Posted Mon, Jun 10, 2013 by gunky
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 it out.
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of the main reasons why some games continue to be successful long after their graphics and game mechanics have grown outdated and stale - players keep coming back for the story.
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.
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.
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 allows.
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.