Can The Elder Scrolls Online work?

Just a few days ago, The Elder Scrolls Online was announced to the world. Starting out as just a rumour, it quickly escalated as the month of May began before being unveiled with the promise of an in-depth feature on the game by GameInformer. However, for that, the internet would have had to wait until June and the internet waits for no man, woman or magazine. The article was leaked in its entirety and the screenshots of the game were tossed about across various news and game websites before ZeniMax Online (that’s right, it’s not Bethesda but hang on, we will get to that) revealed the teaser trailer for the game. So, with all that said and done, The Elder Scrolls Online is official, it’s real and it’s penned for 2013. So all in all, it’s not that far off.

So why is this such a big deal? Is it not going to be just another Massively Multiplayer Online game? That right there, is why it is such a big deal. It shouldn’t be just another MMO. Not at all. The Elder Scrolls is a series of five enormous role-playing games developed by Bethesda Game Studios, each with their own post-launch content to help compliment the game’s already colossal open-world settings. The Elder Scrolls is primarily a single-player experience and thus, one of the things that long time fans of the games have been clamouring for is some form of multiplayer. Well, it seems we got what we wanted, but not how we expected it to be.

I am an avid fan of the recent iterations of the Elder Scrolls series, namely Oblivion and Skyrim. Yet, whilst I loved the immense amount of world building and customisation that was available at your fingertips, I always dreamt of an Elder Scrolls where you could wander around and suddenly bump into a friend doing their own thing. Well we sort of have it now, but not really. Allow me to explain. An MMO is something of a divider in the world of videogames. Usually immediately compared to World of Warcraft, any new MMO has some kind of template set and gamers will judge them on it. The Elder Scrolls Online is at least a very cool idea, in theory. What I don’t want to see though, is the game conform to this ‘WoW style’ template of MMOs and lose what made Elder Scrolls amazing in the first place.

I have played World of Warcraft and personally, playing on your own is excruciatingly dull. The Elder Scrolls Online simply cannot be boring, single- or multiplayer. Because of the fantastic critical history the single-player games have, ZeniMax should have plenty of means to make the game as fun when playing by yourself as when with your friends. On this note, the things that make the series fun in the first place have to be present, though I find a lot of them to conflict with the usual MMO gameplay style. Where Elder Scrolls is all about big, expansive worlds that the player can travel about essentially freely, MMOs are usually somewhat more rigid and level based. Taking away that sense of freedom is taking away what it means to be playing an Elder Scrolls game.

Maybe I should take the time now to point out that whilst it is being developed by ZeniMax Online and not Bethesda, which yes might seem like a bad omen, Bethesda are essentially looking over ZeniMax’s shoulder at all times. Not only that, but Bethesda’s name comes up first on the trailer. That works enough for me.

Anyway, there are a number of things that Elder Scrolls does that I would like to see translated over to the MMO. The thing is, if you remove these things, it is no longer really the Elder Scrolls, but just another MMO with a flashy name tag. No one wants that. For it to work, it needs to allow the player to play in first-person. Whilst doing so in itself would conflict with a lot of traditional MMO gameplay elements, such as the battle systems, that is how I and a vast number of Elder Scrolls players play the game. Not only this, but I hope the world is as living and breathing as an Elder Scrolls world. For example, I want the player to have an impact on what happens. Kill a NPC, bad stuff goes down. Bad stuff that could potentially last. I don’t really know, but hypothetically speaking, it’s not so much trying to turn Elder Scrolls into a MMO as it is trying to turn a MMO into Elder Scrolls. The game must feel like both at the same time.

Phew, it’s difficult. ZeniMax have got a lot to live up to, taking perhaps one of the single largest and most well loved role-playing games of all time and turning it into a genre of game that often comes under a fair bit of fire. A risky move. However, it’s not all doom and gloom as the company have certainly made some of the right steps towards turning the Elder Scrolls into a viable MMO. For example, allowing the player access to the entire of Tamriel is genius and the game would suffer without it. I know they are leaving some bits closed for expansion packs, but regardless it’s a fantastic move.

I suppose the final point really should answer the question posed – can The Elder Scrolls Online work? ZeniMax is coming up against a mountain of oppression, rage is being flung back and forth across the internet and yet, everyone wants this. Be it suppressed or what, people who love The Elder Scrolls want to play it with other people. The only issue is, do they want an MMO and the stipulations that come with it? Will we have to pay for the game monthly? Or do they just want a new Elder Scrolls with a bit of co-op added on? With so many questions being flung about right now, the only thing we can do is wait. The game has been in development now since 2006, giving the developers a very long time to make it work. There is still another year yet. Perhaps it would have been wiser to reveal it earlier and work on the feedback given, but who knows.

Whatever happens with this project, I for one am pleased. The fact that I will be able to play Elder Scrolls with a menagerie of motley team mates is an idea that sounds great to this particular gamer, but what do you think about The Elder Scrolls Online? I for one think the game can work, but the real question is…can it for work for you?