What Happens If You Play Elder Scrolls Online Like Skyrim?

By Nathan Grayson on March 19th, 2013 at 5:30 pm.

The Elder Scrolls is kind of an odd series, when you think about it. As players, we expect that we should be able to fly careening off-rails from the get-go, ignoring whatever fantasy story domino chain the writers have conjured up in favor of venturing off into any three-eyed gorilla murder cave we please. “Fuck being the hero,” we say. “I’m gonna punch horses until an army of hooved hellions chases me across the countryside.” But the very fact that Bethesda’s games actually allow for that is a key reason many of us love them so much. So then, with TES charging into MMO territory under Zenimax Online’s steady whip, can it hope to adapt the elements that keep the series from simply blending in with a suffocatingly samey fantasy pack? I ventured to Zenimax’s frigid Baltimorian lair and went hands-on with The Elder Scrolls Online to find out.

Alright then, first the good news: I actually came across quite a few more traditionally Elder-Scrolls-y elements than I was expecting. Based on previously released gameplay footage, I feared the worst: Elder Scrolls’ names and locations – the series’ face, in essence – grafted onto some soulless MMO shell. “NaaAaaathan,” I thought it’d say, spitting wet chunks of its own mouth in my general direction. “CooOme adventshfur wifth meeeee HEre is yooUr friend Cyrodial ThE Daedracrab.” A few elements, however, made me feel almost at home. For instance:

Hoard ALL THE THINGS - OK, OK, Elder Scrolls Online is actually a big step back from Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, and co in this respect. But, given that many MMOs nail their worlds down with railroad spikes the size of whaling harpoons, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could swipe individual objects off tables, shelves, and things of the like. There was plenty of worthless junk, too, which is an aspect of TES’ world-building that I think a lot of people gloss over. Typical game worlds stuff every nook and cranny with so much treasure that even their impoverished beggars should be buried under magnificent golden statues carved in their own images. Occasionally, it’s nice to find something that means nothing. Hey, a cup. Hm, some bread. I can take these, but I won’t because eh. Someone else probably needs them more than I do, anyway.     

Books! – There’s lore! And a fair bit of it, too. It’s still not very good (I found a fairly rote record from a scholar on a temple excavation and few other mostly un-memorable passages), but it’s present and accounted for. I probably came across somewhere around five full-blown tomes during my travels, in addition to heaps of tinier scratchings and scrawlings. The bigger ones gave me minor XP gains and stat boosts, too, which leads right into…

Open Progression - Again, this is an area where Skyrim has TESO beat in rather lopsided fashion, but – though seemingly more straightforward – skill progression in Zenimax’s bouncing baby scrolly polly is still quite open. Sure, I was technically corralled into a “class” (I chose Dragonknight) at the beginning, but the “skill line” system gave me the option of learning any skill in the game, regardless of class. Unfortunately, my mighty Xenorc The Warrior Princess didn’t quite cover enough ground to really break out of her box, but apparently unique skill lines will come from all over: level-based progression, special quests, PVP, world events, etc. Each one, meanwhile, contains a mix of active and passive skills, with actives leveling up through use and – once they hit level five – morphing into new, specialized skills of your choosing.

Real First-Person Combat - Remember when Zenimax said first-person combat in TESO would be akin to duct-taping a Cliff Racer to the back of your noggin? Well, it changed its mind/remembered that directional indicators exist. Admittedly, I didn’t get to play any of Online’s revamped front-and-center sword-biffery, but a quick behind-the-curtain peek at the ostensibly very new system gave me reason to hope. There were arms! Glorious, wriggly, graspy, flaily arms. No longer do characters abruptly sacrifice their precious limbs to the gruesome gods of technical necessity in exchange for sight beyond sight that trails well behind normal sight. Instead, the end result looks a lot like Skyrim – incorporating dual-wielding, timed blocks, etc – though I’m not sure how well it’ll deal with high-speed dodge rolls, vision cones, and other mechanics specific to TESO. It could end up being an incredibly awkward mishmash, but we’ll just have to wait and see. At least it’s now existent, I suppose.

Stealth - Most of the time, when I let people know that a giant eyeball in the middle of my field of view tells me everyone’s looking at me, they just look at me funny. But see? The eyeball’s right! That is, however, also recent Elder Scrolls’ approach to stealth, and TESO reprises it admirably. Or, well, it’s there at least. I didn’t come across many quests where stealth felt necessary, but the option was nice. Also, nothing in TESO’s arsenal matched the sheer satisfaction of a perfectly taut, completely shadow-cloaked bow shot in Skyrim. The chewy twang, the deliciously instinctual knowledge that your arrow will dutifully find its fatal mark, the resulting ragdoll splay of perfect finality. If only. If only.

Guilds First, the good news: the Mages and Fighters guilds are both in, replete with their own quest progressions, skill lines, and characters. Unfortunately, their Thief and Dark Brotherhood, er, brethren won’t be able to make launch – probably because they’re too busy cavorting about town, cackling uproariously while upending mailboxes with baseball bats. Also, BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GO– I mean Night Mother. Regardless, the two fan favorites will make their debuts as hefty doses of post-launch content, which Zenimax went out of its way to assure us there will be plenty of. Then they refused to discuss business models, because of course they did.

Arts (And Smithing And Alchemy And Cooking) And Crafts Elder Scrolls Online has five professions – alchemy, enchanting, armor smithing, weapon smithing, and cooking/provisioning – but that’s not really the important part. What’s key is how they’ll function, with simple, easily snapped up recipes getting the boot in favor of experimentation. Various items have their own properties and work best with different additives, and the onus is on you to perfect your craft. Zenimax believes this more open system will ensure that many of TESO’s best items actually come from crafting – not some pre-determined top tier of monster-farmed god armor.

Vampirism And Lycanthropy - Both were heavily hinted at during the demo session, and lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle later confirmed to me that they’ll be included as skill lines. So yes, for better or worse, probably expect this fresh Tamriel’s early days to look a lot like Halloween once everybody catches wind of the proper quests. Or Twilight, I suppose. But I like to think Elder Scrolls fans are better than that. Maybe? Please?

Oblivion Gates (Basically) - They’re being called “Dark Anchors” here, but there’s no denying that TESO’s dimension-hopping Daedra hives sound a lot like Oblivion’s, er, Oblivion gates. Navigate desolate, twisted environments! Fight Daedra! Get special items! Etc. These will probably tie in to the game’s central Daedric enemy, Molag Bal, as well. He’s stolen your soul, you see. I get the impression he’s not very nice.

Lockpicking - Yes, there’s a lockpicking minigame, thank goodness. It’s basically the one from Skyrim, only you push bolts down instead of up. Gears click, chests unlock, and – somewhere, off in the beautiful beyond – a deserving angel’s wings are stolen in an act of petty theft. Just as nature intended.     

Mudcrabs - Mudcrabs!

Smooth-ish sailing so far, right? Now, however, it’s time for the flipside: the elements that didn’t even feel remotely like they belonged in an Elder Scrolls game. That said, don’t get me wrong: some of them were actually kind of good! But others, well, not so much. Here’s the rundown:

Questing Quest Of Quest Questingness - As soon as I began my demo session, I did as any self-respecting Elder Scrolls fan would: abandoned all pretenses of following the main story and struck out on my own, ready to turn the world upside-down and shake it until every last crumb of adventure fell out. I pointed my Orc in one direction, and off I went.

I gave up in 20 minutes.

The sandy, sun-scorched starting area felt largely lifeless when quests weren’t leading the way, so I eventually relented and bounced between golden, ultra-obvious circles on my minimap – ultimately gaining passage to a new area once I’d wrapped up the main plot of the first. I was hoping the more expansive locales around Daggerfall would offer greater variety, but alas. No such luck. For my troubles, I got semi-compelling, fully voice-acted tales of treachery, woe, and the undead, but I felt like I was methodically working my way through a theme park – not paving my own path through a sandbox.

There weren’t any crazy AI shenanigans or moments of utterly unexpected player interaction. For better or worse, everything functioned as expected. I felt like I was playing a competent – and in some places, even fairly impressive – MMO, but The Elder Scrolls’ trademark spark was dim, sometimes invisible against a backdrop of pre-scripted heroics and canned conversations.

I Want To Go To There (But Can’t) - This was probably the most damning moment for me. In the first area, I saw a highly tantalizing temple door. It called to me from across the sandy sea. “I probably hold fabulous riches beyond your wildest imagination,” it whispered seductively. “Or at least candy.” So I ran to meet its embrace. Adrenaline shot down my spine. I was ready for something wondrous.

What I got was a brick wall. I felt like Wile E. Coyote slamming face-first into a painted-on picture of a tunnel. It looked like I should’ve been able to waltz right in, but instead all I found was window dressing. Later, I also came across a couple mysterious doors that only opened once I took their corresponding quests. Thankfully, when pressed, Zenimax told me that was a glitch, and that all enticing hideaways should be explorable regardless of quest status. Here’s hoping.

But even assuming all goes according to plan on that front, TESO’s landscapes still felt decidedly confined. Something didn’t quite gel with me while I was exploring, and I realized it was my inability to see far off into the distance – to sight a mountain and set my heart on it like a child laying eager eyes on a candy/toy/obnoxious loud things store. Small hills and other outcroppings constantly rose up to block my line of sight. I never felt like I was roaming this giant, continuous world so much as I was clomping through a series of rigidly defined zones.

Synergy! – Admittedly, the bits that felt more MMO than Elder Scrolls weren’t all bad. Some of them were even quite interesting, as a matter of fact. The biggest standout was easily collaborative battle options, which extend to both players and baddies. Basically, players can buff up each others’ spells and abilities by lending a helping click during their humble beginnings. A nova spell might become a supernova with proper time and nurture, etc. It’s fairly straightforward, but adds an extra element of teamwork that, thus far, seems smartly implemented.

Enemy AI, however, might just steal the show. In short, every single baddie is crafted with heightened battlefield awareness, making basic notions of aggro look downright archaic. Many of them are smart enough to work together, pooling both skills and resources to devise on-the-fly strategies to cope with whatever your party’s dishing out. Humanoids will shout out to one another when they need healing or support. Tree-like Spriggans, meanwhile, can turn adorable forest bunnies into murderous whirs of fur and fang. Adorable forest bears, too, I imagine.

I actually witnessed the system in action for the first time while questing alone. I was wailing on a giant spider while screaming and crying – like you do – when it suddenly glanced around and sped off in the opposite direction. Confused, I followed it a short ways away, whereupon it began devouring the fresh corpse of one of its own kind. I imagined it sucking down each spindly leg like spaghetti, bristly hairs dissolving in its pincer like maw. Then I left Baltimore and never looked back and now here I am forever please make the memories stop.

Killing Is Wrong - Unsurprisingly, you cannot kill every NPC in The Elder Scrolls Online. Or even very many of them, for that matter. But then, it’s a quest-oriented MMO. What else did you expect?

Low-Impact Combat - While first-person certainly seems like it could remedy this, TESO’s combat just doesn’t feel good at the moment. Sure, strikes correspond to individual mouse-clicks – ala other TES games or, perhaps more similarly, TERA – but they’re about as hefty as WoW’s auto-attack. Attacks and spells alike could stand to produce far more pronounced feedback, as I found myself relying almost solely on numbers to figure out whether I’d hit clean or missed entirely. And even then, the lack of specific information (Is my damage-over-time spell working? Etc) was glaringly noticeable. Also, while Zenimax is hoping to avoid pattern-heavy “rotation-based combat,” I simply found myself in a rotation with a few extra steps. Timed rolls and shield blocks put a little extra on my plate, but I was still ultimately mashing hotkeys and waiting for bars to recharge.

More Than A Feeling - Impressively, The Elder Scrolls Online’s quests are fairly diverse (by MMO standards) and laced with twisting twines of story. Well, when you’re in quest mode, anyway. I was disheartened to find that environments told soberingly few tales, but a couple standout chains nearly made up for it. One saw me put together a crack squad of brigands to take down the nasty, manipulative leader of the starting area, and here’s the kicker: I wasn’t required to round up everybody. Only one of three would’ve been enough to get the job done, but the full set conferred more benefits in the final, impressively subterfuge-based confrontation. More surprising, however, was that choice’s reverberation through the rest of my playtime. My ragtag band boarded my ship into Daggerfall, at which point they popped up in various quests I undertook around the area. But that’s apparently just the beginning. Those characters stick with you through thick and thin, Zenimax told me, but only if you help them out of their respective binds during the story’s early goings.

That said, wise-cracking scoundrels? Rah-rah-rah “gooooo team” moments? Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but the plot felt more like a rejected Pirates of the Caribbean script than Elder Scrolls’ admittedly wobbly fusion of unabashedly epic and unsettlingly alien. The general tone and vibe felt all wrong, like someone had rearranged all my furniture and also set most of it on fire. For what it was evidently trying to be, it was decently – though certainly not extraordinarily – done, but I could never shake the feeling that something was off.

NOTICE MEEEE - This part really threw me. See, Daggerfall’s initial zone is packed with Orcs that absolutely, positively despise outsiders. It’s pretty standard Elder Scrolls fare, really – racial tensions, angry green people, etc. But here’s the problem: I was playing as an Orc, and the others didn’t acknowledge it in the slightest. They wanted to sew my mouth shut before I even opened it, which seems strange for a culture that fanatically cherishes its own kin. Granted, Zenimax later told me that they simply knew I came across the sea with a bunch of non-Orcs, so I was guilty by association. Unfortunately, however, when pressed further, lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle told me that player-centric racial recognition won’t really be present in TESO.

That strikes me as odd, given that Zenimax is focusing so heavily on making players feel like “the main character” in an MMO setting. I mean, why not go the extra mile to acknowledge the “hero” I’ve personalized and intend to spend hundreds of hours swimming around in the skin of? It’s an element of Elder Scrolls that always made the world feel more personal to me, and it allowed for exploration of some interesting, fairly important topics to boot. So that’s a shame. Sorry, Xenorc The Warrior Princess. Someday, you will find a home.

So What? - The big takeaway for me? I felt like I was playing A Fantasy MMO with Elder Scrolls elements – thankfully, more of them than I expected – sprinkled on top. That’s not meant to be a damning appraisal by any means, and there’s certainly time for major changes before launch, as the suddenly existent first-person mode demonstrates. Based on what I was able to play, however, TESO’s currently a competent but largely typical MMO with a few interesting buds that could blossom into something far more unique. Here’s hoping it manages to really soar, but for now, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Check back tomorrow for the first of two interviews with The Elder Scrolls Online’s developers, in which I raise many of these concerns in an effort to find out why things ended up this way in the first place and – more importantly – if there’s any chance they’ll change over time. Also, mudcrabs. I asked way too many questions about mudcrabs.

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112 Comments »

  1. Phantoon says:

    Those are the opposite pros and cons to what I expected. But then, I guess they want to “play it safe”.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      You buddy’s sister made $85 an hour on her back, mate. Not the internet.

  2. klmx says:

    Well, at least it has the graphics

    • Velko says:

      Indeed; I counted three.

      • Alexander says:

        How does one count the graphics anyway?

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
          **breathe**
          Seriously, this meme is the new “arrow in the knee”. And not because this article is Skyrim related.

          This. This is what happens when somebody GRAPHICS

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          I hate you all

          • Phantoon says:

            GRAPHICS!

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Sad now :**(

          • Alexander says:

            You’re crying tears of GRAPHICS…

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            GRAPHICS HATES YOU!!!

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Whilst I appreciate you are simply taking advantage of my display of vulnerability and attempting to expunge the weak from the hivemind genepool, I would also like to point out that you are going off-meme: “Use of the word ‘graphics’ must be coupled with some reference to quantity thereof, for maximum meme leverage and LOL quotient” – The Concise Shit Meme Dictionary 2012

          • Chris D says:

            I used to make comments about the number of graphics but then I took an arrow to the knee.

          • Dances to Podcasts says:

            A Peggle of graphics, then?

          • Eldiran says:

            G̷̢̳̻̩̳̬͙̗͉̥̣͚̱̩͈͖̟͚̺͒̄ͤͭͩ̊̽ͬ̕̕̕R͓͖̠̬͛̈ͫ̈̂̆ͯ́̚͜͠A̢͇̱͇͔̼̯̼̩͆ͪ̓̽̋̀̉͂ͤ͑̊̋ͭ̈̑́͟P̌̉̈̍̅̋͂͟͠͏͖͉͇̼͔̜͙̱̣̘̥̳͔H̷̯͖͓̘͚̱̩̖͚̤̜͎͈̩͚̒͑̐͊̾͛̆̎ͥͥ͂ͤͣͪ̄͑̚̚͟I̷̡̙͉͓͈̞̪̱̟ͦͨͨ̊ͥ͜͡͝C̨̡̟̠͈̥̰̜͇̠̠ͪ͌͛̔͋̑͐ͪ̍̄́̑ͪ͛͆̑̋̕Sͤ̔̇͌̂҉̩̤̼̙̜͉͢

    • waltC says:

      Some of the screenshots look like Adam’s Family-meets-Walt Disney-meets-WoW, though…;) A “demo” is mentioned. Is that something available, or will a demo be available in the future?

  3. GameCat says:

    “But even assuming all goes according to plan on that front, TESO’s landscapes(…)”

    You mean TESCO?

  4. Bones1210 says:

    Idk, I’m gonna play it because damnit, I’m too big of an Elder Scrolls fan.

  5. Mephz says:

    yay so I have to buy this and then buy even more just to get thief and assassin quests…hurray.

    • monkeybars says:

      Or, you know, it could be additional content that they release that doesn’t cost money, like many MMOs do.

      • Mephz says:

        I really doubt that will be the case. Those are probably going to be the expanion packs they will be milking money with.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Seeing how TESO is subscription-based, players will be paying for new content regardless. Even when the game goes F2P after six months, I don’t see why Zenimax would bother handing out free major-content updates.

      • GameCat says:

        Free mission packs from guys who sold horse armour DLC for $5?

        • Jason Moyer says:

          It’s weird that the horse armor thing *still* gets brought up, 8 years on, even though Bethesda are basically the only company that has done DLC right since then.

          • phelix says:

            What’s that I hear? Hearthfire you say?

          • Snargelfargen says:

            It was the first DLC to ever gt a lot of publicity, so it’s justifiably famous. The crappy, overpriced cosmetic dlc was ahead of it’s time, really. Reskins and extra guns can be found in everything now. Except for the TES series, ironically. Guess they learned from their mistake.

            @phelix

            it’s meant for console players, yo

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            If “doing DLC right” means releasing content in a DLC/break game/patch/repeat cycle, then Bethesda are indeed masters.

    • zachdidit says:

      It’s always a shame when developers don’t give us everything we want because of scope. I’d much rather them release unfinished and free so that my ever whim can be pleased.

  6. Skaz says:

    Doesn’t sound as bad as expected. But i’m still in fear : removing the totall freedom of choice , decisions and actions from a TES will probably kill it. It will be a bad TES, but maybe a good MMO ?

    • mmalove says:

      I’d have to hear something pretty amazing and innovative about an MMO to play in another theme park. And reading through this preview, I just don’t see it. I foresee this being another SWTOR – a stark disappointment to fans of the series that making a WOW clone with their favorite skin did not in fact live up to any of their expectations in a sequel.

      • Tuskin38 says:

        Nothing in this Article sounded like it was a WoW Clone. did you even read it?

  7. Brun says:

    PC Gamer’s article had some interesting descriptions of the AI – apparently when groups of enemies get together they dynamically change their tactics. In their example a group of enemy necromancers dynamically sacrificed one of their own members to summon a powerful mob.

    EDIT: But yes, between your impressions and some others I have read I’m now much more optimistic about this game than I was before. I can’t say it’s a sure thing for me – the endgame content will be critical (I’d be interested in seeing how the PvP is going to work).

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      It doesn’t sound all that innovative. I remember creatures in LOTRO killing one of their allies to gain health. Is it really ‘dynamically adjusting’, or is it just a skill they’re programmed to use in certain situations, just like any other skill?

      • Brun says:

        Dynamically Adjusting would be the same as having skills preprogrammed for use under certain circumstances, in my mind. Depending on how varied it is, it’s certainly a step up from enemies in other MMOs that just spammed the same attacks regardless of what was happening around them.

      • MasterDex says:

        Is it really ‘dynamically adjusting’, or is it just a skill they’re programmed to use in certain situations, just like any other skill?

        That’s how AI works – It’s more or less the gambit system from FFXII, except set in stone:
        If (player health > 70%) { attack}
        Else (player health <= 30%) { attack in sync with companions}
        And so on

        • jrodman says:

          I take exception to this.

          That’s one way AI can work (and a a common way), but it’s quite possible to build much more sophisticated AI.

          A really sophisticated approach would include some kind of modelling/forecasting of the outcome of its actions at different timescales, like for the next few seconds as well as the whole combat, and some way for it to weight the choices to it could dynamically select among them based on its own forecasting. It’s also quite possible to compare the forecasts it decided were accurate with what actually transpires, so for example a player who turns out to be able to dodge more reliably than the AI expects might cause the AI to value dodgeable attacks at a lower priority, because its model expects less damage from them based on what’s happened recently.

          This is all quite possible, and has been done in a variety of situation, but it’s hard to get the behavior you want out of a system like this in unconstrained environments. It’s harder still to ensure the right “play balance”.

          Most of all, you can’t reasonably do this in an MMO for thousands of players in an economical way, because it takes too much CPU. (You could do it on the clients but then they could cheat.)

          • MasterDex says:

            Sorry, I was trying to keep things simple but you’re right, things can be much more complex. At the end of the day however, it’s still all predefined behavior, just at a greater complexity.

          • jrodman says:

            Even that seems wrong to me. If you make the software that effectively understands and can simulate the entire system, and can make its own decisions about meeting its goals, then the behavior isn’t really predefined at all. There’s obviously a fixed state that things start out in, and that’s predefined, but that’s true for us humans as well, and no one seriously considers describing how we play games as predefined.

            In commercial games I’ve played, though, you’re right. It’s pretty clockwork gears.

  8. rustybroomhandle says:

    “Stop right there, criminal scum!!!”

    *bounce* *bounce* *bounce* *bounce*

    “lol n00b… bieeber is te suuuxxxxxxxxxxx!!!!!!”

    *bounce* *bounce* *bounce* *bounce*

  9. db1331 says:

    I saw a MMOdcrab the other day.

  10. TillEulenspiegel says:

    But then, it’s a quest-oriented MMO.

    Finally, a catchy name for everything I despise. The whole modern notion of RPG “quests” really needs to die. What, maybe 10% in the best case are even slightly interesting? It’s a dead mechanic, streamlined until it’s been stripped of anything that might’ve given it a bit of character or spice.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Rps readers & I do not always see eye to eye. But with this I completely agree.

    • greenbananas says:

      Yes, it seems mildly ironic that they go to lengths to mask the repetitive, dull and generally as-fun-as-reading-the-yellow-pages nature of their errands by referring to them as “quests” whilst not exactly doing much to prevent the use of a word that represents something as far removed from my concept as fun as it could be, that utterly hideous “grind”.

      The “MMO” might be dangerously close to my definition of torture, but I’ll buy the first one that refers to its quests as Chores. And I’ll play it, inbetween ironing my socks and pairing my undies.

    • zachdidit says:

      While I agree that I’d like something more than repetitive quests. I do NOT want to go back to what it was before. Repetitive grinding. Camping spawns for hours to get gold/levels. While quests can monotonous, they are no were as bad as camping spawns in Everquest or DAOC back in their hay day.

    • theBezerKing says:

      Gather 50 Mudcrab shells!
      GATHER I SAY!

    • iucounu says:

      The problem with every MMO I’ve ever played is that they are based on time/money economies dictated by the business model. There’s always an element of grind unless to pay to avoid actually playing the game.

      I would love to see a game where you can progress rapidly by being lucky or clever or creative. It’d be interesting to explore a world knowing that your experience isn’t designed around maximizing how long you play it or how much you’re prepared to spend. I fired up FTP SWTOR recently and was amazed by how completely hollow and boring it was in the first hour or two. So what, I run from unconvincing marker to unconvincing marker and manage a bunch of cooldowns while people have fights with me that look shonkier than KOTOR? No thanks. I’m expected to stick around why?

      When I’ve mentioned this in the past people say ‘EVE’ to me, which I can totally get, but I bounced off EVE super hard (as I’m sure many before me have.)

      One major problem I have with MMOs (“Jeez, you waited until the fourth graf to explain you hate two of those initials?”) is that I don’t really want to play in a group. I have no actual IRL friends who share my taste in games or gaming hardware (consolistas, the lot of them) and I don’t really play multiplayer games. But, again, if the idea is to create a world to tell stories in and have adventures, I don’t see why I can’t have fun playing a loner in a game like this, or allowing friendships to develop naturally and in character.

      But it really does seem like everywhere it’s run over here, talk to immobile NPC, disregard text, run over there, manage cooldowns; and the actual gameplay (the combat, mostly) always seems weirdly underwhelming, silly, and remote-controlled. I get no immersion, no excitement. Obviously this could just be me, but has anyone like-minded found a niche that fits nicely?

    • Burning Man says:

      I just wish I could play Skyrim co-op, that’s all, really.

      The whole notion of an MMO is that they have limited time to keep you playing endlessly, regardless of how much time you’re willing to spend on the game (a few hours a day to MY PRECIOUS) which means artificial gating from the moment you step in. It’s a sad necessity.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      Yeah, because Skyrim didn’t have any gathering quests or kill X, Y, or Z. Oh wait.

      • Burning Man says:

        Skyrim has no quests that require you to kill 10 of X mob. I have only seen 2 or 3 quests that required me to gather several of some item and only one (crimson nirnroot) ventured outside the miscellaneous section of my journal. You can skip every hostile mob in a dungeon by stealthing through it and still achieve the objective. You can kill everyone you see. You can press T to wait a few seconds and have an entire dungeon respawn so that you can clear it out again. You can craft the best armor in the game at the lowest level.

        I find it ridiculous that you compare this to a typical MMO grind, gather 10 X, kill 10 Y, be unable to do this quest until tomorrow (dailies), be unable to kill this boss until next week (raid lockouts), gather a maximum of x points per week (valor), etc etc

        • Brun says:

          One of the earliest sidequests (granted it is “miscellaneous”) you encounter if following the main storyline is in Ivarstead and requires you to get 10 bear pelts.

          So…yeah. It definitely has “Fetch 10 X” and “Kill 10 Y” quests. And it’s full of “Kill the Bandit Leader at Z” – pretty much all the bounty quests are like that.

          • solidsquid says:

            While technically true, the difference is they didn’t care how you got the bear pelts. If you were lucky and found a merchant carrying them then you could just buy 10 and take them to the quest giver, whereas usually in an MMO the only way to complete the “gather/kill 10 of item/creature” quests is to do exactly that, because even with the gather quests the only way to get the item is to kill the creatures

  11. revokatt says:

    If even TESO will not eschew the good old quest hub fetish design, then who?

  12. biggergun says:

    >I felt like I was methodically working my way through a theme park

    So the essence of TES games is there after all.

  13. Dana says:

    Then you will be playing Skyrim with monthly subscription ?

  14. aliksy says:

    How are the combat numbers? Can you kill anything by playing smart enough, or is it the usual “stay in level appropriate areas or die to overwhelming stat differences” ?

    • Brun says:

      It’s the latter. Which is fine, IMO. The level scaling was one of the worst parts of the single-player TES games.

      • aliksy says:

        Level scaling (as done in oblivion) is perhaps the worst thing in video games. But I want something else. I don’t want the usual “these wolves have 100 hp because they’re in the newbie area, but these wolves (that look pretty much the same) have 10,000 hp because they’re in a high level area” stuff. But I expect to find that, since it’s easy, it’s familiar, and people expect that sort of thing.

        I need to stop reading about MMOs. They just turn into wharrgarbl for me.

        • Brun says:

          So really you just want more distinctive art assets? That’s not really a tall order.

          Having leveled areas makes sense, both from a gameplay and a lore perspective. You don’t expect to be able to climb Mount Everest successfully when the biggest thing you climbed before was the stairs in your office building. The logic is the same in MMOs – some areas will be too dangerous for new characters. Being able to jump right into them just takes away from the depth of the game.

          • aliksy says:

            That’s part of it, I guess. I also don’t want to just be doing the same things with bigger numbers attached.

            I’ll reference dark souls again. Different areas have different degrees of dangerous-ness. That’s fine. Sensible, even. The hollow soldiers in the starting area are slow and weak (relatively- they can still fuck you up), but you can do any of the game at pretty much any level if you’re skilled/lucky enough.

            So, yeah. I want a big world to explore with a low stat ceiling and lots of room for player skill. I want to kill bandits at level 1 because I’m really good at dodging and parrying. So… I guess I’ll play more Dark Souls and continue passing on MMOs.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      The Header for Richard Cobbet’s take in Eurogamer(He covers level scaling in it)

      Questing for freedom in The Elder Scrolls Online

      A prisoner of tradition, a victim of heritage.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-03-19-questing-for-freedom-in-the-elder-scrolls-online

      Nathan, did Zeni/Beth pay for your travel and accommodations? I’m not trolling, Eurogamer put a disclaimer at the bottom of R, Cobbett’s article.

  15. Ateius says:

    Agh, I really want this to be good, and there are a few points in there that encourage me, but many more that don’t. Do this right, whoever-Zenimax-has-contracted-for-this!

  16. fish99 says:

    Well that pretty much confirms what everyone expected, it’s just another MMO with a small nod towards Bethesda RPGs. It’s a game for MMO players, not Elder Scrolls players, and as such it still has to go up against WoW, and like everything else it will probably fail (not that I care).

    For me the concept is flawed. Why would I want other people in my Elder Scrolls game? The planet is full of idiots, I don’t want them in my game ruining the immersion. I also don’t want to pay a monthly fee to play Elder Scrolls. On top of all that it doesn’t even offer the good stuff that defines a Bethesda RPG – the freedom to go nuts and essentially make your own game (I’m not even talking about modding there, just doing your own thing).

    The saving grace here is that this game isn’t by Bethesda so it doesn’t affect Fallout 4 development.

  17. Strangerator says:

    I wonder if anyone thinks this will succeed? Like, even the people making this surely must know it will fail?

    I know it is risky to innovate, but to me to make “just another themepark MMO” is a guaranteed flop. At least take a chance on success!

    This is the ultimate IP in which to experiment with new things as well, since you a guaranteed a certain player base just by being Elder Scrolls.

    Doing something as simple as reinstating the “climbing” skill from Daggerfall would open up worlds of fun with that sandbox feel. Being able to climb to the tops of buildings was great in TES:2. I remember climbing up some Taj Mahal looking place, most epic moment of Daggerfall for me.

    You could sprinkle hidden areas throughout the world only accessible by climbing in an MMO setting. Maybe even have some giant trees to climb with traversible canopies. Alas MMOs are notoriously min-max affairs, and who would take climbing when you could take something more beat-face ish? If they were to go back to solely skills-through-use it would alleviate the min-max problem to an extent, since the only thing you sacrifice in learning a fluffy skill like “climbing” would be time. I realize the main problem with climbing is all the extra animations, but I think it is worth it.

    Personally I’d love to see character level just go away for an Elder-Scrolls game like this. Replace that with an expanded factional system. Joining certain guilds opens up new skill and ability options. You could even join multiple guilds, although some guilds wouldn’t be combinable. Do multi-classing that way. And get this, the only drawback to multi-guilding would be splitting your time. So eventually, most characters would wind up in 2-3 guilds. I think the sweet spot would probably be about 8 guilds in game total. Seeing unique combinations would be interesting.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      Having a subscription is weird considering the state of the genre now. They must have been scared when even SWTOR did poorly, and that was the biggest IP in the world. Depends how much money they’ve spent on it I guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re planning their free to play options already.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      This would be great. Sadly, you’re talking about a game focused on adventure. MMOs are focused on work, and TESO seems to be no different.

  18. Hardkore01 says:

    I’m very skeptical to say the least about this one. I’m a huge TES fan and I’d rather not have to clean shit off my plate before my next real TES meal.

    • WrenBoy says:

      Isnt that essentially what every TES meal involves though?

      I mean dont get me wrong, Ive been there. Ive nibbled on their shit-steak. But I still cant fully suppress my gag reflex when I see someone licking the plate clean, smiling inanely through brown stained teeth, wiping a wayward corn off their chin, head of every fucking guild in the land.

      • tetracycloide says:

        That is some needlessly florid trolling. Why not just shout “TES is shit” and run off snickering?

        • Harpsichord says:

          Content dictates form.

          If you’re going to shit-talk TES you should make it sound like every over-written piece of dialogue in that shit-show.

        • WrenBoy says:

          NeedlesslyFloridTroll is a user name waiting to happen.

      • Grape Flavor says:

        How RPS-typical of you to not be satisfied by simply avoiding games that you don’t enjoy. No, you have make a great big show of it by using disgusting metaphors so the world knows just how much you look down on all those dirty plebeians whose tastes you find so much inferior than yours.

        People enjoying a game that you don’t? How reprehensible!

        • WrenBoy says:

          Im not sure what to make of that. I honestly never imagined that my comment would be interpreted as anything other than a pun on the word shit and the action of clearing shit off a plate.

          Were I to seriously critique TES games I would have roughly as many good things as bad to say about them but a serious critique would have gotten in the way of an obvious pun and some attempted body horror humour.

          I think you have overreacted but in any case, I hope the criticism you perceived ruined neither dinner nor your enjoyment of the series.

        • Grape Flavor says:

          Don’t mind me, I’m just a curmudgeon. If you didn’t mean it the way I interpreted it then I apologize.

          • WrenBoy says:

            No need to apologize. Tone is a difficult thing to communicate when writing and the ability to consistently to do so is an under appreciated skill which I sadly lack.

  19. S Jay says:

    Remember: no preorders, eh?

  20. Snargelfargen says:

    Thanks for the concise, information-packed article Nathan.

    A lot of the previews out there just waffle on about whether it “feels” like TES, as if there’s some ineffable quality outside of gameplay or setting that defines the game.

  21. Squishpoke says:

    It will be failure without a doubt in my mind. If it won’t be Bethesda’s bugs, it will be Bethesda’s fanbase that will destroy this game. Like in Day Z and Minecraft, the kids will pick up this game like hotcakes and turn it into shit.

  22. Shooop says:

    So Skyrim minus all the parts that we liked about it.

    Right. How’s The Witcher 3 shaping up?

  23. Arglebargle says:

    This is Dark Age of Camelot 2, with an Elder Scrolls skin. Of course, that skinning might actually help the next ES game, with easily available art. Anyway, I am sure that sounded great five years ago when the project was approved. Still, by getting the draw of it being Elder Scrolls, you also get the expectations of the Elder Scroll fanbase.

  24. pilouuuu says:

    It sounds OK, but why do companies keep on creating MMOs after SWTOR? They should just focus on perfecting epic single-player games (And there’s a lot to improve for Elder Scrolls VI) instead of making dumbed-down, half-hearted, formulaic and restricted MMOs.

    • tyren says:

      At least there will BE an Elder Scrolls VI since they made ESO a prequel instead of a permanent roadblock to the main series like WoW is.

      Not that the same strategy would have worked for WoW, but I can’t say I wouldn’t like another Warcraft RTS.

  25. kopema says:

    “Low-Impact Combat – While first-person certainly seems like it could remedy this, TESO’s combat just doesn’t feel good at the moment. Sure, strikes correspond to individual mouse-clicks – ala other TES games or, perhaps more similarly, TERA – but they’re about as hefty as WoW’s auto-attack….. I simply found myself in a rotation with a few extra steps. Timed rolls and shield blocks put a little extra on my plate, but I was still ultimately mashing hotkeys and waiting for bars to recharge.”

    Pass.

    Call me a weirdo, but I don’t really care how much random trash you can pick up. What makes or breaks any MMO is whether the combat system is engaging. And nobody is going to beat Blizzard at their own game.

  26. ninjapirate says:

    I’ve never been able to muster up the patience to read a “book” in a game. I can’t help but think that if I wanted to read a book, I wouldn’t be playing a video game in the first place.

    • tyren says:

      Nothing wrong with that. Well, except in Elder Scrolls games you should at least activate every book you see that you don’t recognize the title of, since some of them give skillups and you only have to activate them to get them.

      I don’t read every single book I’ve come across, but there’ve been times when I’ll read one book, then another, then get distracted by some bit of lore that book mentions and go on UESP to read more about it, and then of course the general distraction effect of wikis kicks in.

      I actually found out this way that the time period ESO is set in was previously mentioned in the lore as far back as the first Pocket Guide to the Empire, but with no detailed information, just a side note about a number of “pretender kings” that claimed the Imperial throne but failed to hold it.

  27. malkav11 says:

    I guess I haven’t played a Nord in Skyrim, but it’s not like playing a Dunmer in Morrowind got you any different treatment than the next outsider, or PC race has really mattered to NPC interactions in previous Elder Scrolls games that I’m aware of. It’s also not like Skyrim or any of the Elder Scrolls games deliver gripping, deep combat experiences. So honestly, both of those complaints are pretty true to the Elder Scrolls experience.

    On the flip side, I vehemently disagree that the inclusion of a lockpicking minigame is a plus. Sure, it’s a series trope at this point, but it’s a -bad- series trope. Otherwise…meh. Sounds like a fairly typical fantasy MMO that I might enjoy depending on business model, but certainly no substitute for an Elder Scrolls VI.

    • tyren says:

      From what I remember Morrowind hand-waved not recognizing you as a Dunmer by saying that your clothes, speech and mannerisms all mark you as an outlander to natives. It made sense though.

      There are moments in Skyrim where your race gets you treated differently, but I don’t remember any of them being very significant. In Windhelm, where most of the Nords are basically racist against the Dunmer who live in the city, the first Dunmer NPC you meet by the front gate is friendly towards you if you’re a Dunmer, but treats you suspiciously if you’re not.

    • Noumenon says:

      In Oblivion, I created an Orc fighter specifically for the purpose of kissing up to all those rude Orcs in Cheydinhal (and the female Orc shopkeeper). No one acknowledged I was an Orc through the entire game. But hey, I was playing an Orc and so I played one — did the Orc Daedra quest, et cetera.

  28. strangeloup says:

    It looks interesting, considerably more so than I’d initially expected, but I think I’ll hold off until it inevitably goes free to play. In the meantime, I’ve just bought The Secret World (which is on special offer this week on Steam; not only discounted by 25% but you get $10 store credit for in-game bobbins if you buy it before the 25th) and a friend got me Guild Wars 2 which should be winging its way to me any time now. So I figure my MMO plate is full for the time being, especially given the ridiculous scads of hard drive space they tend to occupy.

  29. ocelot113 says:

    I am a huge Elder Scrolls fan, however I am not a SWTOR fan nor a GW2 fan. Soo, I am not interested in ESO. they are going to do nothing revolutionary with this game. They are just pulling ideas from all the other mediocre MMOs and will just re-skin them with ES lore. They have already said that’s the plan. Don’t know why people are shocked or why they are thinking anything different?

    They’ve said and showed that they are reskinning GW2…. nothing… like…. an ES game. Just the setting.

    Did that get through? Oh, well, some people are doomed to believe ’til the heart-wrenching end I suppose.

    • tyren says:

      Anyone expecting an MMO to be in every way identical to a single-player Elder Scrolls game but with a bunch of other people around is setting their expectations far too high.

      Or low. Probably low. A game like that would be a disaster for so many reasons.

  30. Joey Viner says:

    Excellent article, Nathan, you got me to register on the site/new fan.

  31. Eldiran says:

    I have to admit, Cyrodial the Daedracrab still has me chuckling. : )

    Very good article. Pretty much confirmed my fears about TESMMO, but I’m glad it’s not 100% all bland.

  32. Dozer says:

    “”I punch animals,” the young knight said. “I punch them. I punch them in the face. That’s what I do.” He leaned back, the wood creaking. “I’m an animal puncher.”"

    Did anyone else get this reference?

    Read it before Gamespy evaporates into dust!

    http://au.gamespy.com/articles/701/701653p1.html

  33. Turkey says:

    I wonder how this game is going to play out with Bethesda’s casual fan base who don’t follow any game news and just pick up a TES game every 6 years.

  34. Grape Flavor says:

    I actually found this preview to be very encouraging. It’s an MMO, yes, but as far as MMOs go it actually looks like one of the more interesting ones.

    It’s not single-player TES, no (as an MMO, could it have been?). But it’s not a WoW clone either, and that in of itself proves a lot of people wrong about this game.

  35. hyzhenhok says:

    Player-centric racial recognition? That’s not something that has ever been in Elder Scrolls games.This has been consistent since at least TES III. If the player is a race that seems like should warrant a much different world response than the default, the TES writers are good at coming up with excuses–but if usually involves defining your character for you. If you’re a Dunmer in TES III, you can’t be from Morrowind. If you’re an Orc in TES V, you’re a city-orc who has never seen a stronghold before. And so on.

    The focus in TES has always been on exploring the world and delving dungeons. It has never been about roleplaying or characterization. You play a walking avatar of adventure & heroism. If you try to go beyond that, to actually role-play with the world, the thin facade that pretends your character could be a real person in this fantastic world quickly falls to pieces.

    • Eldiran says:

      Yes, but in TESV they still let you into the strongholds if you’re an orc. The racial recognition has been rather weak in the past, but there’s always at least been an attempt at it.

  36. Enkinan says:

    I wonder when we get to see the battleground you fight over against other players. That is what kept me on DAOC and GW2.

  37. ben657 says:

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that everyone wants TESO to be just another elder scrolls game (not that it would be a bad thing), exactly like the ones we’ve had so far. But from what i’ve seen, this hasn’t been bethesda/zenimax’s intention even from the get go. But they never (correct me if i’m wrong) said it would be anything like the otheres except from the setting/world… why does everyone expect it to be?