Elder Scrolls Online
First, a confession. I stopped playing Guild Wars 2 about a week after my last post on it. I did some WvW, got up to level 60 on my guardian, but I just got really bored really suddenly. Somewhere between the lore, the gameplay and the graphics, it just didn’t grab me long term.
Now, Elder Scrolls Online lifted the NDA on its beta this past weekend, and I got sent an invitation. This was my second beta weekend, the first was troubled by server woes, and I didn’t get to play much. This time, with the NDA lifted and a code to invite a friend to play, I gave it another go.
I gave my friend invite to a friend of mine who likes Elder Scrolls games, but not MMOs, and wanted to decide if he should get ESO (For an extended write-up from someone else with this perspective, there’s an nice one here).
Let me say this before I begin: I’m a sucker for Bethesda RPGs. Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim have easily eaten over a thousand hours of my life. I’m primed to like any game in that style. If you hadn’t guessed, I also really like MMOs. I’ve sunk even more time into various MMOs than into Elder Scrolls and Fallouts. So this is a game of two great tastes that I really enjoy.
But, for me, they don’t taste great together.
My friend made a Redguard Templar, and I followed him into the Daggerfall with a Breton Sorcerer. As with pretty much every Elder Scrolls game, you start in prison. You’ve been locked up in Coldharbour, home of Molag Bal, Daedric prince of Slavery and Vampires. He’s taken your soul from you, which… doesn’t seem to do anything? The only effect or indication of your missing soul is that people keep saying “Hey, you don’t have a soul.” I’m no game-writer, but if you’re trying to get people to spend their time and money playing your MMO, you might not want to tell them that they are soulless while engaging in that very activity. Anyway, a ghostly figure tells you to break out because you are the chosen one, so you and a hundred other chosen ones all break out and make it to Tamriel.
(My graphics card is only than Wrath of the Lich King, so don’t take my screens as examples of how this game really looks.)
Now you end up in the starting zone for your faction. The ghostly Prophet tells you to “do some quests or something”. Not quite those words, but he basically tells you to take some quests wholly unrelated to you getting your soul back and stopping Molag Bal from conquering everything, but don’t worry, he’ll get back to you on that whole chosen one thing.
Being Daggerfall, I end up on a boat, and start working for some privateers to steal from the island’s mob boss. I go around recruiting members for this heist, coming across other quests as I go. The coolest thing to happen during this time was that I got to upgrade my imp/familiar summon into an honest to Talos demonic raptor.
After the heist, I ended up riding that boat to an island of orcs, and doing some more unrelated-to-getting-my-soul-back questing. Are we even sure I need a soul? I seem to be getting on fine without it.
Combat is a mix of that familiar Elder Scrolls click to swing/fire, and a small hotbar. Back when it was announced, it sounded like more plain hotbar and keybind combat, but I was pleased to find Zenimax has made a pretty good blend of Skyrim and classic MMO combat. You swing or fire your weapons and block with the mouse buttons, and cast spells from the hotbar. Some complain about there being hotkeys at all, but in a game where pausing is impossible, you can be switching spells and weapons out every 2 seconds. The 1-5 hotbar with Q and R hotkeys isn’t too much to deal with, and allows more flexibility.
There are some kinks, though. As a light armored sorcerer, I was taking a lot of damage at the beginning of fights, since it took my demon raptor a little bit to get to the enemy, and there was no way to command it to attack other than hitting something myself.
There’s lockpicking, different from the Skyrim/Fallout system, but it’s still a fun mechanic, and not just “Your lockipick skill isn’t the right number to open this box”. Everyone can practice all the crafting styles, which are a bit confusing, but I did manage to figure it out. Clothes and weapons have different appearances based on the race style you craft them in which is very neat.
There are crates and chests and bags to search, but they almost always contain water or grains, and other stuff I don’t want nearly as much as a new sword or pants, which I almost never found. There’s not nearly as many objects populating the world, and you certainly can’t knock anything over, or pick it up and move it. The result is a world that feels much more empty than in the single-player Bethesda games. It’s much more static, much less immersive.
But overall, the game falls kind of flat for me. I had the constant feeling that I’d rather just be playing Skyrim if I want an Elder Scrolls experience, or some other MMO for an MMO experience. The solitude of wandering Skyrim alone was more of a feature than a detriment; I never found myself thinking “Man, I wish there were 2 dozen other players around doing the exact same thing.” My friend shared my sentiments: “Yeah, I don’t think I’m buying this one. Disappointment abounds.” He and I both wished it was less like an MMO and more like Elder Scrolls. I’m not sure how they could pull that off, but it doesn’t shake the feeling.
Maybe if there wasn’t so much other great MMO stuff coming this year, I’d give Elder Scrolls a go at launch. As it is, I’ll keep the peanut butter and the chocolate separate.