The Rise of the Looters

This article was originally intended to show off the latest Elders Scrolls Online trailer that outlines the game’s gathering and exploration system (which we will get to eventually). But then I started thinking about how influential the Elder Scrolls series has been within the game industry over its lifetime and the fact that an overwhelming number of non-RPG titles I have played over the past year or two have involved some sort of looting, leveling or exploration focus.

BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, Rage, Devil May Cry and Dishonored are just some of the action-oriented games that have made sure to include RPG-centric features. This leads to the discussion of why developers have decided to add these elements to their games?

Simply put, it engages the player on a much deeper level and keeps them coming back for more.

There is a huge psychological benefit and sense of achievement involved in looting. While taking out enemies and advancing to the next area are satisfying in their own right, as game worlds continue to grow in detail, players need to feel as though they are growing with it. When you can collect items and add to your inventory, you are taking part of the game universe in your hands. Similarly, when you are able to explore, rather than move in an ever-forward trajectory, you are taking the time to observe your surroundings and connect deeply with the environment you are in.

I believe this is why the RPG faithful tend to be the most passionate group of gamers. They are able to routinely lose themselves in their favorite games and tend to consider that expansive world to be a second home of sorts. This intimacy provides a much more in-depth and emotional experience. While shooters and other genres provide a sense of excitement, they lack the profound immersiveness that RPG’s offer.

This ability to grow and become stronger through experience is what many gamers want, especially when the real world is unable to provide this feeling of accomplishment on a daily basis.

With this transition to a heavier loot focus, along with a newfound interest in leveling systems, it is almost guaranteed that the vast majority of games we play in the future will include more and more RPG elements.

But there are some concerns that come with this transition as well. Think about BioShock Infinite as an example. While I loved searching every nook and cranny for ammo, coins and other items, it did seem that I sometimes neglected to observe the world around me. There was so much to see in Columbia, that it felt odd to be searching the ground when you should be looking at the countless visual stories being told.

In the first BioShock, I really focused on the environment, but with Infinite, I was focusing too much on filling my inventory as opposed to looking at the scenery. I feel this hurt the narrative. It is the game designers job to keep this from happening in the future by finding a happy medium between looting and atmosphere, in order for traditionally non-RPG’s to be truly effective.

This is where TES really shines. They struck the balance, and in doing so, they influenced other genres, and helped create a new standard for how we develop games. The Elder Scrolls focus on allowing the players the opportunity to collect and germinate within the world around them made the series a hugely popular, critical success that proved RPG elements are an integral part of the gameplay experience.

This brings the discussion back to the article’s originally stated subject, the focus on picking up stuff and exploring throughout your journey in The Elder Scrolls Online.

The latest TESO trailer focuses on the act of gathering and exploration, showing you what can be done while your are not engaging in a life and death struggle against Daedric overlord Molog Bal:

As you can see, this aspect of the game is very similar to the earlier iterations, with a focus on crafting, gathering, reading and creating armor and weapons. Mondas-stones (I cant tell what the dude in the video is saying) and Skyshards are used to add abilities and increase your skills, respectively. You also have to deal with chests by taking part in a lockbreak mini-game (most similar to Oblivion). In fact one of the only noticeable difference is that you can fish in TESO.

To be honest, I did segway into the loot discussion partly because there wasn’t much to say, considering there is very little distinction between TESO and the other Elder Scrolls game. Which can be seen as a mostly good, but also kinda bad thing.

On one hand, you have a similar style that made the series what it is today, and fans will certainly enjoy the fact that TESO is not too huge of a departure from the franchise proper. On the other hand, the MMO must distinguish itself in order to bring in new players. If it just rehashes what worked earlier, it is likely we will see diminishing returns. The end result of TESO will be very interesting to see and I do hope that Bethesda and Zenimax Online Studios can create a strong gameplay balance that brings us the greatest elements of the series while adding new features that help create a brand-new, yet familiar experience.

We will see when The Elders Scrolls Online releases later this year.

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