For those who don't know, Skyrim was originally meant to be centered around the civil war, it being the main quest. However, this was scrapped in favor of a more generic dragons and "fate of the world" story. But what if the original plan was stuck to? How would the gane be different?
I imagine sonething like this: the conflict between the stormcloaks and the empire takes center stage, with you having to make a choice of who to aid when a siege on whiterun forces you into doing so right from the start. Maybe your house is destroyed in the conflict. Or maybe we stick to the ES trope of being a nameless prisoner, and the walls of the dragonsreach dungeons are destroyed by wayward catapult fire. Either way, you choose a side in this battle. But no matter who you choose, the stormcloaks will fail the seige. If you sided with them, you are forced to flee back into the wilds. Should you side with the empire, you will chase off the insurgents. Either way, a commander of the side you chose will give you a quest where you have to go speak to the leader of your chosen side, as this commander has recognized your bravery and wants you to join the army proper. From here, the world opens up and you are free to explore. You will be guided by the main quest either to solitude or windhelm, where you must complete a trial to be accepted into the ranks.
From here, you can begin fighting the war. Quests would have to be much more varied, with some having to do with winning over the support of citizens to bolster your army's ranks, or engaging in small skirmishes that lead up to fort battles or seiges. All the forts and cities would be massively enlarged to support proper large scale battles. Seiges in particular would involve very long battles or sequences where you have to wear down the defenses of the city before you can even make it inside. And the better you do in each of these battles, the more accolades you recieve, allowing you to slowly (and realistically) climb the ranks, from footsoldier to a mighty general or legate.
However, the final seige is not where the game ends. No, this is only the first half of the story. With the rebellion resolved, the victorious faction will realize that they've been played by the Aldmeri Dominion. There are hints in the original game that they are at least inciters of the war, if not outright puppet masters. In this reimagining, the elves are ready to pounce on a now even weaker empire or now independent skyrim. This kicks off act two of the main story: the second great war. You fight alongside your chosen faction, hoping to finally defeat the dominion and end their influence on the rest of tamriel. There would have been hints dropped towards this being an eventuality throughout act one, but it was up to you to act on them.
And this opens up a third possible route to follow in act one. If you recognize the signs, and see the silver elven warships on the horizon, its possible to try and broker peace between the empire and stormcloaks, uniting them against a common enemy. So when they land on the borders of skryim, expecting to find a weak and easily defeated force, they instead are met with a newly united empire making a final stand against them.
These options mean that how act two plays out is very much dependent on act one. Who did you side with? Did you unite the two factions? How much do the people of skyrim support you, and how respected are you among the ranks of your army? All of these factors will effect how quests in act two play out. Some quests will become easier or harder, or the events that play out during them may change. Some may even not occur in one playthough, but will in another if you went through it differently. All culminating in either your victory or defeat. Defeat spells out a future under elven rule, with their soldiers replacing guards, and their laws governing all. Victory gives you freedom from their oppresion.
TL;DR the civil war had so much freaking potential that was absolutely wasted.
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