Why ESO Will (Hopefully) Succeed in Spite of WoW

ESO's goal of redefining the MMO genre will be its key to success.

In recent years the MMO space has become one of the most stagnant markets in all of gaming. World of Warcraft maintains its eight year reign as undisputed king of the genre and there is very little room for competition. For fledgling games trying to break into the MMO market the presence of the Warcraft behemoth is a constant threat, always waiting around the corner to squash creative new titles. Most games attempt to set themselves apart by doing something unique, namely something that WoW has not done. These differences could be anything, from the “action combat” of TERA to the spontaneous world events in Rift. However these games continue to fall short time after time, but why?

On Top and Staying That Way

World of Warcraft manages to stay on top because they have mastered the MMO fundamentals that form the basis of the genre. As unique and innovative as a new game might be, there are certain standards of the genre that they simply cannot escape. Basic things like quests, abilities, class, class balance, dungeons, raids, and PvP, among other things, are core components of any MMO game. This is where WoW shines. No matter how creative of an idea a new game has, it needs to fall back on these basics, and that is where Warcraft has the edge.

A New Kid on The Block?

By mastering the basics World of Warcraft has dominated the market for years now, turning a once dynamic and creative genre into a lifeless chain of clones by crushing its competition. But now, at last, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon: Elder Scrolls Online. Now ESO is still in closed beta, so all of this speculation is coming from the information the people at Zenimax Online have presented, however if they deliver everything they have said they will, ESO could be a serious competitor for WoW. Based on what has been revealed so far it seems that ESO has a surprisingly simple formula to compete with WoW. They are changing the basics that Warcraft has relied on for so long. In the past most of WoW’s competitors have basically added their own unique twist to the foundation that Warcraft established long ago. ESO is taking a new approach by changing the very foundation of an MMO.

Combat Differences

The area where ESO is changing the game most drastically seems to be combat. First of all ESO is using an action combat system (where a mouse click translates to a sword swing etc.). This has been attempted before, most notably by TERA, which was widely considered a flop. If we learned anything from TERA it was that action combat can be fun, but if implemented into a repetitive, grindy game it can quickly become boring. To combat repetition ESO plans to implement a variety of enemies with different attacks as well as the ability to combine your moves with your friend’s moves to execute more powerful moves. ESO is also going for a minimalist UI and restricting the number of abilities you can use at a given time (kind of like Guild Wars 2 did). This is all in an effort to make combat more reactive (and reminiscent of the combat in Skyrim), rather than merely memorizing ability rotations, something WoW’s combat is often criticized for.

Character Development Changes

ESO is also making some serious changes to character development. In WoW character development was based almost entirely upon class. Your class determined what kind of equipment you could use and which abilities you would learn. In ESO class will be just a fraction of your character. All characters, regardless of class can use any weapon or armor type. Abilities can be learned outside of your class through external means (ex. Mage’s Guild). In short ESO is offering the player much more freedom with their character by not locking them into traditional classes.

The free form character development in ESO is also critical in its approach to dungeons. In the past group dungeons were dictated by the holy trinity: tank, dps, and heals. ESO is throwing the trinity out the window, claiming that dungeons and other group activities can be completed with any assortment of characters. As for raids ESO has not yet commented on whether large scale raids as seen in WoW will be a part of ESO.

Character Progression Changes

Character progression seems to be yet another area where ESO is rewriting the MMO rules. In WoW character progression was all about quests. Now there will still be traditional quests in ESO, but what is interesting is that ESO is offering alternatives for leveling your character. Elder Scrolls games are famous for the explorative quality. Since ESO was announced the devs have put an emphasis on freedom of exploration in ESO. If you want to go the traditional route and go from town to town completing all of the quests from the various quest givers then you will be able to do that. If you want to set off in the completely opposite direction and wander around until you stumble upon something interesting to do in the middle of nowhere you can do that as well. ESO is planning to reward players for exploring and not necessarily following the systematic leveling path of WoW.

Closing Thoughts

As I said earlier this is all speculation and until ESO is actually released we can’t be sure if it will live up to all of the promises it has made. If it does live up to these promises, however, it has potential to change the entire genre. It may seem like I have been bashing WoW throughout this article but don’t get me wrong, I think Warcraft was an incredible game. It did everything right and rocketed the MMO genre’s popularity, however it is getting to a point where, essentially, its monopoly of the genre has become damaging.

WoW has become so huge that it crushes smaller games, some of which had some pretty great ideas for ways to improve the genre. I truly hope, for the good of MMOs as a whole that ESO succeeds. The success of a game that deviates from WoW’s basic formula and returns to RPG style roots would open the door for more daring and creative games in the future. ESO’s success would prove that you do not need to do what WoW did in order to make it in the MMO market.  

Published May. 29th 2013
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