It’s Time For Bethesda To Give Obsidian A Pop At The Elder Scrolls

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Highlights

  • Obsidian approached Bethesda multiple times to make spin-offs for the Elder Scrolls series, similar to Fallout: New Vegas.
  • Fallout: New Vegas is now widely regarded as one of Bethesda’s best RPGs.
  • By licensing the next Elder Scrolls game to Obsidian, Bethesda could address growing issues with their engine and storytelling.

Just recently, an interesting tweet re-emerged from prodigious game writer and former Obsidian Entertainment designer Chris Avellone, revealing that Obsidian approached Bethesda numerous times to make spin-offs for the Elder Scrolls series in the style of what Fallout: New Vegas was to the mainline Fallout games.

Multiple proposals were made by Obsidian after the release of Fallout: New Vegas, including a multi-game setup where Obsidian would release spin-offs to Fallout and The Elder Scrolls between the once-in-a-blue-moon main games. One of the spin-off ideas was even to take place in an alternative timeline “where the last hero had failed to save in the last round of Elder Scrolls titles,” according to Avellone.

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The Grand Spin-Off Plan

Official art for Fallout: New Vegas

Avellone speculated that Bethesda perhaps wasn’t interested due to New Vegas not quite living up to critical and commercial expectations at the time. But hindsight is a funny thing, and now that New Vegas has been patched up and reassessed over the years, it’s widely regarded as one of Bethesda’s best RPGs. Sales-wise there’s some data out there to suggest that over the years it’s even overtaken its Bethesda-developed predecessor Fallout 3. According to SteamSpy, New Vegas has 5-10 million owners, in contrast to Fallout 3’s 1-2 million, which when combined with VGChartz’ data (which doesn’t count digital or Steam sales), would put New Vegas well in the lead.

Another interesting factoid is that Obsidian infamously missed out on bonuses from Bethesda due to New Vegas falling just short of an ‘85’ score on Metacritic (largely due to bugs and rushed development), and yet now Starfield’s Metacritic score has dropped below that of New Vegas.

Licensing the next Elder Scrolls game out would potentially address the two main issues that cropped up in Starfield.

Point being: the idea of New Vegas as some kind of failure has grown into a falsehood over the years, and Bethesda’s evident reluctance to outsource its IP to talented developers like Obsidian seems to stem from that experiment back in 2010. With Starfield showing not only the cracks in Bethesda’s engine, but in its storytelling chops too, it seems like the studio could use a bit of a rethink about how it wants to treat its most prestigious IP going forward. And with The Elder Scrolls 6 up next, that time for reassessment is now.

Licensing the next Elder Scrolls game out to a developer like Obsidian would potentially address the two main issues that cropped up in Starfield—an engine that’s creaking at the seams, and writing-slash-storytelling that, as has been the case in most recent-ish Bethesda RPGs, is a little under-par. By handing over the reins to a studio like Obsidian—who have proven time and again to be great at writing, meaningful choices, interesting RPG systems like Karma, Reputation etc—Bethesda wouldn’t need to worry about addressing a long-running bugbear at the studio, and instead focus on addressing the growing bugbear of modernising the Creation Engine to make it fit for modern purpose.

Starfield - Spaceship Outside Planet

Beyond a few graphical improvements, it’s hard to discern what exactly it is that Bethesda overhauled for Creation Engine 2, which was built for Starfield, and is expected to be used for The Elder Scrolls 6, with many of the old problems—endless loading screens, awkward AI, stiff animations etc—still being prevalent and more discernible than ever due to the fact that it’s not 2011 when Skyrim came out, nor 2015 when Fallout 4 came out, any more. Games have moved on, yet Starfield feels stuck in the past.

Bethesda aren’t terrible game designers or storytellers by any means, but on this front it feels like a long time since they’ve been on top form, while the one game they outsourced—New Vegas—has enjoyed vast retrospective success. Especially with Bethesda and Obsidian now being under the Microsoft umbrella together, maybe it’s time for them to open up their IP to outside talent once more; be that in a consulting context like how id Software helped out with the gunplay in Fallout 4, or to outright take over development New Vegas-style.

If they don’t, then I fear that The Elder Scrolls 6 might not end up the epic masterpiece we all hope it will be.

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