The Elder Scrolls series has long been the king of the massively single-player RPG experience. But now Bethesda has recently released a video shedding some light on their mission to take their prize IP into the massively multiplayer arena.
The high fantasy MMO market is hardly underpopulated, so what can Elder Scrolls Online bring to the table that will make it stand out or even just survive? Will the gaming public just be served up another Everquest retread or can Bethesda deliver something fresh?
Rather than rely on the static and hackneyed hotkey/cooldown slugfests found in most MMOs, Bethesda are looking to provide a “strategic realtime combat” experience. Previous Elder Scrolls iterations such as Skyrim and Oblivion both shared a more connected approach to fighting, with use of the mouse to heft and swing the weapon and raise the shield to block. If this can this be implemented effectively in an MMO environment, it would certainly go a long way toward providing a unique experience. However, any dilution of the familiar system will likely disappoint Elder Scrolls diehards.
The world of Tamriel is already a well-realised environment and setting the timeline 1000 years before Skyrim provides the opportunity for familiarity and some golden deja-vu moments for Elder Scrolls fans. The flyby sequence in the video shows rich, detailed environments with stark and impressive lighting effects. The eye candy is certainly present and correct. Yet the cynic might say it’s just another bunch of rolling hills, mystical forests and dingy dungeons.
Truly Massively Multiplayer?
Touting a mysterious “megaserver technology”, Bethesda claim that the gameworld will be unsharded, allowing all players to interact in shared “gamespaces”. If this genuinely works, it would be an important evolution in MMO gaming. However, reading between the lines, I suspect that this will still involve multiple instances of the same events occurring at the same time, in which case it’s not truly a single world. The engine can support “hundreds of characters on screen at one time” and the siege sequence in the video certainly looks impressive. Can an MMO Total War experience really be done?
New Twists on Old Mechanics
Character customisation will go beyond traditional class-based stereotypes. Abilities, armour and weapons can be combined in any way, allowing for “a tank with a bow, a mage with a two-handed weapon or a sneaky guy healing people.” Perks will allow characters to be vampires, werewolves or to command special pets. Player versus player sieges will take place on a massive scale and individuals can be crowned Emperor.
Perhaps Elder Scrolls Online can provide something different. However there’s no getting away from the “seen it all before” factor, with a seemingly traditional approach to character progression (levelling), quests, races and classes, raids. Mostly, my concern lies with the world. The Elder Scrolls series was unique explicitly because it was massively single player. You could immerse yourself in the world without fear of some idiot spamming local chat or bunnyhopping around your field of view. It was like a good book in which you could lose yourself.
Will going online strip away what was unique about the Elder Scrolls series or are we going to see “the next great RPG” MMO?