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On Oblivion and Beyond: #4 – Followers (Part 2)

Cloud Ruler Temple: Home of the Blades and the what should have been a hub for followers during the main quest – just saying, it would have been cool to bring a Blade as a companion.

The 7th of Morning Star, 434 3E.

Good Turdas and welcome to the fourth installment of On Oblivion and Beyond. Today we will be continuing on the topic of followers from the last blog, and talk more in depth about Oblivion’s follower system and how followers behave in other games, such as in Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas.

In Oblivion, there are many generic followers for you to choose from, and not so many unique followers to accompany you. Followers were a somewhat new concept to the Elder Scrolls series. There were NPCs in Morrowind that would follow you for certain quests (and the same is somewhat true in Oblivion) but there were no dedicated NPC followers until Oblivion, and this feature is greatly expanded upon in Skyrim. Followers are not in depth in Oblivion, and what I mean by that is there is no character development for any of the followers who are supposed to tag along with you for any journey. Just to be clear, characters such as Martin Septim and Mazoga the Orc do not count, since they will leave once their prospective quest is fulfilled. The only exception to this are the Knights of the Nine that I mentioned in the previous blog, and once they die, they are replaced by generic Knights of the Nine.

Oblivion gets the quantity of followers right, but none of the actual in depth in regards to having characters with actual depth that can accompany you on your journeys. In fact, character development in Oblivion is pretty bad. Now that I think more about it, Skyrim’s character development is pretty bad too. I just think that the Elder Scrolls series’ writing of characters is kind of weak. I’m going to get a lot of hate for this, but Fallout 4’s character development/writing is far superior to any Elder Scrolls game. Most gamers knows who Preston Garvey is from Fallout 4, but the same cannot be said about Baurus from Oblivion. Oblivion might be a vastly superior game, but Fallout’s characters have always been written well, especially in the older games and in Fallout New Vegas.

Another settlement needs our help. I’ve heard of this one town, Kvatch, I think the name was, is under siege by Daedra. Here, I’ll mark it on your map.

In Skyrim, the followers at least have the courtesy to have a little backstory or a recruiting quest, which I will talk about in just a moment. The first follower that almost all Skryim players get is Lydia, where she becomes your Housecarl when you are named Thane of Whiterun. There are a lot of followers in Skyrim, and a lot of their backstory is pretty limited, but at least they have some backstory at all instead of nameless NPCs that follow you around. There is a place for both of them in Elder Scrolls games (unique vs. generic) but no games have really gotten them right besides Obsidian’s New Vegas, which obviously isn’t an ES title.

I’m getting a bit off course with this; a few things that Oblivion would have benefitted from when it comes to followers is the following:

  1. Better Character Development: All of the actual dedicated followers are generic NPCs. There are a lot of characters in game such as Baurus or the other Blades members that would benefit a lot from being a dedicated follower. As a follower, they can be fleshed out and written more backstory about them. I think Fallout New Vegas does the best with their followers. They usually have a “recruiting quest” and then a “loyalty quest”. Mass Effect 2 Does the exact same thing. In addition to being a follower, they will comment on things in the world when it happens and react to decisions you make. It is a lot of work, but I’d rather have 10 really good followers than 50 generic followers. But then again, why not have both?

  2. That leads me into my next point: Oblivion has the potential to have a lot of generic followers and unique followers. Why not have both? Oblivion can have Quality AND Quantity. Imagine fighting the last battle with 10 Knights of the Nine, 30 guards from all over the province, and your main follower, Baurus, who you’ve brought on all of your adventures. When it comes to having this many NPCs on screen, look to Fallout 3/NV. There are a lot more NPCs in that game on screen and there are projectiles and loads more effects in the game. I understand Oblivion is older, but it uses the exact same engine, and there’s no excuse for it to not work the same way. I have never understood this

  3. Make followers useful. All of the generic NPC followers die and respawn, which is fine, but the thing is (here’s another leveling issue) is that every NPC follower you have is going to be weaker than the majority of the enemies you fight in the game. The enemies level up as you level up. Your NPC followers do not.

That’s it regarding things that Oblivion can improve on with followers. One suggestion that would fix everything is to simply copy the Fallout New Vegas follower system and port it to Oblivion. That would be perfect, at least in my opinion.

The last note for #3 is the fact that Oblivion can have quality and quantity. Elder Scrolls games and Fallout games have the strength that every NPC in each game is potentially a very complex AI system that eats, drinks, fights, and sleeps. The NPC number is lower because of this, but in games such as Oblivion, it can have a lot of AI on screen as well as quality AI too. No other games have such complicated AI tasking, and while many games can have hundreds more NPCs on screen, I feel that the impact with Elder Scrolls games is much larger with the AI being both complex and simplistic at the same time.

Let’s take a departure from only Oblivion and discuss a few features found in Skyrim, Oblivion, and Fallout New Vegas. The topics I’d like to talk about is the companion wheel and incapacitated vs. dead vs. respawning.

Regarding the companion wheel, this is something that every Elder Scrolls game needs going forward. In Elder Scrolls 6, even if we have shallow, no background NPCs, I expect a companion wheel to exist. There is no excuse for the game to not have this simple technology to control your followers in an easy way. A companion wheel makes it so that the NPC usage is much easier to control, simple as that. I appreciate that in Fallout 4 that they tried to make the experiences with everything seamless or “in game”, but I just think that the companion is a great idea and works really well. This is something that can be even expanded upon with multiple followers. One of my favorite games of all time is this little game called Mount and Blade, and in that, you can control a large group of troops with just a few button commands. On a smaller scale in the Elder Scrolls games, let’s say that you have five companions. You can issue a button command from the companion wheel to make them fall back, or place them at certain points, or something of that nature. Oblivion lacked a lot of follower basics such as equipping them with whatever gear you want, or even having a discussion with them, and those need to be dealt with as well, but overall, the companion wheel can help make the entire process easier.

Keep movin’.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss incapacitated vs. dead vs. respawning followers. It should be as simple as this:

  1. Incapacitated: all essential NPCs should go incapacited instead of dying if downed in regular combat.

  2. Dead: all essential NPCs should die if they are killed by the player (no matter what the consequence) or they are in a critical state, like during a specific quest where they must be kept alive or else.

  3. Respawning: All generic followers that come from a pool of many of them (I.E. Fighters Guild or Mages Guild individuals) should respawn and return to you when they do.

Followers in Oblivion and in other games is a topic that I will definitely come back to from time to time. There’s a lot to talk about with this as it involves a lot of game mechanics, story writing, and overall game design/function to really make followers work in games such as Oblivion or any other Elder Scrolls game. In the next blog, I’m going to discuss one issue that most people do not think too much about for an Elder Scrolls game, and that is platforming.

– Matt Cuartero

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