It's still a long, long way off, no doubt, but the next installment of the Elder Scrolls franchise has fans around the world contemplating the possibilities of where the adventure might be set.
Elder Scrolls Online: Gameplay Compilation
The Elder Scrolls Online is due out later in 2013, and has legions of passionate fans of the Elder Scrolls series chomping at the bit for any available glimpses of the newest foray into the epic world of Tamriel. We've sourced out the best gameplay footage that has been released so far and provide some concrete details on how the game will play out. Suffice to say, it's looking good. Pretty, pretty good.
The Elder Scrolls series have become one of the most revered RPG series in gaming history. The series redefined the word 'epic' with the 1996 release Daggerfall (which most younger gamers probably won't have played), then there was the utterly revolutionary and gorgeous Morrowind, which in many ways set the standard for modern open-world RPGs, and then the more story-driven and traditional Oblivion, and finally the latest in the series, the acclaimed Skyrim, ubiquitous across social media and truly penetrating the barrier of the mainstream, bringing the world of Tamriel to an audience larger than it had ever seen before. Now we have the imminent release of the Elder Scrolls Online, and although it is being developed by a different shop (Zenimax Online Studios), it is still an official Elder Scrolls title and has the enormous wealth of Tamriel's lore at its disposal.
Paul Sage, creative director at Zenimax, says of the team's desire to integrate Tamriel's immense lore into this online offering: "When the team set out, we wanted to create a lot of world immersion and we wanted a landscape that rewarded exploration. [The Elder Scrolls Online] is set a thousand years before Skyrim - and it draws on everything, all the lore that you've read in the books that you find in all the Elder Scrolls games. So we've got 20 years of lore to draw upon."
In the time of the Elder Scrolls Online, darkness ravages the land of Tamriel. Molag Bol, the Daedric prince of domination and slavery is attempting to enter the mortal realm by a rather devious tactic - instead of bothering to try and enter Nirn directly, he's trying to bring the mortal realm to him. How? By employing devices called 'dark anchors', mystical devices with giant chains attached to them that attach to the land itself try to physically pull it into the demonic realm of Coldharbour. Apparently these dark anchors will spawn randomly in-game, across Tamriel and each one will be protected by a Daedric Guardian which players must defeat to destroy the chain.
The game will feature 3 factions - the Ebonheart Pact (Nords, Dunmer, and Argonians), the Aldmeri Dominion (Altmer, Bosmer, and Khajiit) and the Daggerfall Covenant (consisting of Bretons, Redguards, and Orcs). All 3 races are at war with each other in the game and provide the foundation for world player vs. player combat (PVP). The three alliances are fighting intensely for control of Cyrodiil, which you would know as the Imperial Province. This part concerns me a little, to be honest - I'm a huge fan of the racial diversity the Elder Scrolls games offer and I think it might lose a little something if each faction is limited to three races - that essentially means, for example, if you choose the Aldmeri Dominion faction, your guild will never be able to have a Nord, Dunmer, or Redguard - the list goes on. I feel that the Elder Scrolls races are a little too awesome and we've established too much affection for each of them during the series to artificially divide and restrict them into factions like that. But we'll see how it turns out.
If Zenimax can successfully conjure the magic of Tamriel's vast and sprawling world, and faithfully recreate the fascinating races, lands and empires from the series, while providing a solid and innovative MMO experience, they should well be on to a winner. While the announcement of the game over a year ago drew a few doubters, still leery and cynical at the failed attempts of so many WoW-killers over the last decade, the Elder Scrolls' fanbase is just so large (easily comparable to Warcraft's at the time of WoW's release) that this game may well break the mold and actually prove a runaway success.
There's still not a huge amount of gameplay footage out, with the game being in the closed beta stage, but what's out there looks fascinating indeed. This official gameplay preview trailer includes an interview with some of the game's development crew, in which they discuss their intentions and direction for the game, the art style and graphics, the nature of the online world, and how they plan to implement combat.
This video, taken from closed beta, shows some more juicy gameplay footage, including some very detailed analysis of how the environment looks and how the combat system flows.
This clip shows some more in-depth close-ups of player characters, highlighting the art team's decision to go with a slightly more cartoony than realistic style for the game, ostensibly to save processing power and enable most computers to display hundreds of players at once without crashing in a steaming heap.
Another clip, this one from Spike TV, shows some areas of Tamriel we haven't seen in decades - such as Daggerfall, which will appeal to a lot of old-school gamers.
The environments look undeniably fantastic, and you really feel they have captured the essence of Tamriel. Exploring the land should be a great deal of fun, but there's still a few concerns I have about the game before I'm willing to suggest it will be an undisputed success.
- The faction splitting. I know it's an MMO, and factions are a required element for PVP, but I feel it might have been a mistake to break up the races so impermeably and only allow provide three races for each faction. I just feel that this goes against one of the core strengths of Tamriel's world, the racial diversity and the intriguing relations between them.
- They need to have an extended in house beta with qualified testers. So many previous MMO's have not had rigorous enough beta testing and it really showed come release.
- They need to not hype the game too much. It sounds contradictory, but I think too much hype can be bad for a game, particularly if it's an MMO and if it's not going to be revolutionary or groundbreaking. See: Guild Wars 2, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online.
- They need to ensure the game has all of the standard MMO features on its release. If there's no working auction house, guild banks, or mail system, just don't release it. It's 2013 - this kind of stuff won't fly anymore. The bar has been set higher now.
- Each faction needs more than one leveling area per level range. Repetition in an MMO is a killer. Being forced to level up alts in the same regions you've already played through is devastating to a game's longevity. SWTOR ties characters into a specific path for each faction: Starter Planet, Coruscant, Taris, Nar Shadaa, Tatooine, Alderaan, Balmorra, Quesh ... on and on. The same path every time. The only thing different is the class missions. BAD! Look at World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, the original Everquest. They all gave gamers choice as to where to level for each range. It means a lot more work and a bigger cost for the developers but it also means less boredom and better retention, which are absolutely crucial to any successful MMO.