Within hours of Game Informer’s announcement
that The Elder Scrolls Online would be the feature story for their upcoming June edition, scans of the entire article had been leaked, and with it came information that enraged some
and excited others into a frothy rapture
. The biggest points of contention came from it being “just another WoW clone,” and that it looks and feels “nothing like proper Elder Scrolls games.” They weren’t completely wrong, either — many of the leaked screenshots didn’t evoke a strong sense of the Tamriel I know — but that isn’t to say that I was put off by the aesthetic. Along in this continuum, I actually fell somewhere closer to the latter, not wanting to call it a failure, but also not ready to deem it a success. There are things I need to see before I get too excited, but the groundwork is laid for something that could be pretty epic… especially if they stick to my ten bullet points of success. (Trust me, I’m a MMO veteran & expert.*)
1. Tamriel should be filthy.
One of the most memorable features of Skyrim was just how dirty everyone was. No, I’m not talking about all the sexual deviances of Madame Griselda’s House of Pain and Pleasure (hidden in Winterholde right underneath the iHop) but rather the actual grime of the game. For better or worse, one of Bethesda’s signature motifs is just how “lived in” everything is. I would like to see some compromise between the filth of Skyrim and the usual sterling clean abodes found most MMOs. In most of these games, unless you’re in a place that is intentionally dirty, everything is spotless. There’s a compromise there. TESO needs to remember the dirt.
2. I want to see The Lusty Argonian Maid in all its glory.
That’s right. We’ve had to go long enough without the full version of The Lusty Argonian Maid, but I’m selfish enough to ask for more. I want The Lusty Argonian Maid or some other play actually acted out on actual stage. One of the best parts about the switch to fully-voiced characters is that, in many ways, it changes the way that information and .drama can be presented. When is the last time you’ve seen an entire play in a game? Note that The Lusty Argonian Maid is only one well-known example of what developers can now do thanks to fully voiced games. From plays to bard songs, inclusion of real-world events could be a novel addition to the game world that would (I believe) be without precedent. (although by virtue of saying that, I’m sure it’s been done somewhere else at some point)
3. Make us care again.
I’m not pie-in-the-sky enough to think that TESO, like every other MMO in recent memory, will not have a fair amount of fetch and kill quests, I ask only that they are couched within good story arcs. I suspect unlike many players, I spend a good portion of every MMO reading the quest dialogue and the variety of procured effluvia in an attempt to get a feel for the story the authors were trying to portray, but find myself slowly losing interest in the story as they move away from the personal and more towards the world-ending prophecies. Luckily then, The Elder Scrolls has always been a game that identifies itself through collections of smaller, personal stories. To put it plainly, I care more about reconnecting a woman with her child or lover than I care about end of the world. These kinds of quests, when couched inside a larger arc of political intrigue or double-dealing can create narratological hooks, making the player care about all that other stuff.
4. Moderators and community managers should be as excited as we are.
I’ve played more MMOs than I am comfortable divulging here, and the one factor that always directly impacted my excitement of a title is the studio’s level of commitment to being a part of the discourse, and not just controlling it. The best ways that I have seen MMOs do this boils down to essentials such as (but not limited to): supported modding tools, dedicated server forums, and official community spotlights.
5. Armor aesthetics that make me want to play dress-up.
Gleaming greaves and fiery swords are pretty kickass. The problem is that even I (a fan of the WoW aesthetic) realize that it doesn’t quite fit into Tamriel. Zenimax Online must find a way to connect that crazy dress-up game without falling into the zany neon light up armor of other properties, and find its own distinct, desirable aesthetic for armor. With that said, please don’t put women in cleavage plate. If there’s one reason why TERA remains such an unplayable thing to me is that I feel genuinely offended that they expect me to oggle pixels. Please respect your players more than that.
6. A world full of ex-cons.
In keeping with TES tradition, everyone should start the game in a jail cell. I’m not sure I can even consider a game a game within the Elder Scrolls universe unless it starts with me breaking out of captivity of some sort. There are, of course, terrifying consequences with this as well branching from the literally thousands of ex convicts running around the world, killing each other and then coming back to life. It sounds terrifying.
“The Elder Scrolls has always been a game that identifies itself through collections of smaller, personal stories… I care more about reconnecting a woman with her child or lover than I care about the end of their world.”
7. Big rocks! Chain reactions! Hover bikes! (well, not the last one)
The Elder Scrolls has always done dungeons better than most. Thoughtful puzzle construction, environmental mechanics, and alluring backstory are tantamount to TES dungeon creation. Without these elements of dungeon design, it might as well not be an Elder Scrolls game. I expect a fair amount of puzzles, clever use of the environment (running enemies into their own traps as an example) and a general feel of outwitting your opponents as opposed to just bludgeoning them until they fall over. With that said, Zenimax Online shouldn’t skimp on boss mechanics, either. There should be a fair amount of challenge involved as well that tests the boundaries of your chosen class per MMO conventions.
8. Guild hideouts, treehouses, and dance clubs.
Mentioned in the Game Informer article is that there won’t be player housing, but did not mention anything about guild halls. Implementation of guild halls would be a fantastic inclusion to the game, affording a fair amount of fraternity to exist among your closest comrades, but may also serve a practical purpose as well. I’m imagining something like The Ragged Flagon from Skyrim with false doors leading to the guild bank (another thing that should be available at launch, methinks!) and trap doors (read: portals) to high level instances. Maybe even daily quest hubs, training dummies, and perhaps even a guild lackey that will buy your junk from you.
9. Faction alliances.
One of the most exciting aspects of the game so far is the three-way faction split instead of the tried-and-true bifurcation method that has plagued MMO design for years. I know that this isn’t the first game to do this (DAoC did it way back in 2001), but this and Guild Wars 2 are the first AAA MMOs to do this in a good number of years. Beyond the obvious good things about this (like the theoretical expunction of the tired “good vs. evil” factions) it also makes the fight for the Emporer’s throne in Cyrodiil a much more dynamic event. With three sides vying for victory in world pvp creates a system of alliances and vendettas that has the possibility to blow up the stale split of allegiance.
10. Raids that make us rage.
Really what all of this comes down to for me is whether or not the end-game PvE experience is enjoyable. This comes down to engaging fight dynamics, interesting useage of abilities to accomplish tasks, and maybe even dynamic events in the world that help the group out (I’m thinking rock slides that take a chunk of life away from a boss or some such thing) that really just improve the raiding experience. The promise of hard modes go a long way towards , but I’ll need to see what this entails. Give me something that will piss me off so much that I’m expelling expectorate all over my screen in frustrated glee. Give me bosses so hard that I curse you and your stupid game… If you do that, I’ll be back tomorrow.
Many of the items on this list pertain to Zenimax Online’s stated goal of finding that balance between making the game worthy of the TES nomenclature while also being comfortable enough to be inviting to players who aren’t familiar with the franchise. The screenshots we have of the game so far show a world too far into the generic WoW-clone model, but I hesitate to presume the final game will look entirely like these. Tamriel is ripe for MMO development, and whether fair or not, basic aesthetic decisions will shape the experience for many. Finding that happy medium between the branching MMO and TES traditions will allay many of the concerns I have with the game, and making content worthy of the TES name will keep me playing.
We want to hear what you think! What do you need to see in The Elder Scrolls Online before you’re willing to throw your heap o’ skrilla at Zenimax Online?
*Note the irony. I’m actually an idiot.