E3 2012: Elder Scrolls Online Impressions

To say that I was underwhelmed when I finally received my first look at the new Elder Scrolls Online would be an understatement. Words like hollow and unimpressed instantly started to fill my head.

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When the first thing I noticed in the character demo at the top of the screen after the pretty panning shots of the different types of scenery was a quest saying something along the lines of killing 20 werewolves to complete a task for someone, I knew I was in for a fair amount of disappointment in thinking that ZeniMax Online was going to provide something different for MMO players.

The story takes place 1,000 years prior to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim during what the game calls the "Age of Heroes". There is a giant battle going on that encompasses all of Tamriel, with three warring factions fighting over the middle nation of Cyrodil: the Daggerfall Covenant of Daggerfall; the Aldmeri Dominion of Hammerfall; and the Ebonheart Pact of Morrowind. Whoever controls the Imperial City can become emperor of the world.

There is a heavy undead theme found in the game - everything from the design of the monsters to the look of the environments and the fact that Cyrodil is ruled over by a Daedric Prince emphasizes this fact.

The plot revolves around this prince, Molag Bal, and how he has stolen your soul and now you need to save the world while attempting to retrieve it. Yeah, it's a pretty flimsy story, but then again, so are most stories of this type.

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The developers seemed to have enjoyed reading the Necronomicon.

The biggest problem I had was the fact that for every feature that the was being touted, I could cite another title  that was doing the same thing and most likely will do it even better.

First off, a major emphasis is socializing with other players. Where this becomes most obvious is the ESO's approach to dungeons. There are group instances where you and your buddies take part in your own battle; heroic dungeons that let you set the difficulty to challenge yourself and garner more experience and better loot; puzzle rooms, which offer things like arranging floor patterns in a specific sequence; and finally public dungeons, which aren't instanced and encourage people to help each other out to overcome challenging obstacles.

There are also giant Player Vs. Player battles where hundreds of players can participate in that includes events such as siege battles and territory control. You have your macros, your mini-map, and health/mana/stamina bars. Giant spiders? Check. Goblins? Check. Ogres? Check. If any of this sounds new to you, then you clearly haven't played an MMO lately. They sure tried to hit those bullet points - so much so that I almost fell asleep in my chair.

Was anyone really asking for an online version of Elder Scrolls? So many games lately take so many queues from the venerable franchise. Even Skyrim's director Todd Howard said that his team would never sacrifice a really solid single player story just to add multiplayer.

In the case of ESO, what we have is a project that simply cannot escape the trappings of a traditional MMO, and at least from the demo I have seen, doesn't go far enough in setting itself apart from the competition. The dynamic story at least sounded interesting and having the feature from Skyrim where a POI appears on your map as you run around the world is pretty neat.

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They spent as much time talking about the PvP as they did about the fact that the HUD appears only when you hover over it.

Sure, this game started development 5 years ago when the landscape was much different and demands to stand apart weren't as high.

In 2007, it would have been okay if you had a game that at least offered something to compete with World of Warcraft on. But lately with even legacy MMOs going the free-to-play route, the demand is even greater on developers to make something as far from traditional as possible.

However, with the stagnating popularity of Star Wars: The Old Republic and the dropping number of subscribers to World of Warcraft, nothing of what I saw that morning convinced me there was something worth investing in. And perhaps the biggest problem I have with is that, all you have to do is take this entire effort and slap another name on it. Is this really an Elder Scrolls game, or is it just another adequate fantasy MMO?

But who knows - maybe once this world is filled with thousands of players, it may just be a much better game than what I am giving it credit for. After all, demoing an MMO is perhaps the hardest thing you can do, outside of demoing an RTS.

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The one good thing I'll give it is that Elder Scrolls Online won't be arriving for another year, so one can only hope that the team at ZeniMax Online will take all of the feedback they have been receiving lately and take a closer look at what fans really want out of an MMORPG today. Bottom line is they need to find their identity and be able to market that for a group that demands more from the genre than what they used to.

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