The Elder Scrolls is a saga that spans twenty years. Now, with the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online, what are the analogies and the differences with the previous installments?
About the gameplay, there are some contact points, but also significant changes.
First and foremost, in ESO, during the character creation, we will have to choose a class. This is absolutely commonplace for MMOs, but for the saga as a whole it’s something new. True, in some of the previous chapters we could have a class, but it was something nominal, a sort of “orientation”, that had little or no effect on the way we played the game… and if we were not satisfied with it, we could steer along the way, develop other skills and try an altogether different approach.
In ESO, we have to choose our path right away. Wizard or warrior? Thief or cleric? They may have different names, but basically these are the classes. And what are the peculiarities for each class? Just three skill lines unique for each class, since all other skills (weapons and armor included) can be accessed and improved by anyone. So, were classes really necessary? It might be too early to tell, but those degrees of freedom that Bethesda liked to instill in its single-player games have been probably sacrificed on the altar of multi-player needs, even if other MMOs have demonstrated that a classless system can work (i.e. The Secret World).
Another feature that might make up long-time fans turn up their noses is the factions: not the division itself, but the races that are matched together. Who would ever dream to see Argonians side by side with Dark Elves, who would consider them inferior lizards and enslave them? And Bretons and Redguards, so different and mortally opposed for years in the War of Betony? This time it seems the sacrifice has been made on the altar of PvP (or the Ava – Alliance versus Alliance – to be precise), since it required three factions, and they had to be made by three races each. The tenth race, the Imperials, has been correctly kept aside as some sort of “wild card”, since the factions vie for supremacy in Cyrodiil, the Imperial province. It seems that the only guideline was to divide them according to geography, not taking into account all the lore that was built in five games (and more, considering the spin-offs).
About the skills system, some concessions have been made, but basically it’s the same as the other TES titles. Skills improve by using them and everyone can use anything. When a skill reaches a certain level, you can purchase perks with skill points to make it more effective, just like in Skyrim. It’s interesting to notice that you can accrue skill points gaining levels, completing certain quest chains, and finding skyshards: the feature of our character is being able to absorb the energy of those crystals. While in Skyrim we were Dragonborn, here we are Soulless, a creature whose soul has been ripped away by the Daedra lord Molag Bal. And that’s why one of the most famous and useful spells of all TES, soul trap, here is an innate ability of our character. As usual, though, to make it work, we will need soul gems. I wonder where you can find the prized Azura’s Star in ESO…
From what we could see so far, the lore is used in an intriguing way, with lots of references to iconic characters and items of the saga. The daedra get the lion’s share, of course, with their princes and artifacts, but there is more: wandering through Tamriel, we will stumble upon all kinds of ruins: dwemer, ayleid and ancient nord, a sort of reference to the last three chapters of TES.
And, very early as we embark in the main quest, the mysterious Prophet will tell us some secrets hidden in the history of Tamriel. Of course I won’t mention any spoilers here: let’s just say that we will hear about Dragonborn and dragon fires, we will see the Amulet of Kings and we will witness the first steps of Mannimarco on his path to become the King of Worms.
In fact, Molag Bal and Mannimarco will be the villains of this new chapter, and to foil their insidious plan, this time one hero will not be enough…Related: MMO, MMORPG, The Elder Scrolls Online