I would like to say that the crux of my dislike for Daggerfall is ultimately that the random generation method they used to produce the towns and dungeons was quite poor (even when compared to its immediate predecessor).
Essentially it fudges it's scope by repeating content a lot. To my knowledge, there's absolutely nothing at all in the majority of the... however many square miles it is game world, there's about 12 unique dungeons and another 3 unique dungeons worth of dungeon parts, about 52 unique building interiors, maybe three towns worth of building exteriors, and 200ish unique quest scripts (some of which are repeated). It's actually a rather tiny game that uses some smoking mirrors to appear massive -- it's like if FFIII had 200 town, and 190 of them were identical to Narshe.
This is particular problematic with the dungeons, though. iirc there's about five dungeon templates (Tower, dungeon going into a natural cave, and then a few variations on straight-up dungeons) and they work by piecing together dungeon segments a la Phantasy Star Online (and it should be noted that, unlike PSO or Arena, dungeons are not being procedurally generated as you play -- they were procedurally generated during development, and the resultant level structures were stored).
The huge issue with this is that the level geometry is vastly more complex than what PSO or Arena have, so you end up with a lot of familiar dungeon segments (there, again, are quite few unique segments) that never really link up in a coherent or entirely bug-free fashion. They're also needlessly massive (individual dungeons easily get as large as Ultima Underworld in its entirety) and quest targets tend to be in strange places.
But I'm going to ignore that because saying that a game is bad because it has bad level design isn't really interesting, even if it's true (ie, shmup community can waffle on about Sine Mora's mechanics as much as they want, but that game falls apart because the levels are nearly empty and nothing else matters after that. But discussions about mechanics are more interesting).
Daggerfall would've been a more interesting pick anyways as it's to this day the hugest RPG ever made, and the most deep and feature rich out of all the Elder Scrolls games. It's nuts to think that Bethesda keeps getting more popular the more features they strip away from their games. "Evolution" of gaming, heh.
With full disclosure that I don't like Bethesda in a general sense and I'm not really saying this in defense of their later works, removing features isn't really the opposite of evolution. You see this a lot in older CRPGs but there are a lot of what I guess you could call boilerplate features -- things that are present out of tradition/roots in tabletop gaming that don't really make sense in a videogame, and tend to get in the way of doing what you want to do anyway (or why you have, for instance, debuffs in Breath of Fire 2 even though they're hardcoded to always fail).
Honestly I think a minimalist approach works better sometimes -- I don't, frankly, think tying an action RPG's attack success chance to dice rolls and skill levels makes much sense. This is a big part of why I find Morrowind so unplayable, and why I think System Shock 2's skill system feels so grafted on (whereas in Deus Ex, the skill levels have a more meaningful, functional impact on what you're doing -- having a high pistol skill steadies the reticule more, but there's never a random miss chance so you can always overcome low stats if you've got good reflexes. This is true albeit to a lesser extent for Gothic -- so it worked for me in that case).
I don't think that embedding sub-system after sub-system into your core game mechanics necessarily improves anything. I'm of the opinion that depth comes from the way a game's mechanics /interact/ with eachother and grafting more /features/ onto a game has a strong tendency to make mechanics that get silo'd off instead of interacting. Which is why you end up with games that have elaborate crafting systems that don't really matter.
But I mean that's true of software design as a whole.
Essentially it's addition by subtraction. What's the /core/ experience you want to deliver? Does a feature enhance that experience? If not, why is it there?The core experience of TES that resonates with players could be summed up as "immersion," and while there are the hardcore Daggerfall fans out there that would disagree, a lot of the features from Daggerfall that were removed were holdovers from the game's PnP inspirations, that ultimately served to highlight the interface between player and game and disrupt the immersion that the current fanbase seeks from the series.
It's not a case of removing nuance to make something more palatable to the mass market; it's a case of coming up with a more cohesive product by removing inappropriate features. And the cohesion is what grew the fanbase.
<Edited to redact cynicism; introduce malapropisms>.