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The whisper about the fantasy world of Tamriel moving into a massive multiplayer online format has been murmured for quite some time now. Well, that quiet hush-hush idea of an Elder Scrolls MMO left from behind the closed doors of Zenimax Online’s offices and turned into a roar last week as the world heard of the publications made by Bethesda’s sibling company: The Elder Scrolls Online is now under development without a doubt. Since The Elder Scrolls Online is out in the open it’s no longer rumor and speculation, but I’m going to revert back to some speculation on why I believe making The Elder Scrolls a massive multiplayer online game might be a bad idea.
To be honest I’ve always thought that The Elder Scrolls franchise could benefit from some online features. I’ve always imaged that a fairly massive city where players could meet to trade an assortment of stories, dungeon tips, and items could be a great idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ran out of giant’s toe only to wish I could simply run to the local Whiterun Hen and say “Hey man, got any spare giant’s toe?” Yeah, it’s a strange sounding scenario, but when you need some giant’s toe, you need some giant’s toe. You know what I mean? But I never thought it should raise above a simple interactive meeting hub for players. Also, I would often imagine some type of an arena battle ground to do a little player vs. player action could stretch the game’s already lengthy longevity. But even the simple addition of PvP could be catastrophic to what makes The Elder Scrolls, The Elder Scrolls.
One of the most unique features of the Elder Scrolls franchise is the fact that you never get experience points like in most other role-playing games to increase thier rank. Instead, you enhance skills through their usage and hone an ability’s potency by using applicable talents, attacks, or movements. There are technically no classes in The Elder Scrolls but with the franchise’s character enhancing tropes you can play as whatever you want. If you want to be a paladin then use plate armor, a one-handed mace and shield, and throw around a bit of lightning and healing spells. If you want to be an assassin then wear light armor, use a dagger and a katana, and possibly dabble in illusion magic to turn invisible. The point is that one of the franchise’s greatest forefront features is possibly one of the worst for an MMO – character flexibility.
Anyone who has played an MMO knows that massive multiplayer online games are all about the ‘end game’ or veteran gameplay and anyone who has obtained a high character level in an Elder Scrolls game knows that your character is usually extremely powerful by the proverbial ‘end’ of the game. Well, extremely powerful-flexible character creation makes for an exceptionally problematic multiplayer component. This is mostly due to the fact that most MMOs have very mathematical and linear skill trees and point allocation systems so that only a very small amount of randomness is allowed in a character’s build. When non-linearity is introduced it becomes more and more impossibly difficult to keep the game balanced for the massive amount of people taking part in their individual powerful-flexible character’s creation. In a single-player universe these character creation tropes are allowed to shine, but I’m afraid when they’re introduced to hundreds of thousands of people playing together it may spell disaster.
And they plan to have PvP
It is not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen. When that one guy online mixes his talents just the right way and his ice spells turn every melee class he comes across into Viking icicles or that one assassin build that can one-shot any caster class, the internet will be like a siren of outrage. And then the nerfs, buffs, reconfigurations, alterations, and…‘balancing’ will happen, essentially making one of the greatest assets that makes The Elder Scrolls what it is pointless.
Who knows though? I was wrong about Mass Effect’s multiplayer, although that was on a cooperative front only, it would likely have many of the same balancing issues if it were competitive multiplayer. All I’m certain of is that Zenimax Online has a challenging road ahead of them. It will be no easy task to maintain many of the aspects that make The Elder Scrolls a great franchise to a single-player audience and then transfer that to a massive multiplayer game without comprising the integrity of intellectual property. So raise your stein, goblet, beer bong, or whatever mead-drinkery-device you have lying around so you can salute the future of the Elder Scrolls’ name. Here’s to hoping that The Elder Scrolls Online will conquer the many challenges it must overcome to be a true Elder Scrolls game, not only in name.