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Elder Scrolls 6 will keep Skyrim's approach to levelling and "traces" of its magic, says former Starfield designer

"You can't throw away everything, you can't keep everything, you can't update everything."

The Elder Scrolls 6 is going to be a mixture of new ideas and RPG systems that go all the way back to The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, according to Bethesda's former design director Bruce Nesmith, who was lead designer on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and senior designer on Starfield. In particular, Nesmith reckons it will "absolutely" continue with Skyrim's approach to levelling and progression, whereby you improved skills by performing the associated actions. He also thinks the game will "probably" retain elements of the magic system he designed for Skyrim, which broke away from Oblivion and Morrowind in being simpler to understand and more immediately powerful, at the price of flexibility and inventiveness.

All that's from a new interview with MinnMax, in which Nesmith - who started at Bethesda back in 1995, and retired in 2021 to write fantasy novels, including the Loki Redeemed series - reflected on his contributions to Elder Scrolls and Fallout, and speculated a little as to the next Elder Scrolls game, which was announced back in 2018.

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Nesmith noted that while Bethesda Softworks director and executive producer Todd Howard will have set the overall direction for the game, much remains to be thrashed out - or at least, such was the case when he retired from the studio. "Todd knew what he wanted, knows what he wants, but that's this set [of ideas] over here - there's the whole rest of the game that is not defined," he mused. "And that's going to be worked on and decided by the people who are there now. What will probably come through, because you can see it in the history of the game, is things that were developed in Oblivion and in Skyrim will be further developed in The Elder Scrolls 6. I don't know what they will be, but you will find my fingerprints on many of those things."

"The whole magic system for Skyrim, that I persuaded Todd to let me throw the baby and the bathwater and start from scratch, and he trusted me enough to do that, there will probably still be traces of that in 6," he went on. "The whole 'you do it to get better at it', while that was not my unique idea, I had a large hand in that - that's absolutely going to continue. A lot of the concepts dealing with how you level, things like that - there'll be a bunch of new ideas thrown in, but I'm betting some of the stuff I worked on will still survive."

All this follows what Nesmith terms the "triage" approach to creating sequels. "I do a talk for colleges and universities about sequels, and how to make a sequel, and at the time I created the talk it was for Fallout 3 to Fallout 4, but it applies everywhere," he said. "And basically it comes down to a triage system - you got to know what to keep, you got to know what to throw away, and you got to know what to do more of or improve.

"And you can't throw away everything, you can't keep everything, you can't update everything, you've got to have something in all three of those buckets, you know. But three iterations down the road one of those buckets may be empty from what it was like three versions earlier."

Any snap reactions to share? Personally, I'm happy for Bethesda to bring back Skyrim's learn-by-doing levelling ethos, but as a graduate of Winterhold, I really want the developer to overhaul the Elder Scrolls magic system, perhaps restoring spell-crafting from Morrowind. The Elder Scrolls magic schools are wonderful to think about, but in-game, it often just feels like a glorified collection of projectile attacks, wonky cloaking abilities and self-heals. Though I always got a kick out of summoning ghost wolves to chew on bandits. How about taking a leaf from the book of Magicka, Bethesda, or even The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood?

Nesmith also shared some thoughts on when we might see the game in action. Don't hold your breath: according to Nesmith, Bethesda only announced the new RPG after taking "years of hits" for not talking about it. "Todd's opinion, which I share by the way is that the video game industry has short memories," he said. "Those companies that start touting their games years ahead of time - actually, you know, they screw themselves.

"The best time to start talking about it is six months before release. So only the fact that everybody was - you know, the pitchforks and torches were out, that was what got Todd to say 'yes, we are going to do Elder Scroll 6 - I promise you it's for real, it'll happen!' But I'm betting you won't hear much in the way of details until a good six months before release, which is the way it should be - I think that's the best approach and he's proven that works really well, at least for Bethesda."

Elder Scrolls 6 is rumoured to be set in Skyrim's neighbouring region Hammerfell, homeland of the Redguards. Beyond that, we have only whispers and shadows. Oh, and that extremely out-of-date leaked Microsoft planning document from 2020, according to which The Elder Scrolls 6's release date will fall in financial year 2024. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer recently stated that the game is "five-plus years" away.

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