I'm sure others have also thought about the main premise for the co-op idea; one person is still the main PC, while any friend can join and play as your companion. The companion would level up alongside you, whether being controlled by AI or a friend.
But while thinking of this I also came up with a way to change the companion system, which is basically the Dragon Age/Knights of the Old Republic system. You can have two companions rather than one, and you can swap between them at will. When you're not using them, they'd work use AI like companions do at the moment, as would the main character when not being used.
"Why three companions? Why not just one?"
So you can build the stereotypical "Mage, Thief, Warrior" combo!
So you'd start off as a prisoner and progress through the tutorial bit as usual, making your character as normal. This is the one who will always be the main character (Dragonborn, Here of Kvatch, Nerevarine, etc). The story will revolve around this one, always, like normal. But it would give you more (and easier) control over your companions, what they wear, access to their inventories, etc. You could also set things like how their AI should act when you're not controlling them (Very basic stuff like; be a tank, be an archer, cast destruction spells, etc).
The companion wouldn't have full access to perks from all skill trees, just X amount. You, however, still get to choose their perks. Using Skyrim skills as an example; a companion may only get access to (say) five perk trees and a bonus in one stat; other skills can still increase through use (and you choose what stat boost they get per level as normal) but they would only have access to those skill trees. When they become your companion they level up to your level and get to choose that many perks/stat bonuses, and their skills start at a certain amount based on your level (random numbers as an example; 15 + level for main skills, 5 + level for others) and any bonuses from their race as usual. So, if you met Lydia at level 5, her main stats would be 20 and you would choose 5 perks and stat boosts for her.
For Lydia, it might be that her skills are Heavy Armor, Block, One-Handed, Restoration and Smithing and the stat boost to Health. Aela might be Light Armor, Archery, Sneak, Pick Pockets, Lockpicking and Stamina.
This also means your Mage character doesn't need to worry about Smithing at all (I know you don't need to anyways, but it kind of feels necessary) and doesn't have to be a jack-of-all-trades. You can focus purely on spell casting, while you have a Thief and Warrior companion focusing on their things. Your Mage focuses on getting their Enchanting up, the Warrior focuses on getting Smithing up etc etc. Or, you just have a band of three Mages; a Conjuration Mage, a Destruction Mage and a Restoration Mage.
Enemies (either stats or amount that spawn) would have to be tweaked based on how many companions you have; as having three would be more powerful than solo.
"But if there's only a specific companion that fits my main characters play style, but they're locked behind a Guild quest line?"
For that we look towards how Pillars of Eternity do hiring party members; you go to an Inn and hire someone; it costs X amount per level (say, 100gp at level 1, 1,000gp at level 10) and you can customize them as if you were creating your own character; the only restriction being you would choose 5 skills and 1 stat for them to "specialize" in (almost like older Elder Scrolls games did). I'd add things like quest lines and extra stuff to pre-made companions, so that they feel more unique and special than "build-your-own" companions do.
And I'm sure by now you can see how this links in with co-op play: Once you've got your first companion, either pre-made or build-your-own, a friend can drop in at any time to play them and help you on your journey. When you get your second one, a second friend can join. And these companions won't be "locked" to this friend; you could have five different friends join (separately) and all play Lydia. You would still level them up and there would be no silly restrictions on where they can go (The idea is to play with friends, not randoms) to keep things simple. But it means you can easily have a single-player game with the option of co-op play.
Like I said; I'm fully aware Bethesda said they're never going to do multiplayer for Elder Scrolls, but I just wanted to get my idea out there; it would be nice to have a simple way to play co-op with friends. And this would solve the "But who would be the main character?" issue.
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© Post "My idea for a way Elder Scrolls could have a seamless singe-player/co-op integration and different companion system (I know Bethesda want to keep singe-player only, so this is merely discussing an idea and not saying they SHOULD do it)" for game The Elder Scrolls.
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