E3 2012: The Elder Scrolls Online offers more questions than answers

the elder scrolls online skipping free to play in favor of monthly subscriptions elderscrollsonlineCheck out our review of The Elder Scrolls Online.

Going in to the private demo for The Elder Scrolls Online I was very curious to see what Zenimax Online had created. At one point or another I’ve played every MMO since Ultima Online, and few have offered as much pre-release promise as this game, if only because The Elder Scrolls series offers such a huge backstory to build off of. Plus, given the massive success of Skyrim, the developer (which is something of a sister-division of Bethesda Softworks) should have the requisite massive bankroll to create a title that can actually compete in the overcrowded, World of Warcraft-dominated MMO space.

Unfortunately, what I saw only left me worried.

In fairness, I will grant that the game looks good. Its aesthetics are polished — architecture and scenery looks nearly identical to that seen in Skyrim, and characters are slightly stylized caricatures of those found in Bethesda’s game — and the superficial gameplay systems seem solid, but beyond that, Zenimax Online seems to be promising quite a few things yet is offering little in the way of explanation as to how it plans to implement them.

For instance, the developer showed off an obviously scripted PvP battle featuring 150 characters, while promising that the final game would see “hundreds” of players in a single conflict. In concept this is great, but over the past decade, so many games have claimed they would offer the same thing, that only the most optimistic fans are willing to believe it can even be done. Likewise, the game is slated to offer public dungeons which anyone can wander into and explore alongside anyone else, regardless of whether they’re in a group or not, yet Zenimax offers no reason why people would want to do this (beyond the ethereal “because exploration is fun” that sounds fine in theory yet never really works out in practice), or how it plans to combat the myriad ways in which players could (and will) use this system to grief one another.

Keep in mind that I only saw a 30-minute, non-interactive video of the PC/Mac title in action, and I still maintain hope that the game will be the truly massive exploration of Tamriel that Elder Scrolls fans have been hoping for since the advent of the MMO genre, but at this point — which, it should be noted, is very early in the game’s development — I can’t recommend anyone hold their breath. At least not until the developers are willing and able to offer more solid information on the game’s various systems.

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