Jun 7, 2012

E3 : Elder Scrolls Online Underwhelms In Every Way Imaginable

Sometimes at Awesome-Robo we like to co-write our editorials, this particular entry is brought to you by RoboBrain and Chris Riley.

Elder Scrolls Online was one of the biggest unknowns at E3 this year, with a massive, gameplay free announcement preceding its reveal behind closed doors this year. We'd all heard for years that Zenimax, the Online division of Bethesda had been working on some kind of MMO based off one of their franchises, so the expectations were rather high considering the caliber of titles that Bethesda has released over the last few years.

Before I move on, I'd like to state that our impressions are based off what the developers decided to show off to supposedly impress us and the other press outlets, and that we were honestly very hopeful that they'd do something that would blow us away. Unfortunately, the presentation turned out to be one of the most uncomfortable experiences we had at E3 and ultimately ended up leaving a terrible taste in our mouth. The main question that came to mind throughout the 30 minute presentation was, 'What the hell were they thinking?'

There's a certain point when developing a game, especially a fantasy MMO where you need to take a long hard look at the gaming landscape around you and ask, 'Do we stand a chance to compete against juggernauts like World Of Warcraft, Terra and other titles which are constantly striving to evolve the concept of an MMO? Is the simple power of branding enough to make players to blindly drop money on a title?'

Unfortunately we were left thinking that the developers have been working in a bubble over the years, following the reveal of a generic world with barely anything to keep us even mildly interested. After spending a good chunk of the time 'revealing' the world of Elder Scrolls Online, we were already on the verge of running for our lives as the presentation continued. Generic fantasy design has always been an assumed outcome of Bethesda's work, but Elder Scrolls managed to take those expectations, baste them in a pot of early 2000 MMO design language, and finally present them to the E3 attendees in easily one of the most mundane and soul crushing presentations of the entire expo.

Generally, bad presentations can easily be attributed to the presenter, but this mess was completely out of the poor guy's hands. While he seemed wholly interested in what he had to show, the overall content was filled to the brim with uninspiring and flacid designs. From shots of active volcanoes, to barren fields, and finally generic dungeons, the entire world of Tamriel seemed to be designed based off of an Elder Scrolls Madlib book, allowing the dev team to insert what 'needs' to be an MMO rather than taking a chance and progressing the genre.

To say that they played it safe is a complete understatement, as we were left wondering if we had walked into some sort of time anomaly for a presentation of a slightly better looking Everquest. The complete lack of any type of risk taking nearly came off as a step backward, with the exception of a very rudimentary 'active' blocking and combat system which is already overshadowed by an entire generation of new MMO's offering vastly superior mechanics. The sense of agitation that overcame us as they spouted antiquated features was palpable, with a deathly silence enveloping the entire presentation as it started to drag on. The somewhat confused art style seemed to walk a treacherous line between stylized and realistic, featuring exaggerated proportions juxtaposed with at times simple, at times highly detailed, noisy environments. It encapsulated the confused identity of the title, which seemed to want to appeal to a World of Warcraft crowd while still trying to retain that Elder Scrolls flavor, therein lies the issue.

Rather than sticking to what made Elder Scrolls the beloved series it is today, Zenimax made the poor decision of sticking to what they know works. It's understandable that such an expensive endeavor would stick to a formula that is known to succeed, but when that formula puts currently released MMOs in a position above this unreleased disappointment, in terms of both quality and game mechanics, there's a problem. There isn't a single redeeming mechanic to the games antique gameplay qualities, and the sub-par 'active' block-system as mentioned earlier, does little more than raise an eyebrow at the weak direction combat seems to be headed, in fact it comes off as a petty attempt at Zenimax saying, "look, we did something new!" But at least there's PVP, right?

The final straw came in the form of a presentation of their 'epic' PVP system, featuring 150 characters from 3 factions engaging in a staged scenario in an arena intended for possibly 15. In theory the idea is awesome, but for anyone familiar with how this type of gameplay works online, it looked like an absolute clusterf***. On a larger map, it could be great, but what was shown looked to be the completely wrong direction the team should be headed in.

The disappointment we experienced stems from our expectations set by the quality of past Bethesda entries. Does anyone remember the incredible Skyrim reveal from last year, featuring that breathtaking dragon encounter, the absolutely jaw dropping environments and improvements? How could they possible expect anyone to be impressed with this type of followup?

Upon the presentations end, we quickly exited the theater in disbelief, with very few words, in fact the only thing that came from out mouths were the words "what the f*ck was that?" as we quickly picked up a controller for Dishonored in an attempt to "cleanse our palate" after the abysmal showing of the biggest disappointment of E3. With the fast approaching release of 2013, as developers we would be incredibly concerned on how Elder Scrolls Online would compete with gamers anticipation for titles such as Guild Wars 2, Blizzard's TITAN project, and a multitude of other upcoming MMO titles, because truly, what the f*ck was that?

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