Friday, November 09, 2007

Elder Scrolls Online: Harshing the Buzz

So the latest buzz on the MMO scene is about the possible development of Elder Scrolls Online.

While a lot of fans are overly excited about this announcement, Bethseda is either going to have to seriously water down their worldy gameplay or accept the fact that they'll be a relatively niche game. There is no way that they'll 'challenge WoW' as some pundits are proclaiming.

Why? Well lets look at what makes the Elder Scrolls games so interesting and engaging and see how that translates to the MMO world.

1. Open character development based on skills: Very few MMOs have tried this tactic since UO. Eve is the notable exception, but their model is time-based rather than use-based. Not only does a use-based skill system lend itself to macroing or other such similar behavior (such as jumping constantly to increase your jumping skill), but then you also have to worry about keeping players from making the 'wrong' choices when it comes to skill selection and the potential for abusive skill combinations (for example, the tank-mage of old UO days). The latter is a development migraine, and the former a fear for many players.

2. Choices affect your character: One of the defining points of the Elder Scrolls was the ability to choose which factions to join/help. And those choices would have permanent effects on your character's development and future access to quests and other factions! I can just envision the number of GM calls now...

3. NPCs have lives too: MMO players aren't going to be happy that they can't sell and repair just because they happen to online while the shopkeeper NPC is asleep.

4. Open-ended world: The wide open variety of paths a player could take was another defining part of the Elder Scrolls games. But, one of the many complaints that newer MMO players have about UO is the lack of direction. There were no quests or introductions when UO was released. You just chose your starting skills and town and were plopped down in the world and expected to fend for yourself. While this is great for stimulating exploration, creativity and imagination, MMO players expect to be led by the hand these days.

Now I do want to state for the record that I personally would love all of the above features in an MMO. I can handle the fact that choosing to slay someone rather than talk to them permanently affects my faction standings. I can also handle that NPCs are completely unavailable at certain times. But for the millions that flock to WoW, RF and other such games, these features would be unacceptable. WoW didn't become the MMO giant by making things difficult for their players, in fact, its gone in the exact opposite direction!

But that's not to say that a really awesome Elder Scrolls MMO that was true to the source couldn't be made. But it would take a lot of work. More on that in a future post!

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