So, Bethesda has announced that their next Elder Scrolls game is going to be an MMO. I wonder how long it's going to be until somebody starts touting it as the "potential WoW-killer".
It'll probably be interesting, but I expect it'll be as much of a WoW-killer as Star Wars: The Old Republic turned out to be, i.e. not very much. Here's why:
Bethesda is not a gameplay master.
Bioware has the same problem, and when they made an MMO, they tried to take the thing they're good at (writing) and put that in the MMO "genre" somehow. And, yeah, SW:TOR has vastly superior writing for an MMO. However, it has mediocre, derivative gameplay. And the exploration isn't all that, either.
Where does Bethesda really shine? Exploration. So I kind of expect that ESOnline (Grr, I can't call it ES:O because that'd be confusing with Oblivion) will have utterly awesome exploration aspects. The writing and gameplay will probably be mediocre and derivative, though. Heck, the Molag Bal thing hinted about in the Escapist article was basically the main plot of ES: Oblivion. They borrow even off their OWN stories. Bethesda is the exploration master. Oh, even SW:TOR has pretty scenery (at least, for Imperials it does once you get off the horrible Planet of Mustard Yellow, i.e. Hutta), and they have speeders to get around and codex entries to find and datacrons to seek out, but once you've been round the block these become a chore that must be accomplished to fill out your character. I expect that ESOnline will have umpteen bazillion more opportunities of this kind, better designed, better thought-out, and rewarding in a way that will keep people engaged in exploration even after they've capped their first toon.
MMO's, though, when you get right down to it, are about GAMEPLAY. That's what ultimately keeps people playing for years on end. Not the story. Not the running around poking into things. The fact that the core game mechanic, whatever it is (generally, murdering tons of dudes), is FUN.
That is where Blizzard shines, and always has, since Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. If anything is going to be a WoW-killer, it'll be whatever new MMO Blizzard is working on, because, whatever else, you can bet that they won't have mediocre, derivative gameplay. Heck, Diablo III will probably be a better WoW-killer than anything Bethesda is likely to work up.
I grant you, gameplay ALONE a WoW-killer doth not make. I think Dungeons and Dragons Online has really fun gameplay (and has been making Turbine money for over six years as a result), it just doesn't have quite the breadth of appeal to aspire to WoW-killer status. I think it's pretty safe to say that nearly their entire user base consists of two groups: kids who try it because it's free, and adults who liked 3rd or earlier edition D&D. This is not a large group of people. WoW appeals to many, many more people than "people who liked Warcraft". However, the appeal of Star Wars is enormous, but that didn't make SW:TOR a WoW-killer.
In the end, gameplay is king of MMO's. Get that right, and you at least have the potential to aspire to WoW-killer-hood. Get it wrong, and you will never make it there no matter how much you have going for you in other areas.
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