The Elder Scrolls 6 is one of the most anticipated games of the decade. However, Bethesda has released no information about the game’s story or setting, despite announcing the game all the way back at E3 2018. Now the question of how Bethesda plans to top the immense success and incredible longevity of Skyrim has been hanging over the studio’s head for the better part of a decade.
There’s no question that The Elder Scrolls 6 has some huge hurdles to overcome. The next game will have to stand up to some intense competition from other RPG studios, face some of the ways expectations have changed since Skyrim’s release, and perhaps most importantly, it will have to contend with Skyrim’s legacy itself. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest challenges faced by The Elder Scrolls 6, and just a few of the ways Bethesda may be hoping to take the franchise to new heights.
Skyrim’s success caused waves across the RPG industry. In the years following its release, fans of the genre saw an increased focus on large open worlds, even in franchises which didn’t have the Elder Scrolls series’ first-person perspective.
Obsidian Entertainment, which developed Fallout: New Vegas for Bethesda, appears to be directly challenging The Elder Scrolls series with Avowed. Like Skyrim, Avowed will be a first-person fantasy RPG set in an expansive northern frontier where players are able to dual-wield traditional weapons and magic. It’s clear from the trailer that Avowed is partially capitalizing on the long wait Elder Scrolls fans have endured. The studio likely hopes that Avowed will be a more familiar take compared to the developer’s critically successful Pillars of Eternity series.
Obsidian has capitalized on Bethesda’s perceived failings before. The Outer Worlds, a satirical sci-fi game that reminded many of Fallout, released just a year after the reputation of the Fallout franchise and Bethesda took a considerable hit from the rocky release of Fallout 76. If Avowed is a hit, there’s a risk that fans will consider Obsidian Entertainment to be Bethesda’s successor studio in both the sci-fi and fantasy genres.
Obsidian isn’t Bethesda’s only competition, however. Fantasy franchises like BioWare’s Dragon Age also adjusted to Skyrim’s success, with Dragon Age: Inquisition set in a large semi-open world unlike previous games. It’s likely that Dragon Age 4 will be another fantasy game set in a large open world, one which could set new standards for next-gen RPGs that Bethesda may have to compete with. Regardless of whether or not BioWare’s game succeeds, it could risk causing demand for big-budget fantasy RPGs to plateau, or it could see a shift in the industry towards more character-driven storytelling, which has never been The Elder Scrolls’ specific forte.
For a while, it seemed like The Elder Scrolls 6 had one key advantage over Avowed. With the PS4 finding success with fast-selling first-party games like Spider-Man and God of War, Microsoft began acquisitions for studios like Obsidian. The fact that Avowed will not be available on the PS5 was a major advantage for Bethesda. However, Bethesda was purchased by Microsoft last year. Bethesda developers have also expressed uncertainty about whether The Elder Scrolls 6 will also be made a Microsoft exclusive, releasing only on PC and the Xbox Series X.
Although many fans consider Bethesda games to have better longevity on PC due to modding communities, only 14% of Skyrim‘s sales in its first two days were on PC. While Skyrim initially sold better on the Xbox 360 than the PS3, the PS5 sold twice as well as the Xbox Series X over its first 2 days. There’s a risk that if Microsoft makes The Elder Scrolls 6 a PC and Xbox exclusive the game could miss out on a considerable portion of its potential market. If nothing else, it likely puts it on a more level playing field with competition like Avowed.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing The Elder Scrolls 6 is Skyrim’s legacy itself. The game was one of the most influential of the last decade and continues to sustain a strong community to this day. There are, however, some indications as to how Bethesda hopes to top one of its most famous releases. At Brighton Digital 2020, Todd Howard indicated that The Elder Scrolls 6 would make greater use of procedural generation to create a larger world than previous installments. The game won’t just be able to rely on size, however.
The Elder Scrolls 6 has big decisions to make about the direction of its design going forward. One of the reasons Skyrim has enjoyed such long-lasting success is because the game presents the player character as a total blank-slate, excluding their near-execution at Helgen, giving the game a huge amount of replay value. However, this came at a cost. Skyrim’s main quest in particular was criticized for its lack of depth or interesting boss battles.
It’s unclear whether The Elder Scrolls 6, like Fallout 4, will attempt to tell a more character-driven and personal story in its world. It’s also unclear whether or not this would actually complement the design of the next Elder Scrolls game, or if expanding the world and the player’s freedom is the way to go.
Either way, The Elder Scrolls 6 will have to take a gamble. The game can’t just be Skyrim with updated graphics, but diverging from the Skyrim formula comes with its own risks. Fans may be expecting The Elder Scrolls 6 to take both the depth and breadth of the franchise’s roleplaying opportunities to the next level, but expanding one could easily come at the cost of the other.
It’s also possible that after more than a decade of waiting, expectations for The Elder Scrolls 6 will be almost insurmountably high. With Bethesda working on its new Starfield RPG in the meantime, the upcoming sci-fi game could be a rich vein for experimentation that could help Elder Scrolls take big risks with confidence. Whether or not it can ever live up to Skyrim, however, remains to be seen.
The Elder Scrolls 6 is in development by Bethesda.