Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Three Days in Tamriel

Last Wednesday, the Aggronaut put out it out there: pretty much anyone interested could obtain a key to this weekend's beta test of The Elder Scrolls Online. Belghast has been involved in TESO for a long time, so I decided to heed the call. After all, it might induce me to buy, and there are monkeys at stake.

The Elder Scrolls Online is a great looking game with what looks to be a thorough lore and a solid character progression system. However, barring a big change of heart on the part of Scooter, I won't be purchasing TESO or committing to a subscription any time soon.
I loved the way the sunlight spread though the gap in the rocks.
The Great
TESO looks fantastic. All the pictures in this post contain gorgeous scenery and avatars, and I really have no complaints on that front. The graphics engine is also optimized well enough that I had no discernible loss of framerate even in high traffic areas, unlike some other games that have been around for a while. The pics seem a little dark on my current computer, but that may be a consequence of converting the original bitmaps to jpegs and my current monitor. On my gaming laptop, they are fantastic.

The character creation experience was wonderful. There were plenty of ways to get my avatar's appearance just right, and the models themselves fit well into the art design of the game. I also like the character progression system. The skill trees allow for plenty of customization to get my characters away from the rigid classes of some other games. While there are classes and skills trees associated with them, racial trees and the ability to wield all weapon types (with their accompanying skill trees) allow for tremendous variation. You can have a bow tank, or a dual-wielding hatchet healer, or a sword-and-board sorceror. In the end, will those combinations be effective in a group setting? I don't know, but I bet they'd be fun to play.
My Templar and Scooter's Dragon Knight
The Good
The stories I encountered as part of the Daggerfall Covenant and the Aldmeri Dominion were standard MMO fare, though the implementation is quite pleasing. Scooter pointed out that none of the quests we encountered involved any kill-ten-rats goals exactly, though at least one did involve collecting six bits of magic in order to power a staff. I don't know if quests at the higher level devolve into KTR territory, but at least these early ones were entertaining enough. One thing that is worrisome to me is that the accompanying survey add-on seemed very interested in whether I felt heroic when doing or completing the quests, and how immersed in the world I was. For one thing, it is not my desire to be The Hero in an MMO, for another, the survey itself often took me out of any immersion I might have been feeling. I eventually turned it off, since my answers didn't really change from one questionnaire to the next.
A Pair of Nightblades
I felt more involved with the story of the Dominion integrating itself on the island of Khenarthi's Roost than I did with the conspiracy to depose the petty criminal tyrant of Stros M'kai. And Scooter and I were unable to continue to Daggerfall due to a bugged summoning  in "Unearthing the Past." Belghast had mentioned that a more recent build of the game dispensed with the starter islands and dumped the player character directly from the Coldharbour tutorial to the main city, with the option of going to the islands. Hopefully, this would mean that players can easily return to the capital from the islands if they choose to. I'm glad we did encounter that bug, though, since it caused us to create new characters and experience a different starting area.

The Bad
The tutorial made it seem like you can cover all informational dialogue, but the first quest from Captain Kaleen locked in the first option before I could find out about the other two. Someone did come along later to give me the other two, but it was still frustrating to have an expectation from past experience within the game that was contradicted. Later on, the fact that there are irrevocable choices to be made becomes more apparent. It seems that there should be a stronger graphical cue as to when making a dialogue choice will lock out other choices.
Absorbing a Skyshard
Non-instancing of stuff leads to occasional immersion breaking. It breaks my immersion to have some guy tell me that to enter a temple is certain death, and then see other players wandering around the courtyard with no discernible problems. Some quests even bugged out because two or more players were trying to interact with the same object simultaneously. I will say some of the object instancing is "interesting" in groups. On one occasion, a quest objective for me was located in a different part of the cave than the same objective for Scooter, and we couldn't even see each other's corresponding objective. That was pretty cool, if slightly bemusing.

I wanted to get a good feel for the combat, but it was always over too quickly. The only times either of us died in combat was when we started out alt-tabbed or AFK, or there was something wrong with our controls, and our characters were separated geographically.

The Ugly
I really don't like the reticle targeting/navigation; or "action mmo perma-mouselook interface," as Belghast put it. I also dislike having to "escape" to the interface windows, like character and skill windows. I assume it's similar to other Elder Scrolls games (that were buggy as hell, according to many). But for me, it is reminiscent of Neverwinter. It is painfully obvious that the game is designed around a game controller, with the PC version barely an afterthought. Guess what? If I wanted to play console games, I would buy a console. I'm a PC gamer, in part due to my keyboard/mouse controls. Playing effectively required extensive rejiggering of the game keybinds and my Nostromo and M570 mouse. Scooter had an even worse time with her new Logitech G14.

Did I get used to the interface after a day or so of playing? More or less. Did I like it? No.
Rowan and Scooter!
I had honestly hoped to be blown away by TESO. I know a lot of people say you have to play quite a bit of a game before you really can decide whether you'll enjoy it. But in my experience, the games I have been drawn into within the first hour in the world have been the ones I have stuck with for months and even years. I ended up dropping within a short period of time those games that I struggled to become immersed in.

Still, the biggest barrier to me playing TESO is not the UI I really dislike, or even the box price. After all, Scooter and I just dropped $60 each on Landmark. The biggest barrier for me is the monthly subscription. I had a hard enough time trying not to think about the progress I was forgoing in both TSW and Landmark. To add a "wasting money by not playing" component to that is unpleasant in the extreme. I don't like this game well enough to pay $30 (for me and Scooter) every month for it. Not when there are other alternatives not trying to lock me in.
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  1. The Daggerfall Covenant and Ebonheart Pact starter islands are both like that -- you talk to the 1st quest giver and she says "I've got 3 places to go, pick 1" and the other dialogue options then are locked out. But after you do the 1st you can still go get the other 2 also. And then you go to a 2nd smaller starter area, and then to your 1st "main area" for both as well. The Aldmeri Dominion starter area was done by different people, though, so it's 1 larger zone, doesn't have those lockouts and well.. there you go. The AD starter area tends to be considered superior to the other 2 factions as a result.

    FWIW, the EP starter zone also has a bugged quest where things are supposed to spawn but don't. Oddly enough, both that quest and the Daggerfall one on Behtnik were working 2 weeks ago, but not this time again. Go figure. But it's also for that reason that I've been doing mostly AD toons in the beta weekends either. . . .

    As to the whole sub thing -- for me, it's just me and I'm not currently subscribed to any games at all, so I don't mind having a single subscription. Add ot that that I've drifted off from TSW lately and no other MMO's are really calling to me, and I figure I'll get 3-6 good months out of ESO before drifting off from it as well, but at a $0.50 a day cost, it's still well worth it to me. I can see why it wouldn't be for others, but..... I just don't have anything else going on right now. Lucky for ESO. If I was actively playing another game or 3, there's no way I'd be paying a sub either.

    1. Yeah, I think a lot of time and effort has been put into the game, and it shows. By no means am I trying to discourage anyone else from playing or paying the sub. I just tried to present an objective review, and state why I personally won't be playing at launch.

    2. I just finished my own post about the weekend, if you wanna check it out:


  2. BTW the UI and controls have been the same (more or less) since the early days of TES (at least from Morrowind on) because 'immersion' has always been the mantra for TES games. They aren't 'dumbed' down for consoles

    1. I assumed it was similar to previous ES titles, I just have no direct experience wit them, as stated in the post. And I never said "dumbed down." If fact, I'd say this sort of game is even harder to to manage if you only have a game pad to work with. How do consolers do chat? They just rely on VOIP, I assume. Here's the thing about immersion, though. What is is immersive for one player will totally take another out of "the zone." That's why I couched pretty much everything I said in personal terms.

    2. I think they would have been much better served by having the current setup be what's active while you're in first person view for those that feel like that's immersive, and then switch to the traditional MMO style for everyone else.

      I don't find the current setup to be immersive at all, I simply find it restrictive and a bit annoying. Some people find the constant movement of the entire screen nauseating because it changes the camera in a way that's basically the same as not being able to move your eyes, instead you have to move your whole head anytime you want to look at something different. When the whole world shifts like that every time you move it really messes with them.

  3. That was pretty much our experience with it as well. The UI took some getting used to, but I used to play a lot of shooters so it didn't take me long to get back into the feel of it. For my wife, it was incredibly frustrating to the point that before she even got through the first hallway in the tutorial she gave up and didn't play for the rest of the night on Friday. It was just way too different, making the gameplay for her incredibly frustrating and not at all enjoyable.

    The gameplay itself, the lore, quests, etc were all pretty enjoyable. The only bug I experienced was one quest where you have to use an item and then kill a mob in 3 different places, and the third would you could use the item but the mob would never spawn. Besides that, the only issues I experienced at all were some connection issues here and there and my Nightblade character would sometimes crash the game when I logged into him after taking a break from the game for a while. Not a big deal really, I just had to relaunch and do it again without issue.

    I enjoyed it a lot more this time around than the first beta weekend I was in. I've been in 4, but during the last two I couldn't log into my account and it took them that long to get my account unlocked (I'm not a fan of their customer service so far).

    All in all, I think the current plan is to continue with the purchase of the game, play for the month that we get for "free" by purchasing the game, and then calling it quits with ESO. I like a lot of things about it, but nothing really drew me in the point that I can honestly say that this is the game I'm going to call home. I think they've focused a little bit too much on trying to turn their console game into an MMO without taking the MMO market into account. Unless the UI, particularly the camera, changes I think they're going to find themselves tied strongly to a niche market of strictly people who played the other ES games and want an MMO version. I think that's their intent anyway, but it's going to push a lot of people out.

  4. This game is very much for "Elder Scrolls fans", and not really for "MMO Fans". I think that was an intentional design decision in part because "Elder Scrolls Fan" is a much larger market than is available than anything they could hope to get from the "MMO Fan" market. Skyrim after all sold something insane like 20 million copies between all of the platforms, so while they are unlikely to get anything even vaguely close to that to convert and pay a month subscription... they are going to get a group in the several million that likely will. So being true to the TES franchise seems like a safe bet to me, moreso than trying to MMOize the games interface.