The 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…
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.
II. Racial Abilities and Skills
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.
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
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)
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
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.