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New Worlds vs Nostalgia: The Remakes or Re-Mistakes?

Fans of Bethesda Studios “Elder Scrolls” series were recently surprised with news of a potential “Oblivion” remaster. This and other planned game releases were leaked from the ongoing court case between Microsoft and the FTC. This now displaced timetable of major game releases from Bethesda Studios revealed a number of titles, some of them new intellectual properties such as “Starfield” and “Hi-Fi Rush” while others were notable titles from their past, such as the previously mentioned “Oblivion” along with “Fallout 3.”

Personally, the allure of an “Oblivion” remaster is quite appealing. My background in gaming has been dominated by RPGs for well over a decade now. It is often embarrassing to admit to how much time I have spent in various game worlds, or how many times I’ve woken up in a prisoner carriage heading to certain death in Skyrim. “Oblivion” especially represents a special place in my heart, as I often have told friends that “Oblivion was the game that made me a gamer.” I was always a fan of fantasy media, whether it be Arthurian legends or “Lord of the Rings” so when I saw “The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion” on the shelf at Blockbuster, I of course was enchanted by the images and description on the case. Indeed, for the following week I was absolutely absorbed into the game. I can recall fondly my first character, a Khajiit, who was a special, aimless mix of so many new concepts that I could not accurately define what kind of fighter he was. I’m sure I was trying to sneak around in heavy armor or casting spells despite having no major traits in any arcane art. Despite my eclectic approach to the game, I was utterly enthralled with the game. I had played many games before that, some even in the same series, others in different genres. Nothing quite held my attention like this jaunt into Cyrodiil. Although I look upon that first time playing quite fondly, and let’s be honest- the many other playthroughs before “Skyrim'' was released- it did lead me to find a host of other RPGs that were able to scratch the itch that “Oblivion” left me with. In the time after first playing “Oblivion” I found titles like “Mass Effect,” “Fable,” and “Dragon Age.” The nature of these often being massive, plot-heavy adventures - meaning that usually I was delving into a single title, and committing to completing the experience through, over the span of a week or two. I pride myself on being fairly consistent too, I try to start these lengthy RPGs with a mind to complete them. Anyone who knows RPGs will tell you this is quite the undertaking, especially when one intends to try and experience as much of the optional content as possible.

Thus is the conundrum of the leaked information made apparent, though: does a massive game world that is now over 17 years old need a remaster? I suppose the folly of asking such a question when the content in question is entertainment is self-evident. Perhaps no game “needs” to be remade or remastered. However, I pose the question because something nearly all fans of the “Elder Scrolls” franchise could agree on is that the time between the last installment (“Skyrim”) and the supposed release date for the next game has been far too long. Indeed, with a release coming in 2026, “The Elder Scrolls 6” will come 15 years after its predecessor. One has to wonder (well at least I do) what resources might be diverted from working on “The Elder Scrolls 6” to remaster an older game.

The matter of resource allocation however can be a tricky subject to probe as a fan, though. Bethesda of course has the right to determine how they as an entity ostensibly set up to make money; although as a fan we can “vote with our dollar” to a degree. Perhaps they realize that someone like me will still purchase the remaster, and if I’m being self-aware - of course I will.That being said, I feel this tension between wanting an upgraded nostalgic experience and wanting a completely brand new experience. I wholeheartedly believe nostalgia could sell quite well, and I believe it’s the intention behind the remaster. However, years of waiting for news about the newest “Elder Scrolls” game has yielded little more than bread crumbs. Even the trailer for the game that debuted in 2018 was little more than a sweeping landscape shot.

For devoted fans and the potential draw on new players, what do game studios owe in regards to game releases? On the one hand, it’s quite compelling that a game company can capture the interest and desire of millions of gamers despite there being a decade and a half of time between releases. Assuming one doesn’t want to play “Fallout” or “Starfield,” the mainline releases from Bethesda Studios could present a stagnation of interest. One of my friends had brought up a point that taste-wise, he preferred the fantasy genre in video games. Considering that “Fallout” and “Starfield” are both firmly set in a science fiction setting (in contrasting levels of seriousness and goofiness) the mainline RPG that Bethesda makes will have left those fantasy fans wanting. Even more broadly, the topic of remakes and remasters is ever present now in cultural discourse. Many movie titles have seen remakes or reboots, and the issue of originality bubbles to mind. In the drive for profits, are companies forsaking the risk of originality for the safety of what we already know? As the leak suggested, it isn’t just “Oblivion” that was planned to get the remastering treatment. “Fallout 3” was also slated for a remaster. These are games that fans love, and while I wouldn’t criticize anyone for purchasing these remakes… I do wonder if we end up stifling ourselves to new experiences. If you talk to any of my friends about their “game backlogs” which are usually well-populated with titles they haven’t played yet, you can still usually see games they have played show up. Video games, just like favorite movies, should absolutely make you feel good and happy to revisit. The thought of our beloved favorites getting a “new coat of paint” is exciting. Yet still, the worlds we haven’t seen yet could prove just as exciting or more. Maybe the games on the horizon should be the focus, and older games that have had their time should be allowed to remain as they were. The cynical take is that profits will often spur studios to make certain decisions. However, a more optimistic look (especially considering the release of Starfield as a dream project of the studio) would have me see it as an ode to those sentimental, nostalgic gamers. I could see myself setting off for another adventure in Cyrodiil in the coming months, moved by the familiar stories and characters, yet awed by the updated software. When we finally get our hands on the 6th “Elder Scrolls” I am sure we will look fondly back at the previous installments, the remastered Oblivion and the many, many re-releases of Skyrim.

Blessings of the Nine, traveler.

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