Bethesda Software

Elder Scrolls Online’s game director explains how you’ll be a standout badass among badasses

Elder Scrolls Online’s game director explains how you’ll be a standout badass among badasses

The Elder Scrolls Online beta isn't live yet, but sign-ups are underway and developers ZeniMax Online are prepping for the influx of players. But before Khajiit, High Elf, Argonian and Breton start to conquer Tamriel, the Report asked game director Matt Firor to shed some light on the world of Elder Scrolls Online.

Home is where the moon sugar is

The Elder Scrolls Online will show players the entire continent of Tamriel, where previous Elder Scrolls games have taken place. Tamriel contains nine provinces, each one inhabited by one or more of the series' races.Previous entries in the Elder Scrolls series have crafted not just unique storylines, but unique worlds and cultures. Morrowind is a strange and alien place, where Dark Elves inhabit mushrooms multiple stories high and, in Elder Scrolls III, awaited a messiah figure. Cyrodiil is a cosmopolitan empire, full of high-rise structures and wealthy cities; merchants can be found everywhere. Skyrim is a far more savage place, and fashioned after real-world viking lore – it even has the in-game equivalent of Valhalla. I asked Firor what would be in store for players once they journeyed outside these familiar territories. “We had to make sure they had their own unique visual identity, but felt like they belonged in the same world as the others,” he said. “When you travel from one area to another, you definitely feel that you’ve gone somewhere different, but it still feels like the same game.” Firor gave the example of Auridon, home of the High Elves. “The Elder Scrolls IP is very down-to-earth and gritty, so we had to take the traditional 'these are high elves' fantasy visuals – tall towers, white marble, landscaped terrain – and merge them with the grittier and more medieval-realistic (there are poor High Elf farmers, etc.). It came together very well.”

The hero(es?) of Tamriel

Porting a previously single-player experience to the MMO space can be tricky, especially with a property loved by so many. Game play changes have to be made – you can move the camera to first-person in ESO, but you won't see your hands or weapons as in previous games, and the realistic visuals have been dropped – and in an MMO space, you might be sharing the role of hero with hundreds, if not thousands of other players. In Morrowind, you're the Nerevarine. In Oblivion, you're the Hero of Kvatch. In Skyrim, you play as the Dragonborn. What happens in ESO, when there's a dozen other such legendary heroes surrounding you? Wouldn't your role be diminished? Firor explained there's no contradiction between being a hero and being surrounded by other legendary figures. You can still be a hero in an age of heroic deeds. That being said, players will still be recognized as individuals within the game world. Firor said there are several ways the game hopes to impart a natural sense of place on its audience. “First, the main story about your soul being stolen by the Daedric Prince Molag Bal is 100% solo and instanced, so that you never see other players while doing it,” he said. “As most of this story takes place in Coldharbour, Molag Bal’s plane of Oblivion, it feels natural that you alone - with other characters in the story - are standing up to the dark forces that are menacing Tamriel.” And once players are out and about in Tamriel? “We have a system where NPCs react to you based on choices you’ve made in the world, and deeds that you have done, like hailing you as a savior of a town that you’ve protected from an undead uprising, for example. Other players won’t see the NPCs reacting to you this way, and will see the correct NPC reactions for their choices,” Firor said. “Everyone remembers the 'Hail, Hero of Kvatch' moments in Oblivion and we want to make sure that we have that same feeling.”

Hail Emperor xXxRoyalWeasel27xXx!

Firor said that, along with questing and PvE content, there will be several other avenues through which players will be able to gain renown. Guilds are a familiar trapping of MMORPGs, but in the Elder Scrolls games, they function more as opportunities for questing and participation in a themed story. Which vision of guilds would fit with Elder Scrolls Online? Both, actually. Firor said that, along with the standard MMORPG-style guilds which will be run and maintained by players, the game will still feature the guild structure you know from the single-player Elder Scrolls games. You won't ever become leader of these guilds, but Firor said players will earn loyalty bonuses – such as a unique special ability – based on their time with a guild. Along with appearance options, gear, and how you choose to spec your character, these loyalty bonuses will help individualize the player populace. Another way to stand above the crowd is to become Emperor. In Elder Scrolls Online, the throne to Tamriel sits empty, and three factions war for control. When the dust settles, it will be the players themselves that end up taking the power. Firor was cagey with details; he said that who the Emperor is will be based on “PvP performance data,” and that the formula for deciding who this person is isn't done yet. Still, the prospect of people running the show – not NPCs or developers – is intriguing. TERA has a system where players vie for political power, and we've already seen that produce some interesting results. A similar system in Elder Scrolls Online would be well-suited to the world.

One, but the same

Elder Scrolls Online is going to be a big game. Literally. The continent of Tamriel is vast and expansive, with varied geographical terrain and climate. If Firor's team succeeds at their goals, the land of Hammerfell will look nothing like Skyrim, and Skyrim will look nothing like Elsweyr, but they'll all feel grounded in the same universe. Players will know their place as a hero, even surrounded by other heroic people. It won't be easy to make the world and players stand out while keeping them the same, but we'll have to wait until the beta actually begins before we can judge that. If you're aching to start exploring Tamriel, you can still sign up for the Elder Scrolls Online beta.