The Elder Scrolls Online
Well, it finally happened. The moment we've been dreading -- er, waiting for -- for many years: the Elder Scrolls is going online.
The new MMO is being developed by Zenimax Online Studios, a separate division of the same publisher responsible for the original franchise. In other words, it's not being made by the same team that brought you Skyrim and there is a reasonable chance that it won't look anything like it.
The game is being directed by Matt Firor, the producer behind the very successful Dark Age of Camelot MMORPG. The game has been under wraps for several years now (Matt was brought on in 2007), but the possibility of an Elder Scrolls MMO has been speculated about for much longer than that.
Update for May 4
You can now check out Game Informer's exclusive teaser trailer on their web site:
The events are set a millennium before the events of Skyrim, well before the events of even the first Elder Scrolls game, Arena, which should help to avoid egregious narrative conflicts between the original series and the ESO, though it will no doubt introduce many lore violations for veteran ES fans to gnash their teeth over.
The story apparently revolves around an attempt by Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of domination, to drag the world of Tamriel into his private version of hell. To quote the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, the ultimate reference to all things Nirn:
Coldharbour, the immense realm of Molag Bal, is also one of the most inhospitable realms, consisting only of charnel houses and vast slave pens. Any mortal found here is captured and placed in one or the other. It resembles Nirn except colder, darker and more beaten and violent; according to some a premonition of the future of Nirn itself.
Having played Skyrim, I'm not entirely certain that the people playing ESO will be entirely successful in their efforts to defeat him.
Not much is known about the game at this point, though there are apparently three main factions to choose from and at least one game mode will involve PvP warfare across the province of Cyrodiil.
It's not clear if all of Tamriel -- from High Rock to Black Marsh -- will be included, or if it will be restricted to a smaller area (like Cyrodiil). With any luck, long-time Elder Scrolls fans will finally get their dream of a complete, border-free Tamriel experience. If that's the case, and the world is well designed, that alone will be worth the price of admission.
Get Caught Up
Contrary to what you might expect, many long-time Elder Scrolls fans are not pleased with the prospects of playing their favorite single-player RPG online with a bunch of new converts who are more interested in power-gaming than role-playing and who don't get the game's lore, which is voluminous and can be, quite frankly, a little arcane to noobs.
The fact that it is being developed by a different team of developers has also raised concerns, though it has relieved just as many. There's no doubt that the core team behind the Elder Scrolls franchise gets their own work: they know the world of Nirn and the unique experiences that the series makes available to players better than anyone else. There is some doubt, however, that they would be able to produce a balanced and bug-free MMO experience. Elder Scrolls games have always had their fair share of bugs, and they have never gone to great lengths to ensure that every character build is equally well balanced; in fact, a lack of strict one-to-one balance between character builds is one of the things that makes the series unique and interesting to play on multiple playthroughs, and in a single-player game, there isn't as great a need for balance.
By contrast, Matt Firor has extensive experience with the MMO universe and I have no doubt that he and his team are going to take pains to make sure that the Elder Scrolls Online experience is as stable and balanced as it can be. What has many players concerned is how well another team is going to be able to stay true to the franchise. As many in the forums have already said, if it just turns out to be a tired rehash of other MMOs, they don't want anything to do with it. Only time will tell if the ESO experience can really compare to the 'real deal' or if it just turns out to be another mass market alternative to a uniquely seasoned cuisine.