Elder Scrolls Touchstones in a MMO World

Shrine of AzuraThe Elder Scrolls is a series which preserves and incorporates a great number of key touchstones in game design with every iteration. ZeniMax developers frequently espouse the philosophy that the key identifying markers of the Elder Scrolls franchise will be in abundant evidence in TESO. While many of these cornerstones will certainly be directly usable in the Elder Scrolls Online, others may require tweaking in order to appropriately adapt them for a massively multiplayer online experience. Despite playing a key role in past Elder Scrolls titles, some gameplay conventions no longer seem appropriate in the multiplayer context. This article examines many of these key touchstones, and presents thoughts on how each could likely be implemented in TESO. Get my full breakdown after the jump, and let us know what you think about how you think each of these iconic Elder Scrolls cornerstones will manifest in the Elder Scrolls Online.

I. From Lowly Beginnings…

Quiet, here comes the guard.

In every installment of the Elder Scrolls the character begins his story as a prisoner, whether one slated for execution, or newly liberated. Will this familiar Elder Scrolls trope resurface in TESO? While it might initially sound strange that thousands of players will all begin their journey as prisoners, I think TESO will hold true to tradition here. We know that the player’s story involves the quest to liberate his or her soul from the clutches of Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of Domination. I suspect that the game will begin when the player, along with thousands of others fall victim to Molag Bal’s scheme to enslave and subjugate Tamriel. Each player’s soul is eventually bound to Molag Bal’s will, explaining the death and respawn mechanic within a lore-friendly framework.

Verdict: IN

II. Racial Abilities and Skills

Racial skill bonuses

The nine unique and distinct racial choices available in previous Elder Scrolls installments provided players with a definite and permanent way to differentiate their character from the moment of creation. As shown to the right, the skill bonuses available to each race in Skyrim allows the character to direct their advancement towards one of the three primary playstyles immediately from the start of the game. In an MMO context, starting skill bonuses will certainly assist players who wish to achieve a certain niche with their character build, but given that TESO is employing a more traditional class based system, I suspect there will be hard boundaries in place to restrict unlimited character advancement. Unlike in the single player experience, a melee skirmisher is unlikely to also attain total mastery of Illusion magic in TESO. Ultimately, your final skill composition will likely be limited by your player class in some way, and thus initial racial skills may help at first, but probably will not have a long run impact on character growth or development.

Orc berserker rage

Much more powerful than starting skills, however, are the potent and unique racial abilities. From the magically attuned Altmer who can regenerate Magicka at an extreme rate for a minute, to Orcs who can propel themselves into a berserk rage, under which they deal extra damage while taking less damage. Clearly, such abilities are of priceless value to min-maxing theorycrafters. Moreover, not all racial abilities are equal. When compared to the Bosmer’s ability to temporarily charm an animal, or the Khajiit’s improved night vision it is clear that traditional Elder Scrolls racial abilities would strongly imbalance the scales of race selection in an MMO context. While I hope that the races of TESO possess unique defining abilities, they will have to be much more carefully balanced than their single-player counterparts.

Verdict: racial skills, IN; racial abilities, OUT

III. Star Signs

Birth signs can grant potent benefits

In Tamriel, the constellation that is prominent in the night sky at the time of your birth permanently imbues members of all the intelligent races with certain predispositions or abilities which separate them from others. For example, the adventurers born under the Lord Sign are widely known for being more hardy and resilient than others, while those born under the sign of the Shadow have been known to escape inexplicably from the most dire of predicaments. Similarly to how traditional racial abilities would grant characters too much incentive to select their race based on raw statistical optimization, permanent birth signs could create problems down the road, where certain abilities, like the Atronach’s formidable magic absorption would become practical requirements for characters seeking to fill a particular role. ZeniMax Online developers have essentially confirmed that this is the case, and star signs will appear in TESO in a form similar to that of the standing stones in Skyrim. These obelisks, referred to as “Mundus Stones”, offer temporary enhancement to adventurers who meditate on their runes.

Verdict: birth signs, OUT; Mundus Stones, IN

IV. Guilds (NPC Factions)

Mages guild banner

Another classic staple of the Elder Scrolls experience is non-player factions, or guilds. The Fighters, Mages, and Thieves Guilds are the three most iconic of these, however throughout past TES games other joinable factions have ranged from the deadly Morag Tong to the honorable Companions of Ysgramor. ZeniMax Online have confirmed that the Fighters and Mages guilds will be active in the Elder Scrolls Online, and they have hinted that the Thieves Guild is recruiting new members as well. It makes sense for these three to be the staple NPC factions in the game, appealing to the trinity class design of combat/magic/stealth. Additionally, at this point in the Elder Scrolls timeline, the Morag Tong and Dark Brotherhood are both active, so their involvement in the story is certainly possible, if not as a joinable faction.

Additionally, there are many racially specific NPC factions that Elder Scrolls fans would love to see appear in TESO. Between Dunmer great houses, Khajiit tribes, Orc clans, and numerous others, there are many additional NPC factions who could elicit player participation. My hope is that these types of factions may be joinable by the player as part of the game’s main quest, but not by players of different races. For example, a Dunmer player might be prompted to align with either House Telvanni or House Redoran at a certain stage of his/her personal storyline. This would allow the traditional political structures of each race to exist as factions within the game.

Verdict: Fighters, Mages and Thieves Guilds, IN; Race Specific Factions, MAYBE

V. Daedric Quests and Artifacts

Azura’s Star (from TES IV: Oblivion)

The last cornerstone of traditional Elder Scrolls game-play that I’ll touch on is the role of the Daedric Princes, and their involvement with mortals. In past TES games, the Daedric Princes have utilized the hero in order to further their own goals in Tamriel, often rewarding the player for his service with an iconic artifact of immense power. The ZeniMax design team have stated they want the Daedric Lords to make an appearance in TESO. Of course, we know that Molag Bal is the game’s chief antagonist, so it’s unlikely that the player will be doing any quests for the Prince of Domination! The others, however, will almost certainly make an appearance, and will likely have shrines scattered across Tamriel. I believe it is even reasonable to expect that the Daedric Princes may, eventually, offer the player epic quests requiring the completion of superhuman feats. I would not, however, expect that the traditional and unique Daedric artifacts which are the namesake creations of their respective lords will be obtainable by the player in TESO. It would be too detrimental to the Elder Scrolls lore if all mages were able to roam Cyrodiil simultaneously Wabbajacking their foes.

Verdict: Daedric Princes, IN; Daedric Quests, IN; Daedric Artifacts, OUT

What do you think? Do you agree with my assessment of these cornerstones and their potential role in the Elder Scrolls Online? Hope to see something done differently? Let us know your take on these points or any others in the comments below.

22 responses to “Elder Scrolls Touchstones in a MMO World”

  1. Profile Photo
    Targolak

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    Orc Templar

    An interesting and insightful read! Truly made me think about those aspects. Here’s what I could come up with:

    I: My view is the same; I can imagine a beginning cinematic involving Molag Bal and a silhouette of the player character being imprisoned by the Imperials in his service.

    II: I would actually say the Racial Skills could be a minor [major?] benefit, a situational skill to activate in the moment of need. Similar to what I saw in World of Warcraft, during my stay there.
    For example, if you chose an Orc, you could use the Blood Fury -racial ability to increase the amount of damage you deal by a small amount.
    Or as a Human, you could use a racial ability named “Every Man for Himself”, which allowed you to escape snares/roots/movement impairing effects. However, this one would be useless in TESO, as everyone can break them.

    Perhaps a list of racials could be…

    AD:
    High Elf: A temporary boost in Magicka regeneration;
    Khajiit: The Eye of Fear could return here, a skill that allows you to cause your enemy to run away in fear for a short while.
    Wood Elf: A skill that would allow you to summon a temporary animal follower;

    DC:
    Breton: Perhaps something similar to the Altmer racial, to balance the factions out?;
    Orc: Possibly a boost in damage dealt, without an overpowered damage reduction;
    Redguard: Possibly a boost in Stamina regeneration, with a long cooldown time;

    EP:
    Argonian: Perhaps a self-healing skill with a long cooldown;
    Dark Elf: I imagine the Ancestor Guardian could make a return, similar to the aforementioned Wood Elves’ animal summoning.
    Nord: I imagine the boost for Stamina regeneration, as with the Redguards, could be justified on the Nords as well.

    This would form a chart like:
    Breton (DC) – High Elf (AD)
    Wood Elf (AD) – Dark Elf (EP)
    Nord (EP) – Redguard (DC)

    That’s my two (or more) cents about racial abilities.

    III: I imagine Mundus Stones would be quite a useful addition if you could meditate on one for its boon, and have a permanent benefit until you meditate on another one. This would add a new preparation mechanic for endgame raiding; “You go there to get this benefit, the group needs it. And you come here, to get that benefit.”

    As well, I imagine raiding guilds would have an additional, interesting mechanic of seeing who has the benefit of which star sign. If someone with a required benefit would be offline, he could be replaced with someone who would take the missing one’s place in the group.

    An optimal raiding group would have at least one person of each Mundus Stone benefit.

    IV: The good ol’ Fighters- Thieves- and Mages Guild will be present, that we know. But I imagine race-specific factions would be excluded, except for certain individual, prominent factions – and even these would most probably not be just race-specific.

    They would appear more in lines of additional quests and rewards.

    V: Daedric quests would indeed be a fine addition into the game! Imagine meeting someone out in the wilds, on his way to a dungeon where he had been pointed by a Daedric Prince. Or possibly just fighting an open-world boss, or possibly gathering certain items around the world.

    Either way, these would not be very easy for a player to do alone. I can imagine the Daedric Artifacts could function similarly to how the “Ledengaries” did in WoW; A powerful item, that is extremely hard to gain by yourself, and owning it would be a substantial benefit not only to you, but anyone you play with!
    Imagine the teamwork of having a guild/a group of friends aid you in completing these quests.

    As well, probably you would not be able to have -all- of the artifacts simultaneously equipped; That would make you too powerful. But it might be possible to have them all in your inventory, and use each of them depending on the situation – or perhaps your class.

    It would not be very lore-accurate that anyone with the dedication would achieve and acquire these items, but then again, who says you should be using them while roleplaying? I have to be spineless here, but lore matters little outside roleplaying environments, as my past experiences in WoW very well showcase.

    I imagine this would also be a means of becoming a werewolf; The Ring of Hircine, possibly? It would make being a werewolf a rarity, an exception, and you would not have everyone running around as a werewolf.

    These were my views on the subject. Feel free to disagree and point out any flaws.

    ”Pray to Stendarr while you can!”

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    Blade

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 1608

    Bosmer

    I. I agree with you completely, and I feel that we’re definitely going to be entering ESO in “shackles”, and leaving as heroes. It’s just the Elder Scrolls was of doing things. :P

    II. I also feel that racial abilities will be in game, but alterations will surely need to be made. I think that choosing your race should be a tactical decision, but also needs to not only benefit a certain class archetype. The example racial abilities you listed are good ideas of what you might, and probably will be looking at when it comes to racial abilities.

    III. Again, mundus stones are a great, forgivable, way to incorporate birth signs into ESO. While I think that having permanent character qualities is sometimes beneficial, such as racial abilities, there needs to be some flexibility in case the player changes his or her mind later down the road.

    IV. Agree, no reason to reiterate, but basically think you hit the nail on the head.

    V. I feel that daedric weapons will be in the game, but hope that they’re not taken lightly by the developers. From a lore standpoint, having a large percentile of the ESO population with daedric weapons would be extremely lore breaking, something I feel that ESO is going to take into effect because of the IP their working with. If they do have daedric weapons in game, they need to be acquired the same way legendaries were obtained in WoW. I don’t mean necessarily only through PvE content, but the process of obtaining a daedric weapon should be long, and drawn out. This will give these iconic weapons the feeling of epicness they deserve.

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    Targolak

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    Orc Templar

    To the point III:
    As I said, it would be interesting if you could travel to a certain Mundus Stone to have a permanent benefit – but only until you take the benefit of another stone.
    Meaning, it would be permanent unless you change your mind and take the blessing of another stone. It would have no set time during which you can benefit from it, but you could only have one active, and the new one would overwrite the previous one.

    To the point V:
    It would be lore-breaking, but then again, as said, does lore matter that much to an “average player”? Take WoW as an example, any player with the patience could have Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker, or Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros. Or even Frostmourne!
    In the lore, only one of each of these existed. Thus, roleplayers had a certain taboo of not using in roleplay, because it would be -extremely- hard to monitor who actually deserved it.
    In ordinary gameplay mechanics, on the other hand, such breaks from lore would be excused, unless they plan on going the truly hardcore way – which would not be enjoyable by a lot of people.

    ”Pray to Stendarr while you can!”

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Great points, both of you. I think I can live with the lore-breaking consequences of cloned Daedric artifacts, I just hope at the very least they are difficult to obtain.

    About the Mundus Stones…they will probably let players change their active bonus at will, but hopefully they limit the effectiveness of fast-travel in their game, so at least you have to expend some effort to do so.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

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    Nybling

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 2199

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Not mentioned in this article:  How the staple of MMO players ripping off lore names will be obscene.  Expect 158,501 Nerevar’s or Nerevarine’s, 502,014 Dohvakiin ripoffs, and a number of other obnoxious names!

    (Also not mentioned, that Nybling will try to grab Lucien Lachance. :P)

    (… kidding… or am I?)

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    Blade

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 1608

    Bosmer

    Hopefully kidding about Lucian lol

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    Nybling

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 2199

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I dunno man!  Dark Brotherhood is my absolute favorite series of quests from Oblivion.

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    DeathtoGnomes

    Novice

    Total Posts: 13

    Khajiit

    DB quests kept me on the edge of my seat many times while sneaking around, but damned if I can remember any names.

    Barbeque Gnome, mmmm!

     

    /mourns the loss of 38Watch. λλ

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    Atropos

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Yeah, the DB quests are always a thrill ride…but, it may be a stretch to fit them as a joinable society in the MMO. After all, they are supposed to be a clandestine organization with very limited membership.

    Furthermore, at this time in the Elder Scrolls timeline, the Dark Brotherhood is little more than an offshoot of the Morag Tong, which is a Dunmer only society AFAIK. So, it would be a bit inaccurate if they allowed members of all three factions to participate in either of the two assassins guilds.

    That being said…I’d love to be a Morag Tong member, and I’m willing to forgive a little lore bending in order to make that happen!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

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    TWD26

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    Dunmer

    Nice article I am hoping that Race Factions are playable because I want to be in the Telvanni!

    ”For the blood of my forefathers and my sons, I have sworn to protect Morrowind.”-Vorro Rayden

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    Atropos

    Administrator

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I agree that hopefully the race specific factions will show up and allow some player participation, even if its just in the form of a quest chain or two. There are so many interesting political and military groups scattered throughout Cyrodiil that I hope the story side of the game highlights this multi-faceted political landscape.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

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    Zaviel

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    Altmer Sorcerer

    I prefer racials to be passive if they exist, and even so they have to be very small.  In part for balance but also as to allow more class/race viable combinations.

    I’ve drank from the well of power, and there is no turning back.” – Zaviel Crae`Nyth

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    TWD26

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    Total Posts: 287

    Dunmer

    I know I am going to roleplay this game, wondering if anyone else will.

    ”For the blood of my forefathers and my sons, I have sworn to protect Morrowind.”-Vorro Rayden

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    Blade

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 1608

    Bosmer

    I would actually love both passive and activated racials. I want diversity in race, making each one unique. While I understand that ZOS will have to be careful in balancing racials if they choose to implement them this way, I think they would add a lot to gameplay, and immersion.

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    TitoTheBuilder

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 73

    Dunmer

    Regarding point 2 about racial ABILITIES, I can personally think of ways that they can be implemented without being unbalanced.

    We already know that each character can have an “ultimate” ability that can be used when a “finesse” bar is full (Please excuse any mistakes, I am paraphrasing). Perhaps the starting or base ultimate ability can be a racial ability, this ability being slightly altered depending on which class you pick.

    (Quick Example: a Dunmer warrior would throw down an area where enemies are damaged, a Dunmer healer would throw down an area where allies are healed)

    These racial/class ultimate abilities could be made balanced quite easily, as everyone has them, and an Orcish warrior could easily match a Dunmer Warrior with his own racial/class ultimate ability.

    All in all, a great article :), hoping that this game is everything we hope it to be and more.

  16. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Thanks Tito, I agree that tying racial abilities in as ultimates will reduce the problems from racial imbalance, since in the long run very few people would be likely to use them over advanced class-specific ultimates. I think this is a bit of a “watered down” approach though, and I would still like to see race choice play a meaningful role, instead of just a temporarily meaningful one.

    We shall see ;)

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

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    Zinaroth

    Adept

    Total Posts: 119

    Nord Templar

    I think they should go for racial active ablities.
    But none of them should give combat prowess, they should all be utility skills.
    Nord could get to keep a maybe 2 second AoE fear.
    Other utility skills could be minor sprints, AoE stuns, a vanish, a teleport.
    All of them should have short durations and appropriate cooldowns and none of them could be able to assist you put out mroe damage or take more damage, unless very situational.

    Tonight I am the hunter, and you are the hunted, for Hircine is with me.

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    RussianXpHelper

    Apprentice

    Total Posts: 25

    Nord

    man i wish i took more notice to the earlier ES games

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    Keltore

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 51

    Nord Dragonknight

    Discover Eventide

    its going to be huge

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    Algearond

    Adept

    Total Posts: 172

    Breton Nightblade

    I agree/disagree on the following based on what I have seen in Oblivion (Still working on that ATM have not played Skyrim yet):

     

    1. Yes

    2. Yes

    3. Yes

    4. Yes/Dear God I hope so

    5. Yes

     

    And as long as they balance them all, I am good.

    From the shadows we will strike as wraiths, decimating our foes and disapearing into the darkness as a shadow from an overcast day

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