The Tamriel World: A Billion Elder Scrolls Online Screens

By Nathan Grayson on October 23rd, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

This man's clearly being Dovahkiin for Hallowiin.

Hello there, The Elder Scrolls Online. Sort-of-a-long-time, no see. You’re looking quite… hm. Well, you’re looking significantly less like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning than the last time we saw you. I’m serious, though. I could swear that a couple of your most recent mythical e-runes – hewn from the Internet’s holy ore – come straight from Skyrim. And another one even looks a bit like Morrowind. Sometimes. From the correct angle. When my glasses are in space. Yes, it’s dim praise, but the latest screenshot batch does, I think, show some fairly significant improvement. At least, environmentally speaking.

See? A few are at least visually evocative of the good old adventuring days – even if I’m not really seeing anything here that suggests my concerns from TESO’s E3 showcase have been addressed. Moreover, the creature designs still look distinctly un-Elder-Scrolls, which nudges the meter more in the direction of generic fantasy. Granted, I wouldn’t call TES a paragon of unique world development by any measure. Its little quirks and oddities are, however, a frequently under-recognized part of why I think people love the series so much. TESO, then, strikes me as the uncanny valley of Elder Scrolls. It’s exceedingly close to getting a few things right, so the warts – both large and small – stand out all the more.

Combine that with a seemingly unremarkable MMO quest structure, and there’s certainly reason to be concerned. That said, I don’t think the TESO team at Zenimax is lacking in passion for the franchise at all. But honestly, how do you turn The Elder Scrolls into a truly interesting, wholly unique MMO that also captures the spirit of the single-player games? Given that those goals are so at odds with each other, is that even possible? Who knows, though? Maybe Zenimax will surprise us all with a solid answer. I’d really like that, actually.

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102 Comments »

  1. Zanchito says:

    I just hope this doesn’t mean less single player Elder Scrolls games and expansions.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Bethesda Game Studios isn’t making it, so I can’t see why it would have any impact on Skyrim DLC, Fallout 4, or Elder Scrolls VI

      • Zanchito says:

        I’m concerned about rights and marketing people arguing about overlapping target bases, mostly.

        • woodsey says:

          TES has earned them a metric fuck-tonne to date, this hasn’t. If that sort of thing does crop up I imagine it’ll be TES Online that loses out.

      • aepervius says:

        Because it could be that the studio making the single player game do not receive capital or investment anymore to make a single player and instead money is concentrated on the studio doing the MMO.

      • Jesus H. Christ says:

        If not Beth, who is developing this thing?

        • x1501 says:

          ZeniMax Online Studios, an online game development branch of ZeniMax Media, who also owns Bethesda Softworks. From what I see, this is their first high-profile project.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            ZeniMax was founded by one of the original Bethesda guys to regulate Bethesda’s projects. The two companies are virtually one and the same.

          • Phantoon says:

            Bethesda (games company) is owned by Zenimax, which is owned by Bethesda (publisher).

            Did I get that right?

          • x1501 says:

            No. Bethesda Game Studios is an in-house development team at Bethesda Softworks (the publisher of all their current releases), which in turn is a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, a larger umbrella company that also owns several other development studios, including id Software and Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis and Dishonored devs). ZeniMax Media was founded in the late 90s by the same two people who founded Bethesda Softworks back in the 80s, so I guess SkittleDiddler is right that these two companies are very closely related.

        • kanalin94 says:

          http://chilp.it/9502bc
          Oh! Really cool! Be sure to take a look! You need!

    • ulix says:

      SInce Skyrim was the second best selling game of 2011, on all platforms, you can bet that there’ll be more of it. Although I guess their next big Single Player RPG will be Fallout 4.

  2. smeaa mario says:

    Please don’t do to the Elder Scrolls what Blizzard did to Diablo! Please don’t suck!

  3. asshibbitty says:

    Cherry trees on Red Mountain? They’ve one upped that modder who made Grazelands a savanna.

  4. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    The Elder Scrolls games have always felt like empty MMO’s to me anyway.

    • ecat says:

      This is one of the best features of TES games, they are totally devoid of other people

      • db1331 says:

        This. This game completely takes out everything that makes an Elder Scrolls game great. One of my buddies who only plays shooters bought Skyrim last year after all the hype got to him. He remarked to me one day, “Dude, you know how fun that game would be if it had co-op?” I told him that would be the worst thing ever, and he couldn’t understand why.

        Anyhow, this game is in third person, therefore it’s most certainly not an Elder Scrolls game. Only console peasants play in third person.

  5. Kaputnik88 says:

    What I see in my head is morrowind (combat mechanics n’all) online. Sadly this will not be the case :(

    • Mordsung says:

      Morrowind’s combat system was an abomination before they added the deadly reflex mod.

      It was a system that double dipped. First I had to physically swing and connect, then a dice roll decided if I actually connected.

      It made combat look terrible and feel completely disconnected.

      A game system should never double dip. Either my physical aim hits, or a dice roll hits, not both in the same swing.

      • Kaputnik88 says:

        It would still be better than the standard mmo combat mechanic but perhaps I am looking at morrowind through rose tinted glass armor..

        • Mordsung says:

          Better than standard MMO combat for sure, but I think they should be aiming for something like Chivarly: Medieval Warfare for melee, and something akin to Skyrim’s magic system but with the modibility of Morrowind’s magic system.

          • domowoj says:

            apparently they’re aiming for something more along the lines of TERA.

            http://tamrielfoundry.com/2012/10/combat-in-teso/

          • Bobzer says:

            There’s only so much you can do in an MMO (with current technology). You couldn’t get close to Chivalry as the checks for tracers, hitboxes, blocks etc would eat up so much bandwidth you wouldn’t be able to run a game around it. I’m impressed Chivalry can hold 64 players without lag tbh (although you can optimize the netcode in a game like that much more than an MMO), the only way to get close would be to make a lot of it clientside which means hacks, hacks, hacks, lagswitches and people with a high latency having a huge advantage.

            Mortal Online is the closest I’ve seen and for all the problems with the game it does an amazing job with the combat, even that suffers from bandwidth limitations though with prediction suffering noticeably.

      • Berzee says:

        I sort of agree with you, but I think you’re only talking about melee weapons, yes? Because for some reason it seems perfectly alright for something like Mount & Blade or a shooty nth-person shooter/RPG to have ranged weapons that require pointing the mouse in a certain direction but then also have a reticule that may be large and cause some shots to go wide if you don’t have a lot of skill in crossbows or rifles or whatever.

        (If you wanted to implement the same thing in melee, you’d click to swing and your arm would just go flying off with the sword in some other wacky direction, striking a rock or small pile of sand…until you pump your sword skill).

        • tyren says:

          Morrowind didn’t even do that much with its ranged weapons, though. The arrow could physically connect but still “miss,” the same way melee weapons could.

        • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

          Just to back up tyren here, I will add a fond memory I have of Morrowind, shooting 150 arrows into the back of a Bull Netch ten feet away from me and watching all the arrows hit, but getting only three hits from the whole lot. Low level combat is fun!

      • gritz says:

        Of course we can’t go mentioning the Elder Scrolls without someone stepping in to tell us just how bad Morrowind’s combat sucks. Thanks for letting us know!

  6. Acerbjorn says:

    While the concept might be interesting, i can’t bring myself to like aesthetics of what has been shown so far. The enemies look overly silly and cartoony, which obviously isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but in my opinion it simply doesn’t fit the aesthetics of the elder scrolls.
    Everything looks oversized or out of proportion.

    • Toberoth says:

      Not to mention incredibly bland. Honestly I would have no idea what game setting these screenshots were from if it wasn’t for the title of the article.

  7. coffeetable says:

    Well I suppose if you’re in the business of making shit games which redeem themselves through huge stonking piles of content then an MMO is the natural way to go.

    e: Seriously. In a Bethesda game, the QA, the voicework, the art, the writing and the design will all be horrendous yet the game will be held up by the sheer scope of it’s engine and the hundreds of man-years of content.

    • Big Daddy Dugger says:

      This isn’t a bethesda game and will probably be released with lesser quality and lower quantities of unique content than vanilla skyrim mostly consisting of exclaimation point over the head fetch quests that end near another quest giver repeatedly until you finish each zone.

    • ulix says:

      Morrowind and Skyrim actually had some pretty great art. If you don’t agree, you’re a fool. Can’t really say much against your other points though…

      • coffeetable says:

        Aside from it all being fantasy 101 and completely uninspired (which isn’t a criticism unique to Skyrim), when the vanilla art assets are so totally eclipsed by the work of amateur modders, I think it’s perfectly okay to call them out as poor work.

        It isn’t even a downsampling issue, even the high-res textures released later didn’t come close to SkyrimHD or Realistic Skyrim.

        e: I suppose it’d be fairer to admit the art isn’t actually /bad/ – the bits where I caught myself thinking “my god this is ugly” was always because of downsampling, not because of the original art – but it is distinctly mediocre.

        • DickSocrates says:

          Looks a bit flat and dated. And it’s an MMO which now means something terrible, all the imagination and hope lost seemingly forever in a mire of 15 year old conventions.

        • phelix says:

          Vanilla Morrowind sure as hell wasn’t bland medieval fantasy. Unless you spent all your ingame time in Imperial forts ‘n towns…

          • Davie says:

            Neither was much of Skyrim, if you’re actually paying attention. Lore-wise TES is one of the most unique fantasy game series out there. Oblivion was definitely a weak point, but even that had its moments.

    • gritz says:

      Morrowind is the 2nd best written PC game in history. You’re talking out of your ass.

  8. povu says:

    Almalexia City/Mournhold looks nice.

    We’re watching you, scum.

  9. frightlever says:

    Is this going to be F2P?

  10. merc-ai says:

    Some of environments are still wrong because of the “MMO size”, as Acerbjorn mentioned. Just look at that HUGE bridge! It’s painful when usual architecture of a game world gets screwed by MMO epicness.

    Otherwise it looks much more TES-y than early screenshots. Except some of enemy design (too cartoony). And that bridge.

  11. tomeoftom says:

    This is a deeply sad venture.

  12. aliksy says:

    I’m sure it’ll be bogged down by the usual MMO bullshit time sinks.

    Also I’ve decided that any MMO without autogrouping and level scaling/sidekicking (a la gw2) fails something vital for an MMO. “I can’t play with my friends because they’re too high/low level”, “I can’t do this content because none of these people here will group”, and “kill stealing” are pretty much solved problems. Don’t put them in your game. No one likes them.

    Also I kind of didn’t like Oblivion or Skyrim until I got some mods going. An MMO really, really is not something I want.

    • Jesus H. Christ says:

      An Elde Scrolls game without mods is no elder scrolls game.

    • particlese says:

      Oh, wow, I hadn’t even thought about the modlessness of it.

      The environments look nice yet tarnished by that MMO quality as described above…I’m getting a TES-themed Guild Wars vibe, which I think is simultaneous great and not-so-great. And then all the faces shown just look goofy. Is that why they mostly showed the backs of heads? I mean, the ones shown look well-suited to something like GW, but a TES game with no possibility of modding out the oddities is a bit of a turn-off.

      Client-side texture modding or environmental greebling would rock, but I suppose it could lead to cheating in some way, like those see-though-walls drivers put out in the Quake 3 (or something like that) days. Surely the TESO folks could put some good brains on that problem for an expansion pack, though?

  13. MajorManiac says:

    The graphics look great. It just makes me sad that all this hard-work and passion is not going into some kind of Skyrim addon that’ll include other parts of Tamriel, but rather a game I’ll never buy or play.

    Not that I’m boycotting it. I just don’t play MMOs.

  14. Jenks says:

    If that’s what an Argonian looks like in TESO, I’m out.

    • Wulf says:

      I know, right?

      “Augh! Dessicated human skull thing! Zombie! Skeletor with skin! What the… That’s an argonian?!?”

      Those poor, poor, poor reptilian bastards.

      • particlese says:

        Haha! I was charitably thinking that these look arguably better than Oblivion’s Argonians, or that maybe they’re Tsaesci or some other mysterious Akaviri, but “Skeletor with skin” snapped me back in line!

        I’m sure there’s a lore-friendly explanation for it, and my apologies to the TESO design and art teams, but those Argonians do look really weird, especially after seeing them in Skyrim. Heck, Skyrim made pretty much everyone look awesome.

        • Shooop says:

          Now if only they had hired more than 8 voice actors for the entire game.

        • Lev Astov says:

          No apologies from me. If those are supposed to be Argonians, then I’d be ashamed to be working on this game. I shudder to think what they might have done to the kajiit, and wouldn’t be surprised to see blackface for all redguard.

          The rest of the game is looking up, though, so I hold out hope they may yet improve the character design.

          • Davie says:

            It’s pretty obvious they’ve gone the “supermodel with pointy ears” route for the elves as well. None of Morrowind and Skyrim’s distinctly nonhuman proportions. Along with the uninteresting monster designs it’s depressing how safe they’re playing it.

      • Unaco says:

        Wulf, I would have thought that you, of all people, would be able to see past the surface detail, to see through the beauty (or lack of) that is only skin deep. But you make up your mind about them on 1 or 2 screenshots? You judge them by their physical appearance because it isn’t pleasing to you? You pity them because they don’t match your idea of beauty? Your prejudice disgusts me.

        To me, they actually have the look of the original Arena Argonians… Much more severe faces, less rounded, more angles, like a reptile… rather than the rounded, reptilian humanoid face they have had since Morrowind (Daggerfall Argonians were Sil from Species painted bright green). They have a more unique, severe look to them, rather than the pretty generic lizard people they’ve become.

        Still not particularly interested in the game, but I think it’s pretty low to attack it because a fictional race isn’t a pretty as you want them to be. Live with it… things are ugly, on the outside… doesn’t tell you anything about what they’re like inside.

        • Jenks says:

          I have no idea what reptiles you’ve been exposed to, but all the ones I’ve seen look a lot more like the Morrowind – Skyrim Argonians than the awful blockhead zombie in the screenshot here.

    • MichaelPalin says:

      But now they can use the same helmets as every one else. See, it’s easier to program and balance!

      • Jenks says:

        They can save money by not modeling helmets for a skull with a snout, and I can save money by not buying the game. Everyone wins.

      • particlese says:

        Hmm…I like the programming approach rather than the modeling one…

        Skyrim mod request: I would like to be able to tape dragon priest masks to the sides/top of my face instead of replacing half my head with one. They don’t bother me as they are now, but I’d have a good laugh whenever I hit the scroll wheel.

    • benkc says:

      Wait, those are Argonians? I thought they were just freaky helmet-masks.

      If you’re right, and it’s not just placeholder… that’s sad.

  15. Sic says:

    I wonder if there is even a single person on the development team that has any hope of this being any kind of success.

    This just seems like the slowest sinking ship in existence.

    Everyone knows it’s going to sink. The developers, the gamers, everyone, except the completely out of touch suits who still thinks MMOs are a good idea.

    The whole thing is sad, really. A testament to how the industry works nowadays.

    • Mattressi says:

      It might be a case of them working out the approximate costs of finishing the game vs the lowest estimate of how much money it will make – even if they can’t recoup their losses by releasing the game (let alone make a profit), it’s possible that there’s so little left to do to finish it, that they might as well release it, rather than binning it. This is just a guess though. I’m sure it’s possible that the people at the top don’t see the ship sinking.

    • jkz says:

      MMO’s are a good idea, they just suffer from the same piss poor design idea.

  16. Jim9137 says:

    There were colors and gamma were to be had.

  17. Wixard says:

    I don’t think it looks bad at all. I don’t get where the hate is coming from. They are mimicking the combat systems of sykrim/oblivion which is a big draw for me. (going by the link posted earlier in the comments.)

    Will it be a soulless heap of crap? A gallon of distilled tears from legions of fans? Don’t know.

    I think we should give it a chance. Smaller studios have a way of surprising people, like Funcom did with AoC.

    “But wait! This is no Funcom, we don’t even know who these people! They are violating the lore corpse of TES!”

    We didn’t know who funcom were before we knew who funcom were, either.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      The questing and game mechanics are pretty much just like WoW. I think you need to read up a bit more.

      • Hug_dealer says:

        In some ways yes it is similar, but in others they promote exploring and adventuring with quests and other goodies that you would never find otherwise.

  18. ScubaMonster says:

    “how do you turn The Elder Scrolls into a truly interesting, wholly unique MMO that also captures the spirit of the single-player games?”

    You can’t. Just ask EA and Bioware. This will be just like SW:TOR, but probably even worse.

    The only way this would have worked is to have a complete sandbox, done in first person. Basically, think Skyrim, only throw in a bunch of other people running around in the same world. That’s the only way you could properly do an Elder Scrolls online game.

  19. CountVlad says:

    At least it doesn’t look quite so bad now, though the graphics are still a bit too cartoony for my liking (check out the plastic looking shield on the first screenshot).
    Having said that, I’m still not buying it if it uses horrible MMO features like turn-based combat.

  20. Beelzebud says:

    Unless they’re bringing something new to the table in the gameplay department, I’m 0% interested.

  21. Shooop says:

    Is it possible to have any lower expectations for this than we already do? There are just things that cannot work out. An Elder Scrolls MMO is one of those things.

    And the moment you can describe your game as “similar to WoW” is the moment hope dumps gasoline over itself and dives into a furnace.

  22. Lev Astov says:

    So Nathan, you asked, “but honestly, how do you turn The Elder Scrolls into a truly interesting, wholly unique MMO that also captures the spirit of the single-player games?”

    The answer isn’t simple, but certainly begins with three words, “first person perspective.”

  23. Bart Stewart says:

    Fun fact: Zemimax Online licensed the HeroEngine MMORPG engine from Simutronics around the same time that BioWare licensed the HeroEngine for what turned out to be Star Wars: The Old Republic.

    We learned later that this was just to have a “whiteboard” while building their own production engine in-house. And they’re aware of the “ESO skin on WoW mechanics” concerns. (See the Matt Firor interview at GameInformer.)

    I’d like to be optimistic, but I’ve seen too many MMORPGs with the same set of tropes: buffs/debuffs, cooldown timers, fetch/kill-ten-rats quests, and “aggro management.” I won’t be surprised if ESO clones those like most everybody else, but we’ll see.

  24. GigaCosmoShark says:

    TESTANIC

  25. MultiVaC says:

    At least it looks recognizably like Tamriel now, which is good. I might end up giving it a shot if it goes free to play, but I do worry about it being a bit of a bummer seeing new, exciting parts of Tamriel like Valenwood, the Summerset Isles, Elseweyr, and Black Marsh for the first time (not counting Arena, of course) in crappy MMO form. It might kind of take some of the excitement out of some of the next real Elder Scrolls game.

  26. MythArcana says:

    Complete with achievements, unlocks, and chock full of ugly, too? But where’s the cartoon shader and the hats???

    * I have now left this screen and I am peeing standing up while typing this on a hacked calculator I found in the dumpster which I fitted with a USB cable using a used diaper pin, some salami, and a phone cord I ripped out of someone’s wall. I’m just that damned bored with this industry anymore because it’s like watching the opening scene of 2001: Space Odyssey with the monkeys smacking the monolith with a bone trying to get something clever to pop out of it. Guys, monkeys, or whatever…life simply doesn’t work that way. Don’t try so hard to be creative over there…just do enough to make the BIG MONEY, BABY! Losers.

  27. nemryn says:

    Half the fun of TES games is making the broken combat mechanics do absurd things, and it loses that if it needs to be ‘balanced for multiplayer’.

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