Top 5 Factors that will Make or Break the Elder Scrolls Online
When the Elder
Scrolls Online launches sometime later this year, it will
face a number of challenges. The cutthroat MMO market has little allowance
for weaksauce, so any new game coming out will have to make itself stand
out there. But with ESO, there's the additional challenge of meeting the
expectations of the legions of Elder Scrolls fans who will want to check
With this in mind, here's a rundown of five major points that Zenimax
Online is going to need to focus on if they want their game to stand out
from the hordes of wannabes and also-rans.
Believe it or not, the story is still important for some MMO players.
It's not enough to carry a game all by itself, but it's one of the main
reasons why some games continue to be successful long after their graphics
and game mechanics have grown outdated and stale - players keep coming
back for the story.
game that does the character's story extremely well.
And story is essential for the fans of the franchise. Elder Scrolls fans
have high expectations in this department - the stories for the
single-player games have always been outstanding, immersive and engaging.
Fortunately, Elder Scrolls Online seems to be off on a good start on the
story front already. Power struggles, political intrigue and a demon-lord
dragging the world into his own private Hell all make for awesome story
points. The magic, however, will come out in the telling of these stories,
in the way that player characters involve themselves in the epic events
unfolding around them.
Look and Feel
MMOs have to walk a careful line between looking amazing and being
accessible to a wide audience. Often, developers try to do more with less
- it would be easy enough, for example, to add some kind of visual effect
for every equippable item a character could wear, but it's an entirely
different matter when the game needs to stream all that information to
every other player in the area. Bandwidth gets choked and players with
slow connections (like me) suffer from horrible game performance because
of lag. The answer is usually to dumb the visuals down so that less
information needs to be transmitted. This is why most games have either
headgear or hair, but rarely ever both at the same time.
need to strike a balance between detailed realism and
system-and-network-friendly graphical simplicity, while retaining the
overall feel of the Elder Scrolls universe.
Single-player games, on the other hand, can push their visuals to the
bleeding edge of technology. If it's a solid title from a venerated
franchise, players will upgrade their machines to play it. These games
don't need to push player-data from a bunch of different sources down
restrictive pipelines, so characters can have hair underneath their
helmets, and shiny rings on each finger, and capes that flutter in the
breeze, and little swirls of dust around their feet when they walk. They
can make one character look as amazingly realistic as the technology
Elder Scrolls Online is going to have to find that balance. Since the
game will use just one "mega-server" to host all of its players, this
potentially means that certain areas in the game could get very crowded,
and crowded areas mean a huge data stream for every player present. ESO
can't come out of the gate looking as amazingly gritty and detailed as
Skyrim did, but it can't dumb things down to World
of Warcraft levels, either. The screenshots and videos that
we've seen so far look pretty good for a MMO, but it's clear that the
developers are carefully counting the polygons on their character and
monster models, and not worrying over much about ultra-smooth animations.
We won't be fighting creepers and square zombies, but the character and
monster models we've seen in the gameplay videos are definitely much
simpler than they would be in a single-player game.
Player Vs. Player
Since the developers have talked a big game about their PvP already, it
will need to deliver in a big way. Even to someone (like me) who doesn't
much care for PvP, it sounds pretty outstanding - a massive central
region, open-world fighting with small- and large-scale objectives, and
even the ability for players to earn the rank of Emperor by taking the
throne. But, on paper, there were a lot of PvP ideas that sounded great
and then failed to live up to player expectations.
been promised sounds outstanding, but what sounds good on paper doesn't
always pan out when the game goes live.
For example, Star Wars: The Old
Republic had Ilum. It was a level 50 planet with full-on
open-world PvP. On paper, it was a place where you could travel to when
you hit level 50 and expect a rollicking good donnybrook against the enemy
faction. Instead, it became a quagmire of griefers and exploiters (even by
PvP server standards) and boring objective-swapping; people stopped going
there and the developers switched a lot of it off, and bring it up every
now and then when they are talking about things they want to overhaul and
redesign. On paper, it sounded like an awesome idea. But in practice, not
With the entire central region of Cyrodiil serving as ESO's
player-versus-player arena, we can only hope that it doesn't turn into a
similar situation. The three-faction balance and broad range of objectives
should prevent another Ilum scenario from playing out.
Gameplay is obviously crucial, but so is how the company sells it to its
customers. We still don't know how Zenimax Online is going to market Elder
Scrolls Online, but they're going to have to be innovative in their
monthly subscription and a discreet cash shop has been working for Guild
They could go the route of Guild
Wars 2, with a box-price to buy the game and an in-game cash
shop to earn revenue over time. But there's a risk there - under-sell the
cash shop and you make very little money from it. Over-sell it and you
come across as low-rent, and players start to wish for some kind of
ad-block plugin. Plastering store icons on every square millimeter of
available UI space is as annoying as those website auto-play flash video
ads for dish detergent, but access to the cash shop does need some
visibility. Somewhere along that bell-curve, there's a peak point where
the availability of the store equals the perceived value of the items sold
in it and the players' desire to use it.
Lots of developers try to create an artificial demand for store-bought
items - keys for loot boxes, for example - but this can backfire if the
demand becomes "spammy." Loot boxes are the best example of this - in
games like Star Trek
Online, these loot boxes are sort of annoying. You have a
chance of getting some awesome purple loot from them, but more likely you
end up discarding the boxes rather than buying more keys, because the
damned things have no vendor value and mostly contain worthless trash. In
other games, they drop far less frequently, or have a higher chance of
generating desirable loot, and buying a key here and there feels a lot
less like flushing money down the drain.
A game studio can hire the best writers, artists and combat-designers in
the world, and still crash in an alarmingly-short timeframe if there is no
endgame. It's not enough to draw players in with story and graphics - the
goal is to keep those players there for the long term, and to keep them
not ship with a robust endgame, players will likely abandon the game a
few weeks after it goes live.
This is not so much the case with single-player games, but going into a
MMO with a single-player mindset is what nearly killed SWTOR. BioWare
didn't anticipate that MMO players (especially ones who were Star Wars
fans) would be spending 6+ hours a day on their game on average. When the
game launched and the hardcore guys raced to level cap in a matter of
days, they found they had very little to do when they got there, and moved
on to other games after a lot of loud griping. It's a lot better now, but
those first few months were a rude awakening.
Elder Scrolls Online is going to need to ship with this in mind, and with
endgame content in place on Day 1. A couple of high-level dungeons won't
be enough - endgame is where the hardcore players live. The Elder Scrolls
series has its own dedicated, passionate fans - the kind who take time off
of work when a new title launches just so they can play a days-long
marathon. Players are going to spend an average of 6+ hours a day on it,
and will reach level cap within the first few days of launch - possibly in
a matter of hours. The game will need to launch with multiple raids and
other group-content in place, or they risk a massive crash as the endgame
population bleeds away.
The developers are certainly aware of this particular need, and addressed
it in their introduction
video. Endgame content will come in the form of solo, small- and
large-group content, as well as PvP.
These factors are not specific just to the Elder Scrolls Online, either.
Any new game will need to consider these things as well. If you feel there
are other factors that Zenimax Online will need to consider for the Elder
Scrolls Online, share the discussion in our comments below!
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