The Elder Scrolls Online is coming to console in just over a month. With the console beta already in progress, and players sharing their experiences with the game in various places around the internet, as a PC player, several few patterns stand out and make me wonder if the console versions will be the definitive version of ESO, and if this game just might be a breakthrough for MMORPGs on console overall.
The Controls Feel Intuitive
One of the initial complaints about ESO from many players was that, for a PC release, controls felt too console-oriented, The Elder Scrolls Online’s control scheme is similar to what Skyrim players encountered, and once the console versions are out, that will be the first time players get to use a controller to play the game. Despite requests for controller support for the PC crowd, making sure things all work for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One took precedence. Initial reports from console beta players refer to the console controls as feeling natural, familiar, and simple. From this feedback, it seems as if the controls are as natural a fit as most people probably expected, and should be easy to pick up. An added feature of the control scheme is the equivalent of macros, which can be used for emotes. The social aspect of the game looks to be preserved in more ways than one.
You Can Talk to Other Players
Since most console gamers probably aren’t using a keyboard with their boxes, ESO on console will feature a built-in voice chat system. Having voice chat within the game makes a lot of sense since there’s no typing necessary, and even many PC players rely on VOIP for more effective grouping these days. Having voice chat running all the time in ESO (depending on settings?) could make players a bit more likely to interact, since it’s as simple as just saying hello. Without easy tags or initial chat bubbles to always see people’s names on PC, sometimes it could be a bit of a challenge to to know who was talking or to private message someone you saw. With the ability for everyone to just talk, it might take some of the clunkiness of the original design out and just might affect the social aspect for the better.
Where does that leave roleplaying or Trade?
I think roleplaying will survive on console, but is likely to be smaller due to the voice chat feature. Unless you can turn it off and type, some people are just not going to talk like Khajiit, for example, over voice. Large player events seem likely to suffer if the voice chat range isn’t wide enough. Additionally, given the player-driven economy and lack of central auction house or similar feature, a short voice range will probably get some resistance. Yet having a global chat with voice is easily abused. I would expect tweaking.
Modern MMORPG players are likely as not to play through the games solo. The console versions, despite some of the ease that things like built-in voice chat or simpler controls bring, are going to let players kick back on their couches and play the game. The subscription optional version of the game you get out of the (virtual?) box is story heavy and voice acted, and a common complaint in melding The Elder Scrolls with an MMO was that it feels like a solo game. Initially, problems with phasing and grouping added to those concerns. These have been addressed, but the game will still split some players in order to complete objectives. The story choices one could make could also do that too unless players went to the group leader’s decision instances. While much of this has been addressed in ways that do help players group through the content much better, it’s still quite a rich game if you want to play it solo. And many will do so, especially now that there’s no subscription required to play through all of the game’s story content up to console release.
Consoles: ESO’s definitive edition?
Despite MMORPGs mostly being successful on PC, with a few exceptions like Final Fantasy XI and XIV, and DC Universe Online, I think ESO on consoles could be a door opener. There are multiple reasons why this release could be a success if people decide to give the game a chance now that it requires just a box fee to get in on. Some of the above reasons make the console editions appealing, and if the game’s release is a successful one, I do think we’ll see more console MMOs or iterations of the MMO (Destiny, anyone?). Yet, I don’t know if one could call console editions definitive, however.
To me, MMORPGs are best played on PC. The console versions might be intuitive with controls and easier to just sit back on your couch with, but with both new console editions coming, that will be three instances of the game running at the same time with no overlap. The more open nature of having an online game on PC means that players on PC can play together on the same servers. Microsoft and Sony still mostly let game companies operate their online games within closed networks without overlap. If your friend discovers the game and wants to play with you, but you’re on PC or on the other console? You’re both out of luck. Having gone through this with friends on PS3 that wanted to play DC Universe Online with me, it’s a hurdle that I think needs to be cleared if MMOs are going to be more successful on consoles going forward.
The PC also has the option of multiple community-supplied add-ons, and these improve the game quality in many ways. If you think Skyrim was improved by the modding community (recent controversies over Skyrim mods notwithstanding), then you’d probably appreciate the existence of ESO add-ons.
Despite what seem to be multiple things that are going to work great on console, it’s not right to propose anything other than PC as “definitive” right now. It’s definitely something to watch once June rolls around and beyond the release. So what I’m getting at is the release of ESO on consoles looks to involve great care, and if the game connects with players, given the market for console games (remember that console is where Skyrim connected with the majority of its buyers, though ESO was already in production at Zenimax at the time Skyrim launched), this could be the start of something that does open doors.