Ultima universe enough to create a believable character in that world, though I didn't play as long as I would have liked. However, my second MMO, Star Wars Galaxies, made roleplay really easy. With a bushel of emotes, character animations, and activities not directly based on combat, Sony's Star Wars MMO solidified my definition of what it meant to play an MMO. Of course, after that, the new MMOs -- with too few exceptions -- stopped lending themselves to quality roleplay thanks to the World of Warcraft design model.
The change in scenery didn't stop roleplayers from forming amazing communities. In spite of mechanical issues and linear questlines, the Lord of the Rings Online roleplay community thrives. Rumor has it that WoW's roleplay community actually does something besides dancing on mailboxes in Goldshire. I don't think I have to tell you how difficult it is to roleplay in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but I do it anyway. My friends and I are considering jumping into The Elder Scrolls Online not just to play the game but to attempt to roleplay in it as well. It makes us wonder whether we'll be encouraged by the game to roleplay the way we like to or will have to roleplay in spite of the game.
Even non-roleplayers can understand the importance of a good intellectual property. I'd even venture to say that non-roleplayers and roleplayers enjoy a good IP for the same reasons, although they likely use that IP in different ways.
A good IP creates a world that immerses you; different games and IPs immerse you differently. For instance, you're likely not immersed in League of Legends for the same reason you're immersed in The Witcher 2. One has gameplay mechanics that suck you into the PvP, and the other has an incredible story that sucks you into its world. That's not to downplay The Witcher's game mechanics or the stories behind the LoL champions; those just aren't the reasons you play those games.
I think it goes without saying that The Elder Scrolls' lore is deep and immersive. Even if the writing isn't always the greatest, the actual stories are wonderful. Although as a roleplayer I can't rightfully claim that I am the soulless one that the Elder Scrolls foretells, I can take into account the world around me, and some of the adventures, like guild missions, don't require that I follow the storyline exactly. I can't tell you how nice it would be to actually use some dungeon crawls in-character. And ESO is riddled with books. Nearly every bookshelf contains a bit of history and applicable game fiction. Sadly, I have yet to find "The Lusty Argonian Maid" -- maybe next beta weekend!
Books on bookshelves lead us to another important part of roleplaying in an MMO: venues. Obviously, the IP contributes to the venues, but just because a game has a wonderful IP doesn't mean that it automagically makes the venues wonderful. Case-in-point: SWTOR. I like SWTOR. I believe the game offers a lot to its players as far as the setting is concerned. I've found most of the worlds wonderfully crafted, but unfortunately most of the good venues hide themselves behind masses of mobs or impenetrable, translucent red walls.
Luckily, Elder Scrolls Online doesn't suffer from lack of venues. Every zone and every little village has some sort of house or tavern or side street where you don't feel as if you're going to get jumped by mobs or interrupted by some random passerby when you're attempting to conduct your clandestine meeting.
Unfortunately, the game's inherent phasing technology might get in the way if you roleplay with someone other than yourself (because that's just weird! Kidding!). The phasing while you're actually doing the quest isn't an issue, but sometimes your quest will end differently than your friend's quest does (although I haven't run into anything too drastic yet). Still, there are some areas where mobs will attack you or not attack you based on your choices during questlines.
Lastly, I have concerns about the mechanics themselves, silly things like being able to stand and type easily. Can you pose your character? Or is he just going to stand there like a dummy all the time? The game has no chat bubbles. I know it's not required, but many roleplayer find that chat bubbles help communication. Also, not having a free-roaming mouse will make looking around a room a bit difficult and awkward.
The developers did mention an interesting perk a while back regarding grouping and the social intelligence of the game. When launching into the game, you will have multiple playstyle and social options to chose from. These ideas range from looking-for-group to native language. Since ESO is hosted on one giant server, we know that there will be multiple instances of any one zone. In a question about chat channels on Twitter, the ESO leads noted that "roleplayers will be able to set preferences when logging into the megaserver that will group them with other roleplayers." Without separate RP, PvE, or PvP servers, this technology gives RPers something to think about.
Where do you sit? Are you a roleplayer looking to RP in ESO? Do you think that the game offers you an adequate amount of tools? Do you believe a megaserver is a help or a hindrance to your overall roleplay experience? Will you have to roleplay in spite of the game mechanics, or can you RP because of the game mechanics?
Each 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He promises to keep the arrow-to-the-knee jokes to a minimum.
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