The Elder Scrolls Online


It's been a very long time since I was really excited about a computer game; I haven't bought many games in the last few years at all, and I've been pretty good at not impulse-buying as has been my previous tendency. This is tempered somewhat by the smaller (but growing) pool of Mac compatible games and my unashamed disdain for modern games consoles. So this game comes along that's a pretty big deal in terms of it's pedigree; what's perhaps more important is that this game comes along and has a Mac native version from day one. This isn't a review, but a few thoughts about the nature of the game and it's significance.

Mac versions of games are getting more and more common, and they usually rely on a third party framework (often with "witty" recursive acronyms) to handle Direct X and Windows functionality that obviously does not exist on the Mac. On the whole this works pretty well, but tends to come some time after a game's initial launch and has its own set of drawbacks in performance and stability. The number of games that are written to run directly on OS X is comparatively small still, so it's noteworthy when a major title takes this route and the wider industry is likely to pay attention to it's success or failure. For this reason, I'd ask anyone with a Mac that might be interested to at least take a look. Gaming is a huge part of the personal computer industry, and as the Mac becomes more popular it will need to be an accessible and dependable part of the Mac ecosystem too.

So this game is The Elder Scrolls Online, though your probably know the series of games that came before it by their more prominent subtitles: Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim being the most recent and most popular. I've always felt that these games could do with some multiplayer interaction and 'Online' is doing that on the Massively Multiplayer (an acronym coined somewhat before the rise of billion-user social networks) scale. This is simultaneously the game's greatest and worst feature: thousands of other players.

I first encountered MMORPGs back in 1999 (almost a decade and a half - yikes) with Asheron's Call. The concept was relatively new and pushing the boundaries of network technology. Multiplayer video games had been around for some time of course, but too often this involved flakey self-hosting and was a serious pain to get running reliably. The sheer number of people sharing your game-world and co-operating towards common challenges was far more important than the game itself (though I wouldn't sell the games short). This type of game went on to dominate my gaming habits ever since. I have played enough MMORPGs of one sort or another that I would need to borrow the hands of four other people to count them all.

The Elder Scrolls games are the opposite. The sense of loneliness — not sad, unwanted solitude but a sense of individual struggle and personal danger — is a core facet of the series' player experience. You will have allies and companions but the adventure focuses intensely on you. Still the concept of running into another player and being able to face the challenges of an ancient, zombie-infested, ruin together has a distinct appeal; especially as the series' lore is packed with heroes, villains and deeds of great sacrifice and insidious evil. The world needs other characters that are having similar centre-of-the-story experiences, even if your interaction with them is only fleeting. The solo-player experience has never quite been able to deliver on this, even when your character is interacting with the most well-written narratives.

It's this that will be overshot by TESO, by the nature of the format there won't be a handful of other individuals around whom the world swirls — they will of course be everywhere. Thousands of them. The loss of loneliness will have to be made up for by the addition of epic co-operation. Those things aren't at odds, it's a substitution of styles, but it will feel immediately and unavoidably different for a series veteran. I'm really looking forward to it, and as a veteran of co-operative gaming on this scale I am perhaps better prepared for the culture shock.