This has been my main thought concerning The Elder Scrolls Online recently. I’d like to think that I have a pretty open mind when it comes to games, and I don’t just offhandedly dismiss a game simply because it’s not one of my preferred styles. I play games from all styles, and all forms, and will try anything once.
So being a huge Elder Scrolls fan, when I received a beta invite for TESO I excitedly jumped in head first! What I saw in TESO, though, confused me.
See, if you’re going to create a game based on previous fantastic games, it needs to retain the same “feel”. Mechanics can change, for example, but the Final Fantasy games have always “felt” like Final Fantasy. Why was there so much flak about the new Dungeon Keeper game? The feeling changed, it went from a fun dungeon builder to a P2W time grind. Why has the Assassin’s Creed series been so successful? The feeling has stayed the same.
The Elder Scrolls Online simply doesn’t feel like Elder Scrolls.
I should know that feel, too. Of the Elder Scrolls games I have fully completed, there’s Arena, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. The only one I haven’t really played is Daggerfall. That’s always been on my list of games to play, though, and I do plan on eventually getting around to it. How could I not? It’s one of my favorite series.
So I went into TESO already having a loose plan about my character. I was going to be swinging a one hand mace, bearing a shield, wearing leather armor, and wielding a combo of illusion magic and healing magic. This combo in other TES games is wicked. The shield gives great survivability and control, the mace stuns, the armor is light enough to be stealthy, but can take a few hits, illusion magic confuses enemies, gives more control, and healing gives me an “oh shit” button. It’s a stealth character overall, very rogue-esque but in a “hiding in plain sight” sort of way, and awesome to play.
Well what did I find when I got there? Same old trinity. I was told my build would be most suited for a healer, and that it would be a bad healer. I’d have to get a staff, and ditch the leather armor. I’d be crippling my character from the start. Listen, I get it, it’s an MMO and has to come with the illusions of choice that gamers demand. MMOs “have to work” under “trinity guidelines” with “classes” in order to “work right”. Or something. It has to be just like every other MMO out there or it will fail… for reasons.
And the questing, although I hear it’s a little different when you reach the top, is still very linear. Right off the boat (or right out of jail, as most Elder Scrolls games work), I couldn’t just pick a direction and go, only coming back to the main story when I reach a “oh yeah, I forgot that was even there” moment. I’ve heard you can do this once you reach higher levels, but by then what’s the point? You’ve already been led by the carrot from ride to ride, and suddenly be given a different game. Well where was that game in the beginning? Consistency is much better than Bait and switch.
In other words, it may have the lore and be dressed as Elder Scrolls but it doesn’t have that feeling, that spark, that makes the Elder Scrolls games a masterpiece of modern gaming. This difference is more than enough to kill it for me.
The sad thing is that if the game wasn’t using the Elder Scrolls IP and was using a totally new IP, I would probably have more interest. But this? This is a spinoff. Just like the show Joey was a spinoff of Friends.
Will it do well? Who is the primary audience? Elder Scrolls fans like myself, who see it for what it is? Or MMO fans who don’t see much bother in playing single player games, but want the powerful zeitgeist that is Elder Scrolls? I really hope it does well. I’m curious to see if ZeniMax can keep up the expectations of monthly, meaningful content (at least past the first three months). And who knows, down the line it may turn into a game that lives up to the Elder Scrolls name, and I may find myself picking it up when it goes on sale.
However, until it starts living up to that name I’ll be on the sidelines holding onto my wallet in the hopes of receiving a product I’ll be happy with.