When I first heard about The Elder Scrolls Online I was pretty disappointed with the idea. I didn’t want Bethesda working on another of those pretty mindless online games whereby you spend forever hitting rats and engaging in a ludicrous fantasy story that involves you delivering parcels.
I wanted another game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
I think it was Skyrim’s director, Todd Howard, that countered a question regarding multi-player in Skyrim by saying that the game was all about the player. The player alone is the hero of Skyrim. The world and the narrative revolve around that one player resulting in a finely honed and delicately paced experience.
You are not going to get this sort of thing in The Elder Scrolls Online.
I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls Online for the past week in a special press preview session with a handful of other games journalists. It’s been a quiet affair with only the odd interaction with other players. When Australia is up the rest of the western world is asleep, hence the sparsely populated server. From a game-play point-of-view; this was exactly what I wanted. It gave me an experience like that of Skyrim: the lone adventurer out to save the day.
On the odd occasion when I found myself in dungeon and another player waded into the fray, it was like someone crashing my party. From a narrative point of view the situation was odd as well. There I was sneaking around a dungeon looking for the cause of a great sickness and suddenly in wades a huge barbarian of a player massacring everyone and harvesting all my clues whilst he’s at it.
I can only imagine what the game is going to be like with hundreds or more likely thousands of adventurers all after the same thing.
For the first few weeks the newbie areas are going to look like the Somme. Are we going to have to queue up for the quest loot? I know spawn camping and dealing with kill stealers is par for the course when playing MMOs, but it’s not really The Elder Scrolls, is it. Having loads of people completing the same quest may be OK for World of Warcraft, but The Elder Scrolls games have, in my mind, been a little more classy that that.
What makes it worse is that the quests are written in such a manner that suggests that the plot is unique to you. The townsfolk never ask “Please go to the cave and save my sister, oh and by the way, you may bump into the other hundred other adventurers that I’ve also sent down there”.
The very fact that I’m going to be sharing this fantastic world with loads of other people is likely to be the thing that turns me off the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been playing and enjoying MMORPGs since the days of Everquest, but I know just how cool The Elder Scrolls games are as single-player games. Having played the game for a week virtually in solitude, I believe that The Elder Scrolls Online experience will end up as a pale reflection of what it could be just because it is online.
The game itself draws heavily on the established Elder Scrolls mythology, making the game world instantly familiar to me. This and the finely crafted quests helped suck me into a game that really felt like an extension of Skyrim- a game that I’m still actively playing on Xbox 460 and PC. There’s no doubt in my mind that Bethesda have gone all out to create a genre-defining MMO based on their top tier game property. Visually the game is quite breathtaking and the environments absolutely huge. I really can’t fault the gameplay or the technical presentation.
Still, as much as I liked my experience with The Elder Scrolls Online, I wish that Bethesda had spent the incredible amount of effort that they obviously expended on The Elder Scrolls VI. Even though the game is quite superb, I don’t think that it is going to offer me The Elder Scrolls experience that I crave and with a $15/month subscription fee I think, unfortunately, that the whole effort may eventually prove to be misguided.
You can read my preview of The Elder Scrolls Online over at Shanethegamer.com.