For me, one of the best bits of news about Skyrim is that the whole map is being hand-generated rather than using a generator for much of it.
I’ve described elsewhere that my initial to leaving the initial Oblivion sewer was “Wow!”, and that I had a similar reaction to Fallout 3. The problem in both games is that the initial sense of wonder quickly fades into complacency: you reach the crest of a hill, and on the far side you see… exactly the same thing as on the other side.
In Oblivion I’ve used mods to mitigate this problem. The set of Unique Landscapes mods ensure that nowhere in Cyrodiil looks quite like anywhere else, while RAEVWD means you don’t have to be up close to see the difference. In my opinion, this makes a huge difference to the game because you can become a part of a proper community rather than feeling you’re simply in some cut-and-pasted area.
Morrowind was much better than Oblivion for the variety of its exteriors, but even on Vvardenfell there wasn’t huge variety. In Skyrim, with a bit of luck, there’ll have been a little competition between landscape modders: “See what I just did in The Pale?” -> “Curses! I’ve got to seriously improve my work in the suburbs of Riften!” Obviously, some areas have to remain “boring” to let the exceptional pieces stand out, but as long as there are enough exceptional areas, that’s fine by me.
One of the clearest, most damning statements about the Oblivion map is UESP’s Unmarked Places page. It stalled at less than 20 “interesting” locations, and I had to get tough to prevent an odd rock and four bits of timber being mentioned. If the map was largely auto-generated, then this is only to be expected.
From what I’ve seen so far, this requirement isn’t going to be much of an issue. The landscapes that have been revealed have been stunning. Stunning to the extent of reducing me to the point of staring, slack-jawed, at my monitor.
I know that not every location can have this effect. All I ask is that we have a few more locations capable of doing it.
I’ve made this the first of my specific “hopes” for the new game, because it’s the most important. Obviously I have further hopes for the game but I believe that if it can get its setting right, an awful lot of the rest comes naturally.