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Elder Scrolls Online Column: Immersion in ESO

By William Murphy on September 13, 2013

There’s something we talk about pretty often in the MMO world: immersion. It’s one of those “little things” that makes such a huge difference in how we play and experience any game, not just our MMOs.  It’s about getting lost in the experience, having the world surround you, the narrative envelop you, and finding out several hours later that you skipped dinner and are now going to get three hours of sleep before you have to wake up for work the next day. The Elder Scrolls Online is in a unique position to capitalize on immersion in the MMO space, and today I’d like to point out a few reasons I think this is Zenimax’ unmentioned “killer app” in ESO.

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The First-Person View

This one may be a bit of a gimme, but it’s true. Most MMOs don’t offer a believable first-person view, and when ESO was first announced the iconic first-person vantage point from the TES series was noticeably absent. Luckily, Zenimax has worked tirelessly to get it into the game, and it really doesn’t disappoint.  One of the hallmarks of TES is first-person, and it’s perfectly realized in ESO. Sure, you might not always want to use it in group combat or PVP, but in terms of getting lost and pulled into the game world, this simple little addition goes a really long way. It adds a noticeable bit of engagement to the action-based combat, and really lets you explore the world from a realistic angle.  Can you imagine what ESO would be like with the Oculus Rift?


Look familiar? This is The Elder Scrolls at its most quintessential.

The UI... or Lack of One

Anyone who’s seen the game at shows or watched videos can attest to this fact. ESO’s UI is beautifully non-existent except when you need it to be there. One of the first things that really pulls me out of an MMO is when I spend more time looking at action bars, menu boxes, and bright numbers and text flashing across the screen than I do looking at the world and people around me. ESO’s incredibly minimalist UI is the perfect solution to this problem. The action bar only pops up when you need it, and the same can be said of the health, magicka, and stamina bars.  Even your inventory and other menu items are part of the game world. 

You character turns and faces the camera when you want to look at your inventory and equipment, and the menus pop in from the site.  They disappear quickly, and it’s back to the world when you move your character.  And possibly most important? The typical window-based map for navigation is gone, and instead a small compass bar a la Skyrim is present. Just like in the ever popular fifth entry of the series, ESO’s compass alerts you to quest objectives POIs and other key locations by putting them on this compass.  You can still pull up your map to eye distance and so forth, but the compass really adds a layer to the role of exploration in ESO.


This is pretty much all you’ll see while fighting.

The Voice Over Work and World Interaction

Putting these two together, because they’re fairly straightforward. Some might argue that voiceover can easily take you out of a game if it’s done badly, but I’ve always been fond of TES’ voice work, and I’m betting Zenimax Online will be taking a few cues from older games if we’re lucky. I just wish we’d have Jean Luc Picard again... a guy can dream, right? 

Another big part of TES’ immersion for me has been the ability to interact with a great deal of the game world.  Mainly, I’ll freely admit, I like stealing people’s belongings and pilfering cooking ingredients from the barrels in city streets.  It’s silly maybe, but there’s something that really adds to a world’s believability when you can actually dig into boxes and barrels and find things worth using.  Or running along in the wilderness and picking every flower and mushroom you come across.  These are the sorts of things that pull me into the world as more than just a movie set where the devs will put on a show. 

I feel like part of a real place when I get sucked into a good RPG, and I’m starting to think ESO will be just as capable of this feat.  What about you?  What parts of Elder Scrolls game help you become immersed, and do you see any of that transferring over into ESO?  Let us know in the comments!

Bill Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. He lives in Ohio with his wife, tiny adorable son, and two ridiculous dogs. He wants to steal things from barrels in real life, but is afraid of abuse in jail. You can follow him on Twitter @TheBillMurphy.

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