So, I know this is lame. I'm not a game designer, network engineer or software engineer. But hear me out, try not to think of how practical this might be. But I think it's how Skyrim should be done.
Think Journey. The fantastic thing about Journey is that it's online component is so seamless. When players roam the desert other players will drop in or out of your game, to help you or/and to experience the game with you. But you're never stuck with the one person and even though the meeting was fleeting the impact. This dynamic experience is an element that can revive the barren lands of Skyrim. Lets face it, the world of Skyrim is not teeming with life. And even when you do see NPCs and monsters, it's quite apparent they're not real people. The game feels lonely, and so does Journey without a companion. Let's exploit this dynamic multiplayer so an individual's experience can be 'touched' by other players in their own world. It's important to emphasize 'touch'.
In today's multiplayer games it's become apparent that exposure to people every time and all the time is not as meaningful as meeting one person rarely. This is anecdotally evident from the testimonies of many Journey players. It would also ruin the atmosphere and theme of Skyrim to have many players in a, MMORPG like fashion, hack and slash at monsters. It's prudent to recognize that Skryim is an experience that lets the player know the world is expansive. But expansive does not mean completely empty. Think of this.
You're on a journey to Falkreath, in the distance you see a figure. You draw your sword, you don't know if this person is a friend or a foe. An assassin to loot your gold or a friendly face willing to trade. You approach tentatively, but the figure does not respond. When you finally reach him you recognize the dullness in his eyes and the purple glow of a resurrection spell. Out from the nearby river, an Argonian thief attacks.
This guessing game of the human nature adds a whole new dimension not only to the game but to multiplayer. Encounters with thugs and thieves can be actual encounters of thugs and thieves. The merchant you see on the road might actually have the potion you need or the pickaxe to mine the ore.
We don't need some unified world where all the players exist (Elders Online) or a 4 player COOP.The multiplayer can be meaningful in this way. In a sparse but connected land.
Here's some more ideas that could enhance this original idea:
- Footprints to let you know if a player is near by
- Pair up with your friend at a nearby city and head out for adventures between the two of you (you would limit the amount of players)
- Balance the game to similar levels so you always experience a fair fight
- Fights near guard and cities will land the initiator in jail, maybe the victim can pardon the offence.
- Crafting could actually be a trade