The Pillars of Elder Scrolls
I talk about this all the time on the show, these “Pillars of Elder Scrolls“. I have mentioned a couple of them before, but have never gone into too much detail. The truth is, I have been thinking about them in one form or another for the past 7 years.
I sat down Sunday night and hashed out what I consider to be the true Pillars of Elder Scrolls. I wanted to make sure that these pillars, whatever they may be, were completely unique to Elder Scrolls. Meaning, no other game fulfills all these criteria in tandem. These pillars, once realized, must be able to create a true Elder Scrolls experience entirely on their own accord.
And so, I picked up my laptop and began writing instinctively. It took me about 30 seconds to write down what I considered to be true pillars and then another 40 minutes of deeper thought to understand and dissect what they meant. What I ended up with were four pillars that I consider absolutely necessary in order for a game to be worthy of the Elder Scrolls name. Only by fulfilling all of these pillars will the Elder Scrolls title be bestowed.
If you love this series, truly love this series, then this article is for you.
I. True First Person
Yes, first person is not required to play Elder Scrolls games, but the option is there. I have mentioned in the past why I only play in first person. However, this goes beyond normal first person. I am talking about true first person. This means that you see your hands in front of you wielding your weapon, holding your torch, etc. This provides complete and total immersion in any situation you are in. Whether you are doing quests, exploring the breathtaking beauty of Tamriel, or sneaking around an old Ayleid ruin, true first person provides you with a totally immersive experience that cannot be matched by using a different perspective.
A complete and true first person experience provides you with something that many games strive to capture, but few succeed: self-awareness. If implemented properly, you feel as if you are truly sniping someone with a bow, walking around at night with a torch in hand, or simply exploring the world. With true first person, you no longer feel as though you are watching some on-screen avatar performing these actions. No. You are doing them.
I haven’t played any other RPG that has such amazing true first person implementation as Elder Scrolls.
Customization starts with character creation. When you start any Elder Scrolls game, you are given the chance to create your character. Yes, many games now have this feature, but I have yet to see one that employs the same depth as Elder Scrolls. Almost every single physical feature can be customized, from your eye color, hair style, to even your cheek depth. So robust is this system that I regularly spend an average of 35 minutes creating my characters. Character creation is first step in creating a rich, unique identity, something that will be covered below.
Of course, customization doesn’t stop there. In each successive Elder Scrolls title, you are given more and more choices regarding your skills, the biggest leap being from Oblivion to Skyrim. Upon leveling up in Skyrim you can customize any skill however you see fit.
Customization doesn’t end with your character either, but is extended to the world at large. For example, we know that you can purchase homes in Elder Scrolls. Even here, you are given options. Craft lamps, buy rugs, even build entire extensions of your home. I have spent hours upon hours arranging seemingly mundane objects such as books in my bookshelf.
The question arises: why? Why is this important? What makes customization a pillar of Elder Scrolls? Customization creates something so incredibly crucial to RPGs: personal identity. Think about that for a second. I am only one of countless players, yet no single character of mine looks the same, no single character plays the same. Now expand this to the scores of players enjoying Elder Scrolls. It quickly adds up. The scale is staggering. This unique personal identity gives you that sense that it is indeed you versus the world, where your actions feel unique and important. You feel heroic. You matter.
No other game I have ever played comes even remotely close to matching this sense of unique personal identity. None.
III. Complete Freedom
This is a very critical component of RPGs. If implemented correctly, it allows for some truly staggering gameplay. This sense of freedom, of complete freedom, increases with every Elder Scrolls game. The word “linearity” does not apply. After a very short “tutorial” at the beginning of the games, you are completely free to explore wherever you want.
The entire world is open to you instantly.
You can pick a direction right then and there and just set off. You are not forced to go down paths in order to access areas. The world is your playground. You can completely ignore quests. You can do quests in almost any order, at any time.
In addition to this, your gameplay is free. Don’t fancy wearing heavy armor when you’re in town? No problem. Simply swap into your civilian attire. Are you in a heated fight and find that your sword is ineffective? Change strategy and swap to your destruction staff. Don’t feel like questing today? Why not go hunting and craft some wares to sell in town instead?
Simply put, you are completely and totally free.
You are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. I have never played anything that approaches anywhere near the level of freedom as Elder Scrolls does.
IV. Endless Replayability
I have scores of games. Upon completing them, I rarely go back and play them twice, barring a few exceptions like the Mass Effect series.
Why? A lot of games have replayability. But, few games have endless replayabililty. This is a subtle yet critical distinction. The former implies that the game can be played through a few times. The latter, however, implies that the game can be played through almost indefinitely.
This is the case with Elder Scrolls. We get emails from people saying they’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in Elder Scrolls. You can see it on forums, in comment posts, in YouTube videos. Everyone who loves this series says the same thing: they can’t stop playing. These games are the only games I play constantly to the point where I play them on an almost daily basis since 2006.
With the Elder Scrolls, you always have a reason to come back. You always find something new, something you’ve never seen before. You always feel the urge to do just one more quest, clear one more dungeon, make one more potion. You always feel the urge to explore. The carrot is always out there.
Over my 1000+ hours and dozens of characters, I have never had the same experience twice. Ever. The Elder Scrolls can truly be played forever.
. . .
What does this all mean? This is just one fan’s take on his beloved games. These four pillars are absolutely essential in creating a true, unique, and complete Elder Scrolls experience. Many games draw from these pillars individually, and these are great games – but none of them are built upon all of these pillars in glorious concert. None weave them all together so seamlessly, so perfectly, and so effectively as the Elder Scrolls.