Tamriel Infinium: Elder Scrolls Online, the non-MMO MMO

Tamriel Infinium Elder Scrolls Online, the nonMMO MMO
Bethesda revealed an exorbitant amount of information about its MMO The Elder Scrolls Online at E3. With this being the year the game was originally slated to release, I was not surprised. Of course, Massively reporters could not keep their hands off the game. Staffer Jasmine Hruschak and freelancer Andrew Ross both spent some time behind the keyboard stealing cabbages and talking to a dog. I'm not quite sure about the dog thing, but they apparently had fun. In fact, I think Jasmine penned the most revealing quote about the game: "Their dialogues were interesting and well-acted enough to make me curious. This stuck in my mind because it's completely opposite my typical MMO playstyle. I skip cutscenes, I don't read quest text, and I go to new areas as soon as possible."

Of course, I'm excited about the release, and despite being an avid MMO fan, I do appreciate the idea that ESO might not be as much of an MMO as we had originally thought. In an interview with Gamereactor, Creative Director Matt Firor stated, "This is more a multiplayer Elder Scrolls game than an MMO." Although this might turn off the standard MMO crowd, I do believe that his curbing our expectations might be a lesson that more MMO developers should learn from.

Tamriel Infinium Elder Scrolls Online, the nonMMO MMO
It's possible that Firor was only attempting to attract the non-MMO fan. After all, the game will release on the two new next-gen consoles and both PC and Mac. The game needs to attract the largest audience it can in order to be successful. He all but said as much a little later in the interview: "We wanted to get Elder Scrolls players who were unfamiliar with online games and MMO terms to get in, play, have fun and get introduced to the multiplayer aspects."

This type of candid reveal of ZeniMax's intentions made me wonder about other MMOs that have had less than stellar receptions from the MMO crowd. Would these games have been better received had they been presented with similar candor? Many people called Star Wars: The Old Republic World of Warcraft with lightsabers and fewer features, but had the game directors said, "Think of it less of an MMO and more like Knights of the Old Republic with multiplayer aspects," maybe the playerbase would have been less upset when the auction house was flawed and group-finder was nowhere to be found.

Now we have seen that the graphical presentation of Elder Scrolls Online rivals the previous Elder Scrolls single-player games, and although we have our concerns about the controls of the game, we're becoming more forgiving because oh, it's just a mulitplayer game, not a true MMO. And now that I know the game will release on multiple consoles, I expect mechanical limitations if not also graphical limits.

But it's distinctly possible that curbing expectations too far could have adverse effects. For instance, if RIFT creators had said right up front, "Yup, it's just like World of Warcraft but with better graphics and dynamic events," would players have flocked to it when it launched, or would the game have experienced such a boom when it went free-to-play this past week? I speculate that we would have seen a major backlash from players saying things to the effect of, "If I wanted to play WoW, I'd play WoW."

Personally, I'm taking a reduced-excitement position. I want Elder Scrolls Online to encompass everything I like about Skyrim and Oblivion with everything that I love about MMOs, but I know that the game will never fully live up to my expectations because as far as I know no one at Zenimax has mental telepathy, even if someone did, he wouldn't be patched into my brain.

Tamriel Infinium Elder Scrolls Online, the nonMMO MMO
Because of E3, I ran out of space to indulge your comments about the imaginary factional divides in last week's article, so why don't I do that now? Thank you; I think I will.

I had intended to take a piece of what Blackcat7k said and add my own commentary, but I really don't think there is a better way to say it.
The factional divide where the cultures are separated by looks instead of having it based on an ideology, religion, or politics is one of the main problems that a lot of these MMO stories have when crafting this 3 realm system. How in the world can each and every single individual from a culture in Tamriel automatically toe the line and support their culture 100% especially when going to war?

It was weird in Everquest, World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, Dark Age of Camelot and the countless others that have to make it so that cultures are in complete lock step with each person that looks the same. As if the cultures put a restraining bolt in their children at birth so that they support their side utterly. At least some games like EQ allowed you to sometimes get around culture divides by grinding to get in the good will of a faction that would kill you on sight.

The writers of The Elders Scrolls Online may have written themselves into a corner where a large amount of hand waving is going to be needed to explain away the separation gameplay wise as it relates to anything group or guild related. One would hope that a mechanic or system is introduced so people can turn traitor to their initial side and that it's something that can be done early in the player's career.
As Marvel Comic's guru Stan Lee would say, "'Nuff said."

Tamriel Infinium Elder Scrolls Online, the nonMMO MMO
Last week, PavelKouznetsov sparked a bit of a conversation in the comments when he pointed to his ear and said, "Unfortunately development for four platforms at once means there will be a lot of compromises -- everywhere. In graphics, animations, gameplay, interface." Other commenters wanted to know if he could tell them the winning lottery numbers, but I do think that the underlying concern is valid: Does creating for multiple platforms compromise the development of elements that we PC gamers take for granted?

The developers I talk to regularly say that games being released on consoles definitely have different production strategies than those that release on PC alone. Do you think this type of scope will make the game more or less than what you'd hoped for? Let me know what your concerns are in the comments. Or if you don't have any concerns about it, let me know why. I look forward to discussing this in the comments.

Tamriel Infinium Stepping into the world of The Elder Scrolls OnlineEach week, traverse the treacherous terrain of Tamriel with Larry Everett as he records his journey through The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG from ZeniMax. Comments are welcome below, or send a message to larry@massively.com. He promises to keep the arrow-to-the-knee jokes to a minimum.

This article was originally published on Massively.