While we haven’t seen a game like Skyrim since 2011, an online Elder Scrolls adventure has been holding the reigns for the past eight years and has even attracting the prowess of Hollywood A-listers.
Right off the back of its latest story update, High Isle, this massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) has expanded the Elder Scrolls world beyond expectations, including those of the game’s director Matt Firor.
“I mean, there were high expectations coming in with working on the Elder Scrolls and with an online game – and in the era of, you know another huge, huge game,” Firor told 9news.com.au.
“So the expectations were high.
“But yes, we have we’ve done very well, and we’re very, very, very happy and humble where we are now.”
Firor has been with ZeniMax Online Studios for 15 years, directing Elder Scrolls Online from the beginning.
“If you think about what online games were in 2007 versus today, it’s night and day – and so ESO had to evolve over its life, even in when it was in development before it released,” he said.
The Elder Scrolls Online studio was founded in 2007, back when Elder Scrolls Oblivion was top of the food chain.
Firor says that his team had to rethink parts of the game’s development before the release of Skyrim to keep in line with players’ expectations.
“If you think of the advances in the community, the Elder Scrolls community, not just with Skyrim, but just with lore pages, and with people just cosplaying and it’s like the whole Elder Scrolls phenomenon is just so much larger now than it was,” he said.
“We’re very aware that we are carrying that torch right now for Elder Scrolls and we want to make sure that everything we do is in line with that,” Firor said.
The game began as a subscription-only service, but was revamped not long after launch to allow more players to jump on board.
“We changed the game in 2016 to be so that you could just log in and play and not worry about what level you were, like it wasn’t level restricted, and that was probably the single biggest change that made the game the success it is now,” Firor said, adding the team at ZeniMax have never been afraid of change.
Before jumping into the world of Elder Scrolls, Firor worked on Dark Age of Camelot and says he’s witnessed many technological changes over the last 20 years.
“We (Mythic Entertainment) started working on Dark Age of Camelot in 1999,” he said.
“So yeah, so it was like everything was different.
“The infrastructure, graphics, computers, consoles – although Camelot wasn’t on consoles – but you know, it goes to show that even when ESO was founded … that was still halfway after the Stone Age.”
The team at ZeniMax Online Studios is one of the largest in the world, consisting of hundreds of talented developers, writers, artists, programmers and producers.
“We’re a very large studio,” Firor said.
“We’re working on ESO, we also have another unannounced title.
“So between the two, it’s a lot and we work with a ton of outsourcers and so it’s a big project.
“It’s one of the largest that I know of.”
The studio are hard at work on finishing content for this year’s major update, High Isle, but still have plenty in the pipeline for the future, including 2023 ESO content.
“We’re also doing more mundane things like upgrades, updating all of the hardware and all of our data centres because it’s, you know, we have to do that and people don’t realise that making games like this, it’s not just about the game side of it, it’s also about the IT infrastructure and making sure that everything is up and running,” he said.
While there’s been some setbacks in upgrading data centres due to COVID-19, Firor says it’s a project that they expect to be completed over the next six months.
Earlier this month a new update was released for High Isle – the new Firesong DLC adds hours of new content and a new area for players to explore.
The Elder Scrolls Online is no stranger to Hollywood, often snagging some of the best voice actors and actors of our time: John Cleese, Michael Gambon, Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy, just to name a few.
ESO High Isle has seen like likes of Lord of the Rings‘ Billy Boyd, cast alongside The Last of Us‘ Troy Baker and Laura Baily.
“We work, of course, with the Hollywood infrastructure to make sure that we’re we’re reaching out to the right people and doing it in the right way,” Firor said.
“If you look around at all the games that the different studios do, you know, high-quality voice acting is is one of the one of the unifying factors.”
According to Firor, the dialogue and depth created by the game’s characters adds a whole new layer of immersion.
“To everyone who is reading your article, definitely turn up the volume when they play, because so much of the game rides on audio, and especially the voices – it’s amazing.”