Ever since I played Morrowind I always wanted to go on an Elder Scrolls adventure with my friends online. Modders have attempted to shoehorn in co-op in the past with very little success because the engine was never built to support such a thing, but I’ve installed many of them and always hoped someone would come along and make my dreams of a good Elder Scrolls game come true. Then Elder Scrolls Online came around and dashed every hope I ever had.
People like me have wanted a multiplayer Elder Scrolls experience since Daggerfall, but no one wanted this. Elder Scrolls Online looked like a generic MMO with Elder Scrolls window dressing form the onset, and all hands on experiences with the beta and promotional builds of the game seem to reinforce this. But to really nail down what is wrong with Elder Scrolls Online we need to talk about what makes the Elder Scrolls games unique.
The Elder Scrolls games are visceral first person fantasy adventures that before all else seek to transport you to an open and dynamic virtual world. As the hero to of the story destined by the stars to save the world from some cataclysm foreseen in the Elder Scrolls, you have the freedom of going about saving the world in any way you see fit. You aren’t held back by traditional fantasy character archetypes or even morality. You can walk around using a bow, swords, axes, and slinging spells in equal measure in any combination you find useful. You can take those skills to protect the weak, or slaughter whole towns to loot them. Speaking of looting, the world is populated with realistic items with tons of things like cups and adornments that hold no game value but are what you would find in a home actually lived in by a person living in this world. The first person combat felt visceral and real, although the weight of combat has fallen behind in recent entries, as well as the realistic method of progression. By doing certain actions those skills level up, like training in real life, as opposed to being picked through a menu, by Skyrim went back on that a bit and introduced a perks system that felt more “gamey.”
Elder Scrolls Online feels like World of Warcraft and every other “hotbar” MMO. Combat has no weight as you spam out buttons from select resource pools set on a server side timer, your character follows traditional MMO class progression sets to fulfill static roles, and the world is nowhere near as interactive. When pressed by displeased fans, the developers of Elder Scrolls Online said that transferring the gameplay of a single player Elder Scrolls game online wasn’t technically feasible, despite the fact that games like Neocron had actually achieved this over a decade ago.
The game’s pricetag is set to an astounding $60 purchase with a $15 a month service charge thereafter, which few MMO’s price themselves at these days. Many suspect the game will go free to play soon thereafter, and there is very little positivity about that prospect. Overall the game seems doomed from the onset, and worse still this means that a proper co-op experience imbedded in a proper Elder Scrolls game probably won’t happen any time soon as not to compete directly with this product. All we’ve wanted was to go on the same dynamic and immersive adventures the single player games gave us with a friend or three. No one really asked for whole towns to be populated with players, or even an MMO by any stretch of the imagination. They could have developed an Elder Scroll game from the top down that just delivers this co-op experience and people would have thrown money at Bethesda for the privilege, maybe even stomached a monthly fee for dedicated server hosting a la Phantasy Star Online. It would likely have cost far less to develop to boot, and would likely have been a far more profitable product in the end as a much more well received one by fans and gamers alike.
Things do not bode well for the world of Tamriel, and the damaged caused by Elder Scrolls Online may be felt for a very long time.