The Elder Scrolls Online is a Terrible Idea

There are some MMOs that gamers speculate over endlessly. People have wanted a Pokemon MMO since the original, or a Dynasty Warriors MMO. The Elder Scrolls is one such series, and we finally have confirmation that the prestigious series will make the jump to MMO territory. With this bit of background, you may ask why the title of today’s post is as it is. The answer is complicated. The Elder Scrolls is one of the foremost singleplayer WRPGs. It has resisted every call for the addition of multiplayer in its entire history, and there have been many calls. It isn’t just singleplayer RPG fans who should be upset though. The Elder Scrolls is much more than simply a loose collection of lore. It has a very specific graphical, and gameplay style, which fans are all very used to, and this will be significantly changed for this game. At the same time, MMO aficionados should be repulsed by the apparent total lack of innovation to the genre. Do we really need another World of Warcraft clone? Doesn’t The Elder Scrolls deserve better than that? In a world flooded with fantasy MMOs, is it wise for The Elder Scrolls to stand up and shout “me too” before jumping into the overcrowded market? I would have to answer in the negative and I’ll tell you why. We are going to look at the drawbacks of this game from a perspective of singleplayer, multiplayer, and MMO gamers.

Rings? Check. Dragons? Check. Ok, we’re ready for fantasy.

Firstly let’s look at the game from the perspective of a primarily singleplayer gamer. To call The Elder Scrolls a major series would be a major understatement. Whether you joined at the beginning, with Skyrim, or anywhere in between, The Elder Scrolls is a very memorable series. It took open world RPGs to whole new levels, and continues to push the genre, which it dominates. As part of this, it has always offered MMO-style worlds for the singleplayer. This may seem like it would be a perfect fit for an MMO, but there are some serious drawbacks for the singleplayer audience. The Elder Scrolls has always put a premium on the player. Whether you are the reincarnation of Lord Nerevar, or the Dovahkiin, the player has always been special in the world. This is the series where the player will often be champion of the region, Archmage, leader of the Fighter’s Guild, Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood. MMOs are known for having a lot of anonymous people with highly suspect names running around ruining emersion. It is very hard to feel special, when there are over a million people more advanced than you. As part of this game, the person with the highest PvP rating of the faction who controls the capital will be Emperor. You can’t get more impersonal than that. The Elder Scrolls has never been big on consequences, but the series definitely excels in making your character feel powerful and notorious.

If you, as the emperor, turned into Patrick Stewart than this game would be a day one purchase

One of the most exciting features of this MMO is the fact that it will take place all across Tamriel. Something that hasn’t been done since the extremely poorly aged Elder Scrolls Arena. The more recent outings for the series have had one province per game. While including all of Tamriel seems like a good thing, it actually cheapens the content. One of the most exciting things about a new Elder Scrolls game is exploring the new region. It is always totally different than what we’ve seen before. An MMO, no matter the budget, cannot offer the sheer variety and detail that these unexplored regions deserve. While returning to Morrowind would undoubtably be cool, it would only be a shadow if its former self, instead of standing in its full glory. This isn’t an inherent problem with MMOs, and there is no reason for the game to stretch itself too thin. I don’t want tiny, underdeveloped regions as a singleplayer gamer. The reason for this is that it cheapens the release of future Elder Scrolls games as there will be less mystique surrounding the various provinces. The basic question is: do you want the Coles Notes version of Tamriel, or do you want a really well developed province?

Damn Morrowind was amazing, and I’m not keen on seeing them butcher it. It was bad enough Skyrim declared Vvardenfell obliterated.

Speaking of future Elder Scrolls games, it is important to debunk the idea that this game will halt production of future singleplayer games. This game is not being developed by Bethesda and has been in development for four years; therefore, as it did not impede Skyrim, it shouldn’t impede any future releases. This fear comes from companies like Bioware. With its release of The Old Republic, Bioware pretty much confirmed that it would not work on any future singleplayer Knights of the Old Republic Games. Similarly there have been no announced plans for a Warcraft 4 since the release of World of Warcraft, but Blizzard is notorious for its lack of releases, so this may not have been a factor. The basic point is that singleplayer gamers should not feel that this game will threaten this series, simply that this game will not likely interest them in the way that they would like.

Never again. Now it’s MMO time!

Now let’s look at The Elder Scrolls Online from the perspective of gamers who wanted The Elder Scrolls to enter the multiplayer arena. Non-MMO multiplayer is hardly new to RPGs, as co-op has been a staple feature in many, many RPGs. Hell, even Final Fantasy VI allowed another player to control party members in battle. The question with most of these games is how to properly integrate multiplayer. In this case, creating an MMO-style game caused the developers to sacrifice major elements of the series including real time battles. Is this really the multiplayer that fans were clamouring for? It seems to me that the addition of co-op, or PVP arenas would have satiated these fans more than cutting such integral features. Did the developers misread fan demand for multiplayer, or did they think that these features were ancillary to the greater whole of The Elder Scrolls series? I don’t want to even pretend like I can speak for an entire fanbase, but how many of those clamouring for Elder Scrolls multiplayer would be fine with gutting the series’ defining features? Maybe they are right. Maybe all the game needs is The Elder Scrolls lore to be an Elder Scrolls game. I don’t think so, but it is definitely a point up for interpretation.

Co-op this cool would pay for itself

For an MMO player, nothing should be more exciting than a huge fresh mythology opening up for the kind of huge, long lasting, social experiences they crave. So why does The Elder Scrolls Online seem like such a boring endeavour? The reason for this is easy to see simply by looking at the MMO market. Since World of Warcraft came out and showed the world that MMOs can be insane money makers, there have been no shortages of MMOs trying to get some of Blizzard’s pie. As such, fantasy MMOs are a dime a dozen nowadays with new ones being released regularly. The market right now is extremely saturated. The question is what does The Elder Scrolls Online do to differentiate itself from the many, many other fantasy MMOs? The answer is nothing. The removed features I mentioned earlier are being replaced by fantasy MMO standard features. Gameplay, skill use, and graphical style will be almost identical to Bioware’s Old Republic, which itself is very similar to the wildly popular World of Warcraft. Many gamers are looking to jump ship from WoW at this point, and they are not spoiled for choice. The inherent problems with The Elder Scrolls Online, is that it brings nothing but the universe to the table. It is part of a series with its own traditions, stripping them all off to be a hollow World of Warcraft clone.

Does this look familiar? It should.

Here’s the thing. Inventive, new MMOs have been made and are coming out. There isn’t any reason for an MMO lover to support a simple clone. Ignoring whether this game can be called “Elder Scrolls-lite” or not, MMO fans shouldn’t encourage this lazy design. No fan of any genre should encourage stagnation and this is exactly what is happening. World of Warcraft hit on a winning formula to be sure, but it was released eight years ago. When it was first released, clones were not only expected, but encouraged. A more refined version of a winning formula is a definite good thing. However, that formula is old now. This is like platformers very meticulously copying the original Super Mario Bros.. Innovation is important in every genre. When a game that is packed with as much lore as The Elder Scrolls comes along and offers you nothing you haven’t seen before, that is a major red flag concerning the quality of the production.

There is no way to differentiate this from any other fantasy MMO.

The Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t have to be a bad game to be a bad idea, and I make no comment on the quality of the final product. However, repurposing a singleplayer game in the package of a generic fantasy MMO isn’t going to win you favours with any party. Why would an MMO fan waste there time on this when games like The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2 and Terra exist? Why would a singleplayer gamer want a stripped down version of the series they love? The only positive things I can see that will be said about this game will come from fans who don’t realize the massive changes to The Elder Scrolls formula. After all, a fully realized Elder Scrolls MMO would be a sight to behold. Unfortunately, this is not that game.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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