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Interview: How The Elder Scrolls Online is taking on the MMO giants

We grill Nick Konkle, ZeniMax Online's lead gameplay and combat designer

The Elder Scrolls Online is being developed by a team of MMO veterans, and is due for release next year.

You'll get to explore locations from previous Elder Scrolls games including Skyrim, Cyrodiil, and Morrowind, although it's set thousands of years earlier.

CVG got the chance to sit down with Nick Konkle, the guy in charge of the combat and gameplay design, and asked him what makes this stand out from other fantasy MMOs.

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What can Skyrim fans expect from The Elder Scrolls Online?

I think what they're gonna find is a game that is both the Elder Scrolls lore that you're familiar with, but really brought into this new setting, and the online space. You should be really comfortable with what you find there. It's a game that's accessible to anyone. It isn't the slower paced combat from the previous generation of MMOs. We've really tried to make it feel responsive, tactical, and action-packed, which is what I think a Skyrim player might expect from this type of game.

What are some of the flaws of modern MMOs that you're directly addressing?

We have a smaller number of abilities that you can use at once than in most MMOs, but each one is extremely meaningful. Instead of having a full bar of buttons that you're supposed to hit in a very specific order regardless of what you're fighting, we wanted to create a feeling of interaction with monsters and other players. We've created an exciting and tactical interplay in the combat, rather than just saying "Well, your gear has this number of damage, but mine has this, so I win."

The combat looks much more dynamic and reactive than, say, World of Warcraft...

One of our big philosophies is that we want you to play the world, not the UI. As nice as the interface is, we think you should be look at the world around you. We want you to read attacks from enemies so you know when and how to defend. All of that is told to you in the game so you don't have to look at numbers or get heavily into stats. They still exist, of course, because that's where the depth and progression comes from, but as far as playing the actual game goes, you generally just look at the world and react to enemies naturally.

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Skyrim is a beautiful game, but MMOs often have to sacrifice visual detail to run smoothly. How does The Elder Scrolls Online compare?

I'm so impressed by the visuals, and I can say that because I'm not part of the art team. It just looks utterly fantastic. I've seen locations in our game, and then the same location in Skyrim, and they're identical. You can't tell the difference. The environments are just mind-boggling. Our characters have a different feel to them, largely because of the need to get so many on screen at once, and to make them easily identifiable in huge battles, so they're more stylised. Whenever I run around in our game, I feel like I'm in The Elder Scrolls.

You've been making the game for five years. What's that been like?

It's a dream come true. I'm a massive Elder Scrolls fan, and there are other people on the team who are even crazier about it than me. Seriously, some guys are just nuts about this universe.

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