The moment the Elder Scrolls Online was announced fans wasted no time taking sides. While some greeted the news with excitement, others saw it as an attack on the series they’ve grown to love as a strictly single-player experience. Both sides stubbornly hold their ground, and I’d like to make both heard. This article is the first in a two part series that will explore the general arguments behind the two sides. These arguments have been developed mainly from various forums I frequent. The first, which you’re reading now, will argue against the Elder Scrolls Online. I have to admit, I am playing the part of devil’s advocate here seeing that I fall on the side of the ESO believers. However, their is defiantly merit in some of the points that will be made. So, without a further ado, here are 5 reasons why some people think the the Elder Scrolls Online simply doesn’t work.
Who’s Behind the Wheel
The skeptics point out the fact that the Elder Scrolls Online will see a different development studio working on this Elder Scrolls game. Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, and Fallout 3 were all made under the same roof, with the same studio- Bethesda, and under the same lead- Todd Howard. This will be the first Elder Scrolls game that is developed on the outside. Wouldn’t you say the people who make the games probably have something to do with what makes them great? Yes, Zenimax Online Studios is a branch of the same company, but that doesn’t mean too much. These development studios are housed in completely different locations. So, if you’ve fooled yourself into thinking these two are working side by side, think again. Sure the folks at Bethesda are just a phone call away, but that’s how Zenimax Online Studios wants you to believe their working closely on the project. Honestly, Zenimax Media Inc (big daddy corporate) wouldn’t want Zenimax Online Studios bothering the golden boys over at Bethesda Game Studios. Their too busy putting out “games of the year”. No, Zenimax Online Studios is very much on their own with the Elder Scrolls Online. That’s not to say they are not a capable team, but it is something to think about.
The Art is in the Details
It is argued that the Elder Scrolls Online simply won’t work, at least not as an Elder Scrolls game, because what we love about Elder Scrolls’ games can be found in the details. Whether it’s hunting butterflies or silently staring at the authenticity of a slab of meat, we are consistently treated to a painstakingly large amount of small detail. Forget the vistas, simply staring at a table full of food is enough. It can be argued that the most memorable parts of the Elder Scrolls universe are small. What stands out more in your mind? The final boss battle in Oblivion? Or, the little wood elf that follows you around asking you for back rubs?
The skeptics say that details like these simply cannot be achieved in an MMO. Limitations of the game engine and subtraction of the single-player experience will kill the art of detail in this TES game. For the Elder Scrolls Online, gone will be the days of awesome tricks shots your bow. Gone will be the days of tossing bodies in a river to gleefully watch them float downstream.
A World and Not Just Scenery
In the Elder Scrolls the world is the main character. It is argued that the Elder Scrolls Online simply won’t work, at least not as an Elder Scrolls game, because an MMO won’t produce a world like the ones we’ve come to expect. At E3 back in 2011 Todd showed us around Skyrim for the first time. The first thing he did was to simply look out over the landscape at a far off mountain and mention the fact that mountains aren’t just a backdrop, if you’ve played previous Elder Scrolls games you know that you can walk all the way to the top of those things. Hell, chances are you’ll run into at least a few dungeons and maybe even a random quest on your way up. In MMOs we get a lot of what Totalbiscut would call “cardboard scenery”. Look at far off mountains and enormous castles all you want, but don’t go looking for adventure there. The scenery in MMOs are just that- scenery and nothing more.
The skeptics say exploration in an Elder Scrolls MMO will be much more limiting giving the Elder Scrolls Online the impossible task of fleshing out a fully explorable world. And if there is one thing we’ve grown to expect from an Elder Scrolls game, it’s a game where you can climb anything and get anywhere.
A Hero in a World Full of Heroes
It is argued that the Elder Scrolls Online simply won’t work, at least not as an Elder Scrolls game, because a hero in a world full of heroes isn’t much of a hero. If you read my previous article on the things fans want from ESO you’ll recall the quote I made where Todd talked about the thing that makes the Elder Scrolls, and gaming in general, so different from all other media. It’s the sense of pride it gives you as a player. A fantasy world where you and you alone are all that stands in the way of [insert threat here] makes it so you can’t help but take pride in your character. According to this gamer logic your character is inherently special, and despite the odds, he or she always makes it back home to a loving spouse and a growing trophy room.
The skeptics say this sense of heroism that we love in our TES games will be utterly lost in an Elder Scrolls MMO. Forget the thrill of rising up the ranks in the Dark Brotherhood, or becoming the Champion of Cyrodiil. In an MMO everyone has done the same. To undeniably validate the argument I’m going to quote an animated Disney movie is that’s okay, The Incredibles, “And when everyone’s special- nobody is”.
Action and Reaction
It is argued that the Elder Scrolls Online simply won’t work, at least not as an Elder Scrolls game, because the world in an MMO cannot react in the same way as it does in TES games, thus limiting the cornerstone of RPGs- free will. Feel like trimming the population of Riverwood? Suuure, go right ahead. Just not the children- shhh, their immortal. Those citizens of Riverwood will stay dead for as long as you play on that save game. Skeptics of the Elder Scrolls Online say that being able to effect change in your virtual playground is something of an Elder Scrolls staple. Without this kind action and reaction players go from being residences in a virtual space, to simply tourists along for the ride.
This also goes for quests. Elder Scrolls fans are used to intriguing quest lines and interesting characters like the Daedric Princes. I mean seriously how fun are those quests? The moment we get a “fetch 10 wolf hides” quest the Elder Scrolls Online will seem a lot less appealing. Yes, these kind of fetch quests exist in all the Elder Scrolls games, but you could always kill the poor sod giving it to you. Some players just won’t feel at home in a TES game where they don’t have the freedom to slit someone’s throat whenever they want. And feeling at home in TES is important. What is Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim if not our home away from home?
The order skeptics place on the Elder Scrolls Online is tall, but can you blame them? If there were ever a game that had such deep roots in the single player genre it would be the Elder Scrolls. Since I first played Oblivion I’ve always dreamed of an Elder Scrolls co-op. I never suspected we’d see an Elder Scrolls MMO before we saw Elder Scrolls co-op. You couldn’t make a bigger leap and skepticism is a very natural reaction. However, like I stated at the start of this article I fall on the side of the optimist. I have a very clear list why the Elder Scrolls Online has the potential to be a great MMORPG, with emphasis on the “RPG”. And that will be explored in the next article of this series, so don’t miss it. In the meantime, what do you think of the arguments made by the skeptics? What side do you fall on? Maybe you’re somewhere in between? As we draw our line in the sand be sure to voice your opinion in the comment section. Also, we have poll going on right now asking this very question. I think we’ll all be interested to see the ratio of skeptics to optimists.