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In answer to Pete @Dragonchasers, what TESO says about the state of MMOs

I was perusing my Google Reader list of “Must Read Blogs” recently and came across a post from Pete at Dragonchasers. In it, he asks succinctly: does the apathy surrounding The Elder Scrolls Online mean we’re just done with MMOs; are we getting tired of the whole concept. Interesting thought and one well worth considering.

To get right to it, I don’t think it’s anything of the sort. If anything, I think the interest level in MMOs as a concept is higher now than it has ever been. There is no shortage of well-to-do titles coming down the pipeline and even more available right now; and like I’ve mentioned in the past, I think the idea of massively connected gaming has been a foregone conclusion since mainstream consoles first went online. As more PS3 and 360 games do their best to connect thousands and millions of players into synchronous and asynchronous networks, and as PC games scale back their aspirations into MOBAs and lobbies and Diablo multiplayer, I believe we’re arriving at a point where even if the expectation isn’t for World of Warcraft levels of shared inhabitance, we’re certainly entering into a time when players expect to connect with their friends anytime and anywhere.

But I digress. MMOs. Like him, my immediate follow-up is to Guild Wars 2. Interest level is high and expectations are even higher, perhaps cripplingly so. Yet fundamentally, and I mean the real brass tacks of MMO tropes here, it’s not a whole lot different than what TESO seeks to offer. Action bars? Check. Levels? Check. Shared world with dungeons and monsters? Check. Yet Guild Wars is leaps and bounds ahead of Elder Scrolls on any metric of hype meter.

The reason, I think, is that Zenimax has epitomized what it means to show up late to the party. Even though Stephen Totilo posits that it’s not as much like World of Warcraft as we might assume, it’s also firmly inside a box filled with the collective sighs of millions of MMO fans tired of more of the same. Their main contributions to the MMO genre consist of real-time blocking, a stamina bar, three faction PVP, and open world dungeons. While each of those might be fun in their own right, they do next to nothing to excite gamers. We’ve seen it before. All of it. Every single thing they’ve shown us is a rehash of an idea we’ve already played with a thin layer of Elder Scrolls lacquered on top.

And I mean thin. The only definitive way to know you’re playing an Elder Scrolls game is to stumble into an iconic area or monster. They’ve dropped the first-person perspective for third. They’ve dropped the world influence to make everyone a hero. They’ve dropped the character building for leveled spells. They’ve dropped player freedom for leveled zones. They’ve dropped everything that makes an Elder Scrolls game an Elder Scrolls game. And they wonder why interest is low? Simple. TESO is a potentially fun, yet defeated out of the gate, fantasy game of the most generic sort. And let’s face it, Elder Scrolls has never been original. It was never the draw, never a feature worth noting, and never, it seems, sought after since the series first appeared. It was always the gameplay and TESO has axed it.

In short, TESO is the perfect example of why it sucks to be an MMO designer: By the time you’ve accomplished your design goals the industry has moved on. If you’re lucky, you adapted during development. If you’re not, you’re TESO.

All that out there, the game reminds me of Vanguard, a game which never got its due despite some really excellent world and atmosphere. TESO could be a lot of fun. Really it could. They just have a whole lot to prove if they want to overcome the distinction of being the most underwhelming MMO of 2012 (and probably ’13).

2 comments

  1. Atnor

    If the game were an updated Vanguard, not run by SOE…. Heck,sign me up 🙂

    Overall, I agree. Not that interested in another generic, uninspiring mmo we’ve seen numerous variations of already.

    1. Chris

      Same here! I was pretty fond of Vanguard. Too bad it took so long for them to take it F2P.

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