I had the experience of watching a fan of the Elder Scrolls games play the new Elder Scrolls Online beta this weekend. Unfortunately for Elder Scrolls fans, the future does not look bright. In fact, my prediction is that if things stay the way they are, ESO’s launch will be a colossal failure similar to Star Wars: The Old Republic. Why, you might ask? Let’s discuss.
First and foremost, one of the most glaring things that stood out to me right off the bat was the absolute and utter failure of the loot system. The loot system in ESO is almost identical to World of Warcraft in that you kill a crab and miraculously get the 2 handed staff that was somehow tucked in the critters intestinal track. While such a loot system works fine in theme park MMO’s, it has no place in an Elder Scrolls game. If you liked having the option of what to loot from things in games like Morrowind, Oblivion, or Skyrim, prepared to be let down.
Some people I have talked to believe that the developers had to do this due to the “size” and “scale” of the game. It would be too difficult and prone to farming if they had implemented a Skyrim or Oblivion style of loot. This argument, however, holds no water. First, let’s address the farming. If an individual wants to spend a lot of time filling up their encumbrance and traveling to a store to sell loot, then let him or her do it. If you have concerns about rich people having an advantage over the casual adventurer, then ensure that major game enhancing items or abilities aren’t tied to your currency but rather your content. Furthermore, there should be somewhat of an advantage in a MMO when you comparing someone who puts more effort and time into things as opposed to the people that don’t. There’s nothing wrong with that, and farmers are merrily farming in all the successful MMOs as I type this.
If you have concerns about gold farming to sell for real money, there are several games on the market that curbed that problem. Eve Online, for example, sells time cards on their website and official vendors. Players that want more in-game currency spend real money on a time card code that they can sell in game for digital currency. It’s a win/win situation and the developers of the game are in control of the process. Other games like World of Warcraft have digital goods (Guardian Cub) that people can spend real money on, and then turn around and sell them in-game. Once again, the problem is managed by the developers of the game as opposed to the gold farming sites. Is there a perfect solution? No, but there are workable solutions and using this problem as a rationale for creating a junk loot system is complete hogwash.
The loot system the developers have designed in ESO is simply lazy programming, and basically a slap in the face of Elder Scrolls fans. If ESO can’t keep Elder Scrolls fans on the bandwagon, they’re done. The typical MMO gypsies will not fund/maintain this game, and that’s a fact. Having the ability to decide whether or not to loot several almost worthless items from a typical NPC is a hallmark of the Elder Scrolls series. The experience of occasionally finding something worthwhile above and beyond the fur boots was realistic and kept an element of interest, surprise, and fun – a stark contrast to the boring mechanics of loot found in theme park MMO’s. Furthermore, managing encumbrance, while sometimes annoying, also added a level of difference and appeal to the loot system. This aspect of the typical Elder Scrolls loot system is not incorporated into ESO.
Another big disappointment in the game is the level-based zone systems. Hello? Who’s bright idea was it to do this in an Elder Scrolls game? Once again, the developers decided to take the standard run of the mill theme park MMO doctrine and force that into the Elder Scrolls universe. Lazy programming trumps yet another staple that Elder Scrolls fans love: freedom to explore the world. Frankly there’s no excuse for lacking a persistent world big enough for the server population to explore at their own leisure, and other MMO games have already achieved this, some of them being a decade old already. Sure, it was probably easier to design a level-based system, but taking the easy road will not keep subscribers paying month to month, especially these days in an already saturated MMO market. What was really needed here for the Elder Scrolls brand was innovation and a relentless passion for achieving the core essentials of the Elder Scrolls experience, at all cost. When Bethesda decided to go down the MMO road with a developer, they should have ensured that a true die hard fan of the Elder Scrolls game was at the helm, making decisions that the dev team would have hated and thought impossible, but in the end would have paid off huge dividends as the core fans would be satisfied and willing to pay monthly for the experience.
There are other annoyances with the game that can be attributed to poor design decisions, too many to go into to be honest. For instance, there’s no pick pocketing. Apparently, even though any NPC in the MMO’s available today can remember if you have taken or completed a quest for the entire life of your character, the ESO system can’t be coded to remember who you stole from, and if you were caught, how it impacted their relationship with you. Once again, it could have been done, but the easy road was taken to ignore it all together. Another annoyance is the super easy and forgiving combat system. I don’t think it’s possible to miss monsters in this game from what I saw, so if you ever had those moments in Skyrim or Oblivion where you were a bit off your mark and kept missing the darn mob as they were coming for your throat (and all the adrenaline that brought with it!) you won’t get that in ESO. You can pretty much hit anything within a few inches of aiming for it. The guy I was watching, who is a big Oblivion/Skyrim fan as well as an avid MMO player, was absolutely bored to tears with the combat. It “looked” decent but was not engaging in any way, which definitely does not bode well for the game in the long run. Oh, and by the way you can last hit monsters to get their loot regardless of how much damage someone else has done or if they hit them first. Have fun with that!
So what does Bethesda need to do about this before April 14th, 2014? They need to make a decision: launch as is and have a failure on their hands within a few months, or stop the train, delay launch, and fix it so that their fans will appreciate the effort and support the game in the long-run. Personally I don’t see much of a choice here, but as with all things ESO I have no doubt that the easier road will be taken and the game will launch on time. Possibly a few million Elder Scrolls fans will pick up the game at launch and in turn will be very disappointed when they play, leading to a mass exodus when the first monthly payment is due.
If you truly care about the success of ESO, email them here to let them know your thoughts. Ask them to delay their launch and incorporate what you believe to be essential for the game to be a success. Who knows, your words coupled with other concerned players might tip the scales in our favor of receiving an Elder Scrolls MMO worthy of the franchise name.