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Elder Scrolls Online Column: Why Notable Voice Acting in ESO Makes Sense

By Christina Gonzalez on January 29, 2014

In just a few short months, players will be able to embark on a brand new, AAA subscription MMORPG with a fully-voiced central storyline adapted from a familiar IP. With the recent announcement that The Elder Scrolls Online will feature a roster of notable voice acting talent, some gamers’ sense of deja vu has been rising in a rush to compare it with expectations (and freemium outcome) for Star Wars: The Old Republic. The voice cast, which includes Malcolm McDowell, Kate Beckinsale, and John Cleese, is another warning sign, some say. Others, however, point to precedence set by The Elder Scrolls series itself and the belief that voicing MMOs is a step in the genre’s evolution. The announcement of the voice cast seemed to spark a fiery debate among those awaiting the game’s release and others curious how it will perform, both on release and long-term.

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was the first in the series to include extensive voice acting, and it did so with notable actors. People like Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean voiced characters in the RPG, to mostly positive reception at the time. In 2011, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, from which the upcoming MMO draws inspiration (who can blame them, given Betheda’s announcement this week that the game has moved over 20 million copies?) pushed voice acting even further, with more notable names in key roles, and expanded voice acting all around. When it comes to the MMORPG from Zenimax, it seems the team is merely following the lead of the single-player RPGs, even as fully-voiced content in high-profile MMOs has taken off in the past few years on the whole.

It’s a contentious issue in the MMORPG space because of the way many players perceive several issues at the heart of the genre. To many, the evolution of the genre to become friendlier to more casual players and to even allow much of a game’s content to be completed solo or with minimal grouping, leads to complaints about MMOs feeling like single-player games. With this MMO based upon a series of single player games, it makes sense to ask the question. This, naturally, can feel like the opposite of what MMORPGs are about to many people. Additionally, voicing more and more of a game can make certain elements feel less personal. Those who appreciated the text and ability to determine on their own how a character sounded, including their own player character, are now finding these choices pre-made for them. In the case of SWTOR, player characters have set voices determined by their gender and class, with no attention paid to elements like age or even race. You can create a gray-haired Jedi with age lines on her face that will still sound like someone fresh out of college.

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