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The Elder Scrolls Online: The Next Great Fantasy MMO?

Updated Sun, Jan 18, 2009 by Cody Bye

As a young roleplaying game aficionado in the late part of the 90s and early 2000s, I had nearly exhausted my inventory of “up-to-date” roleplaying game options. After being spoiled by the graphics of games like EverQuest, Diablo II, Summoner, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Final Fantasy VII, I couldn’t fathom going back and replaying the older titles in the epic series. Games like Ultima, Might and Magic, Wizardry and others just weren’t my cup of tea. Feeling down-trodden, I kept my head up hoping that the “next big thing” would be heading to stores soon, but I had little hope that something as extraordinary as a BioWare title would pass onto my computer in the near future. So heading into May 2002, I had no idea that my entire computer gaming experience would be turned upside down.

Oblivion and Morrowind have kept RPG fans busy for years and years.

On May 1, 2002, the next full figured installment in the Elder Scrolls series, Morrowind, hit store shelves across North America and did so to rave reviews. The enormous open world was unlike what many gamers had grown accustomed to in their more recent RPGs, and the sheer beauty of the world was breathtaking. When I purchased the game from my local retailer, I honestly knew little about the world, or even the fact that the game was actually the third iteration of the world of Nim. But after installing the product and playing the game for several months, my knowledge of the world, the races, and the various ideals had grown substantially.  

But there was one thing that I couldn’t get out of my mind when I was playing Morrowind: “Why didn’t they just make this an MMORPG?” While the question would have been laughed at by any developer of the time (transferring that world with all of its intricacies during such a fledgling period in MMO development would have been near impossible), the similarities between Morrowind and games like EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot was striking.

So when ZeniMax Media Inc., the parent company of Elder Scrolls developers Bethesda Softworks, announced in 2007 that they were in the process of creating a new online-specific studio with the concept of making an full-fledged, AAA MMO in mind, I nearly fell out of my seat. Finally, nearly five years later, I was seeing the first hints of an Elder Scrolls MMO. In truth, the formation of ZeniMax Online Studios housed two possibilities: the team was either working on a Fallout-based MMO or an Elder Scrolls-based MMO. However, the fact that Interplay still held (and continues to hold and develop) the rights to a Fallout MMO left only one choice left for ZeniMax Online Studios:

The Elder Scrolls Online.

Yet surprisingly, it seems like few in the video gaming press have really picked up on this fact or produced any substantial commentary along those lines. For the rest of this article, I will refer to my conceptual version of The Elder Scroll MMO as “The Elder Scrolls Online”. Of course, this sort of commentary wouldn’t be complete without my own predictions about the upcoming game from ZeniMax Online Studios, so keep reading and find out what I consider to be the future of The Elder Scrolls Online.

Storyline and Plot

While we can assume that the graphics, sound and user interface in an Elder Scrolls-based game will be top notch, there are certainly a number of unknowns about such a game, the biggest of which probably being the storyline and plot. Many of you, after reading the subheading for this section, probably chuckled to yourselves thinking I’m insane for even attempting to cogitate on the storyline for The Elder Scrolls Online. All of the games that have been released by Bethesda thus far have had hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words written for their in-game lore. If you aren’t familiar with the games, just check out The Imperial Library, which serves as an out-of-game repository for all of those in-game books. The lore of the Elder Scrolls is so deep, that there have even been guides created on how to become an Elder Scrolls lore buff.

The Elder Scrolls developers have created dozens of in-game books full of lore.

Unfortunately, a person almost has to be a Rhodes scholar to put that all to memory, and that certainly doesn’t fit my profile. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t give a basic outline for how the background for The Elder Scrolls Online would be set up.

Basically, I imagine that The Elder Scrolls Online would take place shortly after the events of the last Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion. To make a long story short, the rightful heir to the Imperial throne, which is located on the continent of Tamriel, has died and has left the throne empty. For any fantasy aficionado, this is a prime set-up for a huge struggle as a variety of combatants struggle to emerge victorious in the vacuum of power. Can we say PvP-based confrontations anyone?

On top of all that, there is a constant threat to the world of Nim in the form of the Daedra, which are demonic beings that constantly interfere with what’s going on in the Mundus (the “real” world). This Daedra serve as the main instigators for PvE combat. You and your comrades may need to hop all over the continent of Tamriel to destroy various Daedric temples, the enemies themselves, or armies of their minions.

Races, Advancement, and Combat

Like the recent Elder Scrolls games that come before it, The Elder Scrolls Online will initially feature the ten basic races: Argnoians (lizardfolk), Bretons (magical humans), Dark Elves, High Elves, Imperials (basic humans), Khajiit (catfolk), Nord (barbarians), Orcs, Redguard (melee humans), and Wood Elves. Character creation will certainly be incredibly streamlined for those that want quick access to the game, but more advanced options will be available for those individuals that want to tweak their race and class to look exactly as they see fit. A few interesting options that will probably find their way into the game include selecting a birth sign (this was a popular feature in Morrwind and Oblivion), which will help differentiate characters at the outset.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences in The Elder Scrolls Online will be the fact that the game will be based heavily around skills that are a core part of your selected class. Anyone that has played through the previous Elder Scrolls games will be familiar with this formula, and you can safely assume that the advancement system from the previous games will be intact.

The advancement in The Elder Scrolls Online would be skill-based.

For those of you unfamiliar with Morrowind and Oblivion, here’s a basic breakdown of how advancement works. Basically, each time you do a particular action – let’s say swing a sword – your character will level up in an appropriate skill, in this case “Blade”. The more you use a skill, the faster it will increase. Although players will still “level up”, this process will be based upon the “major skills” and the “minor skills” that are an integral part of your selected class.  Using major skills will allow you to level up faster, while minor skills still bestow an increase but don’t add up as rapidly. Finally, players can choose any class at the beginning of the game, and the class list will probably be derived from the list of classes in Oblivion (Warrior, Monk, Battlemage, etc.). However, players will also be able to “create” their own class if they want to, which allows players to mix and match their favorite skills to create their perfect class for their play style. .  

Finally, the combat in The Elder Scrolls Online will need to adopt the exact same system that’s found in Morrowind and Oblivion: a point-and-click system rather than a target-and-auto-attack system. Although the world wide web has certainly advanced in terms of bandwidth issues, the ZeniMax Online Studios folks will definitely have their hands full trying to get this system down to a science.

PvE or PvP?

Like most games that have hit the market in recent years, The Elder Scrolls Online will include both PvE and PvP. As I mentioned previously in this article, the PvE combat in The Elder Scrolls Online will focus on combat with various monsters that are found in the realm along with the demonic Daedra that are always trying to bust into Nim and start stirring up trouble. Raids will center around these enormous enemies with dozens of players crowding around the monstrous Daedra, trying to hack them to bits.

The PvP portion of The Elder Scrolls Online will be a different ball of wax altogether. Since none of the previous Elder Scrolls games have even had a real multiplayer mode, this will be the first real test of the creativity at ZeniMax Online Studios. There are a number of different options that the developers can choose, but here’s my take on the situation.

Personally, I think PvP in The Elder Scroll Online will be like what we’ve seen in other games that do race vs. race based warfare. Although players will still be able to interact with enemy races via chat and/or faction adjustments, I believe that the major conflict in the game will take place between the ten major races. Rather than having the group split evenly down the middle, I think there will be three separate “factions” that players will join based on their race right at the beginning of the game. Six of the races will be “locked in” to there various factions, while the other four races will need to choose which faction they support.

Race and/or faction based PvP might be appropriate for The Elder Scrolls Online.

Unlike Warhammer Online and World of Warcraft, however, players in The Elder Scrolls Online will be able to “switch sides” in the conflict. For many roleplaying fans, the ability to “play for the other team” is a critical part of the game, and I think it will certainly be an advantage for the server faction that has the best community and can attract the most people to its cause.

Finally, I also think that players will have the opportunity to actually step into the Imperial Throne and don the title “emperor” if they manage to be the best of the best. Other MMOs, specifically ArchLord, have shown that this system can attract quite a devoted following if done well. I think this would be a major draw to players that are looking to be “the best of the best”.

The Sprinkles on Top

In the end, ZeniMax Online Studios really needs to focus on the one part of the Elder Scrolls that made the game great: the exploration and sheer depth of the world. Those of us that devoted months (if not years) of our lives to the previous Elder Scrolls titles did so because we were amazed at the richness that we saw in the world and the depth of the characters we found there. Unlike the RPGs of yesteryear, the world of Nim really feels alive and every NPC seems like they have something to say. While it won’t necessarily be a sandbox (you won’t be able to build anything you want, anywhere you want), ZeniMax certainly knows that an enormous world is necessary to entire Morrowind and Oblivion fans.

If there’s a fantasy-based game that still needs to be made, The Elder Scrolls Online ranks right up there for many RPG fans. Although the game has yet to be officially announced, I would be personally shocked if ZeniMax Online Studios was making anything other than an Elder Scrolls-based MMO.

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