PC gamers got a surprise yesterday when Zenimax Studios announced the much-delayed release of the Dark Brotherhood DLC for The Elder Scrolls Online. In theory, the addition of the assassin’s guild to the MMO is a cause for joy. Players have been clamoring for the opportunity to rejoin one of the Elder Scrolls’ most popular guilds since ESO was announced in 2012. Now, nearly four years later, PC players can finally take to the shadows (console players will have to wait until June 17) and really let the blood flow.
Will the new addition be enough to bring lost players back to the troubled MMO, though? Elder Scrolls Online and Zenimax Studios have walked a tough road since the game’s 2014 launch. In it’s two years on the market, it’s combatted issues with its business model, with the game’s structure, and even righteous concerns over ESO’s very playability. The result was the basic alienation of a significant portion of the series’ core fanbase, who dismissed the title as a copycat MMO.
What began as an idea to merge the worlds of online gaming and video game culture’s most beloved western RPG has, instead, become a game forced to climb out of a hole created by its shoddy release and its unmeetable expectations.
A Troubled Beginning
When Elder Scrolls Online was announced, there was great excitement among fan communities. Years before its release, the mere possibilities inherent in exploring the entire, immersive world of Tamriel was effortlessly earning magazine covers. And why not? Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls series has with each new iteration established itself as the franchise to beat when it comes to a sprawling, immersive experience. So, the promise of a game that allowed players to explore not one nation (as was the norm in the single player experience) but an entire world was jaw-dropping.
And then the game dropped in 2014 and it kind of sucked. Reviews cited launch bugs, repetitive gameplay, and server issues among the title’s initial flaws. Worse, several critics said that the “spark that made the Elder Scrolls series so much fun was totally missing from the MMO. On release, Videogamer.com said:
“Apparently existing only to serve as a strawman for future arguments against the whole genre, Elder Scrolls Online is a game of exposed weaknesses and failed potential. If you’re hankering for Scrolls, I recommend modded Skyrim. If you’re after an MMO, I recommend any other.”
More than anything, players were disappointed in the overall product. Most had come into the experience expecting an Elder Scrolls game. What theyd gotten was a run-of-the-mill fantasy MMO. The missions were boring, their was little to interact with in the world, and the game’s guilds were completely missing. That first year, developer Zenimax Studios spent most of their time and effort trying to fix the errors so prevalent in the initial release. With nearly twelve months separating the PC and console releases, the company planned to make up their losses with a revamped version of the game.
Fortunately, their work paid off and the game’s console release was somewhat kinder.
The Right Hand of Death
A little over a year since the unofficial relaunch of Elder Scrolls Online, the Dark Brotherhood marks the final guild added to the online experience. With the Fighters’ Guild, Mages’ Guild, and Thieves’ Guild all out the door, Zenimax was finally able to turn their full attention to the assassins, a “daunting” task that the studio felt immense pressure to get right. If the response to the teaser trailer is any indication, it’s a mixed bag.
PCGamer probably said it best when they called the trailer, “just a bunch of people getting stabbed from behind.” Of course, the teaser doesn’t address the DLC’s plot, which is supposed to include several twists and turns, as well as several endings.
Redditors, however, are calling the Dark Brotherhood update the best one yet, which makes sense considering Zenimax’s seemingly unending quest to fix the game in the minds of fans.
The Willingness to Change
Since the game’s disastrous launch, Elder Scrolls Online has faded into the background of the MMO scene as it’s slowly rolled out a series of new updates intended to reconnect the online game with the Elder Scrolls series’ core fans. It’s been an uphill battle, but Zenimax deserves credit for the trunkful of technical fixes that accompany each new content blast. As the company has expanded and deepened the game’s world, it has also tried to fix the bugs hiding in the gameplay.
Even if those updates can occasionally cause new issues, the slow and steady plan seems to be working. In May, ESO director Matt Firor told GamesIndustry.biz that Elder Scrolls Online had grabbed millions of new players in 2015. Alongside that news, Firor promised that Elder Scrolls Online will continue to morph into something more closely resembling the series from which it sprang. It may not be there quite yet, but Zenimax is getting there.
“MMO now refers to a technology, not to a game design. Any game that allows millions of people to play together is an MMO. I wouldn’t even say that ESO is a true MMORPG; I mean, it has common features, but it also has features that don’t belong there. ESO is its own thing.”