Meet me in Daggerfall.
So here I was a few months ago wishing I could play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with my friends. Well, it seems that Bethesda read my mind because only a few months later The Elder Scrolls Online was announced. You’re welcome, everyone.
Okay, but seriously, The Elder Scrolls Online will be the first multiplayer game in what has been an extremely eventful 18-year series. To be able to sit down with a group of people while two members of the Zenimax Online Studios—the game’s developer—presented this game was quite the honor.
A third of the demonstration for The Elder Scrolls Online was to show the game’s environment which spans the entire continent of Tamriel. To put that in perspective, Skyrim is only about an eighth of the entire landmass, and I’m sure you remember how long it took to walk from Whiterun to Riften. But it isn’t just about size; thankfully, everything I saw looked gorgeous, from the characters to the environments. If the full version is as good as what was shown at E3, then this game will be the king of MMORPG visuals once it releases.
Seeing iconic places such as Daggerfall and Morrowind in the multiplayer arena is one of the coolest things about The Elder Scrolls Online. No longer will you feel like you have to explain how cool your character is, and instead you’ll be able to group up with friends and head to familiar—and more times than not unfamiliar—territories. There will be dozens, if not hundreds, of dungeons, some of which will be instanced in order to promote a story-focused experience. More importantly, there will be thousands of quests in typical The Elder Scrolls fashion.
But you won’t be able to jump into the game and play without first making a character. Unfortunately, character classes haven’t been revealed—yet—but I did see a warrior, mage, and thief of sorts. Beyond that, three factions were revealed (Ebonheart Pact, Aldmeri Dominion, and Daggerfall Covenant) which consist of three exclusive races each and symbolically represent the three-dragon Ouroburos icon for the game. If you prefer to be a colorful lizard (Argonian), then you’ll want to choose The Ebonheart Pact, but if you’d rather be an agile cat-like humanoid (Khajiit), then The Aldmeri Dominion is for you. The full extent of factions is yet to be announced, but we did see separate starting areas and capital cities for each.
On the gameplay front, The Elder Scrolls Online will be attempting to break away from the MMO archetype that we’ve gotten used to seeing over the years. Instead of the World of Warcraft formula, which countless games have borrowed from, ZeniMax’s MMO will be purely action-based. The main goal, as stated by the demo presenter, is to prevent players from staring at their UI. In order to accomplish this, important information such as health, stamina, and magicka are made easily viewable, and combat is reactive. The end result is the combat on-screen demanding your full undivided attention.
An action-focused MMO is what everyone has been craving for years, but what I saw during the demo didn’t fully convince me. The combat looked limited to a few basic attacks, and animations issues were problematic during blocking and dodging. Casting spells appeared slow and lacked the fluidity that makes a game like this fun to play for more than just a month. It looked stylish and had visual flavor but was lacking the substance that attracts hardcore players—who make up a majority of the market. Then again, it's still in the midst of development.
One of the most ambitious focuses of The Elder Scrolls Online is its voice-acting which comprises every dialogue interaction throughout the game. This is a huge undertaking for the development team and naturally comes with the territory. However, now that the game is five-years into development, I wonder if it’s making the same mistake that Star Wars: The Old Republic did. It’ll certainly make the story more impactful, but at what cost?
To end the demonstration with a bang, the presenter showed a large-scale PvP battle featuring over 100 ZeniMax employees duking it out with fiery magic and sharpened steel. It looked as if I was watching a scene from Braveheart, except that everyone looked confused while attacking with no real target or objective. At least it was bloody and chaotic.
The Elder Scrolls Online is clearly intended to appeal to fans of the series and is not taking any chances with altering the formula. The approach that ZeniMax is taking is not very aggressive, and how it compares to its single-player counterparts will dictate its success. Let’s just hope that the story is compelling and co-operative play stands out, because those two qualities will either make the game stand out or see it rotting in the MMO graveyard.
The Elder Scrolls Online will be releasing exclusively for PC in 2013.