Friday, May 4, 2012

ALERT! The Elder Scrolls Online Announced!

So this is where the cursed Thalmor live 
The fanboy in me just screamed: "Holy ***t. Holy ****ing ***t!"

Let me explain: if RPGs are the whiskeys of the video game world, then Bethesda Software's The Elder Scrolls series are the single-malt scotches, with Skyrim the 30-year Macallen that costs $1000 per bottle. It gave us a totally convincing world where doing things like picking flowers or making iron daggers were almost as fun as clearing dungeons or finishing quests. I don't know how many hours I sank into it, but suffice to say, I have never--and I mean never--felt as attached to a game or felt as convinced by the world it created.

I often wondered, though, what it would have been like to team up with a couple of friends and tackle the dragons, Falmer, Thalmor and others together. Well, my friends, that time has come:
Bethesda Softworks is taking The Elder Scrolls online. The game maker announced today that it is developing a massively multiplayer online (MMO) version of its popular franchise. The Elder Scrolls Online is in development at ZeniMax Online Studios under the direction of director Matt Firor. It will be available on PCs and Macs sometime next year. 
Bethesda promised more information about the MMO in the June issue of Game Informer. In a preview, the magazine said "players will discover an entirely new chapter of Elder Scrolls history in this ambitious world, set a millennium before the events of Skyrim as the daedric prince Molag Bal tries to pull all of Tamriel into his demonic realm."
No word yet on console versions, but apparently there's more information coming tomorrow.

Paul Tassi at Forbes has some concerns:
Tomorrow promises a teaser trailer and more info, but for now it’s speculation time for fans and gaming outlets alike. There seems to be a mix of excitement, as Elder Scrolls is a beloved series, and skepticism, as an MMO is a huge undertaking, and Bethesda has had their single player titles riddled with bugs and glitches. The games are always great, but there are a significant amount of technical difficulties with each new release. What’s going to happen when they have to craft a far more complex MMO instead?

Others may be concerned with the apparent MMO-ification of games recently. It’s a sister syndrome of “Multiplayerfication,” a trend I addressed this week which has single player games introducing multiplayer as a way to sell online passes and keep gamers playing after they’ve beaten the game. MMO-ification is perhaps best exemplified by the recent EA title, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Fans might have been perfectly content with Bioware making another single player sequel to Knights of the Old Republic, but teaming with EA they spent hundreds of millions to make the new game an MMO instead, and some would argue a lot got lost in translation.

And that’s a question fans might be asking themselves now. Do they want an MMO version of the Elder Scrolls, or would they rather just have a polished sixth single player installment, which will now assuredly be delayed? Skyrim was a much beloved game this past year, and I can’t remember anyone moaning that there was no online component to it.
I find most of these arguments strange. To begin, the comparison with Bioware's The Old Republic MMO is off-base. When it released, Bioware hadn't made an Old Republic single-player game in a decade (KOTOR 2 was actually developed by Obsidian). They have, however, managed to release a whole bunch of other single-player games, including the highly regarded Mass Effect 3 last March. Doesn't seem like The Old Republic messed that up too much, if you ask me.

Bethesda, by contrast, releases a single-player Elder Scrolls game approximately once every five years. Skyrim came out in late 2011, so we're realistically looking at late 2016 for Elder Scrolls VI. Where's the evidence an Elder Scrolls MMO will screw that up? Seems like an awfully long time to get it right, even with an MMO project. The one I kinda sorta agree with concerns the bigs and glitches. There were a lot of those in Skyrim, and even more in Fallout 3. But whatever...that's what happens when you construct gigantic, interactive and truly open worlds.

Basically, I'm excited, so quit raining on my parade, Tassi!

What I Hope We See in tESO

There are a lot of things fans of the series would like to see, both elements from previous games and stuff that wasn't included or could have been improved.  Here are a few of mine:

World Items: 
Save the sacred forest from colonial marines or something
1. Moar Skyrim plz. I'd like to be able to explore its cities, dragon-nest peaks and draugr-infested dungeons with friends. On that note, can I fly a dragon this time? Pretty please?

2. Thalmor too. I hate them, but I love to hate them. My biggest complaint with Skyrim was that you couldn't just lead the Stormcloaks and Imperials together against the Dominion. Give me that chance now, Bethesda!

3. Learn the secrets of the Snow Elves and Dwemer. These "lost races" cast a big shadow over events in Skyrim. There's rumor that the Snow Elves will play a major role in the Skyrim DLC, but if not, this might be a good venue for exploring their transformation into the Falmer.

4. More varied topography. Skyrim was beautiful, but I missed the variation you had in Oblivion.

Gameplay Items:

1. A cooperative, plot-driven quest structure, rather than a WoW-style emphasis on PvP+grindfest. Not that I don't want PvP, but I felt that the missing ingredient to Skyrim was the ability to quest together, and live the various plotlines together, rather than the ability to square off against one another. So yeah, I'd like this to be more Old Republic than WoW.

2. A better inventory system. Skyrim's was a big improvement over Oblivion's, but it was still too clunky for online play.

3. A living, evolving metaplot, where individual achievements affect an overall trajectory that in turn affects the world. This is a great aspect of The Old Republic, as well as EVE and some other MMOs. Should be a no-brainer here. Imagine the Stormcloaks-Imperials war if thousands of gamers were affecting its outcome bit by bit. Very cool.

Conclusions, For Now

Let's just say I'm excited. I don't see how this could fail, given Bethesda's record for producing triple-A titles and the obvious potential of the Elder Scrolls series for online play. Breaking this story is a big coup for Game Informer. Check out their upcoming June issue for more. For now, Time Magazine has 17 leaked screens for you here. Enjoy.

 [NOTE: this is a live topic, and I'll update it periodically as things come to light, so check back in periodically!]