A disappointing first look at The Elder Scrolls Online

Zenimax has a lot riding on The Elder Scrolls Online. Sure, it has a fantastic foundation given the success and fanatical following of the Elder Scrolls series. But, that hasn't been able to prevent Star Wars: The Old Republic from languishing. E3 was our first look at the game, and it should have wowed the crowd.

Instead, I was shaking my head, with a bit of a face palm thrown in.


The presentation showed off familiar spots from The Elder Scrolls games, such as Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Tribunal (a temple from the Morrowind expansion), along with plenty of ruins and dungeons for exploration. There were fly-bys of the scenery and zones, with an art style that will remind people they are in Tamriel, and promises of four-to-six-player and 25-player dungeons where players can utilize a real-time combat system. What was shown of the combat revealed a minimal interface that highlighted the familiar health, magic and stamina stats of the Elder Scrolls games. A mission was even shown where a player completing a time-traveling side quest to kill and undead werewolf in the past had implications on the present when that player returned. Finally, bits and pieces of the promised 100 vs 100 PvP were shown, offering a mass of screaming characters converging on a central location with swords swinging and magic flying.

And when the lights came up, all I could muster was "Is that it?" With a half-hour to show off its game, Zenimax offered an incredible lack of substance for a project that has been in development for five years. Maybe I was expecting too much, but I had hoped for a bit more flash and pizazz, or even something that I could actively talk about with enthusiasm. The graphics were flat, the combat system uninspiring and the general feel of the game had me thinking of vanilla World of Warcraft. Even the PvP, with a scale that had me intrigued, felt thrown together and tacked on at the last minute as an "oh by the way ..." When the minute-long E3 teaser spends just as much time on credits and titles as it does showing anything from the game, there is a problem.

The dwindling population problems encountered by Star Wars: The Old Republic since its launch has shown that a strong license does not guarantee success. And as fanatical as The Elder Scrolls player-base is, it will take a lot to keep them engaged. There are other MMOs in the wings--such as a new expansion for Rift and the Dungeons & Dragons-based Neverwinter from MMO veteran dev Cryptic Studios--that are poised to snap up players with an innovative character development hook or a new take on a popular pen-and-paper franchise.

The Elder Scrolls Online has a tough battle ahead, and based on their E3 showing, they appear unready as yet to handle it. Let's hope its next presentation offers a bit more "hell yeah" and a lot less "ho-hum."

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