Updated Wed, Jun 13, 2012 by B. de la Durantaye
For a few weeks, I’ve indulged in a retro-gaming binge. I’ve waxed strategy with Final Fantasy (the orginal NES version), twitched my thumbs with Dragon’s Lair, and dedicated many hours to the old school grind-gone-social EverQuest. One recent night while my EverQuest guild and I were waiting for our 40-man raid, we discussed the fundamental differences between a game like EQ and more modern MMOGs. We all agreed things are considerably different today with different goals and target audiences. Expectations have changed appreciably over the years, not just from the players but from the developers themselves.
We began to wonder if a game that promoted group and social play that didn’t intensely focus on progression would have any real chance in today’s MMO market. Today’s games seem to have shifted focus away from detail-driven world immersion to a more achiever-oriented game on rails. If such a world-driven MMO were to be created, who would be the ones to take the risk to test the market with the game by spending big-time resources to develop it?
Enter ZeniMax and Bethesda. Hot off the heels of the recent success of Skyrim comes The Elder Scrolls Online, ushering Tamriel into MMO gaming. Many of the lures of older MMOs are making a fresh re-appearance in the upcoming game. Happily, Game Director Matt Firor tells us exactly what many of us have been waiting to hear: “In TESO, players will be able to play at their own pace and do only what they want to do.”
The Elder Scrolls Online will continue Bethesda's fine tradition of immersive worlds. (Sentinel Docks)
If you’ve ever played an Elder Scrolls game it’s easy to understand the lure of bringing this more “distraction-oriented” style of gameplay back into the MMO space. As TESO won’t have any quest hubs this game will be rich with content that will be up to the players to discover. Exploring the captivating backdrop and discovering plot twists, small nooks of unexpected civilizations, and self-contained stories that may not have any direct impact on the big picture but are captivating nonetheless and set the immersion bar high in The Elder Scrolls franchise. And best of all: now you can do it all with friends in the same online space.
Firor goes on to describe the game as potentially “the most socially connected MMO game ever.” The Elder Scrolls Online will offer the standard fare of raids and instanced dungeons (available in both group and heroic difficulty levels) but in addition ZeniMax is bringing back the tradition of public dungeons which haven’t been seen in an MMO for several years. These public dungeons will be shared content with no instancing.
As in Guild Wars 2 and other recent MMOs, players will not be forced to group to take out the baddies but can opt to assist one another ungrouped. Every person contributing in any given battle will share in its rewards whether grouped or not. This approach nullifies “kill stealing” and instead promotes camaraderie between players.
The entrance to Ayelid, one of TESO's many puzzle-driven public dungeons.
The dungeons themselves stay true to The Elder Scrolls IP with various puzzles for players to figure out. Clues will be hidden around the dungeon or within objects that will contain the key to unlocking a door or opening a secret passageway. As Firor puts it, this game is the “familiar Elder Scrolls, but with friends.”
One of the restrictive effects of having group-only content in older games sprouted from the requirement of very specific classes for specific content and encounters. Some dungeons in these old games required a rogue to pick a lock, for instance. TESO will make use of player skills, but the group makeup and requirements are a lot more forgiving since every class will be able to fulfill multiple roles with multiple skills.