As we grow closer to the April 4th launch date of the highly anticipated The Elder Scrolls Online, scores of fans have been flocking to the open betas like a moth to a light bulb. There is not a single ounce of doubt that Elder Scrolls brings a very large group of diehard fans to the MMO plate and has a built in lore that many in the gaming community are already familiar with. The question I had, as I signed up for the beta, is very simple “what does this game want to be?”
I remember playing Elder Scrolls: Oblivion on my Xbox 360 during launch week and instantly falling in love with the beauty of every aspect of the game. For the first time in my gaming life, there was a game that could be played multiple times in very different ways and I was still intrigued. Once I beat the game with a Breton Warrior, I played as an Argonian, then as a Dark Elf. All with different weapons and skills and signs. Yes there was a common main storyline and thread of side missions but the way you had to approach the game and gear was vastly different. It is one of the very few launch era games that has avoided the dreaded trip to the game exchange for a 99 cent store credit.
As I transitioned to online MMOs as my main focus of gaming, specifically World of Warcraft and Guild Wars, in the back of my mind I craved a new Elder Scrolls game. Once Skyrim was released, I quit WoW and re-entered the world that only Bethesda knew how to present. However, for the first time I began to ask myself whether Elder Scrolls was capable of pulling of a WoW type game using the MMO aspect and need for friends to fully appreciate the game. The truth is Elder Scrolls was a perfect fit for this idea.
It was not long after this, the teaser video for Elder Scrolls Online came and built up anticipation from fans of the series. Then came the beta. The first chance many of us have been waiting for. The question is did they figure out what they were going to be?
Before I go any further, realize that unlike 90% of the people who play this game, I am not looking for it to be anything like World of Warcraft. I do not care if it is a World of Warcraft killer. Quite frankly, I have enjoyed many games that were being compared to WoW (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeon’s and Dragons Neverwinter, Tera to name a few).
Now back to the story. It is apparent from the get go that Elder Scrolls Online is more concerned with maintaining the look and feel that fans of the game are used to than trying to modify the series to match the “competitors.” The same classes you have grown used to are the same as the console game and come with all of the customization you have come to expect from an Elder Scrolls game. The environment looks straight out of Skyrim and gameplay, especially in first person, looks almost identical to Skyrim. Unfortunately, I am not sure what to think of this.
First of all, while I understand lore of the game, I am questioning why the creators did not choose to introduce a new race to the fans of the game. I would have enjoyed seeing a different type of character introduced to the game, even a Zombie would have made me happier. Speaking of characters, I think the fact that the creators put class restrictions on the races shortchanges the players. There are many players out there who want full customization of their characters. They do not want to be to tied down to utilizing only what the game says is okay.
The graphics again are a concern to me simply because it feels so familiar. I remember the destruction Oblivion created in the game and how as you transitioned from one area to the next you could feel the amount of damage that was caused. In Skyrim, we were given the various dragon temples, shrines, destroyed towns, and towns built around races. Unfortunately, ESO is lacking any definitive character or charm per se. (at least at the beta stage). This is not to say it is ugly or horrible by any means, but the game does not add anything new in terms of environment. You have your mountains, your water, your hated Nirnroot, the ability to mine and gather to your heart’s content. Sadly though at this point, the game feels like your 10th trip to Disneyland, it is fun and a vacation but nothing really feels new.
For all the cosmetic nitpicking I have done, the real meat is in the gameplay itself. The controls are your typical keyboard gameplay controls. You unlock skill points by finding sky shards and you can learn new attacks which are controlled by your numbers on the keyboard. The point and attack style is nothing new. The point of the game though is to be an MMO and unfortunately I am not seeing the reason for it yet. I am sure once guilds and raids and the PVP areas start popping up, the MMO aspect of the game will take flight. However, it the beta stage you can play through all 20 levels without ever seeking the help of another person. That’s not a good sign to me. True MMO’s rely on the multiplayer aspect to create a fully integrated game. There are things you can do alone and most importantly there are a lot of things that you need the assistance of your fellow players and their chosen skill classes. If Elder Scrolls Online plans to be a success in the long term, they need to make this the focus of their game. If not, they will chase off any player within the first 30 days.
Now on to my biggest gripe. What the hell is Bethesda thinking with their entry level price points for the game? The basic PC version will set you back the traditional console price of $59.99 as well as the $15 a month subscription fee, which is a little high compared to the $49.99 w/ $15 subscription fee of the competition. The real salt in the wound is the Imperial Edition which gives you access to the game early, the Imperial Class, a mount, a pet, and some in game gear for, wait for it, $99 freaking dollars. Now before you go jumping up and down about other game’s luxury box sets let me explain. This is Elder Scrolls Online, an unproven game based on a successful console series. It is a game that is being released in to a fairly monopolistic MMORPG market. It has not proven itself successful or here for the long-haul. For all we know this game could end up F2P before summer hits, (I’m looking at you Star Wars, stealing my $50 then giving the game away for free and going F2P). If this package was for the console version of the game, not online but console only, I would not complain as Elder Scrolls has proven their mettle on that medium. I just think that ESO better have a contingency plan if they do go F2P because those who do buy that set are going to very upset to watch their game go F2P after they spent good money to be ahead. I understand that the company needs to make their money back in the first 3 months in order to recoup the costs of the game itself while using the subscription fees to turn profit, but shame on you Bethesda.
In the end, the gameplay beta is much better than you would expect but still feels very familiar. If you enjoy that then this is the game for you. If you crave change, you may want to wait and see. It is important that we keep in mind this is still the beta of the game, but with the April 4th release date quickly approaching, it is hard to believe any major changes will be rolled out. Part of me feels that ESO is holding out on the good stuff but another part of me believes that once they have our money, they really will not care. At the end of the day I am waiting for the next beta and most importantly the release date itself, but I am still left asking myself “what does this game want to be?” Right now, the only answer I have is they want to be Skyrim online. I hope that this changes….very, very soon.