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Elder Scrolls Online Column: Voice and Choice

By Michael Bitton on February 25, 2013

The latest Elder Scrolls Online ‘Ask Us Anything’ was especially revealing. In fact, a recent thread right here on our forums would have you believe that the news would have fans shocked. What’s the big deal, then? Well, it appears that Zenimax Online has confirmed that The Elder Scrolls Online will be fully voice acted. I’m not so sure why this would be shocking to anyone given recent trends, but I can tell you that I find myself reassured by this news. Additionally, and no less important, the blog entry confirms that the moral choices that are often part and parcel of the Elder Scrolls experience appear to be alive and well in MMO version of the series.

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Voice acting has been a major element of The Elder Scrolls series for quite some time now. After all, would we have fondly remembered lines such as “Somebody stole my sweet roll!” or “I used to be an adventurer like you, until I took an arrow to the knee,” if not for the game’s voice acting? What about the hilarious and insane delivery of Sheogorath’s dialogue in Oblivion’s ‘Shivering Isles’ expansion? Voice acting does a great deal to enhance the overall Elder Scrolls experience and I’m extremely pleased that I can look forward to fully voiced over, well, everything, in The Elder Scrolls Online. This news is especially encouraging given that essentially all of Tamriel will be represented in the game. I’m excited to hear all the different voices of the various types of characters the game has to offer and this variance should add another layer of freshness to each of the game’s regions.

For those of you worried about cutscenes a la Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’m probably not the best person to share in that worry given my admitted affinity for BioWare’s game. Still, The Elder Scrolls has never been about long-winded dialogue and cutscenes. This means that even though the game will be fully voiced, I think it’s pretty safe to say the delivery may be quite a bit more MMO friendly. I love hearing Skyrim’s NPCs milling about, talking to each other, or even saying things to my character as they pass me by. MMOs often have a problem of feeling lifeless, so if Zenimax is looking to pursue full voiceover the same way that Bethesda did with Skyrim or Oblivion, then I think we should all be excited for what this can mean for bringing Tamriel to life.

Similarly, there isn’t really any reason to be concerned about Zenimax’s emphasis on moral choice. Like voiceover, we should be encouraged that Zenimax is preserving this aspect of the Elder Scrolls experience in the MMO. After all, what is the Elder Scrolls really about in the end, if not choice? If I could sum up the series with one word, that is the word I’d choose. Choice in how you play the game and just as importantly, the way your choices impact the world around you.

The funny thing is, the way the Elder Scrolls has handled story throughout the series fits the MMO experience like a glove. Most MMOs try to make you feel like you’re the hero of your own story, but the reality is that you’re more often than not simply playing a part in some other character’s story and this is generally how The Elder Scrolls games work outside of their often short main campaigns. Layering the ability to affect those stories with moral choice really just deepens the experience, it doesn’t detract from it.

While some of you looking forward to the game may feel apprehensive when Zenimax starts talking about story, voice, and choice, I’d ask you to take a step back and consider the above. In short, every time a developer mentions they are going to do full voice over and give players choice in their MMO it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to follow BioWare’s method and bog you down in cutscenes. While BioWare’s particular approach may have been flawed in some ways, I do think MMO developers do now see the value of placing some real attention and production value into the story aspects of their games and we should expect to see these elements make an appearance in most MMOs going forward. I can’t say for sure exactly how it will all play out in The Elder Scrolls online, but given the evidence available throughout the series’ existence, I have a feeling players are more likely to be pleased than annoyed.


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