I’ve been a fan of the Elder Scrolls franchise since way, way back. I’m talking Morrowind here, with its chunky, square characters, its rigid, stiff voice acting and its curiously loveable charm. And Oblivion – don’t get me started on Oblivion – that game took countless hours of my life, completing every guild, every mission, I even quested to find every location – I easily spent a year’s worth of gaming in Cyrodil. Not that I would have spent it anywhere else, I mean, what else would I do, socialise?
As of Skyrim, my loyalty to the Elder Scrolls only grows stronger, and I trust Bethesda to keep strong their brilliance in their range of RPG gaming. But, as of 2014 my fidelity to the franchise is wavering, as I remain uncertain and wary of the upcoming hit, The Elder Scrolls Online.
There are many reasons why I’m cautious of the MMORPG set in Tamriel, whether they are personal issues or gamer-wide concerns that people share I am not certain, but it would seem, from many reviews of the Beta and complaints of the fans, that I am not the only one on the fence. For me, my largest difficulty with the game is the MMO aspect – I’m not a fan of the genre. I feel that MMOs heavily focus on grinding, lack story depth and universal identity, and are generally a place for trolls to roam and ruin the experience for others – and I mean the internet kind of troll, not the ones you find in the snowy peaks of Skyrim.
As far as narratives go, I feel they are the skeleton of a game – it cannot stand without a story – or, it can, but it will wobble back and forth and eventually topple to its inevitable doom. It was the story of the Dark Brotherhood that truly drew me into Oblivion, the intrigue, the betrayal, the character development; by the end, I was genuinely pained by Lucien Lachance’s fate, crying even, because the narrative had absorbed me so well I had grown attached to him. Ok, I’m a loser, I know it – but a story makes a game! And, with MMOs, I feel they sacrifice the narrative for the multi-player, and perhaps spend much of their budget paying for the online system and technology, rather than hiring writers.
I remember my first experience with World of Warcraft, I was consistently badgered and bothered by players who just thought it’d be fun to taunt me because they could, and because of it I couldn’t help disliking the game. MMOs risk online bullying, whereas single player games, or indeed, multi-player to an extent, are much safer and enjoyable, for the people you are with are highly likely to be your friends rather than strangers. This is not aided by ZeniMax Studios’ decision to discard servers and instead set the entire game in one enormous world, so that you cannot even stick to a sever with a low amount of players or create your own. But, of course, many would argue that this one, vast world, allows for a whole new range of multi-player we have never seen before, and brings together Elder Scrolls fans from all over the world – and who could hate that?
Obviously, there is the pricing. As it stands, to play The Elder Scrolls Online, it will cost you $15 a month for a subscription. Doing the maths, that’s $180 a year! Think of the whole range of different games you could buy for that price! A whole console maybe! This doesn’t class for everyone, but I don’t have that kind of money, I’m a student at university and I need cash for food – I mean, I buy games instead, but that’s besides the point.
Much of The Elder Scrolls audience will be young adults, perhaps aged 15-30, a time in life where you’ll likely have a small income, because you’re a student or just starting in a new job. So do they really expect us to easily pay $180 a year to play their game? If they cheapened the price, which I sincerely hope they do one day soon, I’d consider The Elder Scrolls Online a lot more seriously, but as the charge stands, its sadly out of my league. I’d much prefer the game were buy-to-play like the Guild Wars titles. I would happily pay $50 for the Elder Scrolls Online, maybe even more, so long as it were a one-off buy I could earn back.
My other concerns are that it won’t really be an Elder Scrolls game. It will be just another MMO that’s been dressed up in an Elder Scrolls outfit. They’ll throw on the Argonian scarf, the Khajit boots, the Dragonborn coat and the Arrow to the Knee badge, but, in the end, these are only cover ups and skins, and beneath, the base game is no different from any other MMO out there. I never managed to get onto the beta, so I’m not sure if my fears here are valid, but, after research, it would seem I’m not alone.
I absolutely love the universe of the Elder Scrolls, Tamriel is vast and expansive, filled with adventure and chances to explore, with a range of races, cities, regions and worlds to experience, and I would never pass on an opportunity to throw my Wood Elf self right back in there. But, should my fears of its thin skin prove true, it will be like diving into a pool only to realize I hit the shallow end, painful, shocking, and mildly tainted with children’s pee.
There’s much here that Bethesda cannot fix to ease my fears, such as my personal dislike of MMOs and my own poor income. But were they to create an offline slice of The Elder Scrolls Online, or even just take back servers, that allow people who are averse to so many players all around, and maybe lower the price a tad, I would love to be a part of this endeavour. But hey, who knows, if I’m not the only one fearing these things, maybe ZeniMax Studios will hear our Dragonshouts and appease our needs! Wait, you’re telling me Paarthurnax isn’t head of Bethesda? Well, I’ve been living a lie.