Almost a year ago, The Elder Scrolls Online was released to the world on PC, and although a console version was supposed to be released alongside, and then a little later, and then the next year… we are still without the game on PS4 or Xbox One. The game is scheduled to release on June 9th 2015 and now that it has been renamed The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited and remodelled as free to play it may have a home after all on home consoles.
It is fair to say that ESO did not wow us or succeed as Bethesda were hoping when it arrived last year. There was a variety of reasons for this, such as the full price of the game as well as a monthly subscription requirement rather than just one or the other. Many people, myself included, excitedly played the beta test and discovered that the genre jump that Bethesda had made was only partially successful. Any developer changing genres will be deeply challenged, and while Bethesda made a perfectly good game with perfectly good individual mechanics, the confusion that was inherent regarding the MMO game versus Elder Scrolls game meant that no factor of the game seemed to sit comfortably where it was supposed to.
The game’s unique promises such as the Mega Server and the Elder Scrolls style combat were either completely lacklustre or else just failed to fit into the new genre that Bethesda had endeavoured to explore. The game ended up being a slightly uncomfortable conglomerate between Single Player RPG and MMORPG that could not quite get the perfect marriage that Bethesda had promised and that we had hoped for.
MMORPG or Elder Scrolls or both?
Yet all the reasons that caused ESO to fail on PC are precisely the reasons why it may succeed on console should the release ever see the light of day. Console and PC markets are extremely different. Certain games have a happier home on one platform or the other for various reasons. The two genres that immediately come to mind when one thinks of the PC platform are MMORPGs and Real Time Strategies. RTSs absolutely require a mouse and keyboard, there is just no other way to play them right? Well basically yes, although we have technically been proven wrong on that. Halo Wars which arrived in 2009 was an incredibly basic but also a perfectly functional console RTS that was a pretty decent game if approached from the right direction. It worked and indeed succeeded because rather than defiantly challenging the limitations of its platform, it conformed to them and delivered the best experience it could in that way. ESO may well do the same.
Expectations are different on consoles. Your average console gamer has not spent hundreds of hours playing LAN matches in Age of Empires II or getting a character up to level 80 in World of Warcraft. They were largely new to the RTS genre when they played Halo Wars and they will be largely new to the MMORPG genre when they play ESO. This is not even down to the elitist notion that PC gamers being more advanced and more able to enjoy complex mechanics. I don’t agree with that attitude. Rather, the expectations of the genre are not set in stone in the minds of console gamers. They don’t instinctively know what a MMORPG should play or feel like. They will likely approach ESO as Skyrim Online, rather than as an MMORPG in the Elder Scrolls universe, and while this may not have been Bethesda’s intention, it would be a happier approach based on how the game turned out.
If taken completely out of context of MMORPGs that we know and love, then ESO was an interesting, expansive and inviting game with a lot to enjoy. The average console gamer will be offered something very new to them by ESO and they will have the ability to approach it with a mentality that is not plagued by previous knowledge of the genre.
An Online Skyrim may be more at home on consoles
We are all guilty of comparing the new to the old as well as being too influenced by nostalgia. While this is important in order to encourage ever increasing standards, it also can prevent us from playing games on their own terms and enjoying them for what they are rather than what we want them to be. Ultimately, ESO would spearhead its genre on consoles whereas on PC it was simply one of many and not even completely comfortable where it was. The game wasn’t really for me on PC. Frankly, the Beta failed to sell me. Yet I may just end up picking it up on console when it releases. It just seems a better fit.