The announcement I've been waiting for ever since ZeniMax Online Studios was founded has finally arrived: there's a massively multiplayer online Elder Scrolls game on the way. Now I can deliver my list of
demands suggestions for making The Elder Scrolls Online the best MMO it can possibly be.
Sight unseen The Elder Scrolls Online already has a leg up on other games in the MMO market, being based in a setting that's been in a constant state of development for more than 18 years. The first game in the series, Arena, arrived in 1994, and Bethesda's been adding to it ever since.
It's also got Matt Firor as game director, one of the men responsible for Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot. DAoC was a highlight of my lengthy MMO-playing career. With three different realms, each with its own lineup of unique character classes, it was almost three games in one, tied together with one of the most compelling player-versus-player experiences in MMO history.
With the right man at the helm and a rich world to plunder for content, I've no doubt The Elder Scrolls Online will be a rousing success, as long as they include everything I want to see in the game. Things like…
No Traditional Character Classes
The Elder Scrolls series has always been about the player making their own way through the world of Tamriel. There've been character templates, sure, but they were more of a guideline than a rule, giving players ideas rather than locking them into a specific set of skills.
How would completely open character progression fit into the standard MMO holy trinity of tank, healer, and damage? That's left up to the players, as it always has been.
Funcom's upcoming modern day MMO The Secret World features a similar mechanic. Players can invest in any skill they wish, piecing together a build that suits their play style. Experienced players have the options they crave, and character build cards are available to help the less experienced squeeze themselves into an easier-to-manage mould. They could have borrowed the system from older games in The Elder Scrolls series. The Elder Scrolls Online should borrow it back.
In many of today's massively multiplayer online role-playing games the first-person camera is a novelty at best, completely absent at worst. I generally have no problem with this. I've gotten used to playing in third person over the years. It makes manoeuvring through constantly evolving online landscapes much easier.
In fact, there's only one role-playing game series I prefer in first person, and that's The Elder Scrolls. I might not be completely happy with the way combat currently works the series, but with a little tweaking it could make for an incredibly unique and versatile system that's unlike anything we've seen in the MMO genre.
If players want to swap between views, that's fine. Just give me a viable first-person option. And while you're at it…
If we're aiming for Skyrim-level immersion in The Elder Scrolls Online, there's one popular MMO convention that doesn't need to make it into the game: the hot bar. That's the portion of the MMO hud where the player accesses their skills and spells, clicking either their mouse or a corresponding keyboard key to activate them. It's an MMO tradition.
Please kill it.
Bethesda has done a wonderful job in minimising the amount of screen clutter in The Elder Scrolls series. No colourful buttons, no quest-tracking sidebars, no quick-slot displays or indicators of how much gold you've amassed; just a health indicator and a great big beautiful world.
Faction-Based Player Versus Player Combat
An MMO needs player-versus-player combat, but simply throwing in the option to kill your friends isn't good enough for an Elder Scrolls game. If I'm going to raise my sword against my fellow fans, I'm going to need a compelling reason to do so.
Tamriel is a world of intrigue and conflict that's far from ‘this race hates this race, so they fight'. There are powerful forces at work behind-the-scenes, forcing players to throw their lot in with one faction or another in order to survive. Outside of the utter chaos of a PVP server, basing player conflict on factional strife is the only way that randomly killing one's fellow adventurers makes sense.
I'm thinking three or four major factions caught up in a never-ending struggle for dominance. Or better yet, level-based faction tiers that allow players to select their allegiance for each new tier of PVP combat. Side with the Stormcloaks in your 30s, switch over to the Imperial side in your 40s.
It may sound convoluted but hey, isn't that the Dark Age of Camelot guy?
The unprecedented access Bethesda has given players of The Elders Scrolls over the years has resulted in games that are constantly improving via player input. They've not only enhanced the games, they've improved upon them exponentially. One might say that if you aren't playing the PC version of Skyrim with mods you aren't playing the real game.
Mods are easy enough to allow in a single-player experience, but when thousands of players exist in a single world, paying close attention to the competition, policing mods that give others unfair advantage becomes an extremely difficult task.
So? Make a mod-friendly server. Make two. Make three. The non-modding players can enough a pure experience on vanilla servers, and the modders can go freaking crazy. Set up a service like the Steam Workshop for specially certified mods. Keep it cosmetic, or let players toy with the mechanics.
When it comes right down to it, there's one surefire way to make The Elder Scrolls Online one of the most successful massively multiplayer online role-playing games of all-time. See Skyrim? Let me play that with a few hundred of my close friends. Maintain that same spirit of adventure, sprinkle in community, and realise that the bugs we thought were funny in the single-player game won't fly in an MMO environment.
How about you folks? What do you hope to see in The Elder Scrolls Online, aside from yourselves?