It's been a long time coming, but Bethesda's critically acclaimed Elder Scrolls franchise is finally being given the MMO treatment. We recently had a chance to sit down with ZeniMax Online Studios' Matt Firor, who is acting as the game's director, to ask about the title's development. We began by inquiring about the 50 level cap, and what players can do once they've reached it.
“There is no hard level cap in ESO. In fact, when you hit level 50, you are only 1/3 of the way through the game's PvE/exploration content. Once you are level 50, you move on to Veteran Ranks and start leveling those. And, because ESO's skill system is not tied to player level, you can learn new abilities at any time, so even after level 50, you can keep developing your character, as long as you find skill points.
“By our rough estimation, it will take players between 120-150 hours to reach level 50 through their home Alliance. After that, they'll move on to play through the other two Alliances in special leveled versions of those zones. These numbers don't take into account doing PvP or dungeon runs and of course, the team will be delivering regular content updates – so there's a vast amount of fun to be had in ESO,” Firor stated.
We also asked whether players will be able to transfer their characters from PC and Mac over to consoles when the PS4 and Xbox One versions launch in June.
“We are not planning on having characters transfer from one platform to another,” he told us.
It seems that players will be able to spend plenty of time with Elder Scrolls Online, but we wanted to know who this game's subscription model was targeting. We also wondered if it had been important for the developer to release this at a time when other large titles were still on the horizon, with it being such a massive title.
“We've been committed to the subscription model from the inception of the project – so the game is targeted at gamers who want to play the next Elder Scrolls game online with their friends and make a simple one-time monthly payment. ESO is a huge game, and any other revenue model just wouldn't work for the game we're making – The Elder Scrolls is an IP based on freedom of play, making subscription the best model. Players can enjoy playing the game and needn’t worry about running into content they must pay extra for.
“The release date for each version is determined by the time we need to complete, balance and polish the game so fans get the best Elder Scrolls experience yet – nothing more,” he elaborated.
One of the factors that has made other MMO titles so successful is their regular flow of new content. We asked Firor how ESO would continue to expand over time.
“We are committed to creating content for the game – on regular intervals. Games like ESO tend to have very long lives, so we designed the geography of the game to make it easy to develop the 'blank spots' on the map of Tamriel to make more and more of it explorable over time. Also we are shortly going to introduce our Adventure Zones to the world, which are high-level, end game PvE content that has content for small and large groups. We will be adding more Adventure Zones over time as well,” he said.
We also wanted to know what Elder Scrolls Online will bring to the table that already established MMO titles, such as World of Warcraft, don't already provide players.
“We are 100% focused on providing the game fans expect from the Elder Scrolls name, and with that name comes a huge audience. We are all online gamers and have a deep appreciation for the work that other teams have done in the past and continue to do, but our focus is on the experience we are delivering,” Firor stated.
When launching such a massive title, it's important for developers to be ready for anything. We asked how much having a strong support team factored into the game's development.
“The Elder Scrolls Online is all about having a premium experience; from gameplay to customer service. So yes, we planned on having premium customer support from the beginning of the project, and put a lot of emphasis on best-in-class service,” he said
When thinking about the game's development, we had to wonder how the decision to make the game available on consoles factored into the game's creation, namely how it would affect the user interface.
“We began development on the PC version long before deciding to release a console version. After next-gen consoles were announced, our community continually asked us to bring the game to those platforms as well. We base our UI look and feel on Skyrim and Oblivion – simple, out of the way, with an emphasis on having the player look at the world, not at the UI. That philosophy is just as valid on console as it is on PC, so it makes our transition over to console easier than it otherwise would be. That being said, we are making many changes to our UI to make it more controller friendly,” Firor explained.
Moving on past the behind-the-scenes, we wanted to know how the events of ESO relate to the lore we read about back in Oblivion.
“Oblivion had its own crisis, when Mehrunes Dagon invaded Tamriel – but that is hundreds of years in the future during the time ESO is set. In ESO, there is a threat to Tamriel, but it involves the Daedric Prince Molag Bal and his attempt to enslave all the mortals of Tamriel,” he told us.
Finally, we wanted to know about the game's player limit, as well as what kind of disciplinary actions can be taken against players who abuse others.
“We will have two megaservers – one for North American players, and one for European players, although you will be able to create characters on both if you wish. The game's PvP area (Cyrodiil) has a population limit of about 1500-2000 players per campaign, but we'll have many campaigns running simultaneously,” Firor said.
We're looking forward to seeing how ZeniMax and Bethesda handled Elder Scrolls' transition from a single player experience to a massively multiplayer RPG. Elder Scrolls Online will be available for both PC and Mac on April 4th, with the PS4 and Xbox One versions coming sometime this June.