The upcoming Elder Scrolls Online is detailed.
The Elder Scrolls always lent itself to an open massively multiplayer space, according to Nick Konkle, lead combat designer for The Elder Scrolls Online, ZeniMax Online Studios' upcoming MMO. "I'll tell you what," he says, "it definitely started from the IP itself really lending itself to being in an open space. It's got this open world feel where you can explore the world, do what you want to do and become who you want to become. And I feel that that translates really well to an MMO."
Taking a page from the single player games that strived to allow players to go where they pleased at any given point, ZeniMax Online Studios would re-work the concept of vast and explorable regions and populate them with other players. The new game would feature its own narrative that would be "100 percent" playable as a solo character over the course of the entire world of Tamriel as opposed to, for example, the single province of Skyrim. However, there would also be random group activities throughout The Elder Scrolls Online players could stumble upon as they travel through the world. "You can do it with five, you can do it with a group of 100," says Konkle. "That's really what we wanted to bring to the story."
In response to whether he feared their massively multiplayer title would be lumbered with the caustic nickname, "single player massively multiplayer online game," a sneering title that was given to BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic because of its focus on storytelling over multiplayer, Konkle admitted the team is still interested in delivering a solid single-player experience regardless.
"It's an option for you in the game," Konkle said. "But the answer is you put the activities in there for the groups, and it's not just exclusively single-player, so [in] the entire game, like the entirety of our product, we've been targeting that whole experience because 'play the way you want to' is such an important part of not only The Elder Scrolls world MMOs but just games in general. That's what you want to do, play it how you want to. That's really the answer, if you put in all the different types of activities for people."
Each zone features an overall narrative like in all Elder Scrolls titles as well as a main plot that can be played entirely solo. Its storyline follows the tale of the Imperials in Cyrodiil who are not members of any of the three available factions and are on the cusp of being conquered. In response, they have made a pact with the Cyrodiil Prince which, Konkle says, will go bad. Following this, Molag Bal, a long-established character in Elder Scrolls lore, raises an undead army to help them fight and in doing so pull the realm of Tamriel into his realm of Coldharbour.
However, the player will be distracted along the way by various activities include raiding, two-person dungeons, five-person dungeons and a large-scale PvP world.
"Philosophically it's about scale. It's about, 'Holy crap, there are 500 people in this battle! This entire warfront isn't just my squad versus your squad, which is sort of what a lot of PvP is in MMOs up to this point, but we are part of an entire war effort that you can break that down into squads if you want, or raid and play that way."
The game will not include traditional quests picked up from quest hubs throughout various towns as they tend to be in most modern MMOs. Players will not be given directions. Instead, they'll wander until they find someone to help, an enemy to kill or a dungeon to crawl, all while working their way up to their level 50 level cap.
"One of the main things we feel like is super-important to an Elder Scrolls MMO is the sense that if I go out, just walk out into the world, I will come across things to do. I won't have to go find the person who tells me what I do," Konkle said.
The game is being developed by former Mythic studio members who worked on the old school MMO Dark Age of Camelot. Konkle maintains that the team isn't striving to create a retro-influenced title, a particularly modern game or one that would directly mimic Bethesda's Skyrim.
"It was about what would make the best game possible to take advantage of where the technology is," Konkle said. "I mean combat — we could have cool open world quests and have you playing with hundreds of players, hundreds of people in these large-scale battles. The whole generation of MMOs is very much oriented on rotations, cool downs, hitting the ability when it's available, and that made a lot of sense for the technology at the time."
In the past, latency issues in an online game could make combat nigh impossible. "If you were playing at a certain high lag, it would basically be unplayable unless our character your character sort of automatically did these sorts of things," he said.
"We're at the point where you can have 'actiony' responsive controls and tactics, and it's fine. So we have a system that very much focuses on having a smaller number of tools that have a responsive, tactical value rather than rotation value. You don't need 20 buttons and go through them all. I have a very small set, and maybe I'll start a heavy attack and you'll know that so you'll go to block and have a response that is appropriate."
Konkle calls this a tactic war that both players and enemies are a part of — a variation on the MMO standard that has users simply clicking on enemies who bleed out hit points. The team's mantra is "we want tactics, not rotations," and the team's philosophy in its post-launch era will be to listen to what the fans ask for.
Currently the game will launch without user housing or relationships, two features available in the release of Skyrim. "There are various features we know we want to do at all but we're really targeting this specific experience of play and choice from the one until the end, and then the endgame there, and make sure we are focusing on those features first and foremost. From that, we'll figure out how we'll expand from there."