Leading up to the release of The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda has put together a series of cinematic trailers that rival a lot of Hollywood films for production value and sheer amount of fantasy-epic awesomeness. The trailers follow a trio of warriors – one from each of the game’s “alliances” – as they get caught up in the greater events affecting Tamriel. The trailers are a blast to watch, and I’ve linked them below.
Pretty fantastic, right? As fans of The Elder scrolls know, the denizens of Tamriel spend most of their time trying to murder each other, at least when not dealing with fire mountains, Oblivion gates, and reincarnated dragons. The new MMO looks to capture that feeling of strife and struggle amidst grand events; this time around Molag Bal, “Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement,” is working to merge Oblivion with the physical world of Nirn.
I greatly enjoyed the trailers, and would gladly watch a full-length feature, or maybe a series of webisodes, about the “three champions” and their eventual fates. What these videos don’t do, however, is give a genuine representation of The Elder Scrolls Online; I played a few hours of the ESO beta, and can attest that the gameplay is, as expected, about as far from these scenes as the Summerset Isle from Solstheim. To be fair to Bethesda, they aren’t the first game company to do this, nor will they be the last; the most prominent of the bunch is probably Blizzard, whose cinematic wonders for World of Warcraft are a far cry from the point-and-click reality. Hell, at least Elder Scrolls games let you aim your shots!
The problem with a marketing campaign of this nature, however, is that it’s not 2004 anymore; people know what to expect from an MMO, and doubly so from an Elder Scrolls game. I’m not saying MMOs can’t have engaging action – Tera and Guild Wars 2 have certainly altered the landscape in that regard – but I doubt many people are expecting an Uncharted-style action / platforming sequence like we see that rogue pull off. Everyone who’s even a casual gamer has probably played Oblivion or Skyrim in the past decade, and knows that area-specific damage and destructible environments aren’t a part of the proceedings.
The other problem is that even if these trailers do reach people out-of-touch enough to buy an MMO and expect action like this, those people certainly aren’t going to keep paying the monthly subscription fee once the truth outs. Nearly everyone in the industry has already questioned how long parent company ZeniMax can keep the game going on a paid basis; I know that every last person I would play this game with, on PC or console, lost interest the second the fee was announced. Even a strong initial showing for a subscriber model can trail off, as microtransactions and tiered payment systems continue to dominate the industry.
BioWare is one of the leading role-playing developers in the industry right now, and the difference between brand recognition of Star Wars and Elder Scrolls is night and day. The Old Republic got off to what was considered a pretty good start, sales and subscriptions wise; yet it eventually succumbed to a free-to-play model, and still has trouble generating interest from players. I love Star Wars and BioWare; I could go sign up and start playing it right now, and yet it’s not going to happen.
I know that a lot of companies have money earmarked for marketing, but I really can’t help but wonder if the time and funds put into these trailers is going to pay out in the end. The Elder Scrolls Online is currently an unknown quantity, for sure; MMOs are difficult to review, and the early months don’t necessarily reflect how the game will perform over time. If it didn’t have a fee, I’d probably be getting it when it launches for the One; as it stands, I just hope Bethesda doesn’t waste any more time before getting to Fallout 4.