Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Elder Scrolls Online will be terrible


The Elder Scrolls Online. It is being developed by Zenimax Online Studios, a development team separate from the one that crafts the single player Elder Scrolls series.

This past decade there has really only been one MMO that experienced overwhelming success both critically and monetarily, and that is World of Warcraft. Many have tried to usurp its throne, but all have failed to match its popularity. This year, another contender has risen in an attempt to woo gamers away from Blizzard's panda shaped ATM. I am speaking of course, about The Elder Scrolls Online.

You are probably quite familiar with the Elder Scrolls series of games, developed by Bethesda. These are sprawling single player epics, known for their open worlds, depth of gameplay, and endless amount of quests and opportunities. As a result, they've been lauded by gamers across the globe. To this day, even the ancient Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind continues to be a fan favorite, thanks in part to a healthy modding community. Suffice it to say, Oblivion and Skyrim, its successors, are also still incredibly popular among gamers (as can be seen in my last article about modding in Skyrim).

Why do I say that the MMO version of these games will be terrible? It's common sense really! Just look at Star Wars: The Old Republic. Sure, it's a decent enough MMO. But compared to Knights of the Old Republic or Knights of the Old Republic II, the single player games it was based off of, it's pretty mediocre. The combat in KOTOR isn't that great, for instance; some even find it to be unplayable. But even that game's strange system of turn based combat is less frustrating than the laggy, unresponsive, headache inducing action-bar-fest that is SWTOR's "combat." (2/19/2014 update: OK, so SWTOR's combat isn't that bad. I've been playing it a bit lately and it no longer is as buggy as it was at launch. Still, there are several MMOs that do it better).

The story in SWTOR suffers greatly compared to its predecessors as well, which is incredibly sad considering the fact that its development cost was far greater. The tale of Revan and the Exile absolutely crushes that of any of the class stories in SWTOR, clear evidence that MMOs in general sacrifice decent story and gameplay for microtransactions, grindfests, boring endgame raids, and a horrific number of trash mobs and pointless kill/gather quests. SWTOR does have moments where its stories match something you would find in a single player rpg, but those are few and far between. 

This will be no different in the case of ESO, which is why it will be terrible and why gamers will start leaving it a couple months after they try it out. No matter how noble Zenimax Online Studios' intentions are, they are bound to screw up some aspect of their MMO in a monumental fashion. As we have seen with Bioware and SWTOR, basing your MMO on a successful single player franchise is no guarantee that it will be a success.

Some might argue that Zenimax is trying to implement aspects of the TES games into their MMO, such as first person combat and exploration-based questing. Well I say baloney. I mean, I love the idea, but let's be serious. We've all been tricked by this before with SWTOR. That game was supposed to give you a story worthy of a single player game in an MMO, and though it was decent, it was brought down in the end by Bioware's inexperience in dealing with the other aspects of an MMO. Today, they've completely ditched the idea of class stories altogether.

As much as I have enjoyed Zenimax published games in the past, there is no doubt in my mind that they will royally screw up in some aspect when building their online world. If I am wrong, more power to them. But as the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me thrice, and I'm a dumbass. I've already been down this road with SWTOR and Guild Wars 2, it'll take something absolutely spectacular to get me to even try ESO.

Besides, if I really wanted to get my Elder Scrolls fix, I could always just play modded Skyrim, which probably offers more content and opportunity for fun than ESO ever could. The social aspect of ESO will be interesing, but will it be worth having to experience watered down gameplay? Bethesda is already known for crappy combat and buggy game engines in their single player games, how am I supposed to trust them with an MMO? Especially when MMOs generally already have boring combat compared to single player games?

Even if Zenimax somehow manages to NOT muck up the combat, story, and world, they still have an entirely different issue to tackle in terms of the endgame. It's what killed SWTOR and Guild Wars 2, and it's what keeps WoW on top of the industry. Simply put, people trust Blizzard to give them things to do at the level cap. SWTOR had nothing really to speak of in terms of an endgame when it released. Guild Wars 2 thought it could rely on people playing dynamic quests over and over, and didn't have much for their level capped players to do either.

What will ESO have? Raids? That sounds great, but not very Elder Scrolls-y. I'm used to taking down the big bad by myself in Skyrim, why downgrade and play as some peon who needs to work with others to get anything accomplished, especially when considering the logistics that entails? I suppose you could make that criticism about all MMOs, but it would feel especially wrong in an Elder Scrolls game.

Say what you will about WoW, but there is a reason why it continues to define the MMO genre. It's polished, has heaps of content, gets a huge expansion every two years, and always has a diverse amount of endgame content to keep you busy. And of course, there are still millions playing it, meaning the game world actually feels alive. 

Unfortunately for ESO, WoW's next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, releases sometime this year. If I had to bet, it'll come out in the summer after people have gotten sick of whatever issues they are having with ESO. Then, as always, people will either run back to WoW or revert back to single player games like Skyrim or Fallout or any number of alternatives.

Though this is a highly pessimistic article, I will close by saying that I would be thrilled if ESO succeeded. Years of getting hyped for the next big MMO have, however, jaded me. I gave SWTOR and Guild Wars 2 the benefit of the doubt and was totally let down after playing them for a couple months. They were decent games, but WoW did pretty much everything they did better. ESO might be different enough to separate itself from direct comparisons to WoW, but will that matter? Will its combat be good enough? Will the world be fun to explore? Will there be an endgame? Will there be a functioning Auction House? Will you actually feel like a hero or just some poor sap in the warriors guild that the Dragonborn could crush in the blink of a fus-ro-dah? Will the game's MMO aspects get in the way of the player actually having fun (looking at you SWTOR, with your endless halls of trash and crappy combat system)? Will it be worth giving Zenimax $15 a month when you could pay the same amount to play Warlords of Draenor later in the year? All problematic questions for anyone planning to play The Elder Scrolls Online.

I'll gladly eat crow if ESO turns out to be the next big thing. That being said, I won't be fooled by early press reports lauding the game as I was with Guild Wars 2, either. This time, and I advise everyone to do this, I'll wait a year before even thinking about ESO, and even then it will have to be really spectacular to make it worth investing a serious amount of time into. By then, most of the bugs will probably be ironed out. No promises though. (At least they aren't using the gamebryo engine)!








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