In our modern era games promote themselves in many ways. Destiny calls itself a persistent world shooter. Instead of RPGs, there are Action RPGs. Many games call in the powers of social networking, advancement systems, loot, crafting, and auction houses. All of these are almost becoming the key words to build an MMO around. There are so many expectations out there from players that most companies won’t even go near the term MMO because if they do not include all of these systems they are letting players down. Well I want to bring up the simple fact that there is one “system” which is really the only thing that matters for any video game: playability. As we enter the summer and potential Elder Scrolls beta period, the biggest question on my mind is, how playable is the game?
I define playability as “am I having fun in the moment?” When I log into the game what is there for me to do? Many MMOs act as grindfests where you are repeating a process to reach a single goal. Is the process that you are repeating fun? Probably for a while, but it will soon become boring. Elder Scrolls has shown its quest system, its open world maps, and its ability to accomplish character goals through different ways. These three systems can take the grind out of leveling in the game. On their own they work well, but it is the balance of the three which allows you to have fun from moment to moment. If I log in any random night, I should be able to pick any one of these three options and play. If I am in the middle of a quest chain, they I can complete it. Or maybe I just want to explore the world tonight and not follow a quest. That choice for a player is very important and how a game like Elder Scrolls allows for players to make that choice is important to their success and retention.
The third part is accomplishing goals in different ways. A few weeks ago at the press event I was able to wear a pirate disguise to walk around the camp without fighting everything in sight. ESO is pretty difficult by the way, and I actually died a few times when pulling too many NPCs. I like the difficulty because it makes you think. Yet, the disguise made it so easy. That is until I got bored and attacked someone. Elder Scrolls has really presented the “play how you want” mentality. Adding that to an MMO is definitely ESO’s biggest challenge.
So far from the gameplay we have seen they have added in a lot of different mechanics to keep in the moment gameplay fun. You are not mindlessly killing monsters that endlessly spawn for no reason. You are going to the Goblin Caves to find a lost NPC, and when you get there, goblins are hostile. This adds up to much more depth than just walking out of the town gate to find skeletons roaming the fields. Which brings me to my next point on playability: a game needs to have purpose.
The drive in recent games like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 to add story into MMOs has set another expectation for players. ESO should tackle this one with huge claws because it is what Bethesda and Zenimax do best. Skyrim had plenty of depth combining wide-ranging quests and exploration. The richness that Tamriel offers to players should shine through in ESO to give the team plenty of story options.
So with all the bells and whistles of MMOs and all of the tools developers have to bring players together, there is something that many companies forget: they forget to make sure the game is fun. Given the features of Elder Scrolls Online they have the tools to make a lot of systems fun. How they balance them throughout the game will be interesting to see.
Garrett Fuller is the Industry Relations Manager at MMORPG.com.
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