How deep is the history of the Elder Scrolls universe? Bethesda and Zenimax Online are hoping it’s deep enough to draw fans of the series into a giant MMORPG and away from the already epic Skyrim and upcoming Dawngard DLC. More difficult will be the task of convincing players of other MMOs that ESO is a unique enough experience that it’s worth their time.
Director Matt Firor began a presentation to us at E3 by explaining that the game will be “the most socially-connected MMO” that players have ever come across. Going beyond just raids, this will include small quests and giant war efforts as the world of Tamriel is shaken apart by three factions lodged in a civil war. The nation stuck in the middle, Cyrodiil, has even made a pact with the undead to protect itself from the outlying countries.
ESO aims to make every situation and plot in the game revolve around the interactions of these nations. So, as alliances and battles push and pull the structure of the world, the players have to react as well. Choose to protect one nation and face the wrath of another. Players will need to work together in a strategic way to siege kingdoms and towns as they advance to unite the world under one banner, before the undead rise against them.
Here’s where things get tricky, though.
Firor went on to explain to us that even though the game is meant to be played within this giant interactive war, it can also be a 100% solo adventure. The player’s character, who’s soul has been taken, needs to save the world to get it back. Does that mean that after the world is saved there will be no further need to play? Or will the salvaging of the kingdoms be that resolution? It’s currently unknown how all of that will fit together.
Apart from these novelties, the game doesn’t have much in the way of an original feel to it. Since its development began more than five years ago, it doesn’t seem to shake the undoubted influence of WoW. Visually, for instance, it retains that “playful fantasy” aesthetic of what’s become typical of the genre: characters with top-heavy proportions and an animation-style of design, environments that feel almost too saturated in color, and an action-based third-person view that has become all too typical.
It feels very traditional and safe, and almost dated.
We kept wondering, “What’s special about it?”
Perhaps fans of the Elder Scrolls world will be drawn to the history it relies on, and maybe new players may be attracted to the the WoW influence and traditional gameplay. But it’s going to be a challenge. MMOs will always be compared to WoW on their success: Star Wars: TOR began its quick descent into obscurity just a few months after it launched, and DC Universe was forced into free-to-play because of sagging memberships. 38 Studios’ Kingdoms of Amalur never even made it out of development, helping sink the company along the way. Can Bethesda launch a giant MMO in a landscape full of them?
It begs the answer to the question: how much do you really care about what happened 1000 years earlier in a video game? Right now, it’s hard for me to consider it.