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Elder Scrolls Online Column: The Solo Game

By Garrett Fuller on February 12, 2013

We have talked a lot about many aspects of ESO in recent weeks but there are still huge areas of interest that need to be covered. Hopefully with convention season on the way we will see a lot more of the game at shows like PAX and E3 this spring. One area though that continues to keep me thinking about is the solo game. As much as MMOs are social, the Elder Scrolls games have always been solo affairs. The question here is how will the team at ZeniMax incorporate this solo friendly feel into their game?

The first key to this equation is their open world. Even though the game is divided into three factions, there is still a lot of exploring to do. The best part of Skyrim for me is picking a direction and wandering down a path. It really opens up your gameplay experience. It makes you think, and you can enjoy the game on your own without following question marks and exclamation points. If you stumble into a quest, great, if not you kind of make your own up. I have enjoyed this type of gameplay in other games as well.

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Ultima Online was pure open world, so instead of being told to go kill a Dragon, you simply took the risk of going in the cave or dungeon where you knew they were. From what ESO has said in their interviews they want to have an open world exploring feel to their games. For me this is critical to solo play. Sure you will do quests and find NPCs who need help; that is common. However, it is the true free-form play that needs to be captured in the open world setting. If they can get this part right, there should be a lot of happy explorers out there searching the corners of the world.

We have done a lot of articles on crafting lately. One of the things Paul Sage had said about crafting which is entirely true is that in theme park MMOs crafters could never get the top tier gear. They would spend hours crafting only to fall short of the raid content items. This was always a huge injustice to me. The main reason I almost never craft in an MMO is because I never have too. I can always get the best gear without it. If you are playing solo though, this is a major part of the game. It is all about being self-sufficient. My main character in Skyrim has both 100 Blacksmithing and 100 Enchanting. I can make insanely powerful weapons and armor. That really is the core of how I built my character up. The one thing that is desperately needed if you are going to have an in depth crafting system is player vendors.

Paul Sage knows all about this from his Ultima days. You can use some kind of auction house system, but player vendors are awesome. If you host player housing, then allowing players to put shops out front really opens up a lot for crafters and shoppers alike. This part of MMOs was completely lost in World of Warcraft and the age of the themepark MMO.

The final piece to this puzzle is random loot. Random loot is one of the greatest things you can find as a player. As you are reading walk yourself through this scenario: You are out exploring the world. You come upon a group of Ice Trolls on the side of a mountain. They attack you and you begin an epic battle to smite the trolls. As you crush the last troll near the end of your life bar, you finally get into the reward stage of the encounter. You can search the chest, or the trolls themselves. One of them happens to carry a kick ass great hammer that you know will last you a good five levels. No quests, no time sink, just pure random fun. If the game has a healthy supply of random loot on monsters and in encounter zones players will be encouraged to explore the game more. If developers can hype up the idea of random loot being out there and encourage players early on to explore there will be a lot of solo players out there hunting around and filling in their maps... and randomly happening upon other players and grouping naturally.

So as stats from recent games show more and more people are playing MMOs solo, let’s hope that this year’s biggest MMO is thinking along these lines. The team has some of the top veterans working on the game and I think they definitely have the solo player in mind. As much as I am excited to enter into Tamriel with my friends, I am also looking for that same experience I got from Skyrim and the other Elder Scrolls games to be fused with the social aspects of an MMO. Some nights you just want to do your own thing, right?

What do you think of TESO and the idea of solo play?  Is it a must, or not? Let us know below!


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