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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(Games) - The Elder Scrolls online - an opinion.

First off, a disclaimer: I am a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls Series.
I'm one of those gamers that have scheduled off from work the release day for a game in this series (no I don't get an Elder Scrolls flu, I pre-plan my time off.)

The first game in the series I played was Daggerfall, and I have played every Elder Scroll's rpg and their expansions since. I cannot say that I am a scholar in the game's lore, but I could give you a nice dissertation of events that have happened in the series, from Arena to Skyrim. Admittedly, I did not play the step-children of the series, Battlespire, and Redguard.  Those are games I would still love to try, but I have heard that the 3D acceleration requires 3DFX's Glide API ( I owned a 3DFX Voodoo 1, Voodoo 2, and Voodoo 3 but no longer do) and thus cannot play it on my current video card.

Whisperings of a Elder Scrolls Online

The rumor of an MMO based on the Elder Scroll's has been around for quite awhile, with the first rumors starting to appear in 2006-2007. At the time, I had pulled myself away from World of Warcraft (WOW) after being addicted to several beta's and then finally the full game when it was released in November of 2004. When I first heard of a possible Elder Scroll's Online, I wasn't ready for another MMO at that time, and was worried i would find myself combating a new addiction.
Six years later we finally receive information from Zenimax that indeed the rumored game was in production, some screenshots, and some articles on the game. All I can say is FINALLY :)

The Timing?

The problem with their timing is that Bethesda have released Oblivion and Skyrim since those rumors began. Oblivion was a big seller for Bethesda, and sold far more than even Morrowind, which sold far more than Daggerfall.

Daggerfall was PC only, Morrowind was Xbox and PC, and then Oblivion was released for the Xbox 360 and PC four months after the 360 launched in March of 2006. Oblivion not only sold in large numbers, but it's DLC sold very well too. One year later, Oblivion was released with updates on the PS3, and did very well. After Oblivion came Fallout 3, and the Obsidian developed Fallout: New Vegas, which reached new fans for Bethesda's style of gameplay.

Fast forward to November 2011 and Bethesda released Skyrim, the 5th game in the series. I was at my local Gamestop for the midnight launch and 60 to 100 people were there, waiting in line patiently to grab their copy of the game. I was amazed as I had no idea that the Elder scrolls was now this huge IP. I knew the game had it's diehard fans, but no idea that such a wide range of ages were clamoring for this game.

The point?

The Elder Scrolls fanbase has continually grown with each new release, so much so that when it was released, it was Steam's fastest selling game ever. That is pretty amazing, and the fact that most of my gamer friends own the game also amazes me. For the longest time I was the only one playing the series. That changed with Oblivion as a few friends owned the game, and when Skyrim released, most of my friends bought it. As I said, each game reaches more and more new fans.

The reason the games have sold so well is it's gameplay and graphical style. The game allows for almost total freedom in that you are not on a linear path, you can do whatever you want, when you want, and not even complete the main quest. As an example, I am still playing Skyrim, still have a lot to see and do, and I'm 200 hours into it. The game is primarily played in first person, the option of third person is there, but it's not how most people play the game. The series is known for it's cutting edge graphics at the time of release and Skyrim certainly didn't disappoint.

My point is that when someone plays an Elder Scroll's game, they have an expectation for how it's going to play, look, and feel. Every MMO I have played feels very different than an Elder Scrolls game, and I have played most of them. Most MMO's play in the third person style as you have to be aware of your surroundings and can easily trigger an enemy in first person. I can't imagine playing an Elder Scroll's game this way.

Don't get me wrong, I love MMO's, but I'm not really talking about me here, I'm talking about the fanbase for the single player Elder Scroll's games. Are most Elder scrolls fans also fans of playing MMO's? Does the average Wow fan enjoy the single player of the elder scroll's? My concern is that Zenimax might be trying to sell an MMO to the wrong crowd, a crowd that isn't really into that style of game. I want to play it, and I hope to be on the beta's, but will the other fans feel the same?

Differences in game look and style

Edge Magazine has a new an interview regarding The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO). In the interview with Matt Firor, Edge asked him "What do you think Truly makes this an Elder Scrolls game?" Matt's answer is its the Lore behind the games, and I think he is partially right, but that the Lore isn't as important as he thinks.

I love the lore in the series, it's very deep, and there are hours and hours involved just reading the books from the games, you can read those at the Imperial Library.

The backstory that Bethesda has created over time for the series is truly vast, but I don't believe it's why the average person bought Skyrim. I believe the average person bought it due to the gameplay and graphic style.

From the comments I have read on articles regarding TESO, the hardcore fans of the series seem uneasy, skeptical, and sometimes downright critical of the idea of this series becoming an MMO. The average fan who loves the gameplay style of the past games, will they want to play an MMO? How many MMO's have come and gone since WOW became the Juggernaut of massively multiplayer games? It seems even the big budget latest MMO release, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SW:TOR) has suffered the same fate as other MMO's that came after World of Warcraft.

I got a free week of SW:TOR and I was disappointed to finally get to play it and realize it's essentially the same MMO we have all played before, but with different features and visuals. I was hoping for more than that.
Subscriptions seemed to have dropped quite a bit since launch already, but it's still doing well, but isn't even close to the huge numbers WOW had or even still has now.

So, the question becomes what is Zenimax really trying to do here? Are they trying to woo over MMO players to be the next WOW? To get MMO players interested in the other Elder scrolls games? Are they trying to get the fans of the single player RPG's into their MMO, with those nice monthly subscriptions? Of course the answer is all the above, and while i'd love to see that happen I have my doubts.

The Elder scrolls is largely a male audience. World of Warcraft managed to gather a large female audience, though it's prior real time strategy games were again mostly a male audience, so that's a possibility. However, WOW was very simplified, it was the first MMO that didn't punish the player so much, and had a female friendly colorful visual style. The elder scrolls is dark high fantasy, and it's look probably won't have the same appeal to the average female gamer. I think they will grab a decent male audience, but will the female audience be as responsive? I'm not talking about the hardcore female gamers, I'm talking the casual players that never played an MMO before WOW, as those are in much larger numbers.

Most of the MMO gamers I have met are not into single player games. They love the simplistic types of quests, hanging out online with old and new friends, and the constant draw of earning that next piece of armor or weapons. The single player gamers like the solo play, the story being about them as the definitive hero, the do what you want when you want exploration, the immersion of it all.

In conclusion

I am not bashing or deriding TESO, I'm just voicing my concerns. I want to be amazed, to be impressed, and to love the game when I have a chance to play it. I truly want to enjoy the game!

Zenimax, you have the chance to impress us all, and take MMO's to a new level, to essentially make MMO 3.0. World of Warcraft was MMO 2.0, and a flood of 2.0 copycats and imposters flooded the market and many died along the road. You make a 3.0 version where it's not the same old grind, the same old battles, the same old leveling scheme and we will love you for it.

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