Optimism in the face of Pessimism: Elder Scrolls Online

8 05 2012

In Skyrim (and Fallout) I will typically play three kinds of characters:

  • The “paladin” archetype, tough-as-nails, gets in your face, always does the right thing.
  • The “thief/assassin” archetype, stealthily, not-nailed-down-its-mine, make me mad and I kill you.
  • The power-obsessed caster (not really available in  Fallout).

I’m having a bit of trouble here: there’s a leap of faith required that I can’t quite close the distance on. Stealing everything not nailed down could really screw over the economy in an MMO. Killing anybody I choose best case makes cities inaccessible to me, worst case changes the game into a niche pvp-centric gank-fest. Balance means I’m not going to be a godly super-man of a caster (at least, no more than the next two thousand caster players in the game).

Anything I can think of that makes the game more TES to me doesn’t seem like it’d be appealing to a wider audience (read-as: no way investors will get behind it).

  • No visible “level” numbers or skill numbers.
  • Get better by doing, period.
  • No restrictions on what you can learn or where you can go (even if learning or going somewhere will kill your character in a horrific and absolute way).
  • Taking anything of real value is believably difficult and comes with both wealth and dire ramifications (i.e. Thieve’s Guild will want to murder you, town will close it’s borders to you, etc.)
  • Killing anybody you wish is believably difficult and comes with dire, dire ramifications (NPC and player bounty system, vicious CONCORD-style town and regional guards, etc).
  • Non-targeted “action MMO-y” combat. I hate that term, but if I can’t actively shield-bash a fool it won’t feel like Skyrim.

Really it’s the “investors get behind it” thing that’s at the root of the trouble here. Little indie studios (privately owned ones) can get bold and crazy with game design; big studios have to answer to people that expect millions of dollars in returns on their investments, so convincing them of “new and daring” is improbable at best. An EVE-style design for TES (eschewing EVE’s skill system for favor of a TES-centric one, using some of the EVE PVP model with NPC supported/enforced factions) really seems the way to go  here.

Skyrim’s constellation character sheet isn’t a bad compromise…though it’s a far departure from the literal “learn by doing” which lies at the core of the series, it’s better than talent trees, in my opinion.

It’s a long way out, as the interview here sounds more like a We’re just hashing things out now than a The game is about ready for beta testing. My (possibly vain) hope here is that they’re stirring the hornet’s nest early to gauge community reactions. Maybe this will result in designers saying to investors “See? This is actually what they want…which is not a pure theme park MMO,” and possibly the investors will say “Yeah, okay, go there.”

Expectations: low. Hopes: middling.

C’mon, Bethesda. You haven’t let us down yet.

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