We talk a lot about what Zenimax’ Elder Scrolls Online really needs to capture that Elder Scrolls feel, and I think there’s one thing that’s gone unsaid as of yet which we’re forgetting about. I want my hero or heroine to be as good or as bad as I want them to be. I don’t want to feel rigidly confined to some heroic do-gooder archetype that many MMOs thrust upon us. I want to walk the line between good and evil, white and black... I want to be as gray a hero as Geralt of Rivia.
But why is that so important? Because, despite the direct questline through all of the Elder Scrolls games’ narrative, there was always an element of freedom that couldn’t be marked by just saying “well you can shape your character’s stats, and go wherever you want.” The freedom to act was and is just as important as the freedom to build your character’s abilities. If ESO leaves this part out? It won’t quite truly capture what makes the Elder Scrolls series so special.
All along, since the very first announcement of ESO, we’ve known that the game won’t be a “sandbox”, but rather a theme park with large amounts of character building freedom. This is, quite honestly, right on par with the other Elder Scrolls games. But the typical cliche of most MMOs is that I’m the hero on a quest to save the world. In ESO’s case, I’m the hero on the quest to save the world, and my own soul from Molag Bal. But what fun would that adventure be if I didn’t get to face some really tough choices along the way?
Morality in an MMO is something that’s sorely missing in terms of narrative. SWTOR tried to do this fairly successfully, but the choices were always so obvious. I’m looking for something from ZOS that’s a little more... cloudy in what’s right or wrong. For example, something the Ultima series has always been phenomenal at is giving you tough decisions to make. Do you steal the loaf of bread from a merchant to feed a starving family? Do you automatically kill a man who you catch murdering an innocent child, or do you capture him for the authorities? These are the sorts of decisions I’m hoping ESO presents us with.
One of the parts of the Elder Scrolls series that’s become so great at letting players lead their own noble or murky lives are the “Guilds”. At launch, ESO will have the Fighters Guild and Mages Guild. But what we’ll all be waiting to see enter the game is the Dark Brotherhood. But these sorts of content additions are pretty much either good or bad. There’s little in between. Being an Assassin in the DB (ha!) isn’t exactly a fine moral line to walk. You kill your assigned targets and that’s that. The key to ESO’s moral ambiguity will be in allowing players to decide to help or harm someone (or to ignore their request entirely) and to not be punished in terms of progression for doing so.
As an example: if you need a quest-line to get a completion reward, an achievement, or even just to hit a level... wouldn’t you feel pressured into doing a quest that maybe you feel your character wouldn’t normally do? I know we’re going down a fairly “RP-centric” path here, but I can’t be the only one who likes making choices with my character that I feel he or she would actually make. As opposed to being all over the place, I either run my characters as a villain, a noble hero, or as somewhere in between. And I’m really hoping that Elder Scrolls Online gives us the same freedom in those sorts of choices as they already are in the numbers and stats of our characters.