The Elder Scrolls Online doesn't look like Skyrim because it can't - MMOs can't yet replicate those sort of graphics on the scale they offer, insisted developer Zenimax Online.
Hence, stylisation - a technique that allows pixel-restricted MMOs to "look good and interesting".
"My view is that MMOs - we're not really at the technical state with MMOs, the graphics technology, to really be able to pull off photo realism. We can't do it," TES Online art director Jared Carr told GameInformer.
"Our target is 200 characters on screen for our massive battles. That puts us at technical limitations, as far as polygons and textures and things like that, so there's no way we're going to get photo realism.
"So in order to make the game look good and interesting," he added, "we make it stylised."
There was a backlash against the look of The Elder Scrolls Online and the gameplay mechanics when it was announced earlier this month. TES Online screenshots pulled from GameInformer's magazine reveal are located elsewhere on the internet. The overriding message from Zenimax Online has been that this is an MMO, and by design must be different.
"So in order to make the game look good and interesting, we make it stylised."
Jared Carr, art director, The Elder Scrolls Online
"The important point is to make it feel hand crafted," stressed Jared Carr. "That's more important than photo realism, because that's what people respond to."
"A lot of MMOs, a lot of games, use procedural methodology to lay stuff down quickly. And we're not doing that. Our artists go in and hand-place all of the grass, place every tree by hand. That's where we get that unique look and feel for every environment.
"That's what Elder Scrolls games are really known for, particularly in the later games - that hand-crafted look and feel. And we're no exception."
Concept art depicting a city in The Elder Scrolls Online showed curved and exaggerated architecture. It's reminiscent of World of Warcraft and the Fable series of games. With this, Zenimax Online hopes to "unify" the feel of single-player Elder Scrolls games Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim.
Dirt and grime, which are particularly a feature of Skyrim, will not be lost. "We're putting that gritty feel in the textures," said Carr. "Every building has a weathered kind of grime look. The armour is not all shiny and pristine - it's gritty and weathered as well."
"We certainly have to reuse some houses and reuse some structures, but when we build out an architecture set, for example, we won't use every building in that set in every place."
Carr went on to talk about the geography of The Elder Scrolls Online. In the single-player games, traversing a mountain is part and parcel of exploration - even horses can canter up cliff faces. But in TES Online, it sounds like things will be different.
"We didn't want to create a world where people had to traverse huge mountain ranges to get to where they needed to go," Carr said.
The Elder Scrolls Online is a project helmed by Matt Firor, the man who steered old school Mythic MMO Dark Age of Camelot. His influence is apparent in the three warring factions, and in the game's fondness for some though extinct MMO mechanics - public dungeons among them.