The annual PAX East is the largest gaming convention on the East Coast. Last week regular contributor J.P. Grant braved the miserable weather of Boston to chronicle this year’s convention for Paste. (It helps that Boston is his home.) Today we wrap up J.P.’s look at some of the biggest and best games shown at the event.
The Elder Scrolls Online
Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC, Mac
Release Date: 2013
There’s no doubt that Elder Scrolls Online feels like an MMO. The bigger question to the franchise’s many fans will be if it also feels like an Elder Scrolls game. My 90 minutes with the game—which is still in beta—left me ambivalent.
To be sure, Elder Scrolls Online contains recognizable elements from previous entries like Skyrim, Oblivion, and Morrowind. There’s the intricate crafting system, the familiar races, and of course, reams and reams of lore. Lead PvP designer Brian Wheeler tells me players will be able to visit landmarks from previous games—although they may look a little different, since Elder Scrolls Online takes place about 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim. Well, that, and because they’ve been retooled for player-vs.-player combat.
By its nature, a Massively Multiplayer Online game is a very different animal than the single-player-only Elder Scrolls games. ZeniMax Online faces a difficult problem: how to adapt the franchise to the MMO space while not abandoning its signature flavor. “There’ve been challenges in terms of making sure that you give [players] a familiar space, and making sure the control scheme is familiar to Elder Scrolls players as well,” Wheeler says. While I didn’t find the control scheme difficult to master, I did find myself unimpressed with the combat, which felt repetitive and awkward, much like other MMOs.
Still, the feature that stood out as most Elder Scrolls-like was the breadth of upgrade choices. “It’s a very open-feeling system, in terms of your class development,” Wheeler says. “You can use any weapon, any armor…you can have a sorcerer in heavy armor using a bow. That’s right out of Elder Scrolls. You can play how you want to play.” That familiarity may help ground franchise veterans who feel, as I did, that the art style and the UI seemed a bit incongruous with previous Elder Scrolls games.
While Elder Scrolls Online’s main story is essentially a single-player experience, ZeniMax Online is working on balancing the game for solo, small group, and large group play. To encourage socialization with other players within the game world, Elder Scrolls Online features public dungeons, areas where any player can jump in and group up to battle enemies. This tactic is “a throwback to the old-school MMO world,” Wheeler says. He adds that the developer is hoping to lower the barrier to entry for Elder Scrolls veterans by using megaserver technology, which lets players jump right into the action. “We’ve been seeing that people just want to make a character and go,” he says. While that certainly makes life easier, they may want to tweak the opening quests, which I found frustrating and repetitive.
Whether Elder Scrolls Online succeeds depends on a number of factors, including the pricing model, which hasn’t yet been revealed. But the most crucial is how effectively ZeniMax Online can shepherd its large fanbase into its new take on Tamriel. We’ll see when it releases later this year.
J.P. Grant is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, Gamers With Jobs, and other outlets. He blogs about games at Infinite Lag and is also on Twitter.