With the next generation of consoles coming out in less than a month, the list of games that are on my watchlist for DAY ONE purchases makes my head want to spin. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, LEGO Marvel Superheroes, Battlefield 4 and even Killzone: Shadowfall – I am incredibly excited for what is to come with this next generation of gaming and I hope you are too.
But when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 truly hit their stride during the first half of 2014 – particularly in the Spring – I’ve got my eyes on one series that took a major step forward in the number of people playing it back in the Fall of 2011.
Originally I started playing this series on the PlayStation 3 during that time. Is it the next The Last of Us or even the sequel to Just Cause 2? No. It’s none other than The Elder Scrolls series which is making it’s jump “online” with the up-and-coming title The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO).
So what is ESO, and more to the point, what’s the big deal with the series?
Well, let’s start with the title that got me and many others questing through the mountains, caves and swamps of Skyrim – that is, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
>>DAYDREAM TO KNIGHT
I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of the movies that I enjoyed as a kid which focused on the same themes as The Elder Scrolls series were movies like Dragonslayer, Excalibur and even the original Conan The Barbarian. If you haven’t seen any of these films, I highly recommend them.
With those movies well ingrained in the back of my mind, as well as, with the amount of media coverage that the company behind Skyrim, Bethesda (Dishonored, The Evil Within and Wolfenstein: The New Order), put out to promote the fifth title in the Elder Scrolls series, I decided to check out the website for the game and saw the following image:
Needless to say, it made me realize that the characters that I’d watched fighting dragons, knights, wizards and trolls were now at my fingertips thanks to the power of the PlayStation 3 (and Xbox 360). I could finally get into a series that fit one of my childhood daydreams of being a dragon-fighting knight and my modern-day gaming expectations of high-definition graphics, crystal clear sound and straightforward gameplay controls and player progression.
But there was something lacking with Skyrim. With all of it’s success, there was still one thing that needed to be added to the franchise at large – “online multiplayer”.
>>FROM P-O-N-G TO R-P-G
Over the past few years, Bethesda has been hard at work in Hunt Valley, Maryland in order to bring what was missing in the Elder Scrolls series to life. Their answer to the numerous requests from players around the world who have asked for an all-encompassing, multiplayer experience set in the world of Tamriel (see the map below) is The Elder Scrolls Online.
But what if you’ve never played a Role Playing Game (RPG) before? What if you’re hesitant to the genre because of what you’ve heard about the types of people that play these games?
I reached out to Bethesda in order to get a better understanding of the game and why people should play ESO when it is released in the Spring of 2014 for PC, MAC and next generation consoles.
W2W: Before we get into what ESO is and why people should play it next year, I wanted to ask what the appeal is to playing an RPG.
ESO: “When games started out (in the 1970s and 80s), players were little white dots or line segments knocking around other dots, but even before that, there were text games. Text games had lots of great descriptions and numbers to help players understand what the designer was imagining. With PONG, not a lot of imagination was needed as it was pure reflex and skill. Over time those two mediums started to merge and we got some great games where graphics met text and numbers. RPGs are probably the best example of how games have progressed from the initial text games. They provide a very deep story with compelling graphics for players to experience.”
W2W: So then with how technology has advanced and affected the videogame industry, how are RPGs getting on board with the next generation of gaming?
ESO: “It’s true, things are advancing even more – getting closer to life with less need for text and numbers. We’re not at the level of granularity where we can eliminate them yet, but the incorporation of such things as voice-over, more natural animations, etc. are removing the need for these things and giving us an even more immersive experience. For example with ESO, removing certain Heads-Up Display (HUD) elements takes a lot of careful planning to make sure we are giving enough information to the player, while staying true to the core ideal that ‘immersion in the world’ is paramount. It is one of our top guiding principles with ESO.”
Whether you are a casual gamer or a hardcore one, we’ve all played various types of games on either our consoles, PCs or mobile devices that can all be traced back to the simplistic “pure reflex and skill” of PONG. But this isn’t a history lesson. This is about The Elder Scrolls Online.
>>TEAM OR SOLO, IT’S YOUR CHOICE
Over the last decade, games have typically enabled players to control one, central character as they (and you) embark on a story that takes you from solving a puzzle to taking a hill to saving the world from whatever threat is put in front of you. To put it another way, you play a character and progress from beginning to middle to the inevitable end.
This progression is one that thousands have adopted in the entertainment industry (including books, games, television shows and movies) and I don’t see it changing anytime soon.
In regards to the videogame industry and to ESO, this progression is being skewed slightly to welcome the incorporation of more than one “central” character so that people can have story-driven, gaming experiences online together.
W2W: Like many other players out there, I’m used to playing through a game by myself – solo. There is a sense of accomplishment in it, and I enjoy progressing the character on my own terms. Can players experience the game solo or will they have to ‘team-up’ to truly enjoy ESO?
ESO: “We don’t try to force people into one play-style over another. We have systems in place to nudge or encourage people to play with others, but we think playing with others provides the best long-term experience. There’s a unique feeling of accomplishment to overcoming an obstacle with someone else. On the other hand, playing solo is just as viable. Really, it is up to how the player wants to play.”
Freedom is a big part of the next generation of gaming. Open-world (sandbox) games, like ESO, let players experience the game world however they want – and this includes playing solo or with other players. Regardless of whether you approach it solo or on a team, there will always be the possibility to change up your play style thanks to the ever-changing landscape of multiplayer.
>>ACTION / REACTION
Earlier it was noted that games are getting ‘closer to life’ than ever before. One example of this that can be seen through player ‘consequences’.
For example, if you’re playing as a knight and you come across two people that are hungry, whether you give them food or ride on will affect their and your storyline. To take it a step further, these people could be a part of a community that you’re on your way to, and depending on your actions they could speak for or against you which would then cascade to how the community treats you.
This is a simple example of player consequence. Action and reaction. This is an attribute that is looking to be a normal aspect to many games of the next generation, but has definitely been present in RPG games over the past few years.
W2W: A lot of games that are coming out for the next generation of consoles, like Watch_Dogs and Destiny, are looking to incorporate player consequence in a big way. How is this being incorporated into ESO?
ESO: “Good RPGs present a lot of choices for the player – which attaches players to their character. Hence, a character should be an expression of the decisions you have made over the course of the game. So to that end, there are multiple ways that we show the outcome of player decisions. We have techniques which change the world in meaningful ways. NPCs, for instance, will greet and treat players differently (as in Skyrim) depending on what a player may have done. Some NPCs may not even be around later depending on a player’s actions. Also, the world can look different to a player depending on decisions or actions they have taken.”
So now only will people (NPCs) treat you differently depending on whether you are a hero or a villain – respectively, the landscape, in all its vastness, will also change depending on how you progress through the game.
W2W: One final question on consequence: as this is a game, will players be able to roll back in time to a point where a decision that they made can be reversed?
ESO: “There will be the ability for a player to replay content with a new character, or they could possibly change the way their character is spec’d. However, as noted above, a good character encompasses and reflects the decisions of a player. Some of those decisions need to be final, and decisions are almost never right or wrong. Decisions are just ways you’ve decided to go.”
With how we make simple to complex decisions daily in the real-world, the decisions that you will make in ESO will be final – helping to shape your character, the landscape and your overall experience in the online world of Tamriel.
>>THE NEXT CHAPTER
Games have progressed from text to voice-overs and natural-motion animation, and the RPG genre and the Elder Scrolls series have been a major part of that over the past two decades. But as ESO is being developed for release in Spring, 2014 on next generation consoles, PC and Mac, there’s still one final thing that needs to asked.
W2W: So with all that we’ve talked about with ESO and RPGs, what can players expect in ESO when it is released in 2014?
ESO: “Over the lifespan of the Elder Scrolls series, we have noticed that people want to experience the depth and action of The Elder Scrolls series with their friends. We want to provide that experience for them. To do so, we have combined all of the previous Elder Scrolls titles into one, online world (Tamriel) for players to explore. To do that, players will fill the role of either a Wood Elf (Bosmer), a High Elf (Altmer), a Khajiit, an Orc, a Redguard, a Breton, a Dark Elf (Dunmer), a Nord or an Argonian. We’ve also enabled players to buy mounts (horses, etc.) in the game, and improve those mounts over time. They will be able to increase their mounts stamina, speed or carrying capacity depending on how they feed them. Finally, players will have a journal that tracks their quests and they will also have achievements and other trophies to commemorate their deeds.”
Playing off of the success of the past titles and listening to the community to make a world that will help to define the fantasy RPG for the next generation of consoles is what ESO is going to be all about.
If you’re eager to get your hands on this title or just want to take it for a spin to see what it’s going to be like at launch, Bethesda is already accepting applications for the Open Beta phase of ESO here.
Thank you for reading and please follow Brooks on Twitter here for more links to articles about the personal technology and videogame industries.