The Elder Scrolls is the poster boy franchise for single-player RPGs, and the thought of it going MMO doesn’t fit for some. Phil Owen goes hands on and finds there’s little to fear.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Developed by Zenimax Online, a new Bethesda studio founded specifically for the MMORPG.
Expected in 2014 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – one of the more surprising announcements from E3 2013.
Is set during a time when Tamriel lacks an Emperor; each player has a chance to sieze the throne.
The various nations and provinces of Tamriel have been divided into three factions – the Aldmeri Dominion (Altmer, Bosmer and Khajiit); the Daggerfall Covenant (Bretons, Redguards and Orcs); and the Ebonheart Pact (Dunmer, Nords and Argonians).
Today I got my hands on The Elder Scrolls Online for the first time at E3, and I had a weird feeling while playing it. My lady Orc spawned in the town of Daggerfall, and I dicked around killing chickens and trying to find some dude’s pig. Later, I would become involved in a plot to try to kill Daggerfall’s king.
It was, more or less, exactly the same as my typical Elder Scrolls solo experience. Character creation was pretty familiar, if simpler, but the typical races were represented. I went around doing a bunch of quests that didn’t have much to do with one another, and I wandered around looking at stuff while random assassins tried to murder me. I talked to some people, and my dialogue options were usually pretty meaningless. It’s all what I would have expected from any other internally developed Bethesda RPG.
One might read what I just wrote and interpret that as me asserting that TESO is some sort of grand evolution of the MMO, but that is not at all what I am trying to say. Rather, what playing TESO made me realize is that all those other Elder Scrolls titles were actually MMO-style games that you had to play alone. That’s not an insult, because those games have avoided some of the key annoyances about MMOs, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
To be fair, TESO is not exactly identical to Skyrim. There is an action bar, for one, though there is no cursor as mouse look is locked on. Yeah, you’ll hit the left mouse button a lot to attack, but then you’ll throw some abilities, which you buy with skill points that you gain from leveling up, in from time to time with the 1-5 keys. And, like, uh, I’m sure there were other things that were different. No, this feels like Elder Scrolls.
If you are, say, a fan of The Secret World, you’ll have an experience that you’ll find quite familiar. That’s not a bad thing, because The Secret World is quality. And all those single-player Elder Scrolls games aren’t too shabby themselves, so the fact that we are getting an honest-to-god MMO translation of a franchise that lots of people love with some stylings that we’ve seen in a very accessible MMO sounds honestly pretty awesome.
But even though I might call a game like Skyrim a single-player MMO, I should note that it and other Elder Scrolls titles have avoided probably the most awful of MMO trappings, the “go there and kill X MOBs” quest. I was assured that TESO avoids those toes of quests as well, and in my 30-minute session I didn’t encounter anything Iike that, instead taking on tasks that mostly had points. And while a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic might have painted over quests of that sort with a plot-related purpose delivered by excellent voice actors, they were still there. I can’t say if TESO will actually completely avoid the template, but if the full game really is as much like a Skyrim or Oblivion as it seems, then we probably don’t need to worry about that too much.
It’s curious that Bethesda is managing to replicate the core Elder Scrolls experience without covering the landscape with quest-related instances as SWTOR is. Each area in the game world will be instanced to keep the populate under control, and dungeons will be instanced specifically for your group, but otherwise it’s a free-for-all.
It also makes me wonder what sort of impact TESO could have on the MMO genre. This could be a meaningful moment for the genre. That alone makes TESO a game worth watching.
Considering that TESO is an actual Elder Scrolls experience, and it includes every region of Tamriel, one has to wonder if there is any need for another solo Elder Scrolls experience. We learned this week that TESO will launch on Xbox One and PS4, and so Bethesda’s bases are covered. And it’s a game that, because it’s an MMO, can grow forever. It’s possible, I think, that The Elder Scrolls online could be everything an Elder Scrolls fan needs going forward if Bethesda truly dedicates themselves to it.
It also makes me wonder what sort of impact TESO could have on the MMO genre. I’m sure there are lots of folks who enjoy both MMOs and Elder Scrolls games already, but there are likely many folks who only play the solo games who will be exposed to MMOs for the first time. When they find that, hey, this game is totally what they like, but they can also quest with their friends if they want… This could be a meaningful moment for the genre. That alone makes TESO a game worth watching. And the possibility of folks who are primarily MMO gamers making the leap to the single-player side is also very real. TESO, by virtue of being similar to other games, may manage to bring folks out of their niche caves, at least a little bit.