The Elder Scrolls series is one that has produced quite a cast of characters over the years. Consider Arena, which I’m going to guess had more NPCs then all the other games (excluding Daggerfall) combined. Daggerfall had even more. Now look at Battlespire, which was the first game in the series that was more pre-defined (it was basically just one large dungeon), you didn’t have a ton of randomly generated characters. And of course, the number of NPCs dropped like a boulder. Interestingly enough, I recall that a lot of the enemies that you encountered (important or not) could be talked to, even if they shouldn’t have interesting to say. It also had multiplayer, and an excessive use of the word “manflesh”. I’m starting to remember why no one ever talks about Battlespire. But what about Redguard, with its cast of 25 characters? There are so few people in Redguard that instead of having individual NPC articles, we just have a character list. Of course there were random guards and people walking around, but the nameless characters were only enemies or had nothing interesting to say from what I understand. The important thing is that Redguard and Battlespire marked the turning point in the series, from more randomly generated fun to a more carefully constructed world.
So what we obviously have here is a trend wherein the games got all together smaller, but were more focused on specific elements in the game. Then came Morrowind, which reversed this trend. While Morrowind was undeniably smaller than Arena or Daggerfall, it was considerably larger than Battlespire and Redguard. The primary reason for this was technology limitations, they had a lot less to work with back then. However, with that increased scale came a massive decrease in the amount of characters who actually mattered. Redguard had 25 named characters, Morrowind had 2675. Truthfully, many of these characters were completely unimportant in every regard. This is partially due to Morrowind not just giving the random enemy NPCs of the world names like “Bandit” or “Marauder”. This policy changed with Bloodmoon and Tribunal, where there who had their name replaced by their role, like “Dark Brotherhood Assassin” or “Reaver”. This was undoubtedly a good idea, because do you really care about the names of a group of smugglers who you can’t interact with in any way but attacking? The next game in the series (ignoring the Elder Scrolls: Travels games), Oblivion reversed the trend by including a much smaller cast of named characters numbering in at 855. Shivering Isles brought with it less than 100 named characters. With this smaller cast came increased efforts in making each character unique. Oblivion is also the first game in the main series where every character is fully voiced (as far as I can tell, Redguard was also fully voiced). Oblivion NPCs had unique lines of dialogue, they walked around the cities, visited their homes, traveled to relatives in other cities, they had actual, if rather structured, lives. This was one of the biggest selling points of Oblivion, that the more active AI would make Cyrodiil so much more realistic as people wouldn’t just be standing around all day. It didn’t work out as well as hoped in the actual game, but it was an honest effort that at least added some extra detail to the world. Which brings us to the latest game, Skyrim. Skyrim again tipped past the 1000 named character mark by just 16 people. Like its predecessor, Skyrim tried to make those characters more unique by giving them a schedule and unique things to say.