Guild UMBRA was invited to take part in a special event at Zenimax Online Studios last week. While there we met the Community Team lead by Community Director, Jo Burba along with his team: Jessica Folsom, Gina Bruno, and Geoffrey Calver. They hosted the event that gave us an opportunity to meet the Developers, gain insight into the game design philosophy, and ultimately get our hands on the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO).
It seems that Zenimax is on the right path with this release of the Elder Scrolls as they are intending on making a RPG first; their consistently messaged narrative is that they are making an Online Role-Playing Game vice a MMO. Thus, this is Elder Scrolls that you can play with your friends. Yes, they seem to know what they want to be when they grow up, and are not falling into the MMO trap of trying to appeal (pander) to folks by trying to be EVERYTHING to EVERBODY.
There has been some uproar from some segments of the community over this title, as it has a very long and beloved lore that spans almost 20 years. I feel that folks are apprehensive that this attempt has the signs of what BioWare did with The Star Wars™: The Old Republic™. As stated, Zenimax knows what they want the ESO to be; they want it to be the most socially engaging online game ever, with the core design of this installment focusing primarily on two groups:
MMO fans, with a success criteria of:
- Story immersion
- Exploration based content, no rails
- Removal of rotation based combat
- Choices that matter
- Next Gen social experiences
- Meaningful PVP
- The creation of something fresh in the online space
Elder Scrolls fans, with a success criteria of:
- A new Elder Scrolls game of the quality expected
- Immersion in the living world
- Beautiful landscapes
- Continuity with the established lore
- Familiar combat controls – Left Click Attack, Right Click Block
- A variety of ways to complete tasks
- Play the way you want
- Choices that matter
- Finally being able to play Elder Scrolls with your friends
After we gathered, had refreshments, and gave our introductions the Zenimax team got right to it. We were provided the vision of the Zenimax Online Studios as well as the design philosophy for ESO by the Zenimax Online Studios President, Matt Firor. We were then provided a brief play through demo to explain the controls and the UI by Gameplay Lead, Nick Konkle. After that, we were in the game for hours of hands on.
The first thing that came to mind was the fact that the online version of ESO looked better (to me) than Skyrim. Many have heard that they use the HERO engine, thus worried over the graphics and character detail. The answer is that they do in fact use HERO, but as a mock up tool; they create their production stuff in their own engine that I formally declare…..the ZENgine. This engine has been developed from the ground up, to enable the clients as well as the back end to scale accordingly for large multi-player scenarios – such as 200 person battles within their PVP Zone (Cyrodiil). Bottom line, it looks very polished for a pre-alpha build. The traditional sword and sorcery-esk feeling exists as in most MMO’s within this genre; however, I noticed critical differences in game play:
- The UI is minimal, thus one feels as if they are within the environment.
- The Combat is not rotation based, as you can see enemies winding up with their attacks which can be dodged or blocked.
- Positional advantages can be gained over enemies that over commit with certain attacks; no more mobs with Auto-Face enabled.
- The environment has the traditional Elder Scrolls interactivity; I could steal bread off of tables or search through barrels.
Hey wait a minute….this is Elder Scrolls…..but there are other people walking around. Remember this; this game is Elder Scrolls you can play with your friends. Keep that in mind. Now, I am not going into every detail of the game as I was immersed and trying to level up to determine if the game had potential as something Guild UMBRA would migrate to. In short, it is and here are a few of the game experiences I think are relevant given the current state of the game:
- Ease of use: I was able to use the normal MMO commands for maneuvering but had the advantage of the traditional Skyrim or Elder Scrolls mechanics. Thus, E was how the world was interacted with. Left Click is ATTACK and Right Click is BLOCK.
- UI Minimalism: There are only a few items on a task bar, vice the billion that many MMO’s have.
- I constantly got off track while questing, because I kept finding new areas and things to do in the world
- Non-linear quest progression, which allowed me multiple options for completing quests. I tend to just walk through traps, I am far too busy to disarm them.
Like the predecessors, ESO allows players to play as desired. Characters can use any weapon or any armor. This really makes a lot of problems go away when RAIDING; no more useless loot. There are character classes with special abilities for each, but they seem to be more of a guide-line. For example, I played as a Templar (healer) that carried a sword and shield. By having choice, I was essentially a Paladin or a Death Knight by comparison depending on choices. There is so much to talk about, and we will provide further details as time goes on and/ if we continue to have access. Until then, there are other fan sites that can provide much deeper details such as: Elder Scrolls Off the Record or ZAM.
(More information on the game is gathered in this interview with Paul Sage, Creative Director of The Elder Scrolls Online)