According to Bethesda’s oracle and resident director, Todd Howard, the absolute focus of the Skyrim team right now is improving interaction between players and Skyrim NPCs.
“The big things for us are still — and we still struggle with — the NPCs, the interaction, and how they act,” he told Gamasutra. “That’s because the game is so dynamic, we don’t want to script them, so weirdness can ensue sometimes. So we came out of Oblivion thinking, ‘Hey, how do we get more believable characters on the screen who are reacting to you?’
Any of those who played Oblivion will immediately think to themselves, “Er, how about hiring more than three voice actors to vocalize the entire game?” And I’m empathetic to that sentiment; it was awful.
“I always thought we did environments well, and we want to keep doing it well,” Howard continues. “But I’d say the characters and how they perform on the screen was probably our number one [focus].
“There’s going to be some [strangeness], like the player did X, Y and Z that we didn’t expect, and now he’s attacking the town, sleeping in this guy’s bed, killed his wife… We sort of learn each time how people play these games and experience them. So we get better each time, but we do at the end of the day sacrifice, say, a well-paced story. It’s almost impossible for us to do. We’d rather let you go do whatever you want. So that’s a sacrifice that we’re willing to make.”
That leaves the question: will this focus on player and Skyrim NPCs pan out to the point that Elder Scrolls V is the solid successor to its rather wonky predecessor, or will Skyrim be regarded as a stepping stone to future Bethesda success?