Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Glimpse at Elder Scrolls Online

I didn't want a glimpse, I just wanted to see Dishonored, but at E3 Bethesda had a dual presentation and we were shown a presentation for The Elder Scrolls Online from the developers at Zenimax Online and then one for Dishonored by Arkane Studios. Let me say this right off the bat The Elder Scrolls Online does not look like a terrible game, like most would suggest, but it is a victim of tragic circumstances. One of the first things we learned in the presentation was that Zenimax has been developing The Elder Scrolls Online for nearly five years already. Five years ago this game might have seemed like a fantastic idea for a MMO, but now it has some serious problems to climb over. Let me share with you all everything I  have learned about Elder Scrolls Online and why it does have some good features underneath.

So were first told some basic information. The game takes place one thousand years before Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and is during a civil war period where there are three main alliances at war with each other. In the east there is the Ebonheart Pact, the north west the Daggerfall Covenant and in the south west there is the Aldmeri Dominion.In the middle of all three of those huge alliances is Cyrodil, the setting in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which is being torn apart by the war of the other three. It is so bad in Cyrodil that the king has made a pact with one of the worst Deadric gods out there in order to summon an undead army to help defend Cyrodil. When you start the game you will choose one of the three alliances and most of the big player versus player content will be around Cyrodil.

After all that basic information on the story we were shown a visual tour of Tamariel, the world of Elder Scrolls Online. Even though the game is a MMO it still retains recognizable features of the previous Elder Scrolls games. You can see the look of Cyrodil, Morrowind or Hammerfall and they definitely managed to fill the game with that Elder Scrolls theme. I was initially drawn in a bit by this as a fan of Skryim, Oblivion, Morrowind and Daggerfall. I thought even if the gameplay is mediocre this world looks like it would be a pleasure to explore. They further accentuate this feeling by adding in familiar enemies, distinct Elder Scrolls architecture and familiar environments all over the place, but it is all a bit more colorful and generally toned down (graphics wise) than Oblivion or Skyrim. It should be obvious that they couldn't possibly have a graphical system as powerful as either of those games, but they ended up with graphics that look like a mix between Dark Age of Camelot and World of Warcraft.

After that tour of the world we got to see some actual gameplay and an example of how big their player versus player battles are. The environments shown in the actual gameplay and during the tour of Tamariel video were pretty decent if not good, but the character models needed a lot of work. Combat is more action based than normal and really promotes cooperation within players. They worked hard on making it so you will never be punished for helping another player and they will not be punished by getting your help. You can easily jump in and help someone in a difficult fight and both players will get rewarded with experiences and loot. They also made it so you can help people in unique ways. For instance they showed us how a wizard was fighting some enemies and a warrior came up and enhanced the fire spell he was casting. They didn't really explain that all that much, but they really drove home the idea that the social aspects are there to help you.

The big player versus player battle they showed us wasn't all that impressive and just looked  like a giant chaotic mess of characters. One interesting thing I noticed was wizards seemingly linking their spells together and creating some type of chain, but otherwise it was just chaos. They are going to make player versus player a lot like Dark Age of Camelot, by the sound of it, in which you can build siege weapons and take enemy castles and outposts with huge groups of players. Player versus player could be very interesting, but it doesn't seem to have anything that is entirely new to MMO's and there claim of having two hundred players in the same battle might be interesting, but not if it's just a giant death match.

Taking a cue from The Old Republic or just from the games The Elder Scrolls Online originate from, the main quest line in the game is entirely solo. They really want that to feel like your own personal story, not something you see hundreds of other people also participating in, but the rest of the game is very social. They have the typical dungeon system where there are group instances and public dungeons, but they even handled this in an interesting way. Their instanced dungeons have puzzles and traps in them, which should make anyone happy who is tired of the normal dungeon romp. I would immediately worry that the puzzles are as complicated as the puzzles in Skyrim, not at all complicated what so ever, and I really hope they are more like the often very complicated puzzles in Rift Online. The public instances are supposed to be far more challenging than private instances and strongly encourage, if not require, cooperation.

After all that we were shown the combat system. The game uses a normal hotkey system, but all of the interface is very minimalistic and most of it only shows up if you scroll over it. You can manually block in the game and each character can build up a power attack that absolutely devastates enemies. They also use a finesse system that rewards the player for using his or her skills in an efficient and smooth manner. It all looked pretty normal for a MMORPG, but with a few changes that may or may not make it feel unique. It definitely looked less clunky than many other MMORPG combat systems I have played lately, looking at you Star Wars The Old Republic. During the combat demo they also showed how humanoid enemies use the same classes players do and I actually love that idea. It might make it a bit stale, but it should make it so you can properly identify and strategize against certain class types. Furthermore it would help with fighting against those classes in PvP and PvE, although a player is certainly going to play differently than the AI will.

The last thing Zenimax showed us is how the quest system works. You will have normal quests you get from characters around towns or what not, but in your travels you may also run into point of interests. They are quests that will only show up on your map if you are close enough and they essentially reward you for exploring. Other than that they are mostly the same as normal quests, except they may be important and interact in some way with other quests you have. The one they showed us had to do with a old battleground and how the player was taken into the past. There you had to choose between saving someone or going after a werewolf and if you save the person a new character will show up in the present Tamariel. It looks like they might be going after the consequences and choices subject in a new manner, but it way too hard to tell from the one quest they showed us. If you want to check out the Elder Scrolls Online in action take a look at this video from IGN.

The Elder Scrolls Online will be coming out sometime in 2013 for PC  and Mac. It is going to have a full crafting system, the conquest player versus system and a pretty large world. To me the game is a bit of a tragedy. It has interesting ideas, but they are all based on typical MMORPG mechanics that people are incredibly tired of. It may earn it's way with the Elder Scrolls theme or just by using those typical mechanics in slightly new ways, but I cannot see it being a bit hit and it definitely isn't giving gamers something new in the MMO world. At the end of the presentation I just felt bad for it. If this had come out when they had started work on it, five years ago, it would have had a lot better chances of being successful, but for now it looks good, but not great and not new. Thanks for reading and we will see how The Elder Scrolls Online turns out as the year goes on. This was just a first impression based on their first presentation.
Main Website: http://www.elderscrollsonline.com/en/

-Written by Sean Cargle


Post a Comment