This may or may not become a two-part series, depending on how much I can find out. So for now expect it to be a one-parter.
The Elder Scrolls. Undoubtedly one of the most popular game series of our generation (I use that term loosely). Skyrim sold millions of copies across the world, earned at least $700 million to date without the upcoming Dawnguard expansion counted at all, and broke records on Steam for having upto 5 million concurrent players at once.
The perfect candidate for an MMO, right? Well…
That remains to be seen. Skyrim was one of the most beautiful games in the world, yes, but the big money-making features of MMO’s vary wildly from single-player games. You purchase Skyrim once. You continually pay for an MMO. An Elder Scrolls MMO would need to be far more grabbing and have far more retention in order to be successful – in Skyrim, you don’t miss huge updates or sudden changes if you don’t play it regularly.
But that’s not the perspective I want to look at. I want to look at the differences between ESO and Skyrim – and why, lore-wise and feature-wise, players may not get what they’re bargaining for if they buy it.
Skyrim had one huge feature that elevated it far above the previous four Elder Scrolls games. It had dragons. The technology Bethesda had spent nearly 15 years on had allowed for flying, scaly monstrosities to terrorise Tamriel at last.
But dragons cannot be in ESO. Not at all.
In all of the collected histories of Tamriel, there are few dragons purported to be in existence during the time ESO is set (the first Interregnum) – Paarthurnax, who players of the main quest will remember fondly, unless they killed him for the Blades. The long-lost brother of Alduin who betrayed dragonkind by siding with mortals during the long-since forgotten Dragon War. He’ll have to be present, but the Greybeards are notoriously protective of him – I doubt that any old player will be allowed to access him. In fact, only two non-Greybeards have been permitted access to him in ‘recent’ years – Tiber Septim and the Dragonborn player character in Skyrim. And the game is set centuries before either of those were born – and thousands of years after the last-known people to communicate with dragons – Gormlaith, Felldir and Hakon.
The other dragons I mentioned? Footnotes in lore, though some tomes say that Tiber Septim made pacts with the dragons – and others say that he was a Dragonborn and destroyed the last dragons.
Perhaps I was too rash. There can certainly be some dragons – after all, the Septim empire’s symbol is a dragon. But not in the numbers seen in Skyrim. Not enough to facilitate construction of dragon armour for everyone. And the survivors of thousands of years of dragon-hunting will certainly be considerably more powerful than your average MMO adventurer.
The setting of the game is perhaps a more pressing concern. Set in the dwindling days of the Second Era, or perhaps the middle. Certainly a thousand years before Skyrim takes place. The Cyrodiil dynasty of emperors and the Potentates which followed are all dead. Tamriel is in the midst of civil war. There is no emperor. That much was known already. But three factions have formed, of which we only knew about one before. The Aldmeri Dominion, Ebonheart Pact and Daggerfall Covenant.
We know about the Aldmeri Dominion. But this is an entirely different one to the one in Skyrim which threatens to overturn the empire and enslave all mankind. Sort of. Mer are considerably longer-lived than men, and a large amount of Thalmor in the Second Dominion remember the brief power held in the First Dominion. Their rule in Skyrim is considerably more oppressive than that of the Empire, but given that the First Dominion was formed a thousand years prior in a war-ravaged continent, that oppression might be more… normal in ESO.
The Daggerfall Covenant is an alliance between Hammerfell and High Rock, yet also includes orcs – despites orcs being viewed as enemies and pests in High Rock until the events of the Daggerfall game which established the orc kingdom of Orsinium as an autonomous region of High Rock. Huh. Anyway, the Redguards are at least dedicated – except the alliance of half of them with Tiber Septim to make Hammerfell an Imperial dominion rather than a democratic state threw Hammerfell into a civil war that has lasted right up until present time. Which sort of suggests that the Daggerfall Covenant will have trouble getting any power in this game, considering in the official lore, they never did. In fact, High Rock was conquered by Tiber Septim.
I may be focusing too much on Tiber Septim – after all, the game takes place 500 years before he’s born. So really, this game has no effect on the lore at all. We aren’t going to see Tiber Septim, and we aren’t going to see -anyone- named Septim because he adopted that name after moving from Atmora to Skyrim. Hence why all Nords refer to him as Talos, his Atmoran name.
Which reminds me, there can’t be a god named Talos in this game either.
The Ebonheart Pact is an alliance between Skyrim, Black Marsh and Morrowind. That’s quite interesting. I would have expected Skyrim to ally with a human state. But the Akaviri are apparently encroaching on southern Skyrim from Cyrodiil – and High Rock and Skyrim have had countless wars over border disputes. So I suppose Nords can get over their racism for now. But the Dunmer have been attacking Black Marsh and using Argonians as slaves for even longer than that. Which I find quite confusing. But desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.
You may be thinking at this point: What about Cyrodiil? What role do the Imperials have in this?
Ah, yes. They’re the enemy. They have allied with Molag Bal, who is attempting to drag Mundus into his realm of Oblivion. Yay! In return for placing Dark Anchors, he is taking the souls of the dead Imperials so that they can live again. And that explains how your non-Imperial character gets to be immortal.
As far as I know there are no playable Imperial characters except when you mysteriously time-travel to see things in the past. Uhm.
But hey, at least we get to go all over Tamriel and see who’s in the towns from Morrowind and Oblivion and Skyrim, right?
This game is set a thousand years before Skyrim. To put this into perspective, Riverwood in southern Skyrim was founded no more than a century prior – Gerdur’s family set it up a ‘few generations ago.’ The same can apply to the small towns of Helgen, Rorikstead, Ivarstead, Shor’s Stone, Dragon Bridge, Karthwasten, and potentially even the small holds of Falkreath, Dawnstar and Morthal. Solitude, Whiterun and Windhelm are guaranteed to be there because they were established by the first settlers of Tamriel – Ysgramor and the Five Hundred Companions. But the towns and minor holds of Skyrim should be completely different because none of them are that old. Probably only a few predate the Interregnum because everything was destroyed in this war and rebuilt during Tiber Septim’s reign.
Big things such as the Imperial City (which was built by the Ayleids, ancestors of the Aldmer) are obviously going to stay, but might have to be smaller. A huge chunk of this game will be ‘wilderness’ compared to towns and cities. In fact, Vvardenfell (that huge island that is the playable bit of Morrowind) has no infrastructure. Because of Red Mountain’s eruptions it wasn’t inhabited officially until the start of the game – when you are brought to inhabit it.
And let’s not forget the Daedra! Aside from the Amulet of Kings, which makes it nigh-impossible for the Daedra to communicate with Mundus, never mind materialise on it, maybe because there is no emperor the protections have fallen. Maybe you can meet the Daedra like in Oblivion. But can you get their artefacts?
No. Unlike in Arena, Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim you are not -the- hero. You are -a- hero. Azura’s Star and the Wabbajack will not be simple quest items and weapons with a cool enchantment – they will be legendary weapons and they will be ridiculous to obtain if they are in the game at all.
So, let’s sum up what we’ve discovered:
Very few dragons
No dragon armour
No Tiber Septim
Daedric items are legendary (or from raid bosses ala Molag Bal)
You won’t recognise Tamriel
You can’t play Imperials
The three alliances are very much of convenience
We will see Akaviri
Imperials are evil
Of course, a number of my points rely on ZeniMax getting the lore right. ZeniMax owns Bethesda. ZeniMax is not Bethesda. This leaves me more than a litlte concerned that these things they need to get right will be completely messed up, or that they will just copy-paste things from the other games. If they don’t get it right, then a faction of players who value the story – myself included – may be lost from their profits.
And thanks to Bethesda’s incredible attention to minor detail – they have a lot to get right.