games / Columns

Scrye 11.14.12: Elder Scrolls Online

November 14, 2012 | Posted by Alli Miranda

I can recall my first memories of the Elder Scrolls, the dungeon where you wake up in Daggerfall, following paths and tunnels until eventually getting to do battle with a very grumpy and very pixelated skeleton.

Morrowind had even more of these “Wow!” moments. The very beginning of the game, where you first get off the ship, and get a glimpse of the vast ocean surrounding the small introductory town of Seyda Neen, perfectly mirrors the scope and size of the world you’ve just stepped into. Coming over a hill and seeing a town in the distance, its citizens nonchalantly going about their business was always a treat. The Ashlands, The Temple of Vivec, vampire lairs, I could go on and on.

I found myself playing Skyrim for a few hours this week, after getting it upon release, doing most of the side quests and intentionally ignoring the main story, (as I often do), and then kind of getting burnt out and giving the game a break. It turns out it was a longer break than I expected, as my save file read 12/7/11.

The best part about the Elder Scrolls games has always been that unique single player experience of exploring a massive world and leaving your mark on it, so to speak, coupled with the dungeon raiding, loot finding, quest solving, monster slaying that made so many of us eager to return to the world of Elder Scrolls, once we’d devoured the previous entry. The important thing has always been its single player experience, which is why the mention of an Elder Scrolls Online just seems wrong, for a number of reasons.

I’ve been disturbed about the recent mention of an Elder Scrolls Online game, I don’t know what kind of stuff has made its way into the water lately, but it seems like all the series that have made a name for themselves with interesting single player experiences, are either adding plainly unnecessary multiplayer modes, (Dead Space, Bioshock, Mass Effect) or going the massively multiplayer route (The Old Republic). What if i just want to play with myself?

I’m no stranger to the Elder Scrolls series, either. I picked up Daggerfall soon after release and spent months journeying across its huge landscape and seeing most of its 1,500 various towns scattered about. Morrowind was an even bigger time sink, and its numerous factions and quests kept my attention for what seemed like an eternity. Oblivion too, though not the most highly regarded of the series, still sang a familiar song, that gave me hours upon hours of playtime. Skyrim, the series’ newest offender, has captured my attention for hours at a time, yet seems to be the world I have ventured to for the least amount of time.

I’m not anti-multiplayer, or anti-MMO, either. I’ve played quite a few MMO’s, actually and enjoyed most of the ones that I have played. I’m anti multiplayer for the sake of multiplayer, especially when those experiences were doing fine as single player experiences.

This trend towards more multiplayer focused gaming sets a terrible precedent for those of us that just want compelling, story driven single player experiences. What if I don’t want to quest with a horde of other people? What if I don’t want to PvP with some dude in a third world country that I’ll never meet?

I don’t think I was as disturbed when I heard that Knights of the Old Republic was becoming an MMO. Sure, I enjoyed the original and I even enjoyed the sequel, (that ending bugged me though), but unlike the vast majority of gamers who were quite vocal about their displeasure, I went with the more neutral approach of cautious optimism.

The Elder Scrolls going MMO seems to hit a lot closer to home though. It’s as if the last bastion of compelling single player experiences has opened a door usually reserved for the desperate, the unoriginal or the unevolved.

Oh, I’m still cautiously optimistic, even if The Old Republic will be going free to play very soon, instead resorting to supporting itself through the micro-transactions that have seeped into online gaming, like a sewer pipe pumping sludge into a crystal clear spring.

I’m sure there will still be single player experiences out there worth playing. Even the words “single player” seem almost taboo lately, as if they were spoken of in development studios in hushed tones, by cloaked and hooded figures that create these worlds that we, as players, will eventually inhabit.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that role playing games seem to have staved off multiplayer far longer than the first person shooters, the fighting games, or the real time strategy games, as well as the hardcore board game crowd (take that, Family Game Night!). I know, the whole text based MUD (multi user dungeon) worlds were alive at the end of the 90’s and all, but no one was trying to shove it down our throats.

The irony here, is that I’ll probably end up playing it, and might even enjoy it for a time, as I did with The Old Republic. But I can’t help wondering what could have been. For games like The Old Republic and now The Elder Scrolls Online, the two words “what if” may be the most dangerous words indeed. They bring to mind worlds that could have been, stories that could have been told, and new generations of gamers that may have been enraptured all over again by these digital storytellers, had different paths been taken.

For Bethesda and Bioware, the future of MMO gaming may be uncertain, but may not be nearly as bright as their past. Like the Jedi and the Dragonborn in their respective worlds, they are a dying breed. A symbol of a once great power, now faded, like ghosts of the past, they still linger on, perhaps not as vengeful spirits, but more of a sad reminder of things that once were, but can never be again. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, who still had time to change, these shadows are of a time long past, as unchanging as the seasons, as bitter as the harvest and as cold as the coming winter.

What do you guys think?

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Alli Miranda
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