Following a tough act: Elder Scrolls Online

A daunting task: launch a successful MMORPG in the shadow of World of Warcraft.

Even in it’s decline, the 10 million+ subscriber megahit from Blizzard Entertainment leaves a crater of expectations for future titles.

Fearing no bar set too high, Bethesda & Zenimax Online aim to launch the multi-GOTY earning Elder Scrolls series into the MMO gaming space in 2013 with Elder Scrolls Online. From the preview shown at E3 2012, it is built on the sum of many good, old ideas, a few new ideas, and a wealth of first generation MMORPG development experience. The team includes veterans from Sony Online Entertainment (EverQuest, Starwars Galaxies) and Mythic Entertainment (Dark Age of Camelot).

The Elder Scrolls series, which includes Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim, takes place in Tamriel, a rich fantasy world with lore that spans 18 years of award-winning single player RPGs dating back to 1994 when “Elder Scrolls Arena” was released. Few other fantasy franchise can boast such detail, and few others would be scrutinized as closely by fans protective of a world they grew up gaming in.

A central feature of Elder Scrolls Online revealed at E3 2012 is the PVP system, which shows the development team’s love for the three-kingdom epic scale combat that made “Dark Age of Camelot” popular. The similarities may end there though, based on how the active combat system has been described.

Creative development leads teased fans with descriptions of it’s active combat system and cross-class combination attacks. Gone are the messy UI, complex cooldown cycles and rows of action hotkeys. Players instead take more direct control over each weapon swing and shield blocks, perhaps similar to the high-action combat in Skyrim. Certain special abilities may have cooldowns but were also described as further enhancements to the active, reactive combat systems. The cooperative nature of the combination attacks players can perform together promise a more social online gaming experience.

Other key features talked about at E3 went further to highlight the focus on social aspects of the game. Public dungeons (remember EverQuest?) – the opposite of private, instanced dungeons – will challenge and reward players who work together whether or not they are in a prepared group. It will feature regular instanced dungeons and raids, too, for cooperative groups and guilds.

The biggest impression I got from the material shown at E3 and in interviews afterwards was not based on any one feature they talked about, but rather how deeply the development team seemed to love actually playing the game in it’s pre-beta state. Several times in different interviews they would stop trying to answer “why it’s not like Warcraft” or “why feature B is great” and simply state that we needed to play it to understand.

One final observation that I was very happy to see: support for Mac. Thank you! I look forward to seeing more details (and a beta signup) soon.

http://www.elderscrollsonline.com/en/

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