We were shocked when Bethesda officially announced The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG set in the popular Elder Scrolls universe. Though the rumor had been floating around for years, we always assumed it was some speculative pipe dream, grounded more in optimism than reality. It seems like the perfect pairing, mixing together one of the biggest action RPG franchises with one of the most popular genres in gaming - but after seeing the game at E3 2012 we've begun to temper our expectations for the future of this intriguing MMO.
From the sounds of things, ZeniMax Online's The Elder Scrolls Online is an MMO first and an Elder Scrolls game second. That means that it'll share more in common with World of Warcraft than it will Skyrim or Oblivion - less risky, but also less innovative. Most of the elements we saw in the game were ones we'd played through dozens of times in other MMOs. It features action-based combat like TERA, free-form questing like Guild Wars 2, and voice acting like Star Wars: The Old Republic. In fact, we didn't really see any new ideas at all, which was more than a little disappointing.
What we did see, though, looked strong in its own right. The combat was definitely different from the basic "tap button and watch dude hit stuff" gameplay that permeates a majority of games in the genre, and the lack of quest hubs should make for a more exploration-based experience. We were given an overview of the world, which has spots from just about every Elder Scrolls setting to date, from the icy forests of Skyrim to the deserts of Hammerfell, and it all looked like a stylized version of the games we'd played in the past.
This massive world was broken up into three sections, each lorded over by different warring factions. They're all doing battle to take over keeps, forts, and bases, in hopes of gaining ownership of the kingdom of Cyrodiil that lies in the center. Three-sided, open-world PvP sounded interesting - but it's also been done before, and wasn't drastically different from Dark Age of Camelot or Warhammer Online (which only had two factions, but included the same open-world territorial PvP).
The developers rattled off different features we could expect to find in the finished version, which is due out next year, and it sounded like they was going over a bullet-point list of generic MMO mechanics. Dungeons, heroic versions of those dungeons, raids, crafting, leveling, races - they'll all be in there, in a form you've already experienced. in some other MMO. Though the mix of story-based gameplay and action combat might elevate it above some others in the genre, the general lack of any originality has us scratching our heads.
It wasn't bad, just... sort of disappointing. The reason for our lack of enthusiasm became clear as we left the E3 demo: ZeniMax Online is making no attempts to innovate within the traditional MMO formula. It is essentially taking the standard assortment of tropes and mechanics, giving them the ol' Elder Scrolls spit-shine, shoving them into a world that resembles Tamriel, and expecting that to be enough to get us excited. We're not sure if there's something we're missing, or if the developers are mistaking what people like about Elder Scrolls games. Sure, some enjoy the lore or the world, but it's the gameplay, not the geographical locations or characters, that makes The Elder Scrolls popular, and this game doesn't appear to have any of it.
Whether or not this will actually end up working out is still unknown, but we've yet to see anything that really excites us. We're hoping we're wrong, because we desperately want to have another MMO to look forward to - but right now we're struggling to find anything that makes The Elder Scrolls Online more than just another MMO ?