After Starfield, The Elder Scrolls 6 Needs to Do Something Different

The burden of expectation.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It’s been 13 years since the release of The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, and in that time we’ve seen nearly two entire console generations and countless advancements. Massive RPGs have completely redefined the fantasy genre, from The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne to Baldur’s Gate 3 and Dragon’s Dogma 2. But in those years, Bethesda also released Fallout 4, Fallout 76, and Starfield, and made one thing abundantly clear: the studio has been using the same formula this whole time, and it’s starting to show its cracks. The Elder Scrolls 6 has more pressure than ever to meaningfully advance what it means to be a Bethesda game, no matter when it comes out.

As part of a 30th-anniversary post this week, Bethesda provided a minuscule update on The Elder Scrolls 6, saying “Even now, returning to Tamriel and playing early builds has us filled with the same sense of joy, excitement, and promise of adventure."

The “early build” part of that is key, as The Elder Scrolls 6 is likely still years away from release. Last year, part of the FTC v. Microsoft case documents revealed that the game was expected to launch in 2026, at the earliest. That means nearly half of The Elder Scrolls series’ lifespan has been spent waiting for the next game after Skyrim. What’s more important, however, is how the formula used in Skyrim all those years ago has started to grow stagnant.

Bethesda games make everything revolve around the player, to an almost obsessive degree.


The key problem is that all of Bethesda’s games have almost identical core structures and ethos, from Skyrim to Starfield. Every game casts you as a nobody who suddenly becomes a world-saving hero, thrust into an adventure as the most important person in the world. That idea of player empowerment is absolutely crucial to Bethesda games. Every single quest revolves around the player’s power or ingenuity, and the games quite literally mold themselves around you. A crime happens, and you’re the one to solve it. A loved one is missing, you step up to the plate.

Bethesda games want the player to feel important, and in that same vein, they want to make sure the player is always immersed or having fun. Quests don’t advance until you want them to, there are often little to no consequences for your actions, and there’s always some kind of home purchasing or crafting system.

Even in Starfield, these ideas are more present than ever, with outpost crafting and quests that always cast you as the most important person in the universe. Then there are the more mechanical features that are always present: you can always pick up every item in sight, there’s always a crafting system, always a wealth of loot, always a bench or chair to sit on and pass time.

Over time, every Bethesda game starts to blend together. Yes, the settings and stories are different, but if you’ve played one Bethesda game you largely know how to play the others. These are entirely frictionless experiences that cater to the player at every step, and in light of the RPGs that have made wild advancements, Bethesda’s formula simply needs to change.

Games like Baldur’s Gate 3 and Dragon’s Dogma 2 show a demand for RPGs that challenge the player, both through their narrative and gameplay.

Larian Studios

Souls games like Bloodborne are all about adding as much friction to the experience as possible, challenging the player at every step, both with its combat and cryptic stories. The Witcher 3 creates a world that feels living and breathing, where the player is simply a cog in the machine. Baldur’s Gate 3 wildly redefined choice in RPGs, with a malleable narrative that shifts alongside the player’s choices, but crucially makes sure consequences are just as big as successes. Even the recent release of Dragon’s Dogma 2 shows there’s room for RPGs that challenge, and demand more of the player.

In light of all these experiences, it just feels like Bethesda’s power fantasy approach is starting to wear thin. The Elder Scrolls 6 doesn’t need to be the same thing again, it needs to be something different. It can still have plenty of the core tenets that make Bethesda games special, like deep lore and immersive worlds, but something needs to change at the core of the studio’s design.

There are certainly plenty of people who still enjoy the Bethesda game experience, but as RPGs continue to grow and thrive in imaginative new ways, it feels like The Elder Scrolls 6 is in danger of being buried in the past.

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