The Elder Scrolls Online: The Next Great Fantasy MMO?

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

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 style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest, Diablo II, Summoner,
Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and style="font-style: italic;">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.


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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 style="font-style: italic;">Morrowind and games
like EverQuest
and Dark Age of Camelot
was striking.



So when ZeniMax
Media Inc
., the parent company of Elder Scrolls developers href="http://www.bethsoft.com/eng/index.php" target="_blank">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 href="http://www.zenimaxonline.com/index.html" target="_blank">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 href="http://www.imperial-library.info/" target="_blank">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 href="http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/index.php?showtopic=195079"
target="_blank">how to become an Elder Scrolls lore buff.


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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, style="font-style: italic;">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.


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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 style="font-style: italic;">Morrowind and style="font-style: italic;">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.


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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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