Who wouldn’t want that?
The answer: not me. And probably not you, either.
The Elder Scrolls series is one of the most popular fantasy single-player RPG lines in history, and, from time to time, someone will float the idea of Bethesda converting the next chapter of its epic practically-an-MMO-already series into a full-fledged online game. Imagine all of Tamriel laid before you and a company of your closest allies, ripe for plunder and conquest. “4/6 red mountain need dunmer battlemage & nord tank then gtg.” I could go on, but if you’ve played Skyrim (and/or Oblivion/Morrowind), you don’t need any more convincing. I know I didn’t when the concept first crossed my mind. But over time, I started thinking that it wasn’t such a great idea and, recently, I came to believe that it would not only be a so-so idea but potentially a terrible one.
Not the least obstacle to such a game is Bethesda itself. Executive Director Todd Howard has repeatedly gone on record as saying the company has no interest in making an MMO out of the Elder Scrolls. His basic logic is sound, and it usually comes down to some iteration of, “We do what we do well enough, why change it?” Nevertheless, the rumors keep popping up every time a new chapter of the series is introduced (and I even had word from a source that works closely with Bethesda that they were indeed working on such a project last year).
But let’s suppose that Todd Howard was out of the picture or that he could be convinced to take that giant leap into MMORPG-land. On the surface, an Elder Scrolls MMO would look much like its single-player counterpart: a vast, open land, a rich background, nearly unlimited character creation options, action-based combat… but how would those elements translate over into an MMO?
The land. Each of the last bunch of Elder Scrolls games have taken place in a province of the Empire. Where would the TESMMO take place? Would it be limited to just one area or the whole of Tamriel? If it was the whole continent, it would all seem rather crowded, with major cities in different provinces only a short hike away, but if it was only one province, would it seem “epic” enough in scope for a game meant to last for years? True, expansions could add more land mass, but you’d still have a long ways to go before the entire world was open to you.
And then there are the dungeons. Skyrim has over 100, I think. Granted, they aren’t as deep as your typical MMO dungeon, but it seems to me that a major part of the Elder Scrolls experience is the exploration aspect, finding and delving into ancient crypts and ruins, and I’d want a similar experience in TESMMO. So in addition to an “overworld” land mass that would be about as large as any MMO, I’d want to have a wide variety of dungeons speckled throughout the land. That wouldn’t be hard. /sarcasm
The lore. This, I think, is one of the biggest sticking points of the whole concept. Each installment of the series has been set in a certain area at a certain point in history. Each game references events and heroes of the previous one. Assuming that TESMMO would also be set in a certain time frame, how does that affect future games in the series? How can an ongoing epic adventure go on forever in a world that’s constantly moving around — in the case of Skyrim, shifting ahead 200 years from the time of Oblivion? And once you defeated (i.e., raided) the great big evil, wouldn’t it seem a little disingenuous if another one pops up a few months (i.e., one update) later? I’ll put up with that in World of Warcraft and even LOTRO, but it just seems out of place in Tamriel.
Characters. Unlimited options are great in a single-player game, where if you make a “broken” character — either vastly over- or under-powered — it only affects your game. If similar tools were available to MMO players, you’d practically be forced to create the most combat-effective character in order to keep up with everyone else and be invited to groups, raids, guilds, etc. Stealth-based Elder Scrolls characters would die out, since pickpocketing and lockpicking don’t really fit into typical MMO gameplay. Let’s face it: MMOs are combat simulators, gussied up with social aspects and crafting tasks. You can play a single-player RPG at your own pace and suited to your own skill levels, but an MMO must often be played at the pace and level of others around you. This individuality and freedom of expression is at the core of the Elder Scrolls experience, and I think it would be lost in an MMO conversion.
Gameplay. I actually really like the combat of Skyrim and Oblivion and actually wish something more like it, especially the character movement aspects, would be incorporated into more MMOs. But, as noted above, non-combat activities, short of crafting, would probably not get their due. And then there’s the modding, which is as big an activity (if not bigger) for some TES fans as playing the games themselves. This would be severely limited, if not outright nonexistent, for an MMO. Sure, there might be some kind of content creation tools, like some MMOs have incorporated, but I doubt it would be the same.
Finally, there’s one significant hurdle that an Elder Scrolls MMO would be unable to fully overcome: it’s fantasy. I think we’re already hearing grumblings from the MMO community — and maybe you feel this way yourself — that players don’t want “another fantasy game.” Even for something as hotly anticipated as Guild Wars 2, I’m hearing that some people don’t want to play it because of its setting. And, as cool as The Elder Scrolls series is, its setting really is rather basic: a fantasy world with sword-wielding barbarians, robe-wearing mages, kings, dragons, elves, dwarves — well, one dwarf, at least. Well, half a dwarf. That would be a tough sell to an audience already tired of the same overused conventions in its MMO landscape. It’s the individual quirks, the level of customization, the attention to detail, and the rich storyline, I think, that makes The Elder Scrolls such a great series, and I fear that most of that would be lost in any attempt to convert it into an MMORPG.
A Fallout MMO, on the other hand… nah, it’ll never happen.