Why The Elder Scrolls & Dead Space Don’t Need Multiplayer
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
I’ve never wanted multiplayer in The Elder Scrolls. In fact, I’ve never really wanted multiplayer in any open-world action-RPG, at least the ones built around atmospheric worlds and personal narrative. While I’m fond of it in dungeon crawlers such as Diablo, I can’t say I’ve ever wanted to share Tamriel with another person. Talk of an Elder Scrolls MMO has been going on for a long time, and now that it’s finally happening, I can’t help but feel that it fails to grab the actual point of these types of games.
To me, I’ve always played these games to get lost. I love the loneliness of adventuring in a huge open world, I find it cathartic and introspective. I go to the likes of Elder Scrolls specifically when I want some alone time, to feel disconnected from other people and get lost in a completely different world. It’s incredibly hard to drink in that kind of atmosphere when xXx420GamerXxX is running around next to me, trying to get my attention by playing SpongeBob Squarepants through his headset. To me, an MMO set in a world I always loved for its sense of isolation is like mixing soy butter and peanuts. I just don’t see the point.
My main issue is that, for me, Skyrim was something of a personal vindication. It helped disprove a lot of assumptions in the industry — that multiplayer is needed to sell a game, that narrative-led experiences are dead, that you need fifteen bits of character DLC shipped on the disc. The Elder Scrolls has always demonstrated that, with a little publisher faith and some good marketing, you can see a good game regardless of whether or not it adheres to the arbitrary checkboxes of desperate executives. Seeing the series go for the ultimate uninspired gravy train imaginable — the MMO — kind of disappoints me. In truth, part of the fault is mine for imposing my own beliefs on the series. It’s not like Bethesda promised me that it would keep undermining corporate expectations, and it’s not even as if that was ever the stated goal. It was, however, a very nice feature of the franchise’s success, so I feel bit let down nonetheless.
That said, it’s highly promising that Zenimax Online, as opposed to Bethesda, is developing this. It suggests Bethesda’s efforts are remaining where they work best, so it needn’t be that the MMO represents The Elder Scrolls’ future. I will definitely check it out, despite my inability to care about an MMO after a few weeks of play, and I hope it turns out well. I just can’t help but think that this drive toward multiplayer misses the point of a lot of games out there. Which reminds me …
Dead Space 3 is rumored to have co-op and the moment I heard that, I could utter only one phrase: Fuck off, EA.
I’ve spoken before about how this drive for the same features in every release is leading us to a future where games are little more than an indistinct lump of homogeneous grey sludge, but the idea of Dead Space — a series that made its mark by delivering an excellent single-player narrative — becoming focused on competitive multiplayer and co-op exemplifies the problems of this industry in a nutshell. It seems that Electronic Arts in particular is now religiously adhering to a doctrine of non-negotiable features that are to appear in all of its games. Only recently, the publisher promised that all of its titles would feature an online component in future, and with multiplayer hitting both Mass Effect and Dead Space in the not-too-distant past, that future appears to be coming soon. Be it to justify obnoxious online passes or follow this misguided belief that single-player games can’t succeed, EA is turning all of its games into the same experiences, and I really don’t know how long that’s going to be able to last.
Yes, I get it — the co-op and the multiplayer are likely optional features. Nevertheless, their inclusion is a diversion of resources I’d much rather see go into the thing that earned the series its fans in the first place. More and more we’re seeing great single-player games shoehorn a multiplayer mode in, usually with dire results. Dead Space, BioShock, Metro, Resident Evil, these are all games that worked mostly due to having a wonderful sense of atmosphere and fear — both of which are compromised when you start tossing other players in. Resident Evil 5 was particularly distasteful, since you practically needed a human player to make Sheva competent, and as soon as someone else starts running around, the sense of horror and dread disappears and you’re reminded, all too harshly, that you’re just playing a videogame. It’s ironic that, as developers strive to make their games more “immersive,” we’re seeing an increase in features that require taking us out of the world and back into the cold world of soulless products.
In any case, when publishers need now, more than ever, to stand out from the competition, it’s pathetic to see them still playing “follow the leader” and endlessly copying each other in the hope of duplicating prior success stories. While independent games earn attention and money by doing something different and providing a fresh alternative, the big business side of games seems intent on steadily digging its own grave. A few years ago, the economy was blamed for the ever-spiraling sales of games. Now, as game sales on the whole see another large drop in North America, I can hardly be surprised, and I can blame nobody but the industry itself. When players are faced with several FPS games that all look alike, all sport the same features, and all have the same bullshit thrown in to protect them from “piracy” and “used games” at the expense of the loyal paying consumer, is it any wonder nobody wants to play them? Is it any wonder when games like BioShock and Dead Space, once hailed for standing out from the crowd, are being absorbed into the formless void that is the AAA retail space? Everything different becomes the same, and everything identical gets lost in the crowd.
I really like Dead Space. In fact, it’s one of my favorite franchises ever. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t less excited by the idea that it, like everything else, is playing the “me too” game. I’m sick of the “me too” game. I want games saying, “Look at me. Ain’t no fucker doing this.”