Respect Your Elder - High Hopes for The Elder Scrolls Online
Since Arena in 1994, Bethesda has done something very few manufacturers can claim. Theyve released a series of five games with four (soon to be five) expansions, two spin-offs, and four java phone apps. And you wont hear their fans complaining about rushed and incomplete content like you often do with other companies that have attempted similar feats. The Elder Scrolls games have become the definitive collection for immersive role-playing games. Now The Elder Scrolls will be taking another leap by becoming an MMO thanks to ZeniMax Online Studios.
Adrift in a sea of sub-par peers, its hard not to wonder about the fate of this honorable Elder. Has Bethesda thoroughly vetted their choice of developer? How will the massive open world sandbox translate to MMO format? Failure on any level would be an arrow in the knee to fans of the beloved franchise. (I used to be an MMO gamer like you, but then... Aw, never mind.) Is The Elder Scrolls Online cause for rejoicing or trepidation? Heres my take.
Proven Track Record
Ive been a fan of the Elder Scrolls for years. Arena was fun, but Id be lying if I didnt admit that the Daggerfalls pixilated nudity didnt hook a teenaged Rico pretty quickly. It seems like Bethesda has always known what the fans needed and delivered it, whether the need was for a little late night thievery or creating just the right spell for depopulating small villages. The Elder Scrolls has always meant complexity, depth, and freedom. I think there are reasons to expect the same from the coming MMO.
From the early days of the Elder Scrolls series to now, there have been a number of changes in the industry resulting in far too many sub-standard games and dissatisfied gamers. Where many of their competitors caved too early and rushed releases, pushed 0-day downloadable content, and dumbed down their mechanics in order to be more approachable, the Elder Scrolls games have adhered to the highest of standards, releasing solid and complete games, not to mention expansions worthy of the term. This devotion to quality has served them well for approaching two decades, so theres little chance of them changing it now.
DAoC produced one of the best PvP systems seen to this day, and a similar system will be in use for The Elder Scrolls Online.
The choice of ZeniMax Online Studios as the developer for the new game was a wise decision. Matt Firor founded the company after eleven years at Mythic Entertainment where he worked as a producer for Dark Age of Camelot. DAoC produced one of the best PvP systems seen in MMOs to this day, and Firor has revealed that a similar system will be in use for The Elder Scrolls Online. This system will be composed of three different alliances, engaging each other in persistent PvP or, more appropriately, Realm vs. Realm. This type of PvP has proven to be very dynamic and has demonstrated a great deal of sustainability in DAoC, keeping the game competitive in the market long after many others would have failed.
The Elder Scroll series should adapt well to being an MMO because it already has within it many of the concepts that define MMOs. In fact, one of the things that players have always liked about games like Daggerfall, Skyrim, and the others, is that the setting it deep, the world large, and the large number of quests unrelated to the main storyline combine to give the world a sense of life. In the Elder Scrolls games, the world moves around you-- you happen to be a major shaping force to it, but you never feel that time stops to wait on you to catch up to the story. This concept translates well to MMOs where you exist in a much larger world. It happens that The Elder Scrolls franchise is RPG first, and then an MMO. It might be time we tried putting the RPG first for once.
Now with more delving!
The Elder Scrolls Online promises even more dungeons and ruins to explore than ever before.
The system of instanced dungeons in the Elder Scrolls games also lends itself well to MMOs. Its a system where quests and dungeons for all levels can be spread all over the world, not just lumped into certain zones built for characters within certain bands of levels. By spreading the quests out and having limitless dungeons, ruins, and caves for players to explore, The Elder Scrolls Online has a chance to create an immersive experience few games ever achieve. (Hopefully not quite as immersive as the long blasted walk from Balmora to Dragon Fel, but Ill take a little walking if it means getting an MMO that finally feels like a breathing world.)
The Elder Scrolls Online promises even more dungeons and ruins to explore than ever before. Exploration and story will remain significant parts of the experience, but theyll be enhanced by content thats even more dynamic--the players themselves. All of this is being done while still preserving things critical to the feel of an Elder Scrolls game, like copious amounts of well-crafted lore and interesting areas to explore. Regionalizing mobs and quests by level leads to stagnation, and the Elder Scrolls system of spreading content out across the landscape and in the various ruins and dungeons should help prevent that problem.
War what is it good for?
The Elder Scrolls series has always centered on some great conflict, and each game has had at its heart some form of conflict with the Empire or its succession. By building on conflict and giving players control of it, ZeniMax has a chance to mini-max the experience of being involved in that conflict. The Realm/Guild relationship to controlling persistent terrain we saw in DAoC is a great catalyst for rivalries. Spice it liberally with player-driven Economics and Politics a la EVE Online, and youve created a powder keg of self-sustaining awesome. If ZeniMax can discover how to capture the essence of what DAoC did with RvR, and combine it with the EVE Online way of making the player the driving force behind the game, we could be looking at a winner here. And this series of games just happens to be perfect for something along those lines.
There is nothing more immersive than conflict, and giving a player a personal stake in that conflict is a direct path to full on player investment.
Capturing the sense of conflict in the MMO will breathe into The Elder Scrolls online the life that it needs to survive. I know it sounds a bit nihilist to make a statement like that, but think about it. There is nothing more immersive than conflict, and giving a player a personal stake in that conflict is a direct path to full on player investment. How many extra hours did you end up plugging into Skyrim just to ensure Imperial dominion or free the Nords of their oppressors?
The Fighters and Mages Guilds are the standard in the Elder Scrolls games, but perhaps before that, there were any number of guilds, all vying for control of regions. ZeniMax needs to allow players to take that ownership and promote inter-guild politics. This can be done without turning it into a madhouse of PvP. They could allow something like the EVE Online system of guilds/alliances to declare relationships, and the DAoC system of relevant areas being centers for PvP with advantages to securing areas. Dont limit it to faction benefits, but allow it to go to Guild/Alliance levels to promote dynamic experiences. Story may make a game, but PvP will sustain it.
ZeniMax demonstrated their grasp of the IP with a good time period choice. They open up a lot of options due to lack of historical documentation for the period in which the game is set. I would encourage them to use this freedom to encourage players to build and change the world.
No Arrows, No Knees
Some fans worry that The Elder Scrolls becoming an MMO will take away from the game franchise theyve always loved. Theres risk of that with every new addition to the series, but I dont believe theres much reason to worry about The Elder Scrolls Online just yet. In fact, I would submit instead that the game may actually serve to enhance what has always made this series great--conflict. Every Elder Scrolls game has had, at its core, some epic struggle of military might against two warring factions, or more. The Elder Scrolls Online will enhance that experience by allowing players a continuously evolving political landscape and battle environment to participate in. No longer will guilds and factions be limited by what the writers can dream up, but will be fueled by the creativity and imagination of players themselves.
Sure, The Elder Scrolls Online has some challenges in store for it, but it looks like the franchise is in good hands. ZeniMax appears to have a handle on what an Elder Scrolls game should feel like. They also receive constant input from Bethesda, a company which has every reason to make sure this game lives up to its exacting standards.
With a massive and highly detailed environment to explore and quest in, ESO should offer players the experience and feel of the original game, except that it will be enhanced by sharing that experience with others. Come on guys, lets be honest: how many of us over the years who have loved playing these games have made a comment about how awesome it would be if we could share it with a friend? Looks like were finally going to be able to.
Ten Ton Hammer is first on the list of media waiting to get a glimpse of The Elder Scrolls Online at E3 2012 on June 5th. Make sure to stop back [Pro tip: Bookmark that link!] for more breaking coverage of the MMO Elder Scrolls fans are talking about!