill the boss of the dungeon and collect the quest item.

    Story: Once again it is a chosen one story, except this time of proportions that are almost comically exaggerated. Not only are you an almost instantly-confirmed superhero with actual powers for the main story purposes, but you also seem to be the chosen one of almost every faction sidequest you participate in. The Mages' Guild expy, the Dark Brotherhood, it seems that always you happen to be the chosen one that people around have been waiting for in order for things to happen. Your importance is so great, in fact, that the prior issue present in Oblivion of events not progressing without your presence is only ever more exacerbated, and it's hard to view the game as anything other than having the world revolve entirely around your person, in everything that is ever done. I could mention how stupid some individual events are, and how forced and illogical certain events are, but I think it's good enough to just say - they exist, and they are indeed very stupid. So whenever things in the game are happening outside of your control, you can expect varying degrees of idiocy to occur.

    Replayability: Theoretically so high just because of the modding potential, I should say, but that's less replayability value and more high "fucking around" value. Because to actually play through the entire game again any time within the next 10 years is something that I actually can't imagine doing, myself. From my experience here, but also talking with some of my friends who had also played Skyrim, it seems that it's a general consensus that people mostly have fun with the game trying out different mods and doing the early game quests/progression. Because come the mid-game grind and the game starts getting a lot more brain-rending and less entertaining.

    Recommendation: I honestly can't say I would recommend it. Even for a hack and slash it's just an annoying game at its basis, and with the magic being castrated how it was, it doesn't offer that unique play around potential that even Oblivion has had. I frankly can't understand the game's popularity, especially for people who even play the game unmodded on consoles. It's a really mediocre action RPG with half-assed action and uninteresting quests for the most part. And in all that, it just feels stupid. I can't take interest in the world or things that are happening or even existing because the game tries so hard on many different occassions to remind me just how it makes no sense, in even the idiotic "puzzles" that are hamfisted to be inside the dungeons. The game is a peak example of unimmersive design, and as soon as the MMO grindy aspect of gameplay wears out the fun of the game just goes to all hell.

    Future Potential: People who have enjoyed seeing its mods will keep enjoying it. People who don't enjoy modding for hours just to have a broken crashy game probably won't start suddenly enjoying it. Especially considering the SE which is more stable and functional as a rule has an ugly tendency to screw with mods. I think it has a lot of current potential for people who are into this kind of thing, and more of the same to be expected for the near future, but no more than that.

    So that's my thoughts on each game overall. Some things might not make full sense to read for people who are not familiar with the given game whatsoever, but I hope it is overall comprehensible (even if disagreeable)

    I will leave some final thoughts/summary of the series here:
    Show Spoiler
    When I was starting to play the series as a somewhat-marathon, I had no idea what to expect from Arena, and didn't remember much from Skyrim which I had only played once, many years ago. I actually had expected Oblivion to be the worst of the bunch, or at least worse than Skyrim, but to my own surprise I had actually enjoyed it more, while Skyrim felt almost absurd to play afterwards, as if it was a different genre of game altogether.

    Because in structure, Arena and Daggerfall and definite dungeon crawlers in an old-fashioned sense, Oblivion almost tries to be one by having a large amount of dungeons therein, but it doesn't fully dedicate itself to the idea, as there are many dungeons that are not involved in any quests, that you can just explore randomly and find stuff, but there is not much incentive to do so. Skyrim added that incentive by spreading out quests to pretty much every dungeon in the game, with radiant (semi-randomly generated) quests choosing dungeons you haven't explored before for you to go to and find the quest item in a boss chest. The dungeons themselves attempt to have some unique aspect to them in Skyrim, or tell their own in-dungeon story, but more often than not the unique per-dungeon aspect is either unnoticeable or uninteresting anyway, and in the personal perception I just found the absurdity of having to go through all of them for one stupid reason or another to be too distracting to even leave space for an attempt to try and give attention to the individual dungeon.

    In terms of scaling/RPG character progression elements and itemization, each game has its individual issues. Arena doesn't provide enough variable ways to scale, since weapons and armor only go so far, you're mostly reliant on your level, and the best scaling thing is magic, and without it lategame enemies are really, exceptionally difficult. Daggerfall doesn't provide much variable, lategame challenge for progression to matter after a certain point. The dungeons don't provide actual interesting loot, which I think is a shame in particular for Daggerfall in that aspect - if some of the more difficult to access quest-locations in modules had something akin to Skyrim's/Oblivion's "boss chests" inside of them, loot mattered for scaling and there was challenge for that to mattered, it could have given Daggerfall dungeons some purpose and interest factor that would give actual gameplay incentive to visit them instead of only doing it if you enjoyed the crazy dungeon diving in of itself. Incidentally, Oblivion, due to artifacts being underwhelming in power, merchants never offering things of the highest quality, and inability to smith equipment for yourself that is the most powerful (with an exception in Shivering Isles, where there are 2 smith NPCs that will forge the most powerful equipment in the game for you if you are of sufficiently high level, because the quality of the forged equipment is scaled), Oblivion has the highest incentive to actually go randomly dungeon diving to collect scaled boss chest loot and kill bosses for their most powerful unenchanted items to enchant with sigil stones, or the unique, overpowered generic magical apparel I mentioned earlier when discussing the game. Skyrim has no such incentive, because every dungeon will matter the same in the end in terms of gameplay progression - only how much xp for individual skills and money potential you can get out of any individual dungeon dive. Morrowind goes an interesting way for giving you incentive to visit random caves/tombs/ruins - sometimes, places with no quest relation or no quest relation you know of yet can inexplicably contain very powerful, lategame loot such as glass/ebony/daedric armor and weapons, or even unique artifacts that are not related to any quests. This acts as a kind of unspoken incentive to explore in the game if you're playing without any guides or internet checking, while the downside of it is that, since these unique hand-placed things are set in stone, it doesn't offer the kind of long-term replay value that random loot provides. However, since the dungeon diving in Oblivion and Skyrim is not something I find extraordinarily fun on its own, I wouldn't say that their random loot aspect matters for the sake of replayability that much.

    There are a million other things that could be discussed in detail about each of those games, and I didn't even touch on the finer details of aesthetics, setting and story/world presentation, which may be due to me not being able to judge these adequately when it comes to presentation, for I did not approach these games freshly, without having played them before (aside from Arena, but the only observation I made in its case is that it has very little to no presentation that would be worth noting whatsoever). Now, I didn't even play the games in the format that the developer, Bethesda, has released them in initially either, as I have played the modern form of what these games have become now (while sometimes being stuck in the past, as I have mentioned with having played Skyrim instead of Skyrim SE due to aforementioned issues). All to see how they are as games now, with value in terms of both revising or trying for the first time, whilst having to admit that I cannot adequately rate how they present for first-timers in most of these cases.

    And so, now I will await for TES6 to see how it will change up the formula or return somewhat to the roots of the series.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2020
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  2. Molina Learned

    Apr 27, 2018
    Now you have to play Teso.

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  3. Daze Red Panda Alt

    Dec 10, 2019
    Me too! Me too!

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    It sucks.
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  4. Clockwork Knight Arcane

    Clockwork Knight
    May 6, 2009
    Glass Fields, Ruins of Old Iran
    You can block with 1handed, but only if the weapon is equipped on the right hand. It's dual wielding that doesn't allow for blocking.
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