Published on November 10th, 2012 | by Gary Kirwan
Elder Scrolls Online Throws Videos at the Internet
Yes, it’s that time of year again. When MMO developers begin throwing their video work diaries at the denizens of the web in the hopes of building some kind of publicity. I always figured that such a diary would involve incoherent babbling about code not working and that bug that just won’t go away. I feel lied to. The latest to throw their proverbial hat in the proverbial ring in the hopes of starting a brouhaha are ZeniMax Online Studios and Bethesda, the people behind Elder Scrolls Online. You probably got that from the title. You guys are sharp.
When ESO was announced back in May it was met with equal parts “Oh My God It’s Going To Be Like Co-op Skyrim!” and “Meh”. Everyone and their dog had visions of a first-person MMO set in an instantly recognisable world already dripping in lore. Considering the previous games have all sold like nobody’s business, and the player base is already well established, the move made absolute sense. No matter which camp you were in, you couldn’t help but admit it was inevitable. Of course, Zenimax then declared the game would not be in first-person. A strange move given that the perspective has long been a staple of the series and an announcement to which a lot of web denizens remarked “Wut?”. But until we see actual gameplay footage it’s probably best not to judge. We’ll bide our time and hold our tongues. What’s that? They’ve released just such a video this week? Well would you look at that.
First things first, the environments look surprisingly good. Sure, a lot of it is lighting and dramatic angles, but it’s nice. That’s the good stuff. I miss the first-person viewpoint, there I’ve said it. I feel like they’ve made a mistake. I can accept that it would be difficult to make it fit the genre but it was a unique opportunity to set itself apart from the crowd and the whole time I was watching I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that they’ve wasted it. If ever there was an IP that could justify it, this was it. So yes, the environments look fantastic. Every other feature is either so minor as to not really matter or has been done before. They’ve taken the mouse control system from the previous Elder Scrolls games, which is nice but it’s not clear as to whether that’s supplementary to an action bar (as per Tera) or standalone. The former works well but is nothing new and the latter is simplified to the point of hack-and-slash. They tout a non-shard/realm based system as one of the features. However, this is fast becoming an industry standard and they’ve probably got in just before it becomes old news – GW2 launched a few months back after talking about shard-less systems for a long time and even WoW has made striding steps to let you play with anyone regardless of realm. Admittedly, the class system is interesting. If the the freedom of class choice that’s being alluded to is in fact achieved, it could be the dynamic the game needs to gain traction. Rift launched as a rather generic MMO, at least on the surface, with a class system that offered a lot of flexibility and was a success because of it, so I look forward to hearing more on that aspect.
Finally we come to content. The PvP is tough to get a bead on as information is so scarce, we know they have a zone and keep-assault/defence but is it like WoW’s Wintergrasp (i.e. the keep is basically the zone) or are we looking at a proper RvR / WvW as per Guild Wars 2, Warhammer Online or Dark Age of Camelot? They mention a three faction setup so one would hope it’s the latter. And then we have raiding, the bone of contention among all MMO players. By the sound of it ESO will feature a traditional vertical progression system which is both hated and loved within the industry and for good reason. On the one hand it gives those with the time to contribute something to do and a constant set of goals, but on the other it alienates those that don’t. We’ve talked about this before and I have no doubt we will again so suffice to say I feel it’s a dangerous choice. I was honestly surprised when they said they would have large PvE dungeons at endgame when so many of the genre are moving away from them.
Overall I am still very much on the fence. Much of the content is extremely generic and I feel like I’ve seen it over and over for years. It’s possible I’m being a bit harsh on what is their first dev video but in such a saturated genre I think it’s necessary to judge harshly lest we be drowned in clone after clone. We’ll be keeping an eye on future developments however and hope to see something that makes it stand out. It would be a shame to waste such a good IP.