Gaming enthusiasts are wondering whether World of Warcraft if about to have a serious challenge to its reign. Yesterday, Bethesda Softworks removed the non-disclosure agreement for the beta testing on their upcoming massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). The MMO is part of the widely popular The Elder Scrolls series, but will be Bethesda’s first attempt at making a multiplayer game. Though it may take a few adjustments, a lot of effort from the publisher, and maybe a few sacrifices, some believe that The Elder Scrolls Online could be the World Of Warcraft’s next big rival.
The game takes place in the same location as all of The Elder Scrolls games, the continent of Tamriel. The continent is divided into nine different provinces, each with its own native race. Unlike previous Elder Scroll games, single player games which usually focus on just one providence throughout the game, The Elder Scrolls Online will allow players to explore the entire continent of Tamriel. The players will play as one of nine races, separated into three factions at war. By joining the factions, players can compete to become the Emperor of Tamriel.
The Elder Scroll games have always encouraged non-linear exploration in their games, and The Elder Scrolls Online will be no different. Bethesda has included diverting paths in quest lines, random events, and other treats that will be sure to cause the players to search under every rock and behind every tree. According to lead gameplay designer, Nick Conkle, the development team wants every player to have the mindset of “I’m just walking and oh, there’s something right there, let me go check it out.” This is different from the World of Warcraft’s linear quest lines, which usually involve killing a certain number of creatures or collecting a certain number of objects to complete the quests.
Though the game is only in the beta stages at the moment, there are some issues and concerns that many players are already commenting on. The first is the subscription model that Bethesda is using for the Elder Scrolls Online. The game will have an initial purchase of $50 and a monthly subscription fee of $15. This decision comes at a time when many popular MMOs are moving to a free-to-play model, with the option of paying for additional content. Matt Firor, the general manager of Zenimax Online Studios who developed ESO, insists that the monthly fee will allow the company to develop the game they want, and the game the players want. Be that as it may, if The Elder Scrolls Online wants to reach numbers that rival the World of Warcraft, the free-to-play model may be the best option.
The combat system is also an issue that has raised complaints from players in the beta sessions. The Elder Scroll series has never had the most inventive of combat systems, often times just a repeated pressing of a button to swing a sword, cast a spell or shoot an arrow. But with the MMO model, Bethesda is presented with a feature that was not a factor in any of their previous single player games: player versus player combat. In order to seamlessly integrate player versus player combat into The Elder Scrolls Online, the combat system will need a serious overhaul to keep players around.
Firor has stated that he and his team are committed to making a MMO that is worthy of The Elder Scrolls franchise. That will be a tall task, as the last Elder Scrolls game, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, sold over 3.5 million units in the first 48 hours from its release. Firor also said that he wants to create “the best MMO ever made.” If Firor and the Elder Scrolls Online team want to make that claim, and be the next to hold the crown, they will need to topple the rival World of Warcraft, who had over 10 million subscribers at its peak. That will be one quest that may take a while to complete.
By Jonathan Gardner