Zenimax Online faces the difficult task of appeasing several different sets of expectations from gamers who come from different games and genres. Read on for how The Elder Scrolls Online aims to appeal to several different fanbases.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Seeing more of the world. Haven’t you ever been curious what the Argonian homeland looks like, or what riding through Daggerfall in a game with a modern graphics engine would look like? ESO includes sections of every province in Tamriel, so you can explore many of the locations you’ve only read about in books until now.
Lore. The Elder Scrolls franchise has an enormous body of backstory, and ESO is blowing it out even further. Zenimax Online is working hand-in-hand with the loremasters at Bethesda Game Studios to flesh out Tamriel’s Second Era, so lore nuts should have plenty to digest.
Finding adventure wherever you wander. Isn’t that what Elder Scrolls is all about? The Mage Guild’s gameplay revolves around finding ancient texts and bits of lore and runs throughout the entire game. Unmarked dungeons, ruins, caves, and other adventure-filled areas dot the landscape, so wandering through the Black Marsh isn’t a matter of grinding giant bugs for experience as it is a hunt for lost artifacts of ancient Argonian civilization, even though no NPC has given you a specific task to do so.
Touchstones. Daedric princes, birthsigns, guilds, and many more elements that players strongly associate with the franchise are all integral parts of the game. Some things, like player housing, aren’t making the transition to an MMO because of the constraints inherent to an online game, but Zenimax Online is including everything that makes sense.
World of Warcraft
Working with other players. While WoW’s world design and game rules expect you to fly solo outside of designated elite quests and group dungeons, Zenimax Online is going out of its way to make sure helping someone else out always benefits everyone. For instance, there’s no “tagging” and so helping a random stranger kill a monster results in both of you getting full credit.
That old BRD feeling. Blackrock Depths is often mentioned as a favorite dungeon of old-school WoW players for the sense of exploring a huge, hostile city instead of fighting through a series of corridors. ESO’s public dungeons, unless Zenimax Online badly botches the design, should recreate some of what made BRD special...but hopefully without the painful process of finding a group that wants to accomplish the same subset of goals that you’re looking to do.
Non-instanced PvP warfare. Remember the good old days of open warfare in the Hillsbrad Foothills as huge mobs of players fought over Tarren Mill and Southshore? Expand that to the entire province of Cyrodiil. Take out the server-crashing lag, since the engine can handle up to 200 players onscreen and Zenimax Online has still-under-wraps plans to divert excess population. Forget about lowbie ganking, since everyone’s stats are automatically boosted to level-cap status in Cyrodiil. Oh, and there are things to fight over besides murdering helpless questgivers. Like, for instance, keeps whose walls you can bash down with trebuchets.
Familiar but innovative combat. ESO has lock-on targeting and a hotbar, but it shakes up quite a bit within that framework. Limiting the number of available skills to a handful (currently six, but that number could change) but making each ability awesome sounds great. The addition of stamina for blocking, sprinting, interrupting, and disable-breaking should dramatically increase the moment-to-moment depth of combat.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
More fully voiced story. Does anyone want to go back to walls of text after Bioware showed the world how it’s done with Star Wars’ dialogue and story? No, no we do not. And we won’t have to in order to play ESO with its full voice acting.
Working with other players (see WoW entry, above). Outside of flashpoints, cooperating with other players in SW:TOR is extremely limited in scope. That hopefully won’t be the case in ESO.
Dynamic, large-group combat. SW:TOR did a great job of throwing different types of encounters at players even in its solo content, and ESO is following suit. The baseline solo encounter design has players taking on three enemies at a time, and they work together to bring you down by combining skills like lighting oil patches on fire.
Public content. Rifts are amazing, and Zenimax Online hopes to recreate the sense of working together with random strangers with the Fighters Guild content (destroying Molag Bal’s randomly appearing dark anchors) as well as public dungeons.
Polish and technical competence. Remember when Rift came out, and we were all blown away at how a team of veteran developers with a whole lot of money behind them could put out an MMO that was solid at launch? Well, ESO has a similar situation – game director Matt Firor was heavily involved with Dark Age of Camelot, creative director Paul Sage worked on Ultima Online among others, and team members at Zenimax Online across all disciplines can boast similar credentials. Anything less than a Rift-like level of stability and polish at launch will be a huge disappointment for ESO.
These are just a few elements of The Elder Scrolls Online that should appeal to the fanbases of various games. Fans of the franchise have a lot of questions yet to be answered, like how the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood will work in an MMO setting and how Zenimax Online is going to approximate the rich interactions with objects in the world that we’ve gotten used to since Morrowind. Nonetheless, writing off ESO as “just another MMO” or “WoW with daedra” is doing this ambitious project a grave disservice.