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If Elders Scrolls 6 steals one thing from Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom, it should be Link's best cheat power

Escape those caves in double-quick time

A wood elf in a cave in Skyrim, and Link from Tears Of The Kingdom
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

For the last six years, my Skyrim wood elf has been stuck in some godforsaken cave in goodness knows what corner of Tamriel. I don't remember why they were there, or what goal they were trying to achieve. It was just 'one of those caves' that looked cool and interesting when I came across it and I thought, 'Yeah, all right, let's have a go then, shall we?' But while other Skyrim caves I'd come across could be easily polished off in an office lunch-time - as that was often how I played Skyrim back then - this one was different somehow. It was so large and twisty, so infinitely befuddling, that I seemed to be trapped down there forever. Sure, I could have probably turned back, but I'd been down there for ages, and felt like I'd come too far to simply not see it all through to the bitter end. But the end never came, and I eventually abandoned my save as a result, whisked off by the prospect of newer, more exciting games that didn't involve trying to figure out how to escape its narrow, bioluminescent hellscape.

Worse still, this disastrous feat of orienteering has now become my overriding memory of Skyrim. For all its great sidequests and its ever-increasing number of excellent mods, all I ever think about are its damn caves. Just the thought of loading up that save file again makes me grimace, and I'm starting to dread the thought of getting stuck in another one whenever the heck The Elder Scrolls 6 comes out. But I've been playing a lot of The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom this past week, and cor, I'm immediately jealous of Link's Ascend ability. As part of his new slate of powers, Ascend lets him instantly woosh through almost any ceiling as long as there's a traversable bit of terrain above it. That kind of power wouldn't have been half handy for my poor old wood elf, and it's precisely what makes exploring Tears Of The Kingdom's caves so enjoyable. So if there's one thing The Elder Scrolls 6 should steal take note of, please let it be this.

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Caves are one of the bigger new additions to Tears Of The Kingdom's Hyrule. Despite taking place in fundamentally the same land mass as Breath Of The Wild, Nintendo have literally plumbed its depths to give its sequel new shape and meaning. The terrain hasn't just been morphed by falling bits of sky kingdom. It's also opened up a whole new subterranean layer beneath it, one that's split between close to the surface caves that are full of treasures, monsters and surprise contraptions, and another, deeper underground strata that I'd be loathe to spoil here. It's the former hidey-holes where Link's Ascend ability shines brightest anyway, though, so let's talk about those for a minute, and why Elder Scrolls 6 should absolutely nick it hook line and sinker.

Part of the reason why Ascend isn't so relevant down in the proper depths of Hyrule is because it needs Link to be reasonably close to a flat-ish ceiling in order to work - and those are in pretty short supply down in its abyssal canyons. Its caves, however, are much smaller affairs - the kind of spaces that Skyrim et al have been trading in for years - and have ceilings aplenty for Link to slip through their rocky voids, and pop his head out of on the other side like a human Diglett. The inclusion of caves is obviously not revolutionary in and of itself, but I'd argue the way you're able to travel through them absolutely is - and that's in part thanks to Ascend.

A watery cave in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The last known sighting of my very trapped wood elf. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Bethesda Softworks

In classic Nintendo fashion, many of these caves have been designed with Ascend in mind. A lot of Hyrule's caves are pretty damp, wet spaces for Link to scamper about in, which can make climbing up their slippery rock faces a pretty difficult task. Try as you might, Link will constantly lose his grip and slide back down to where you started when you try and do a bit of rock-climbing here - much like he would do outside when it's raining. That's where Ascend comes in, letting you zip up through things like wooden awnings jutting out above you to claim precious monster spoils lying on top of it, or literally slugging your way through the rock face itself to reach secret, gated off caverns that don't otherwise have any other discernible entrances.

It's magical stuff and instantly makes every single space more interesting to explore and interact with. Each cave becomes a puzzle in its own right, and the thrill of finding a new one never dies, as you never quite know what you're going to find down there. And yes, that's with the full acknowledgement that it did also take me an embarrassingly long time to fully rewire my brain to remember I even could ascend early on. I'm not ashamed to admit that there was a lot of endless running about and me yelling 'WHAT THE HECK AM I MISSING HERE???' in my early hours of playing Tears Of The Kingdom, and each time the penny eventually dropped I cursed my own infantile idiocy like you wouldn't believe.

A murky cave landscape in Skyrim
A narrow cave corridor in Skyrim
Will I ever see daylight again? Who can say? | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Bethesda Softworks

But Ascend's puzzle potential isn't what makes it so stealable - although that is certainly part of it. For me, it's the way it effectively lets you nope out of your current predicament that makes it so appealing. If you're deep underground and suddenly come across a monster that's miles out of your league, for example, you can often just Ascend and get the hell out of there right away and get back to doing something else. Tears Of The Kingdom certainly isn't short of things to do, and you never know - maybe the place where Ascend ends up plopping you out will end up sparking some other line of enquiry as you catch sight of something other, unknown, interesting thing, and send you down a whole new path you wouldn't have found otherwise.

Link swims through a void in The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kindgom
Oh, to be able to slip through the void and emerge from my rocky hellscape! | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Nintendo

It's not just an easy get out of jail free card, though, either. It also means you don't ever have to backtrack when you eventually 'complete' a cave, either. Some of Tears Of The Kingdom's caves have a clear entrance and exit, but many don't, and being able to swim through the bedrock above is just a brilliant way of speeding up the flow of your exploration. It's both a shortcut straight to the good stuff, and a handy get out clause if you need it.

In fact, it's this 'get out' cheat that gave birth to Ascend in the first place. As reported by Polygon, Ascend began life as a debug feature that let its developers make a quick and easy exit so they could get on with testing other parts of the game. Series producer Eiji Aonuma told Polygon it was a "pain" to keep backtracking to the surface, and director Hidemaro Fujibayashi felt the same. "To be blunt and honest, cheating can be fun," he said. "So that's why we decided to drop it in there."

Link emerges from within the ground in The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kindgom
Would you say Link is more of a Diglett or Dugtrio? | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Nintendo

Of course, there were several other potential problems Nintendo had to account for by introducing Ascend as an official ability - such as making sure players didn't pop up into an empty void due to loading issues and what not. I mean, Ganondorf's powerful and everything, but blinking out the whole of Hyrule in an instant while you were slurping up through a stalactite is a step too far, even for him. But it's this kind of thinking and approach to exploration that I think Elder Scrolls could greatly benefit from. Sure, you could say Skyrim's emphasis on separate exits and entrances and the way it purposefully leads its players through a guided, curated space is maybe a better way of designing traditional caves than the many dead-ends you get in Tears Of The Kingdom. But cor, what I also wouldn't give for a quick handy exit cheat that didn't involve slavishly gritting my teeth to find a way out because I can't even fast travel down there to get to the next nearest goddamn landmark. You have all sorts of magical powers in Skyrim, I'm sure swimming through an interdimensional rock void could be one of them.

Of course, far be it from me to tell Bethesda what they should and shouldn’t include in their next Elder Scrolls game. I'll leave that to the actual experts. But I'm not lying when I say that I've thought a lot about my poor, abandoned Skyrim elf this week, and how something like Ascend would have been absolutely amazing in Skyrim. And hey, if Bethesda don't take note, perhaps the army of Skyrim modders out there will fill in the gaps. Please, do it for the sake of my poor, emaciated wood elf, who's been rotting in their eternally fluorescent rock grave ever since the end of 2017. They deserved better than this.

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