One of the features of The Elder Scrolls from Daggerfall onwards has been Factions; organisations that you can (often) join, each with an associated set of quests, and a hierarchy of ranks through which you can progress. Fighters, Mages and Thieves all have guilds; Daggerfall and Oblivion allowed you to join the shadowy Dark Brotherhood while Morrowind featured the slightly more honourable Morag Tong; Daggerfall had Knight orders and Temples of the Eight Divines; Morrowind had the Great Houses of Vvardenfell; Oblivion had several small factions such as the Order of Virtuous Blood and the Knights of the White Stallion.
What can we expect in TESV: Skyrim? Todd Howard seems to have confirmed that the Dark Brotherhood is back, but there’s no word on the others. Presumably we’ll see the Fighters Guild again. It would be a real shame to have stopped the Camonna Tong taking it over in Morrowind and the Blackwood Company driving it out of business in Oblivion only for it to gently fizzle out during the next two centuries. I imagine we’ll see the Thieves Guild again. The increase in visibility and prosperity brought about by the ending of Nocturnal’s curse should help keep it going, and its only serious rival, the Camonna Tong, is almost exclusively a Morrowind operation, although we did see a couple of its operatives in Cyrodiil so you never know…
The Mages Guild, of course, is a different matter. We know from The Infernal City that the guild is no more, and has split into the “Synod” and the “College of Whispers”. Of course, Skyrim is set over 150 years after TIC, so the guild might have reformed, but either way I hope we’ll learn more about the split and the reasons for it. It seems likely to me that necromancy was the cause, and “College of Whispers” has a more necromantic sound to it, so my guess is that’s where the necromancers went with the Synod being the anti-necromancy faction. We shall see.
The problem I’ve always had with the factions is that, apart from giving you some extra quests, a free bed, and a quantity of free goods… there’s not much to them. The members hang around their guild halls or hideouts complaining about the lack of work, or how there’s no time for research but don’t do anything else. Why can’t I bring along another Fighters Guild member on a quest? Yes I’ll have to split the fee, but so be it.
In the Mages Guild people were always reading books, mixing potions and so on but never learned anything new. How about letting them teach players new skills? Not just the sort of ability training we had in MW and OB, but – for instance – why not make it a requirement to talk to a guild alchemist when you level up to learn about the new properties that are available with plants? It doesn’t really make much sense when you hit 75 alchemy you suddenly know ”all” the properties, having had no idea about the fourth property mere moments ago.
For the Thieves, let me hire one to steal something for me. Or to open a door I can’t unlock yet. Or sneak up and pick somebody’s pocket.
The other problem is that you can gain ranks too quickly. In about two weeks, you can go from a prison ship/prison cell to champion of the Fighters Guild, Arch-mage of the Mages Guild and head honcho of the Thieves. I know you can’t really slow this down too much because it’ll be annoying, but how about introducing rough timing rules like you can’t become Arch-mage in less than two months? On a related subject, gossip and rumours shouldn’t spread instantly: you can complete a quest in Cheydinhal, run faster than any other living entity straight to Anvil, and find people there talking about it like it’s old news.
Anyway, back on topic.
I can’t really begin to speculate as to what the faction quest lines will be about – or even if there will be an overarching quest line for each guild. The reunification of the Mages Guild is one idea that springs to mind, or a huge battle between the two successor factions, perhaps. It’s difficult to see anything more engaging than the Dark Brotherhood story from OB – the secret internal traitor idea was perfect for that faction. Perhaps this is the time for the showdown between them and the Morag Tong?