When a publisher takes a popular license and turns it into an MMORPG, there’s always an immediate reaction of trepidation. Will the MMO be faithful to the series lore? Will it maintain the series’ identifying characteristics? Will it be good? The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be addressing the first and third questions, but I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope for the second.
The Elder Scrolls Online takes place in the second era of Tamriel (about 1,000 years before Skyrim), during a time of civil war. The world is divided into three factions: the Ebonheart Pact formed by the Nord, Dunmer, and Argonians, the Daggerfall Covenant of Bretons, Redguard, and Orcs, and the Aldmeri Dominion of Altmer, Bosmer, and Khajiit. Each faction is battling the other for control of Tamriel, with Cyrodil and the Imperial City remaining contested in the center. Your personal story involves defeating the evil Daedric Prince Molag Bal, and the world will treat you as the main character of this tale.
Luckily the world itself seems to be huge. We were shown glimpses of many of the gorgeously rendered capital cities. While the game’s graphics engine isn’t going to touch modern MMO graphical behemoths like Guild Wars 2 and Tera it certainly is a pretty game, opting for a more cartoonish approach. This does let them make things pretty without pushing for powerful rigs, but it also means the game isn’t going to look all that familiar to players of Skyrim, Morrowind and Oblivion. That said, the cities certainly looked familiar enough, and you’ll see the kinds of locations and enemies you’d expect in an Elder Scrolls game (dwemer ruins, Atronachs, and Clannfear were shown).
Sadly, the gameplay doesn’t seem to be what Elder Scrolls fans would hope for. There have been attempts to maintain features of classic Elder Scrolls games, but the combat is going to be more like World of Warcraft than Skyrim. Health, stamina, and magicka are still present, and you can still block, sneak, and charge up a melee attack, but the weight and fluidity is gone. Instead the game opts for targeted attacking, similar to most MMOs, and the game opts for a pretty traditional hotkey bar for your skills. Fighting intelligently will earn you better loot at the end of an encounter, and you’ll earn loot and exp any time you fight, whether it’s with other players or without and whether you’re grouped or not.
Other design aspects are going to be instantly familiar to MMO fanatics. Numerous public (non-instanced) dungeons exist throughout the world, and sidequests will pop up as you play as points of interest, rather than dragging you back to town all the time (similar to Guild Wars 2). Following points of interest can affect main quests, giving you advantages which will change how you complete them. Standard instanced five-man dungeons will also be available, playable in either Normal or Heroic varieties. End-game raiding was also mentioned, but we weren’t shown any of it.
While the game is still in its early stages, and details are scarce, The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be built on a core of MMO staples, overlaid with the rich universe and lore of The Elder Scrolls. More like The Old Republic than Guild Wars 2, the developers aren’t taking risks by playing with MMO staples, and instead fitting The Elder Scrolls into those as best they can. Hopefully more unique ideas will show up when Zenimax Online starts talking about classes. Until then fans of the rich lore of the universe at the very least have much to look forward to. The Elder Scrolls Online is set to release next year on PC and Mac.