Examining 'Elder Scrolls' Multiplayer Potential

How Skyrim can work as Elder Scrolls MMO

Game Rant's Anthony Taormina and Rob Keyes analyze the potential of Elder Scrolls multiplayer.

At last night’s Spike Video Game Awards, Bethesda Softworks pulled out what may have been the only true surprise announcement of the night by revealing the first teaser trailer and release date for the next entry in the Elder Scrolls series. Titled Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the next entry into Bethesda's fantasy series to fall in line with the other powerful success record of Bethesda’s history of RPG titles. Though the Skyrim trailer contained no real footage to speak of, the real question is what type of game experience will Skyrim offer?

We know it's coming but what we don't know, is what type of gameplay Skyrim will feature or if all the hints and evidence about it possibly featuring a multiplayer element (co-op?) or actually being an MMORPG will form the truth about Elder Scrolls V. So for now, let's talk about how if Skyrim or more specifically, the larger world of Tamriel, can work as an MMO.

With Oblivion and Fallout 3 feeling like ostensibly two similar playing games with different facades, what can Bethesda do to make Skyrim not feel like another retread of similar territory? The obvious answer to the droves of fans that have requested it is to make an Elder Scrolls MMO although such a game would likely explore than just the province of Skyrim, but would allow players to return to previously explored areas including Morrowind, High Rock and Hammerfell. Having not seen any gameplay or screenshots of Skyrim yet, an MMO or multiplayer functionality still remains a very real possibility. Game Rant looked to the footage, Bethesda’s history, and some statements made by Bethesda to find out if Skyrim is the Elder Scrolls MMO gamers want it to be.

Your first thought might be that Skyrim is based in just that one province but Elder Scrolls lore provides opportunity for how such a game with a one-province title could be much more than that. Skyrim is a war-torn land with history of territorial disputes, ranging from invading the province of Morrowind to the War of the Bend'r-mahk which saw Skyrim battling inside the borders of Hammerfell and High Rock.

Elder Scrolls 5 to feature Skyrim Wars

Since the RPG became one of the most popular game genres in the video game stratosphere, there has always been talk of the more popular series becoming massive, massively multiplayer that is. Ever since the huge boom that is World of Warcraft, a MMO version of an already popular game series, there continues to be rumbling of which other franchises with built-in audiences will make a similar leap. As we speak, LucasArts and BioWare are doing exactly this with The Old Republic, making an MMO out of the widely successful single player RPG titles, Knights of the Old Republic.

The other series that has always been at the top of the list for the MMO jump has been the Elder Scrolls franchise. Not only would the RPG gameplay and the first person melee combat be the perfect contrast to what is done by many other MMO developers, but the worlds Bethesda created in the continent of Tamriel are already so huge, not only in physical size but in history and culture, that they are just calling out for multiple players to inhabit and journey through.

Even the act of playing Oblivion itself called out to something akin to the MMO experience with such a populated and lively world. The franchise’s ability to take away so many hours of a gamer’s life is certainly a quality any MMO player knows very well. Making the leap from single player to multiplayer experience would extend an Elder Scrolls title to not just a 40 or 50-hour game but a game where players are logging weeks or months in their playtime. Some already dedicated an unspeakable amount of hours to Morrowind and Oblivion, and even to Arena years before that.

With Fallout 3 specifically, Bethesda has shown that they are willing to not only provide regular but also rich content to keep the experience going for the gamer. Being able to extend an experience like Skyrim through updates and expansions would be the perfect venue for the developer to continue that long running commitment to fans but also to introduce new and exciting elements without having to completely revamp the engine for a new title. Instead of a piece of DLC adding a new shorter series of quests, Skyrim expansions could do for Elder Scrolls what things like Lich King and Cataclysm are doing for WoW — making the game feel completely new.

More importantly, all of the little details of fundamental fantasy MMO gameplay are there. From questing, to inventory systems, custom clothing and armor, spell casting and spell making, alchemy, mounts, guilds, a variety of classes and leveling up, etc. etc. They'd obviously need to add in the party-making system and more crafting and mounts, but the world and gameplay are there.

Speculation could go all day as to what could or couldn’t go into an Elder Scrolls MMO. What should be included is an engaging storyline, as hinted by the VGA trailer, and an evolution of the gameplay found in Oblivion; hopefully even a return of some of Morrowind’s more popular elements that were removed for Oblivion.

Elder Scrolls Multiplayer

Development Time & An MMO Engine

So many MMOs come and leave just as fast because they're often incomplete or infused with bugs. That's usually due to lack of development time and funding. Bethesda on the other hand, like Blizzard, has the finances, built-in fanbase and all the time in the world to make an MMO the right way. At the beginning of this year, it was revealed that back in 2006 or 2007 Bethesda had started putting together a team to work on a “World of Warcraft” type of MMO. Unfortunately, at the time there wasn’t much detail as to what that title would be or which, if any, of the developer’s franchises it would draw from. The one fact that was brought to light was Bethesda’s belief that the best timetable for the development of an MMO is about 4 years. By starting in 2006 or 2007 and jumping 4 years into the future, that would put Bethesda’s MMO release somewhere in 2010 or 2011. Coincidence or not, Skyrim is set for a November 11th, 2011 release. Unless Bethesda has put their MMO to bed or has another title rolling around in their HQ alongside two major franchises in Elder Scrolls AND Fallout, Skyrim fits the bill perfectly.

While it was previously rumored that the next Elder Scrolls title would be utilizing Id Tech 5, the engine now being made popular by upcoming game, Rage. Bethesda has announced via twitter that Skyrim will be using its own engine, something they've developed just for this game. Again, they've had the time and resources.

When Bethesda denied they were using Id Tech 5, they cited a need for open world gameplay as a deciding factor. Essentially, Bethesda passed on Id Tech 5 because it wasn’t going to be able to achieve the type of open world they were looking to include in their next title. For anyone that has seen Rage, it looks to have a pretty substantial open world component to it, almost like Fallout or Oblivion. If Bethesda wanted an even wider expanse to work with than what is being done with Rage, then they certainly are either making a huge single player world (bigger than before) or something more akin to what is found in World of Warcraft.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Is Elder Scrolls V an MMO?

Hurting the Immersion & Experience of The Story

While an Elder Scrolls is certainly a likely possibility down the road for Bethesda, the question is whether or not players would want it? Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Final Fantasy have all provided new and worthy single player RPG experiences and many fans of the genre may fear the MMO effect of filling out the game with lengthy and tedious quests (i.e. Find another five wolf pelts). The story and character progression may be extended but simplified to force players to play month after month to warrant expensive monthly subscription fees. This may damage what makes The Elder Scrolls games special.

Perhaps the best option is for Skyrim to continue the format of the series thus far, but to continue expanding and improving gameplay elements. Adding a co-operative multiplayer element wouldn't be changing the game entirely to an MMO but would allow for friends to share in the journey and campaign.

Without any substantial information to go on at this point, it’s hard to point to Skyrim and dub it a MMO, despite evidence that Bethesda is working on what likely is a Fantasy-based MMO. There are some signs that do indicate that Bethesda wants to take their fifth Elder Scrolls title and do something completely new with it, but that doesn’t mean making it multiplayer. Either way, whether Skyrim is a MMO or is another fantastic title in the Elder Scrolls franchise, there is going to be a huge audience of gamers waiting to pick it up on day one.

Whether Skyrim is the long-rumored MMO some expect it to be or not, the most important question is whether or not we can fly some dragons.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim releases November 11, 2011.

Follow us on Twitter @rob_keyes and @GameRant.

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