Elder Scrolls Online: New Benchmark for MMOs?

Elder Scrolls OnlineIs The Elder Scrolls Online, set for early April release, poised to set a new benchmark for the MMORPG gaming community? That may be the case. Set in the fantasy world of Tamriel, TESO brings it to life like never before. Bethesda Softworks/Zenimax’s first foray into the MMO game market has one unique advantage that many current MMOs do nott: a game world established in single player games from as far back as 1993.

The Elder Scrolls: Arena was the first game in the franchise. It missed its launch deadline of Christmas 1993 and was released in March 1994, a supposedly bad time for game releases. It would seem that harsh reviews and general bugginess would doom the franchise to an early death. However, sales began to build, followed by word of mouth and Arena became a cult hit.

So what follows in the Elder Scrolls setting? Daggerfall, Redguard (a spinoff,) Morrowind, Oblivion and finally Skyrim. Each was set in a different region of Tamriel, reflected in the title name. Each became successful in its own right, with the last three titles garnishing critical acclaim.

So what does all of that have in common with this Elder Scrolls’ latest incarnation as an MMO?

Tamriel. Or specifically, those previously mentioned locations all in a single game. Yes, Daggerfall (or rather Hammerfell, where the city of Daggerfall is located,) Vvardenfell of Morrowind, the Imperial region of Cyrodiil in Oblivion, and finally, Skyrim. Other regions such as High Rock and those yet unseen are also in TESO. What is exciting about all of this, especially to those who have played and enjoyed the entire franchise, is revisiting these locations of old, seen through new eyes. It should be noted that Cyrodiil is actually a player versus player zone where the three player factions, Daggerfall Covenant, Aldmeri Dominion and Ebonheart Pact vie for control of the region.

The races that the player can choose from at character generation are, of course, those that were featured in the Elder Scrolls single player games: Breton, Redguard, Argonian, High Elf, Wood Elf, Dark Elf, Orc, Nord, Kadjit and (with the pre-order Imperial edition) Imperial. Each of these races have unique bonuses. Actual character generation is a very involved process, with sliders to control just about every aspect, from body weight to facial features. Other features include tattoos and scars. Currently, MMOs such as Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan field this level of detail on character customization to some degree. Perhaps TESO will set the benchmark in that area as well.

Once the player is free from the starter dungeon (spoiler free zone here,) quest lines are revealed, from the character’s main storyline to side quests. Character progression, crafting and spellcrafting is very reminiscent of the single player games, specifically Skyrim. And, yes, there is a Fighters’ and Mages’ Guild. The game world itself is sprawling and huge, as would be expected when combining the landscapes of all the previous Elder Scrolls titles, plus additional regions. Walking is time consuming, so the player is highly encouraged to acquire a mount as soon as possible, though Wayshrines greatly alleviate long distance travel.

The only downside to The Elder Scrolls Online is the monthly subscription, a triple hit on console players (IP server fees, console online fees—with the exception of Playstation, as well as the $15 subscription fee.) When so many successful MMOs are free-to-play with cash shop set-ups, this seems a step backwards. However, as was the case with other MMOs that were once subscription only, this may change in the future.

Overall, The Elder Scrolls Online may set a new benchmark for MMOs, with its aggressively unconventional class progression and rich history as set forth in the previous single player games.

Editorial by Lee Birdine

Author’s own experience with TESO beta (NDA lifted)