Elder Scrolls Online Beta Raises Questions & Concerns
Another weekend rolled around, another Elder Scrolls Online Beta weekend that is, and I have still yet to be convinced. My second weekend within the beta left me with more unanswered questions, mostly surrounding to whom I could, if I wanted to, recommend the game. The Beta weekends have left me with hugely differing opinions on the content of the game, but my concerns about the subscription model and its target audience have remained the same.
The actual game (at least what I have played in the Beta) is fine. It’s exactly what you would expect from a modern Elder Scrolls game: large open areas, a natural living world, quest lines full of lore. It’s all there, just with a slightly MMO-like twist–and that’s where the concerns begin.
I often found myself enjoying my time with Elder Scrolls Online up until I was reminded it would be running a subscription model. There’s nothing to truly dislike about the game’s content, because after all, it feels like a direct follow up to Skyrim (putting storyline and time setting aside, of course), but that’s just the issue. Why would people pay monthly for a game that feels exactly like Skyrim?
Also, at times I had to check zone chat to remind myself I was playing an MMO, because there wasn’t much content that required me to team up with players, which consequently led to the feeling I was simply playing a singleplayer Elder Scrolls game. There’s the standard quests that are used as MMO filler, which involve going to one place to kill X amount of a certain monster and return, but they just feel out of place. In the modern MMO market, the likes of Guild Wars 2 have managed to merge the traditional grind quests with the player’s natural actions. It’s a mystery how ESO doesn’t even attempt anything like this and instead sticks to traditions of the MMO genre.
Elder Scrolls Online feels like it’s trying to be its own thing, but is ultimately restrained by trying to conform to the MMO staples. For every quest line that has an enjoyable story attached to it, there are three grind quests. This identity crisis starts to cause questions over the subscription model; are people willing to pay each month to play a game that feels like a co-op mode of Skyrim rather than an MMO set in the Elder Scrolls universe?
On a personal level, I found my time in the Betas to be decent, but I was rarely impressed. To put this into context, I recall being impressed numerous times in the Beta–and full release–of Guild Wars 2 after only an hour of playing. Elder Scrolls Online, in comparison, feels very stuck in the dated MMO ways. The game is packed with lore and familiar mechanics and themes seen in Skyrim and Oblivion, thus making it appealing to fans of the franchise, but are these same fans willing to drop money every month to play?
There has always been a divide when it comes to subscription-based MMOs, because it’s hard to appeal to those who have no past experiences in pay-to-play MMOs. The Beta weekends have been fun, but my question remains: who is this game created for and aimed at? MMO fans? Elder Scrolls fans? The lack of fresh ideas in the MMO side of the game could easily leave fans of the genre feeling rather jaded early on. Elder Scrolls fans may find it hard to justify the monthly investment as well as the initial purchase.
In my mind, Elder Scrolls Online may run into similar issues that Bioware’s Old Republic ran into: a successful launch with rapid player growth in the first few months, only to see a steep decline later on, resulting in the adoption of a free-to-play model. However, the console versions of Elder Scrolls Online could be the key to the game’s success; after all, it’s the first major MMO to hit consoles. There’s still a sense of risk with attacking the console market, as most of its players wont have much experience (perhaps even knowledge) with MMOs, though regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how Elder Scrolls Online fairs both on PC and consoles. Supporting the game will be key to its lasting appeal. Establishing a player base will also be vital, butt with a subscription model, I fear the latter may be an issue.