Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim: To the video game community, these five titles represent one of the most popular, successful, game franchises of the past 20 years. To those who are not familiar with Bestheda's Elder Scrolls games, they comprise a fantasy action role-playing game series set in an open world, allowing player complete agency as they travel around the land of Tamriel completing quests, fighting a host of magical beasts, and becoming a hero. The series has garnered critical and economic success: The last three Elder Scrolls averaged 91.8/100 as a combined metacritic score and the past two games alone have sold more than 21 million units on the PC, Xbox, and Playstation platforms.
In late 2013, the Elder Scrolls games will step into an ever bigger world: the Internet. With the release of The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO), the popular game franchise will transfer its world, its lore, and its legacy onto the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) platform — a i;vworld currently owned by Blizzard's World of Warcraft.
Recently, at Boston’s gaming convention PAXeast, I got the opportunity to play test the BETA version of TESO. After waiting in line for three hours, watching the trailers endlessly, and getting a free t-shirt, me and four other players sat down on state-of-the-art computers and finally, got to enter the redefined world of Tamriel together. And what we the players were really interested in, whether we were Elder Scrolls fans or not was if this game was going to be able to compete with eight-year reigning champion of all MMORPGs, World of Warcraft.
In typical Elder Scrolls style (and most MMOs' for that matter) I began by creating a character within the Daggerfall Covenant: an Orc, a Breton, or a Redguard. The actual game will feature a total of three factions: The Daggerfall Convenant, the Ebonheart Pact (whose races include the Dunmer, Nords, and Argonians), and the Aldmeri Dominion (who consist of the Altmer, Bosmer, and Khajiit), that will be competing for control of the Imperial City and the White-Gold Tower. After choosing your race, you have the opportunity to design your character — just like Elder Scrolls games past. Finally, you assign your powers with the K key and then it was time to play (though the customization was speedy, I imagine the actual game will allow for much more detailed customization).
The controls are easy enough, utilizing WASD for directions, the mouse for combat, and number keys for powers and equipped gear. The game test didn't feature a tutorial, allowing players to get straight to the game. I wonder if the same will be true for the full launch.
After I made my character, I traveled down the road to a village, surrounded by Spriggans and imps. I headed toward the yellow dot on the map, a quest marker (no exclamation points here!). After talking to a villager, I learned that nature had turned on the village and attacked and I was asked to find the remaining villagers and put out the fires: objectives that appeared to the right of my screen in yellow text, with descriptions in white. After fetching my bucket of water, I began my task, fighting Spriggans and Imps as I went. The rest of my adventure consisted of finishing a quest and being mobbed by mudcrabs (never underestimate mudcrabs). This was all typical Elder Scrolls.
At the end of the game, I was satisfied. But I’m a huge Elder Scrolls fan. The biggest question: will the Elder Scrolls be the next big MMORPG? No doubt, It will satisfy the Elder Scrolls fanbase and be a worthy addition to the lineup, but can it become the next World of Warcraft? That really hangs in the balance. Between now and when they release The Elder Scrolls, Bestheda is going to have to continue tweaking things in the game to make it a worthy opponent for World of Warcraft. Things like:
1. Make the PvP (player vs. player) awesome. Many people love the challenege of PvP and very little has been released about PvP aside from the different factions; the Elder Scrolls must boast an incredible PvP system. One thing they could fix: the combat system. It’s rather flat and harkens back to the Morrowind days — not exactly what they want.
2. Appeal to Elder Scrolls fans. When I played, I felt like this was just like any other MMORPG. Aside from the characters, it could have been World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online. Add things that make the Elder Scrolls games unique: useless items, M’aiq the Liar, an intractable environment (including the ability to pick up almost anything). I love goofing off when playing Skyrim justthrowing books at guards. Just because it's moving to MMORPG platform, don’t lose what makes The Elder Scrolls, well, The Elder Scrolls.
I do have hope for this game. I think, that one important thing to remember is that The Elder Scrolls Online will not satisfy all the requirements of the MMORPG world or the Elder Scrolls world — and that's okay. The Elder Scrolls promises to be a fulfilling game and I’m interested to see what it looks like later this year.