Having now gathered my thoughts some more on the Elder Scrolls Online, I’m convinced the wheels have well and truly come off before the hulking vehicle has even gotten into first gear. Over the past five years we’ve had several big hitters on the massively multiplayer scene appear before fading into obscurity. Warhammer Online, Aion, The Secret World, Star Wars the Old Republic: all these products proved disastrous in some form, even if said products are still in existence (with the exception of Warhammer Online).
The Elder Scrolls Online is yet another MMOG from a long line of products that I’m predicting will fall far below industry expectations, followed by much finger pointing and ramifications when developing such expensive products. Perhaps already seething (or in agreement with me) I guess I really should justify as to why I not only dislike the Elder Scrolls Online (quite heavily at this point, I might add).
For me, to develop any product in this industry, whether big or small, you have to secure the basics. The very basics, irrespective of the game you’re creating, have to be absolutely perfect. To compromise on the fundamental actions a player will be undertaking consistently is tantamount to product suicide. As an example, it’s like creating a racing game where the car steering, sense of speed and braking is terrible but surrounding that with amazing tracks, music and social features. Either way, it would still be an awful racing game.
When it comes to the Elder Scrolls IP, I see them as one of the most overrated in our entire industry. While they provide a visually exciting world to explore, the core mechanics are disastrously awful. There isn’t a single Elder Scrolls game (right through from Morrowind, to Oblivion, to Skyrim) that has offered any sense of improvement over the last on those very core mechanics.
Combat, dialogue, questing and non player characters are the bedrock of the Elder Scrolls franchise and yet all of these elements are woeful to the point that it infuriates me - that journalists and fans look past them because Bethesda have a courtesy of providing a gameworld for you to explore. “Bloody hell people are easily pleased!” is all I tell myself.
When it comes to the Elder Scrolls Online, these same flaws rear their head to the point that the game, without question, offers some of the worst combat, animation and NPC’s I’ve ever encountered in the genre. While there is inevitably time to polish these 3 things, if I had a dollar for every time I heard some fan during the Beta stages say “but it’s beta, they’ll fix the animations later!” I’d be a very rich man. I’ve never seen said reworks so late into development and the Elder Scrolls Online requires such fundamental changes it’s past the point of resuscitation.
As it currently stands, animations in the Elder Scrolls Online are inevitably going to be compared against its competition and when those comparisons are made against the likes of WildStar or Guild Wars 2, they fall massively short. Movement is stilted, the jump hilariously poor and combat swings with blade or bow sloppy, detached and unsatisfying. In regards to the combat, feedback is non existent and enemies fail to react to the damage they’re receiving. When I’m shooting someone in the head with an arrow from 100 yards, the least I expect is for them to flinch. That doesn’t happen in ESO and if it does, it never has for me.
Lastly, NPC voice acted dialogue, as welcome as it is, remains as forgettable and at times worse than any I’ve ever read or heard. To use John Cleese as an individual wielding a guitar, with a pot on his head, delivering cliched lines, is enough to send me to an early grave ("How funny!" I'm sure the developers cried), nevermind the fact that NPC’s are incapable of moving their lips.
So where does that leave the Elder Scrolls Online? In trouble I’d say. When a massively multiplayer game revolves around combat, questing and NPC’s, to fail so miserably at all 3 areas leaves me with my head in my hands. Besides the fact the game engine is just the wrong choice and the first person viewpoint clearly shoe-horned in, the ball has well and truly been dropped. It doesn’t matter if the game world looks wonderful or that the class system is fantastic, because everything else supporting those small innovations are deserving of nothing but scorn.
While I’ve no doubt that Elder Scrolls fans will be up in arms about this, rolling out the typical “Elder Scrolls has never been about combat!” or “Elder Scrolls has always had dodgy animations and poor combat”, it really isn’t good enough to continue to recite these mantras. If companies on half the budget Bethesda are working with, offer a better everything (see WildStar) there really is no excuse to accept what is being delivered here.
Without ZeniMax significantly improving on these 3 areas, and pronto, I don’t hold out any hope for the long term prospects of the Elder Scrolls Online.