The next-gen versions have been delayed six months. Maybe that’s a good thing
The Elder Scrolls Online released internationally on the 4th of April. Since then, the reception from players and reviewers has been lukewarm at best, with cries of cash-grab and negligence some of the worse accusations. Fans of the game series have complained heavily about the questionable nature of turning the franchise into an MMO, and newcomers cannot describe the game as anything other than “meh”. Where some of the more controversial releases of this year such as Thief and Bioshock Infinite’s final piece of DLC have received some form of praise or defense from its players, The Elder Scrolls Online has, at most, received a pat on its back and a “better luck next time”.
But what exactly has caused such a backlash against the project? A multiplayer experience themed with the mythos of The Elder Scrolls has been something many players have wanted for ages. Some have gone as far as attempting to create their own, to some success, and there have been other games that have attempted and succeeded in turning an RPG into a cooperative experience.
Bethesda’s developers weren’t deaf to the public’s cry for some form of multiplayer in The Elder Scrolls’ series but they were against the idea, arguing that a multiplayer version of the game would have “lessened the experience”. Which is understandable considering other RPGs have run into the same issue, the most notable one being the acclaimed Fable 2 which had a great single player but a rather annoying multiplayer mode.
TESO, regardless of its merit as an MMO (which is, so far, very low) is a missed opportunity. It has made players think that the series shouldn’t have ever dabbled in multiplayer, despite the popular demand for that feature, and the commentaries about it are almost inescapable. Hell, even some furry webcomics are touching up on it. Personally, I have a different take on the game. A multiplayer version of The Elder Scrolls would have been brilliant if done right. It could have conquered the co-op market where many others failed by simply exploiting the trademarks of the series.
Imagine this for a moment: You’ve been playing Skyrim for a while now and you’ve reached a very difficult quest which you keep failing; your patience is running as low as your mana and supplies with each attempt. That’s when you notice that your buddy’s just fired up his copy of Skyrim and you figure, “Maybe I could ask for some help”. You get him to join your session, and by combining your mage’s destructive powers with the raw strength of his warrior you manage to obliterate the quest. You share some of the loot, and maybe even go into town and make a mess of the town’s inn as celebration.
Maybe you’re playing the PC version, and you’ve downloaded a few cool mods that you want to show your friend. No worries! With the steam workshop you could have your friend join and automatically download the files needed. You could play custom quests, share new armor or just mess around with game breaking mods.
It would be a brilliant idea, and one that would almost certainly attract a lot of people into The Elder Scrolls. After all, who wouldn’t want to tag along with their friends and explore a vast environment like the one in Skyrim? So why doesn’t it work as an MMO? The simple answer is balancing. The long answer is that you don’t want to just explore Skyrim’s landscape, you want to explore what Skyrim’s whole game package can offer you as an RPG, not as a clone of World of Warcraft.
Immersion is one of those key elements from the series that is completely lost when you attempt to translate it from a more confined and personalized experience into an open-world MMO. Everything needs to be as generic as possible (both in the story and mechanical sense) which makes for a much less enchanting, even meaningful experience, not to mention the amount of glitches can increase tenfold:
You could say either way that an MMO would give you more instances for group play, allow for greater numbers for events and give you a better, sturdier framework for questing with friends. Yet the game barely manages to bring this idea to work by making each character have to do the objective on their own, and sometimes even pulling them out into a different instance in order to keep them separate from one another.
Whatever potential there is to actually share the game with your friends and guild-mates, which is one of, if not the biggest selling point of an MMO, is completely wasted by trying to replicate the feeling of the single player experience of the other Elder Scrolls games in an MMO setting. This could have just as easily been done in the framework of the other games just by adding and refining a cooperative mode (which, like I stated earlier, is not too far-fetched).
Maybe they were right and The Elder Scrolls should have never tried to go into a multiplayer world to begin with, but the fact remains the same; there was a huge opportunity ready to be exploited that could have been truly amazing, yet what we got felt less like a carefully crafted videogame and more like a quickly slapped together mess. We can only hope that the next installment of the series tries to stick closer to its roots, while at the same time isn’t afraid to make the most out of a proper co-operative Elder Scrolls experience.