Caught Between Worlds: Elder Scrolls Online
By David Shields
Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is the next iteration of the Elder Scrolls video game series, set to release later this year. Unlike most previous iterations of the series, the Elder Scrolls Online is an MMO game, not an RPG. Furthermore, development of ESO was given to Zenimax Studios as opposed to Bethesda, who normally develops the Elder Scrolls games, although both companies are owned by Zenimax media.
With the changes in genre and developer, many fans of the series were concerned that ESO would not be “an Elder Scrolls” game. This is certainly not the case. The Elder Scrolls Online is certainly worthy of the Elder Scrolls title, but what isn’t so clear is what kind of game it’s trying to be. Is ESO for long time Elder Scrolls fans, or is it for a new generation of MMO players?
The Elder Scrolls Online uses the same combat system found in other Elder Scrolls games such as Skyrim. The arrow keys are used to move around, and the mouse if used to look around. The left mouse button is used for primary attacks by hand-held weapons like swords and bows and the right button is used to block. Anyone who has played the Elder Scrolls before will feel comfortable with this system, but it’s very friendly for new players as well.
Magic and spell casting however, is more similar to other MMOs. You can add a limited number of spells to shortcut keys. Then you can just used your spells on the fly, as opposed to switching from melee to magic and back again like in Skyrim. This is also similar to Oblivion’s spell casting system, and allows for a very seamless use of melee and magic in combat. There’s something rather satisfying about using a fiery chain to pull an enemy closer followed by seamlessly starting to attack them with your melee weapon.
Creating Your Character
ESO uses a skill based level up system that is very similar to the system in Skyrim. You choose one of the standard Elder Scrolls races (Redguard, Imperial, Khajit, Argonian, etc.) and each race has certain unique abilities or strengths. Zenimax has incorporated a very nice character edit system that allows for a lot more variety in choices than Oblivion or Skyrim, which certainly is appreciated. Like in Skyrim, as you use your skills, they level up, and as they do you can choose new perks and skills. Examples of perks include increased damage for your two handed weapon, or decreased magicka cost for a certain spell. Both of these improvements allow for an excellent amount of customization in making your character. After all, when you have a game world populated by thousands of players, the last thing you want is for everyone to look and play the same.
As this was the beta and not the final version, a number of core features were missing from the game. Chief among the missing features was bartering and crafting. The game world included NPC vendors, but the main form of bartering is said to be player to player, not just player to NPC. Crafting will also see significant improvements over previous iterations, and should offer real benefits to those who take the time to invest in the skill.
Like its predecessors, ESO features excellent voice acting. Of course, given the sheer number of characters in this game there will likely be numerous characters voiced by the same actor or actress, like in Skyrim or Oblivion. But the voice acting that is present is of top quality.
Story wise, ESO’s story is good, and familiar to anyone who knows the lore of Elder Scrolls. No, it’s by no means the best storytelling ever, but it is interesting enough that it can keep you engaged, and if you don’t like the main story, you always have the option of going off and exploring Tamriel on your own. With all of Tamriel being available to explore for the first time since Arena, you can be sure there will be plenty to do outside of the story.
So yes, at it’s core, this is still very much an Elder Scrolls game. But, is it a game for all fans of the Elder Scrolls? The answer to that is unclear. By taking the proven Elder Scrolls formula and placing it into an MMO instead of a RPG, Zenimax has created a game that has a significant identity crisis. Is this supposed to be an open world game full of story and exploration like any other Elder Scrolls game, or is it a big cooperative game where the overarching goal is to defeat the opposing armies that just happens to be set in the Elder Scrolls universe? When playing the beta, I found I wasn’t interested in exploring, and instead spent most my time running through the story with dozens of others. This may not appeal to some fans of the Elder Scrolls who prefer the single player experience that can be done as they want to, at their own pace. Like I said, the Elder Scrolls Online is an Elder Scrolls game, but it has difficulty locking down what it wants to be as a game. As a result it may have difficulty attracting the more traditional audience of the series. It will be interesting to see how the game fares upon its full release, and where most of the sales will go.