I am not a guy who is easily surprised. If I was out to eat and I find a used Band-Aid in my salad, I’d probably nod and go, “Interesting choice.” When it comes to video games, I get even less surprised. When you’ve been in the hobby since 1994, you’ve seen things. Things that will desensitize you to any bizarre piece of news.
I’ve seen a console commercial with a creepy, sentient baby doll and a floating PS3.
I’ve seen Kevin Spacey play a villain in Call of Duty.
I’ve seen a game called Farming Simulator 17.
There are seventeen of those fuckers.
But color me surprised when earlier this year there were rumors swirling about that Bethesda was working on a remastered version of Skyrim for the current gen consoles. And when it was confirmed at this year’s E3, I was even more surprised that it was a real thing.
It certainly isn’t the worst idea for a remaster. After all, Devil May Cry 4: Definitive Edition DOES exist, a remaster asked for by no one, not even the developers of the original Devil May Cry 4. It was more the fact that it was Bethesda. This is a game company that takes its time with its games, often releasing games 4-5 years apart from each other because they’re so massive, expensive, and glitch filled. It seemed like an odd decision to take resources away from a studio that needs every person they can get to focus on remastering a five year old game that is still, honestly, kind of fresh in people’s minds.
Here’s my thoughts: Skyrim is a great game, arguably one of the best Western RPGs ever made, but did we really need a slightly better looking version of it? Yes, there’s mod support, but if adding top hats to mudcrabs is the number one reason to spend $60 on a game I already own and put over 150 hours into, then I’m not sure if your game needed to be made. It just doesn’t seem necessary, especially since this is probably going to take time and resources away from an actually new Elder Scrolls game.
Well, Skryim Remastered/Definitive Edition/Collector’s Remastered Edition/Whatever The Hell They Ended Up Calling It Edition has been released and it seems like a lot of people thought what I thought. The game is obviously still good, because it’s Skyrim, but there’s just no need to revisit it. The baked in DLC and upgraded visuals and mod support are all fine and dandy, but it’s probably not worth plunking $60 down if you already played Skyrim to death last generation (which is probably what most Skyrim owners did).
But here’s what I find frustrating, besides the obvious fact that this probably postpones Elder Scrolls VI. It’s that if Bethesda insisted on remastering a game, they simply chose the wrong game to remaster. As I said before, I love Skyrim. It’s actually one of my top 10 favorite games of all time. But five years is not enough distance from it to justify the money and time I’d need to spend on it.
However, if Bethesda had chosen another one of it’s beloved classics to remaster, I would have totally been on board.
A game that has been out for twice as long as Skyrim.
A game that is just begging to be revisited and dressed up.
I’m just drawing this out for suspense.
I mean, there’s a huge fucking picture of it at the top of the article, so I dunno why I’m bothering with this.
Guess what it is yet?
Morrowind? No. Yes, yes, I know you probably think it’s the best one but I’m not talking about it here.
Fallout 3? No, but you’re getting warmer.
Fallout 4? Now you’re just being a smartass.
It’s Oblivion. Bethesda should have remastered Oblivion. And here’s why.
The first and most obvious reason is time. There’s more time and distance between Oblivion and now than there was for Skyrim. It’s pretty simple math. Skyrim was released in 2011, so that’s five years. Oblivion was released in 2006, so that’s ten years. And the difference between five and ten is…uhh…umm…it’s like, twice as much. So whereas a Skyrim remaster feels pointless because it feels like it was just released yesterday, Oblivion has been gone just long enough that we’d be hungry to return to its world, ready to revisit all the places and characters we fell in love with a decade ago.
I mean, I feel silly even stating this point because it seems just so obvious. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I feel like that is true for all things. Well, unless you’re a cancer survivor. You probably don’t miss the cancer that much, no matter how long time passes.
But the simple fact is that Oblivion has had more time away from gamers. If it returned, we would welcome it like we’re welcoming an estranged father who has been gone for a decade. With tears, smiles, and some serious abandonment issues.
And to all you filthy Morrowind loyalists. I understand even more time has passed since Morrowind than Oblivion but shut up, no one likes you people.
So there’s the whole time and distance thing that Oblivion has a clear, objective advantage over Skyrim with. There’s also the fact that Oblivion is more in need of an upgrade than Skyrim. Skyrim’s updated graphics make an already pretty game into a slightly prettier game. The difference is not all that big, and DEFINITELY not big enough to warrant a full $60 price tag.
But imagine Oblivion with updated graphics. To say that Oblivion’s graphics haven’t aged well would be…mild. The environments aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re certainly more generic and bland than the much more detailed areas of Skyrim. And don’t even get me started on the NPC models, who look like something like a mix between a heap of clay melting in the sun and a person conceived and born in Pripyat, circa 1987.
I’m not asking for a new fucking engine built in house. But mods have updated Oblivion‘s looks to stunning levels. Why can’t Bethesda do the same? Giving this game a complete graphical upgrade/rehaul would make Oblivion feel fresher than ever, something this Skyrim remaster simply couldn’t do, on no fault of it’s own.
And I’m not just talking graphical upgrades, either. Oblivion could get a gameplay reboot that would make it feel newer and more awesomer than ever. I’m not saying completely change everything. But certain annoying things that Skyrim fixed could be similarly updated here. I’m talking the game’s broken leveling system where enemies were constantly getting stronger with you, creating no sense of progression. Or how you can’t use weapons and magic at the same time. Or how the melee combat is clunkier and more awkward than a baby giraffe with cinder blocks surgically grafted to its feet.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. With these deeper upgrades to Oblivion, we’d be venturing into remake territory, not a remaster. Which I would have to slightly disagree with, simply because of the modding community that Bethesda games boast. Gameplay mods happen all the time, and while I know exactly jack shit about developing games, let alone massive open world RPGs, I don’t think that it would require the game to be rebuilt from scratch to incorporate better graphics and gameplay adjustments. Obviously, the core game would remain intact. It would just be shinier and more polished.
And think about the statement this would make. If Bethesda strutted out and said, “We’re remastering Oblivion and if you think it’s just a new coat of paint, you’re fucking wrong. We’re doing this, this and this and it’s going to blow your fucking minds.” followed by dropping their gigantic balls on stage. No longer would remasters have a label of being mere ports, just lazy excuses for game companies to churn out a money grab. Suddenly we have a precedent, where a remaster can become a TRULY definitive edition of the game. Think of the PS4 and Xbone’s version of GTA V. Rockstar fucking nailed it by not just improving graphics, but actually adding new missions, music and a legitimately whole new way to play the game. This is even more proof that this vision of a remastered and perfected Oblivion is far from impossible.
And to you all you filthy Morrowind loyalists. I understand that Morrowind would be even more ripe for updated graphics and game mechanics but shut up, no one likes you people.
Anyway, beyond the fact that Oblivion‘s fields are more fertile for upgrading than that of Skyrim, there’s a far more simple reason as to why Oblivion would have been a better target for remastering than Skyrim. And that’s simply because in many ways…Oblivion is just a better game.
Let me clarify something very quickly so that you don’t start throwing things at me (which would be you throwing things at your computer, so really you’re just hurting yourself there, pal). I think, as a whole, Skyrim is better than Oblivion. If I were to rank my top 25 games of all time, (which I, ahem, DEFINITELY haven’t done because I’m DEFINITELY not that nerdy so this is DEFINITELY hypothetical, but HYPOTHETICALLY) Oblivion, as a whole, would rank below Skyrim. But if I did a tale of the tape with the two games, Oblivion outshines Skyrim in a couple of key areas.
First and foremost, Skyrim waters down a lot of the RPG aspects that Oblivion did so well. Skyrim‘s character leveling is much more basic than Oblivion‘s, where you simply funnel points into three different areas: health, stamina or magic. There are perk based skill trees, but those grow and unlock organically as you play, rather than being any result of strategic use of experience points. Oblivion requires a much more thoughtful approach, where you have to upgrade traits that govern your skills, meaning you have to actually spend more than ten seconds on your character screen when you level up. Skyrim‘s more streamlined character progression is good if you prefer to spend more time killing villagers, stripping their clothes off, and then drowning them in a large pile of their own books (I can’t be the only person who habitually does this in these games), but it does dampen the whole “role playing” aspect of this role playing game. Less control over how your character grows can make leveling up feel a little hollow in Skyrim, versus Oblivion‘s more in depth and much more satisfying character progression.
The other thing Oblivion does much better than Skyrim? Quests. And this is kind of a big one because, hey, quests are pretty fucking important in an RPG. Again, I love Skyrim, but its quests…can get a little tiresome. It’s like when you invite one of your best friend’s over to hang out and he/she constantly pees in your kitchen sink. You still love them, but, come on, that’s a sink not the toilet. Okay, maybe not the best analogy, but my point is as great as Skyrim is, it has a bit of a big flaw in its questing.
Quests in Skyrim are one of two things: fetch quests and other fetch quests. There are a few interesting quests here and there that don’t require going to some dungeon to grab something for someone, so that you can go back to find out that that same someone needs something ELSE grabbed for them, but they are so few and far between. Even The Dark Brotherhood, an absolute home run of a quest line in Oblivion, is pretty much reduced to fetch quests with the occasional assassination thrown in. Call me crazy, but when I join an assassination guild, I expect to be slinking around, killing high profile targets in creative ways, not being sent to some fort to grab a book someone left there by mistake.
And it’s not just the Dark Brotherhood. There’s the Thieves Guild which is not comprised of high stake heists and robberies, but rather dungeon diving to try and find some artifact of a long lost race. I honestly barely remember it because it was so forgetful.
Compare these to their Oblivion counterparts. As I hinted at earlier, the Dark Brotherhood in Oblivion was one of the most awesome, captivating quest lines in any RPG I’ve ever played. It forced you to actually assassinate people, often in interesting ways. And of course there’s the big twist halfway through the quest line that creates one of the most gut wrenching scenarios I’ve had to endure in a video game. And Oblivion‘s Thieves Guild was almost as good, involving lots of unique heists that you had to pull off, many of them involving tense but satisfying stealth segments. Far more enjoyable than Skyrim‘s Thieves Guild, where you were a glorified errand boy.
And I could go on and on. Oblivion was positively chock full of quests that involved exploration and dialogue and your wits, rather than just dungeon crawling. Like the quest where you had to figure out a way to get a pious man to beat you to death with a specific weapon. Or the quest where you had to investigate missing art in a castle, having to actually search out clues rather than having a waypoint guide you, screaming, “HEY IT’S RIGHT HERE, THE WAY TO END THE QUEST IS RIGHT HERE.” Or the quest where you had to help an ancient god fool an entire town into thinking they were being plagued. Did Oblivion have a good deal of fetch quests? Sure, every RPG does. But they were not NEARLY as common in Oblivion as they were in Skyrim. The quest design in Oblivion, quite simply, puts Skyrim to shame.
And here’s the point I’m trying to make with this. Take an Oblivion with upgraded visuals and polished, less dated mechanics and what do you get? A game that is flat out better than Skyrim, original version or remastered. Bethesda missed an opportunity not to just make a better, more daring and memorable remaster; they missed an opportunity to make a better game. It would have taken a little more work, sure, but it would have pleased the fans, created much more excitement and, as I said earlier, set a precedent that remasters don’t have to be just straight up ports for people who stowed away their older consoles. They can go back and actually make the original games better, giving players a reason to go back and lose themselves in it all over again. I know I personally would have bought an Oblivion remaster on day one, whereas I have no intentions of buying the Skyrim remaster until maybe a year or two from now, if at all.
God dammit. Now I’m in the mood to play Oblivion. I’m off to sit in front of my PS3 for 80 straight hours. If I don’t come back, send food and a bar of soap.