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The RPG Files: Will Elder Scrolls Online Satisfy RPG Fans?

Columns By Christopher Coke on June 05, 2015

Will Elder Scrolls Online Satisfy RPG Fans?

Zenimax emailed me this week. The email was a reminder that I’d paid my $20 to unlock the PS4 version of Elder Scrolls Online and that the game would be launching next Tuesday. I had the tingle, my friends; the little flurry of excitement just before a game you’re looking forward to. Then I remembered just how divided the game’s community was at launch. It makes me wonder, will ESO be a hit or will it just disappoint Elder Scrolls fans who don’t know what they’re in for?

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As I contemplated my topic for this week, I wrestled with whether or not we should discuss this in the RPG files. ESO isn’t an RPG after all, at least not how we usually discuss. Ultimately though, I think it’s important, because it surely will affect lots of RPG players in the near future.

If you’re reading this, the chances are good that you’re a PC gamer and already know what ESO is about. Imagine, though, that you’re one of the millions of console gamers who don’t own a gaming PC. Will you have heard about Elder Scrolls Online? Will you really understand what critics mean when they describe “part Skyrim, part MMO” or “Skyrim with MMO trappings?” If we step outside of ourselves, what does that even mean? Consoles gamers, overall, are less invested than PC players. Many of them heard “Elder Scrolls” and stopped their brains there. To them, the idea of Elder Scrolls in a persistent virtual world sounds like the next level - the evolution of what Elder Scrolls has been growing toward. Those of us who have played it know the truth: in transforming into an MMO, this version of Elder Scrolls became something else entirely.

I like ESO. I like it enough to buy the box, then pay another $20 to play it from my couch. It’s that good. But just like I wrote about The Witcher 3 and Skyrim, these are two very different games. Except here, the two games do bear comparison. Console players expecting Skyrim 2.0 are sure to be disappointed. Much of the majesty possible in single-player RPGs just isn’t when you’re called to kill 20 bears then queue for the battleground. I love how Zenimax does story and, frankly, I think they’re a cut above most other MMOs out there. If your expectations of rooted in single-player experiences, though… well, I wonder just how you’ll interpret an MMORPG’s brand of multiplayer storytelling.

ESO has done a remarkable job of honing in on the Elder Scrolls elements of the franchise. They have a justice system. They have first-person combat. They have freeform character advancement, that allows you to play however you want, whenever you want (well, mostly). They’ve done as much as anyone could have asked them to and continue to add on.

What they also have are dozens of other players running the same fields, killing the same enemies, stripping naked in the same towns, and naming themselves silly things to clutter up your quest givers. They have lower quality animation, slightly worse graphics, and less immersive storytelling. They have too many kill and collect quests, shallower exploration, and an ever looming pressure to connect your gameplay experience that of a stranger (dungeons, quests, and PVP -- to say nothing of the fact that very few people actually use voice chat on PlayStation 4).

We MMO players sacrifice these things and even embrace them because we love what MMOs have to offer. Will console RPG players? The extremely limited beta should give everyone cause for concern. Even players who already paid for their console slot weren’t guaranteed a try-before-you-buy beta.

FFXIV proves it can happen. Zenimax needs to win over these players with the smoothness of the experience. They’ve done well by making the game buy to play, but they’re missing the boat on allowing PC and console players to share servers. Hopefully they make it up by introducing shared servers, or at least guilds, chat, and friends lists down the line. They also need to make sure that ESO plays like a dream with the controller. They’ve taken the time. It needs to show in the results. ESO needs to earn the Elder Scrolls audience or it will die trying.

The next three months should tell the tale of the game’s console fate.

Quick Hits

InXile Entertainment is on fire! The CRPG firm announced this week that they’re rebooting yet another beloved franchise. This time they’re looking for your help to Kickstart The Bard’s Tale IV. I missed this game when it came out and have only heard it spoken of in reverence since. I’ve got to say, after lovely RPGs like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin, I’m starting to think I’m gaming in the wrong era.

Shadowrun Chronicles fans should probably start wringing their hats. Things don’t look good for the tactical RPG as the developer, Cliffhanger Software, has declared bankruptcy this week. The game looked promising but it’s hard to forget that the game was never able to achieve its loft MMO goals. We wish the folks at Cliffhanger Software the very best.

Putting the questioning to rest, CD Projekt Red confirmed that there is no hard level cap in The Witcher 3 at current. Out in the lofty realms of imagination-land, this would mean that you could level up Geralt enough to unlock every skill and upgrade in the game. Realistically, this is much less possible since quests eventually evaporate leaving only grinding to continue building your character. If you’ve played The Witcher 3, you know just how unlikely this is.

And lastly, because why not end with a bombshell, FALLOUT. 4. IS. COMING. Bethesda Softworks officially unveiled the game with a new trailer and slick website. Little is confirmed in the trailer; however, the flashbacks make it seem like we’ll be seeing more of the time just before the fall before returning to the wasteland as we know it. A new canine companion also plays prominently in the trailer, so maybe we won’t be roaming alone. Also, is it just me or is the color palette a little more saturated this time around? Loving it. Bethesda promises that more will be unveiled next Sunday, June 14th, at their E3 press conference. Expect more on it in the RPG Files next week!

What do you think? Are you guys excited? Let us know in the comments below!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.