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Zenimax Online Studios | Official Site
MMORPG | Genre:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 04/04/14)  | Pub:Bethesda Softworks
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Elder Scrolls Online Previews: Zenimax' MMO Philosophy

By Garrett Fuller on October 22, 2012

You hear game developers talk about design a lot. You hear them talk about philosophy almost as much. The best part of the Elder Scrolls Online presentation last Wednesday was that we heard about the design and the philosophy behind the game, and then we immediately played it. For anyone who had doubts about Zenimax Online Studios’ monster undertaking, it is time to end those doubts. The game is playable, and it is amazing. So what did the team do to really introduce the hardcore press to the game last week? They gave us their design ideals, and then sat us in front of the game for three straight hours. You know you have a good game, when no one gets up for lunch.  But let’s go over how ZOS introduced their core philosophy behind the game to us all.

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Zenimax was serious about getting the enthusiats press into the room to explain Elder Scrolls Online. Players of this genre cannot be fooled by marketing or parlor tricks. We need gameplay, and that’s what counts. So Matt Firor and team kept the introduction to the game short. Paul Sage, the Creative Director, talked about some of the core concepts behind the game. At its core, they wanted ESO to be a great RPG with four very strong elements: combat, questing, customization, and the idea that an MMO is premium service and something more than “just a game”.

They also wanted to reflect the Elder Scrolls in art and style, especially in the world and landscapes. Gameplay is paramount to the team and so they followed a few key areas to bring out the best for the game. World Immersion is very important similar to the Elder Scrolls RPGs of the past. Strategic and reactive combat is also very important. Couple those two with a unique progression system and you have the basics for a very solid RPG. The MMO aspects come in with building a very strong social experience. The game encourages players to help out and work together. So whether you are defending your faction or exloring landscapes, there is a lot to do as a team or solo depending on your play-style. They want every player to hop into ESO and be able to play how they want, just like players do in Skyrim or Oblivion.

Paul talked about bringing the MMO and Elder Scrolls crowds together and how the team plans to accomplish this somewhat daunting union. Elder Scrolls players have come to expect certain design aspects in their games: a living world, established lore, familiar combat, different ways to complete tasks, and being able to play however you want are all very important to the Elder Scrolls IP. Beautiful landscapes and choices that matter also really come into play for gamers in the single player RPGs. These elements are all very heavily embedded into Elder Scrolls Online. They want players to know they are in an Elder Scrolls game like any other, only now they can play with their friends.

For MMO players there are also a list of important core elements for any game. Meaningful PvP, strong story, exploration-based content, a variety of gameplay elements, strong social aspects, and of course bringing something new to the genre itself are all very important. The team purposefully removed rotation based combat from the game to make the fighting more dynamic and fast-paced. The user-interface comes and goes when you enter combat so you can see as much of the world when exploring. No giant UI cluttering the screen here. The small hotbar has skills to use, but they have no cool downs. If you have the magic or stamina to use skills and spells, you can… that is until you run out of resources.

The two things that really impressed us were the exploration content and PvP. Even though you were following quest lines, there was always something over the horizons. New areas would pop up with new quests that you could pursue or choose not too. This made for a very open world feeling which still had a common thread for players to follow. While we did not get to do any PvP, we very much sat in awe of the videos they showed and also the lay out of the zones that the team is building. Cyrodiil will be the main warfront. It is huge and there are lots of objectives and open areas to fight over. The game will have a keep system similar to Dark Age of Camelot. However, Brian Wheeler (PVP Designer) quickly added that there will be a multitude of PvP areas in to fight over: some with more open areas and some with choke points. He basically said he wants to make sure solo PvP players, S.E.A.L Team 6 PvP players, and large zergs all have something to do in the zone that helps out their Alliance.

The Elder Scrolls Online team seeks to bring together two groups of players to come up with a very solid design for the game. While playing it, I didn’t even look down to learn I had leveled until someone mentioned that I had skills to take. I was too busy exploring the world and following a very cool quest for the Ebonheart Pact. Ebonheart will be the Dark Elves, Nords, and Argonians. We got to see the opening areas playing from level two to about fifteen. We traveled from Skyrim to Morrowind and had plenty to explore. We did find the Public Dungeon at the end of our play session which Bill and I explored as well. More on the game session itself in the other articles though.

To wrap up because there's plenty more to talk about in other articles, Elder Scrolls Online really surprised us this past week. The gameplay is spot on and feels truly like an Elder Scrolls game. It melds Skyrim’s offline solo experience with MMO elements into a perfect sauce of awesome. The team has not shown too much up until this point and a lot of the promotion at E3 seemed scattered and missing focus, we can admit that. Well, Zenimax did their homework and sat down with some of the most devout MMO journalists out there. They had all of us surprised and enthralled by the end of the day. Elder Scrolls Online will be a refreshing additiom to the MMO landscape, and I cannot wait to play it more. 

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