Tamriel Infinium: Everyone’s a clicker in The Elder Scrolls Online

Tamriel Infinium Everyone's a clicker in The Elder Scrolls Online

There is enough information on the interwebs to have at least a basic discussion of The Elder Scrolls Online combat. For those who don’t know, I can tell you right now that ESO combat is not at all what we expect from a typical MMO, although it doesn’t exactly play like the single-player versions of Elder Scrolls games either.

For a long time, I’ve been itching for a highly interactive and highly skill-based combat system in an MMO. Until recently, we have been restricted by inherent issues of playing online, like bandwidth. But over the last couple of years, we have started to see games that are so dynamic that we literally have milliseconds to react to a given stimulus — there’s no more gameplay with a turn-based-cooldown system. This does raise some concerns for the traditional MMO gamer: Will we be able to adapt?

Tamriel Infinium Everyone's a clicker in The Elder Scrolls Online

We started hearing rumors about the ESO combat system last year, and I admit I was both intrigued and scared at the same time. We found out that we would have only six abilities on our bar at the same time, and very recently we learned that our primary abilities will be on our mouse by default. What? That doesn’t sound like an MMO. My MMOs have 12 quick backs with 36 abilities on each bar. I have 26 cooldowns and 64 possible procs that I have to be aware of. (That might be a slight exaggeration.) Even in games as recent as Guild Wars 2, which has a limited ability bar, give us a wide variety of abilities and cooldowns to watch.

There are only a few games that appear to contain similar gameplay to ESO, most of them single-player games or dungeon crawlers. The game that immediately comes to my mind is Neverwinter by Cryptic. (Personally, I don’t consider Neverwinter an MMORPG because of how far removed a lot of the mechanics are from a traditional MMO, but there are some very smart people who disagree with me.) In Neverwinter, your primary and secondary attacks are on your mouse. Your special attack abilities by default sit around your WASD keys — for example, Q, E, and R with the 1 key being your daily.

But your primary ability in The Elder Scrolls Online is on your left mouse button. If you hold down the left mouse button for a few moments, it charges the primary ability so that it hits harder. The right button blocks, either with a shield or with your secondary weapon. If both buttons are pressed at the same time, your stun break will activate. Your six special abilities, I assume, will sit around the WASD keys. ESO also has a dodge mechanic like the Trickster Rogues of Neverwinter and all classes in Guild Wars 2.

We are MMO gamers, right? We are always looking for the next great game or game mechanic, right? I have to wonder whether this kind of sweeping change to gameplay will turn off some traditional MMO gamers or excite them because of how different it is.

My guild has mixed feelings about this turn in MMO mechanics. One prominent member of my current raid group will not play Neverwinter because the mechanics are so far removed from what he’s used to. He doesn’t believe the game is bad because of it, but he’s not sure that he can play a game like that. I respect that, and I agree that it does make this game different. Is Elder Scrolls spearheading a different genre here?

Personally, I look forward to these changes, especially since the game is viable in third-person view. One of my biggest turn-offs in Skyrim was that the third-person view wasn’t nearly as smooth and practical as first-person. Yet at the same time, ESO will have its own first-person view as well. I’m interested in seeing how this plays out in extended, long-term game time.

Tamriel Infinium Everyone's a clicker in The Elder Scrolls Online

I hate to point out the same site two weeks in a row, but I have to give this week to Tamriel Foundry again. These awesome peeps have gathered up all the Pre-E3 coverage of TESO and smooshed it into one article, complete with fresh screenshots and video. Hop over there now to check that out, and if you’re not doing so yet, follow these guys on Twitter so that you can keep up with the latest happenings.
Tamriel Infinium Everyone's a clicker in The Elder Scrolls Online

I was surprised by the debate that last week’s article spurred. Most of it revolved around the quality of character models. I disagree with reader Natecantbefound, but I can certainly agree with his perspective. He said, “It is sad how MMOs are using store-bought engines or however you want to say it; they will never be as good as an engine specifically made for your game. WildStar will prove this, so will ESO but in a different way.” I think that cookie-cutter games stem from the lack of imagination, or more to the point, the lack of funding from some developers. Some designers can take an engine like the Unreal 3 engine and make Bulletstorm, and others can take that same engine and make DC Universe Online. If ZeniMax is still using a heavily modified version of HeroEngine, then I suspect that we probably will not recognize it — as least not mechanically.

I think the best thing to come out of the comments last week was the image that KingOfExplodia posted. It compares all the races across all games. Of course, it proves my point that elves were always ugly. (That was a joke.)

Tamriel Infinium Everyone's a clicker in The Elder Scrolls Online

This week, I want your personal take on the combat mechanics. Who do you think will be most attracted to this style? Do you believe MMOers will be turned off? Or do you believe this might be the change they are looking for?


Massively’s pre-E3 Elder Scrolls Online preview

Elder Scrolls Online

If you’re the type to commit your early-morning hours to gaming as I am, you’re probably waiting for E3 to open its floodgates. This year’s Expo might be a few weeks away, but the gaming community is getting its fair share of glimpses and leaks thanks to publisher previews, and last week, Bethesda and ZeniMax joined forces for a press event in LA to preview The Elder Scrolls Online.

Mystery and suspicion has surrounded the game so far; it’s the MMO entry in a long series of single-player installments for a beloved IP, so players are anxious to see how the transition from single-player adventuring to massively online gaming will play out. Unfortunately, the build I saw used only a third-person perspective and excluded PvP, but I still got a solid look at the game.

First off, the character customization is robust. Players can fine-tune nearly any characteristic they can imagine, emphasizing individuality. Leveling up is pretty straightforward, allowing the player to focus points on health, magic, and stamina. These aspects need no introduction. Questing comes easily as NPCs toting optional quests have a very obvious yellow aura surrounding them. Taking off into the city of Daggerfall, my character happened to chance across the first quest-giver of the entire demo: Giblets the dog.

ESO features a few creative limitations, such as the ability restriction. Characters can use only six abilities at one time, but the harmony of those effects pays off. Just like its single-player predecessors, the game ensures skill-leveling is use-based, but sadly the acrobatics skill won’t see a return (sorry, no castle-jumping in MMOs).

Here’s the part that intrigued me: At no point did the gameplay experience resemble an MMO. Sure, players weren’t allowed to run rampant through NPC houses to steal everything in sight, and questing was still limited to “gather such item” or “talk to NPC B because NPC A doesn’t feel like walking 10 feet” (those NPCs can be lazy!), but venturing out into the world felt natural, as if I were in any other Elder Scrolls title. The world is still populated with points of interest that actually generate interest. Players will find the nooks, crannies, hidden tunnels and decaying fortresses that dot the Tamriel landscape just as in the earlier games. There’s a higher emphasis on exploration with ESO, and though some MMOs can deliver sub-par exploration opportunities, this demo felt authentic and met my expectations. Houses, taverns, and shops are plunderable too, with an occasional book lying around to let you dig into the vast lore about the game. While the Tamriel server was scarcely populated with a handful of testers in our Razer-themed room, Daggerfall and the surrounding areas were immersive enough to allow me to forget that there were other press folks tackling the same quests I was.

Bethesda and Zenimax curb E3 jitters with an outstanding EOS preview

ZeniMax has apparently listened to gamer gripes about previous titles and how an MMO should work as the “odd man out” of a series of games. ZeniMax has already addressed concerns about the lore, hoping to calm fears about how ESO will fit into Tamriel’s overarching tale, and the studio must also focus on ridding the MMO of bugs, since we all know previous Elder Scrolls titles took too many arrows to the knee when it came to loopholes and glitches. Before I left the demo, I spoke with ZeniMax reps to get a few questions answered, and later still, Matt Firor chimed in with a few clarifications.

Massively: ESO is a massive undertaking for any game, not just an MMO. How will the team attack the development issue and bugs that were common to Skyrim and previous games?

ZeniMax: We have a huge onsite QA team that’s going through testing, but we also plan to have a pretty long and comprehensive beta so that we can find a lot of these issues and work on that kind of stuff to make sure that it’s as clean as we can possibly make it. Last week was the most recent [closed beta].

What do you think is ESO’s most outstanding game mechanic compared to those of your biggest MMO rivals on the market right now?

ZeniMax: The character customization. Each class has three unique skill lines, but everybody can use any weapon or armor type. In the full game, you’ll be able to find more skill lines in the world with the Mages Guild, the Fighters Guild, those kinds of things. You have an unbelievable number of options to choose between and create your character.

Will there be a return of the Thieves Guild?

ZeniMax: Not at launch.

(/sadface) Will there be any mobile apps, sort of like an auction house app or something similar?

ZeniMax: That’s something we’ve discussed, but that will be after we have shipped.

What kind of tradeskill training can you do?

ZeniMax: There’s cooking, armorsmith, enchanting, and then alchemy. You can deconstruct things, which is how you gain skill, and you can refine things as well, sort of the same as in Skyrim.

The Elder Scrolls series is certainly a long, successful series of single-player games, but now we’re seeing the next installment morph into an MMO genre. How do you think huge fans of Elder Scrolls might respond to the change in the series, since many of the core mechanics will have to change in order to fit the requirements of an MMO?

Matt Firor: The Elder Scrolls is an IP full of rich lore and the legacy of five games over the last 20 years, but each of those games has brought something different to the table, as they are not all clones of one another. So think of ESO as an Elder Scrolls game set in Tamriel, but not trying to be exactly like the others. We are the “multiplayer” Elder Scrolls, so with that we bring some different dynamics, systems, and of course, the ability to play with (and against) other players.

But of course, to make the game immediately familiar to anyone who played the other games, we’ve kept many of the major systems (combat and questing are great examples) very similar to those systems found in Oblivion and Skyrim. Our goal is that you should feel instantly at home when you sit down the play the game.

Previously we’ve seen some ES titles carry rough development processes, especially on consoles, and I think the community is ready to see a “bug tackling.” How is ZeniMax prepared to tackle potential bugs?

Firor: Even though ZeniMax Online is a relatively new studio, we are made up of online gaming veterans, most of whom have shipped multiple online titles and are familiar with the pitfalls and inherent problems that can arise in a connected online game. Our robust QA team keeps track of all outstanding bugs and works with the dev team to make sure that these bugs are addressed as quickly as possible. The game’s beta program (which has been running for a few months now) is our best defense against bugs, balance, and stability problems. Online games like ESO tend to have long beta tests just to make sure that everything is working as intended.

Gamers are understandably concerned about how ESO fits into the overall lore of the Elder Scrolls universe. Can you spend a bit of time on the lore and where it fits in?

Firor: We are set approximately 1000 years before Skyrim. As we all know (spoiler alert!) at the end of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the last of the Septim Emperors (Martin) is killed, and the Empire goes into a steep decline. That Dynasty, the first modern Empire to control all of Tamriel, was founded by Tiber Septim, who ruled all of the continent (more or less) from the Imperial City.

The Elder Scrolls Online is set just before Tiber Septim’s rise to power in a time when there is much chaos and civil war in Tamriel. It is a perfect setting for an online RPG; the provinces and races are the same as in the other Elder Scrolls titles, but it is a time of no central authority, of alliances and war. It gives developers a setting familar enough to make ESO players comfortable but distant enough for us to be able to tell our own stories and introduce new characters and situations. And if you look closely, you’ll find tons of callouts to events that will happen in the future that you may have experienced in one of the other Elder Scrolls games.

Many thanks to Matt Firor and the ZeniMax dev team for their answers and for the demo!



ZeniMax views TESO as more multiplayer Elder Scrolls than MMO

ZeniMax views TESO as more multiplayer Elder Scrolls than MMO

Game Reactor has published another Matt Firor interview from last week’s pre-E3 Elder Scrolls Online preview event. The ZeniMax game director had plenty to say about the game world, the social design elements, and the team’s desire to draw in players who may not be MMO fans.

“This is more a multiplayer Elder Scrolls game than an MMO. [You’ll see] very limited UI, nice and clean, not a lot of bars,” Firor explained. “The combat system is very much action-based. It’s also soloable, you can solo almost the entire game. We wanted to get Elder Scrolls players who were unfamiliar with online games and MMO terms to get in, play, have fun and get introduced to the multiplayer aspects.”


Tamriel Infinium: Fictional loyalty in Elder Scrolls Online

Tamriel Infinium Fictional loyalty

On many occasions, my guild members have talked about different aspects of MMOs, MMO culture, and of course, what makes our guild work as well as it does. The simple answer to the last question boils down to common bonds and shared interests, just as with any group of friends, I’d imagine. And when we seriously decided to take this guild we made beyond the borders of just one game, we discovered new hurdles to overcome. Although the roots of my guild extend far beyond one MMO, it kicked off seriously only in Star Wars: The Old Republic and has since extended to Guild Wars 2 and Neverwinter.

Many of my friends have expressed more than a fleeting interest in The Elder Scrolls Online, but faction selection could pose a problem for us. I always liked Imperials in the other Elder Scrolls games. One member wants to relive his Skyrim adventures and play a Nord. And of course, we have that hold-out who will play nothing but elves (or the closest approximation) in whatever game she’s playing. Although I very much want these players to play whichever race they will have the most fun playing, it places the guild as a whole in an interesting position: With so many conflicting loyalties, which direction does the guild head?

The Elder Scrolls Online created a solution within its guilding system. Does the ESO system encourage loyalty to a faction or is factional loyalty just fictional loyalty?
Tamriel Infinium Fictional loyalty

In a recent interview with Buffed.de, Creative Director Paul Sage gave two pieces of seemingly conflicting information. Near the beginning of the interview, he explained that factional loyalty is important to the design of ESO. The game will cut off communication between the three factions, even when level 50 players visit the other realms to experience the quest in an opposing faction area. It has also been explained that a player will be able to create a second (or more) character of an opposing faction from the first. If factional loyalty is important to the feel of the game, then why did he later say that guilds are account-wide and are not limited by faction?

Mind you, I am in favor of accounts being bound to the guild and not individual characters. Although I can’t say that I’ve always been in favor this style of guild creation, I have come to appreciate that guilds are an out-of-character bond between players and not something built on some loose in-character lore or storyline. He mentioned that each account will be able to join up to five different guilds. I’m reminded of the Guild Wars 2 system; I can only assume that in ESO you will be able to represent a given guild at will.

However, if guilds are not bound by faction, then why is communication? Perhaps a player will be able to communicate to his guild no matter which faction he’s currently playing. (If not, then this game has other issues.) Basically, I will be able to visit the territory of The Aldmeri Dominion, but my guildie who is playing a Bosmer will not be able to assist me in any way. What’s the point of the guild being cross faction? I am confused. Maybe you can help me figure it out.

Tamriel Infinium Fictional loyalty

The Imperial Library houses extensive Tamriel lore. Just about anything you’d like to know about the lore of the Elder Scrolls can be found there. This week, the cartography sections caught my eye. The creators of this site have gathered nearly every map imaginable. Above all the others, I was extremely interested in the zone that will be a PvP zone in ESO: Cyrodiil itself.

If the game design works the way it’s been explained, Cyrodiil stands to be the only place you can meet your cross-faction guildies to show off your latest outfit. I can see it now: I’m showing off my latest Nord viking-like look to my Bosmer guildie, who is also showing off the leafy wood elf fashion, then we are suddenly attacked by a group from the Daggerfall Covenant. But we just wanted to compare clothing!

At any rate, beyond the maps, The Imperial Library details each of the major cities in Cyrodiil from the Imperial City to Leyawiin. Each city description is complete with screenshots and descriptions of what you will find where. “Above ground, the gleaming Imperial City is clearly seen from miles. The city is walled in circle shape. Inside the city there are seven districts, Green Emperor Way or the Palace District, Market District, Arena, Arboretum, Talos Plaza, Elven Gardens and Temple District. There are two other smaller walled districts outside the city, Arcane University in the southeast and the Imperial Legion in the northeast. The last district is the harbor, the Imperial Waterfront, in the southwest.” As I read through descriptions like that, I can’t help but wonder how things will be different when it’s a war-torn area. What are your thoughts?

Tamriel Infinium Fictional loyalty

Last week, I asked who will be attracted to the action-style combat that ESO will have. Personally, I enjoy this style. I like Neverwinter for this reason, and those who have followed me for a while know that I love DC Universe Online. Reader Coreymj78 enjoys that type of combat for the same reasons I do. He compared ESO’s combat to Neverwinter’s, saying, “It is truly fun dodging, sprinting, flipping, blocking, teleporting, and also being able to slot certain abilities for specific types of fights. You have many abilities, but can only slot 8 at a time, including your two dailies.”

I agree that getting an immediate, visceral reaction to my mouse clicks and keyboard mashing has its appeal. But at the same time, I can’t discount the other side of the coin. Another reader, Murzerker, wrote last week, “I think in a lite action based game it is fine. However, I do feel that (for me) it is detrimental to my ability to suspend reality. I can’t help but feel like I am playing a game. So for a real MMORPG, I feel that action combat is truly out of place, plus for me it’s exhausting. I feel worn out after playing for an afternoon, yet I can’t remember anything truly exciting about anything I’d done.”

Reader Madrox30 asked a couple of interesting questions regarding a combination of the two systems. “Is there no middle ground to be had? Or is managing a rotation, being mindful of situational CDs, positioning, and dodge mechanics just too much to ask from the skillful PvPer? Just as there was such a thing as too much, there can also be too little, and I fear the industry has too readily embraced the latter.” Maybe he’s right. Why does everything have to be to one extreme or the other? Good food for thought.

This week, I want to know your thoughts about the guild system in ESO. Do you think this will create conflicted loyalties? Maybe communication between factions isn’t necessary because of how your guild plays MMOs. Is this going to be an issue for you and your guild?


New Elder Scrolls Online video shows off gameplay

New Elder Scrolls Online video shows off gameplay footage

Have you been itching to feast your eyes on actual The Elder Scrolls Online game footage from the eyes of a player, but you haven’t managed to find your way into the Bethesda offices? Thanks to Marty Sliva and Caleb Lawson of IGN, you can; the pair had the opportunity to jump in and play a couple hours of the upcoming fantasy MMO and created a video with some highlights of their adventures.

As a non-MMO player, Lawson described the draw to the game and an Elder Scrolls fan. He noted that it felt like being back in that world, from Daedric quests to being dropped into Oblivion. Sliva added, “[TESO] captures that same sort of spirit of exploration and adventure of Skyrim and Oblivion, but there is this great MMO attached to it.”

Lawson also shared that developers stated that hands will be added to the game to give the first-person experience even more of a Skyrim feel. Hear more of their thoughts and see the gameplay in the video after the break.


E3 2013: Hands-on with The Elder Scrolls Online


I was kind of new, so I figured I’d practice on some sheep first. A little blood, some meat, some fat. Interesting, but kind of simple. I understood some of the basics on how to move and fight, but I figured I should check out the town. Now, I’m kind of old and ugly, so when the dog came at me, I figured it was attacking me. After a few moments, I realized it was friendly and talked to it. It seemed it wanted me to follow it. This was the start of my first quest in The Elder Scrolls Online.

Now, to be clear, I came into my ESO demo at this year’s E3 as a skeptic. I played Star Wars: The Old Republic. I figured “MMO with story” meant kill 10 rats; choose 1, 2, or 3; then look for another quest icon. It’s not a terrible model, but it’s one that left me wondering if there was a better way to do things. Why make it an MMO when you could just do a multiplayer RPG? I’m not sure I know the answer to this yet, but I do feel I’m getting closer.

I know it was only a demo, but my Orc Dragonknight started only at level 6, which was taking me about 10-15 minutes at most other hands-on booths, so I didn’t mind skipping that. Maybe that made this game easier to approach, but the presentation helped a lot too. See, unlike SWTOR, ESO always made me feel as if I was playing an RPG, not an MMO with a forced story attached. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my bounty hunter’s story, but I honestly can’t remember a tenth of the quests, just the story parts. With my quest today from Gibblets the dog, I can recall several details as well as some of the other quests I accidently found along the way.

Let me take that back, actually. It wasn’t an accident. I just didn’t realize I was starting a quest when I talked to them. Yeah, there was an aura that showed me I could talk to that person, but the couple talking about “riding crops” also had that aura (though maybe because those two seemed kind of off). After a day of yellow exclamation points and “kill 10 X,” being able to run around and not see a quest coming a mile away was refreshing.

And this sense of discovery wasn’t limited to just quests. I could pick up almost everything! Bread, sacks of wheat, mead. Rats dropped ears, chickens dropped eggs, and all was good with the world. This will sound odd, but I wasn’t playing an MMO; I was playing an RPG. I was exploring a world, finding things to do, doing them, and in the process, finding more to do. I wasn’t focused on my stats or how trade skills work (yet), but I was running into homes and dry-looting them like a thief. Unlike NPCs in other Elder Scrolls games, no one seemed upset, but maybe that would come later. I doubt I’ll be able to rob people blind in the street, murder a guard, or kill a vendor, but I still felt as if I had a lot more freedom than in a lot of the current MMOs I play. This wasn’t because story was crammed in to fit an MMO mold. In fact, if anything, an MMO might be crammed in to fit an RPG mold. I realized after nearly an hour that all I had killed was some sheep, rats, chickens, and a few NPCs that ambushed me around town as part of one of the quests I discovered. I actually had to force myself out of town to try combat, which is something that rarely happens to me in an MMO these days.


While the game had first-person as an option for combat, I opted to try the third person, since in MMOs, you’re usually at a disadvantage in first-person. It didn’t look so much like an Elder Scrolls game, but the feeling seemed close enough: I had several moves, but they weren’t all on my hotbar at once. I liked having the interrupt option not as a move but as built in skill. It drained a lot of stamina, so I assume it’s universal, and that’s great. I did notice I couldn’t hit wolves with it, which made me wonder if perhaps my Orc was too tall to land that move on them. My other moves were fun too: a chain to pull people to me, thorn armor, an AoE root, and a more powerful strike. They were important, but I couldn’t just faceroll mobs and hope things died, especially when I was killing multiple enemies or chain pulling. I also couldn’t block forever or I’d get tired and have trouble fighting back.

This may sound like a dream to some people, but after playing some other games that seemed like long lost twins, I found that The Elder Scrolls Online was a good change of pace. However, it also made me wonder about its MMO status. The town felt a bit instanced for me. Other players were also running around grabbing these items, it seemed. I couldn’t see their dogs, but I think most of the level 6s that entered the town were doing the same thing I had been doing. Maybe later the quests will involve multiple players and people will have options, but I don’t know how it will work. One clever element of TOR’s group RPG experience was the way conversations were handled. I know a dice roll to decide the fate of the galaxy sounds like a gamble, but I could live with it. It was interesting to see three people damn an NPC and one person roll higher than the other and save him. I don’t know if ESO will have that, or how it will handle that, but I do want to find out.

Massively’s Jasmine Hruschak also previewed ESO at E3, so stay tuned for her impressions!


E3 2013: The Elder Scrolls Online will land on the PS4 and Xbox One

Bethesda has just announced plans to bring The Elder Scrolls Online to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in spring 2014. Sony confirmed during its conference at E3 tonight that the PS4 will be the first platform (or possibly just the first console — it’s unclear) on which the ESO beta will be available. The game was slated to release on PC this fall, but the press release (and a tweet from Bethesda’s Pete Hines) seems to imply that the PC launch window has also been delayed to next spring: “The game will launch on these consoles, in addition to the previously announced PC and Mac versions, in Spring 2014.”

ZeniMax has also today released a brand-new trailer to coincide with the announcement; we’ve tucked it behind the break.


E3 2013: Stealing cabbages in The Elder Scrolls Online

Stealing cabbages, hands on with The Elder Scrolls Online at E3

I eagerly consumed about 45 minutes of The Elder Scrolls Online during E3 this week. I stayed glued to my keyboard and headphones until the expo hall closed and I was told to clear out. Part of this time was spent interviewing the nearest willing Bethesda employee, and every other second was hauling Orc butt around ESO.

My character of choice, an Orc Dragonknight, loaded into the game on the other side of a polygon-rich bridge from an equally polygon-rich town. The Bethesda employee standing nearby mentioned I could go into the town for some guided content the team had prepared. I made a sharp right turn into the stream and killed a deer instead.

At this point it became painfully apparent that I didn’t log into ESO already skilled at the combat system. Nothing about the system seemed bad (not too slow or clumsy). The problem seemed to be all me. This proved true as I fought another deer, then a humanoid, and my fighting technique became progressively less awkward. I fought quite a few mobs during my brief time in ESO, and by the 15th or so enemy I was attacking the air five feet past my target at least 60% less frequently.

After getting my combat footing in the woods, I cautiously approached the town. I’m always skeptical of content that developers choose specifically to show off at a convention. There’s no guarantee it’s anything like the rest of the game. But I figured I had over 30 minutes left, so why not see what they’ve got?

I loved the detail of the town, just as I loved the detail of the forest. The NPCs talking out loud made the place feel alive, and the design struck a nice balance between too fancy and too dismal. The town looked lived-in, functional, and believable. I thought my character could reasonably be a part of this place. My favorite touch was being able to go into houses; since the houses weren’t merely facades, I was able to enter each house I tried. For me this added to the “alive and functional” feeling more than anything else.

A dog ran up to me once I entered the town, and when I talked to him, he indicated that I should follow. I did, but then the game glitched. I couldn’t move. The dog was moving, and the people around me were moving, but I couldn’t move. Attacks worked, but none of the movement hotkeys worked. I tried for a couple minutes before I called an employee over. As soon as he arrived at my station, my Orc took off running. I glared at my character. I thought we were in this together.

I completed another quest or two in that chain and looted everything I could pick up. Shopkeepers didn’t seem bothered when I walked behind their stalls and grabbed every cabbage they appeared to be selling. It must have been my handsome Orc physique.

Eventually I hit a quest mob that slaughtered me. I chose to head back to my quest goal and give it another shot, which ended the same way as the first time. After my second death, I wandered off. As I talked to NPCs, it struck me how easy it was, at least in this chosen-for-a-press-demo town, to find quests, even though they weren’t glaringly obvious. Every direction I went in, I ended up finding quests. I tried a few more but eventually spent the last 15 minutes just exploring.

I think it’s worth noting that while I explored the town, I found myself clicking on NPCs just to hear what they said. Their dialogues were interesting and well-acted enough to make me curious. This stuck in my mind because it’s completely opposite my typical MMO playstyle. I skip cutscenes, I don’t read quest text, and I go to new areas as soon as possible. If it’s not giving me experience, I’m not doing it. But there I was, in a demo with limited time, clicking on a guy near some chickens hoping to hear about his farm life.

After enough town exploring, I booked it north. I spent the rest of my demo time exploring the wilderness and getting to the next zone. This was all sightseeing, of course, since the mobs could eat me whole.

What I explored was mostly a pretty, forested area dotted with neutral and aggressive mobs. I ran across camps of hostile NPCs and at one point a hostile ocean dock/town. I tried to get closer to the ships, but there were too many mobs. When they spotted me, I was able to escape by hopping into the water and swimming with all the power of a Harvard rowing team. I ended up on an island with large crystals and a swirling, magical vortex that summoned some kind of reptilian creature.

Right before my time with ESO was up, I made it into another zone and located what I thought was yet another cute little town. When I got up close, the inhabitants appeared zombielike and weren’t too keen on letting me explore their bungalows. My demo time ended with my Orc fleeing from the zombie horde. OK, two zombies. Horde just sounded better.

For me personally, my hands-on experience pushed me over from the camp of “cautiously optimistic” to “genuinely excited.” Every time I’ve played an Elder Scrolls game, I’ve enjoyed myself but quickly felt lonely and ended up abandoning it early on. I enjoy online gaming more than anything, and despite appreciating how rich and detailed each RPG I’ve tried has been, I swiftly end up back in a world populated by other players. My time with The Elder Scrolls Online rekindled my hope for an MMORPG with a heavy emphasis on RPG that still manages to make me feel right at home.



Everyone gets an Elder Scrolls game!

Tamriel Infinium Everyone gets an Elder Scrolls game!

The more convention coverage I read and the more conventions I go to, the more I’m concerned by them. The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and rubbing shoulders with the developers of some of my favorite games has its perks. But you hardly ever get to the meat of what determines a great game. Amidst the hype and free booze, every game looks and tastes great, but even the greatest games are less filling under those circumstances. Even we observers from home receive only a candy-coated glimpse of what a game really offers.

The news pouring in from the The Elder Scrolls Online really exemplifies the layers of fluff that the convention atmosphere can place on a game. Two of our reporters spent time talking to the developers of the next venture into the world of Tamriel, and both stepped away with a very positive experience. Admittedly, I feel the excitement, too. I’m twitching with joy. Our freelancer Andrew’s note that he “just didn’t realize [he] was starting a quest when [he] talked to [quest givers]” piques my interest. Have we finally found a game that feels like a living world? And quotes from the ESO developers like, “You can pick up a sword and shield if you start as a sorcerer class and become a sword and shield user, and that’s fine” have me wondering if we haven’t stumbled upon the best mix of sandbox and themepark in an MMO.

This week and next, I want to delve deeper into the reports from E3. Do we find some concerns that the developers are trying to gloss over, or is ESO everything we ever wanted from an Elder Scrolls game?

Tamriel Infinium Everyone gets an Elder Scrolls game!

The biggest announcement by far arrived before E3 officially began: The Elder Scrolls Online will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac.

During the pre-show press conference, we saw a new ESO trailer featuring all in-game footage, and of course, the voice of Max von Sydow, who has kind of become the quintessential voice of the Elder Scrolls. Even though von Sydow appeared in Skyrim alone, his voice encapsulates the feeling of the whole series. When his voice kicked off the trailer with, “A new dawn is upon us,” the game suddenly became a bigger concept than what I had originally perceived it as. I don’t think anyone was surprised by the scope of Skyrim, but for some reason, I thought that ESO was intended to cater to the niche of PC gamers who liked Elder Scrolls and also liked MMOs — maybe adding a few new people to the fanbase of the MMO genre in the process. With this trailer (the first trailer for ESO some people had seen), our niche game stepped into the larger world of gamers in general.

If Bethesda had announced that the game would appear on the WiiU, too, I would have flipped. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but proclaiming that TESO will be playable on all other platforms both intrigues and concerns me. I love the idea that other types of gamers can experience the same satisfaction that I feel when playing an MMO. That’s not to say that MMORPGs are perfect by any means, but there is no other gaming experience like it and no other gaming experience I’d rather have. It’s about time that console RPGers can experience it, too. Yes, I know DC Universe Online and a couple of other MMOs have crossed over to the console, but these games have really struggled at winning over either crowd fully. The Elder Scrolls already has a solid audience on both PCs and consoles. If I were to name an IP that could make the crossover, the Elder Scrolls would easily be in my top five.

Tamriel Infinium Everyone gets an Elder Scrolls game!

Additional platforms bring with them additional problems. Obviously, the first question that popped up was, “Is everybody going to play on the same server?” and the second was, “Does that mean that the PC version of the game is delayed until the spring of 2014, too?” The answer is no to the first one, but unfortunately, the answer to the second one is yes.

Personally, I don’t mind playing with console gamers. Sure, I’m a PC loyalist, but that not because I hate consoles. I just find PCs more flexible, and I have also found that PCs are ahead of the curve when it comes to graphics quality. But I know some people are so vehemently opposed to console gamers that they will refuse to play on a server that will support both types of gamers. Apparently, console players are the dredges of society to some PC players, but with 11.8 million players of Skyrim (a game PC players like to say was made for them) on Xbox 360 and PS3 combined, they can’t all be that bad. But I’m glad that ESO will be completely avoiding this issue by placing PC and Mac users on one server, Xbox users on another, and PS4 users on yet another server.

Unfortunately, opening up the game on other platforms also means that the game’s launch date has been delayed until it can can be tested on the those platforms as well. I’m not sure that these other platforms are the sole source of the delay, but I’m sure that they have something to do with it. That being said, delays are not necessarily bad for business. They are certainly not bad for consumers. Consumers theoretically receive a better, more polished product in the end. And with all three platforms releasing at about the same time, the age-old debate of which platform received better treatment should be curbed. (Oh, whom am I kidding? That will never happen.)

Tamriel Infinium Everyone gets an Elder Scrolls game!

With all the news from E3 this week, I cannot fit everything I’d like to say into one article, so next week, I will certainly hit on more of the pros and cons of the convention announcements. But in the meantime, I’m interested in your take. What did you find most exciting about The Elder Scrolls Online articles from E3? Is there a particularly good review or hands-on that I should know about? And of course, what’s your take on the delay and cross-platform announcements? I’ll be sure to post some of your answers in next week’s article. Until then, pruzah wundunne. (Do I have to shout that since it’s the dragon language?)


Immersing yourself in The Elder Scrolls Online

Tamriel Infinium Immersing yourself in The Elder Scrolls Online

Throughout my time as a gamer, I have seen game designers struggle with immersion because not everyone views immersion the same way and every designer wants his game to pull you in. The more you play one designer’s game, the more likely you will buy his or her next game. In the case of MMOs, the greater the immersion, the greater chance you will spend more money on subscriptions or in the cash shop. Some gamers find first-person views with in-your-face action immersing; some, like me, find rich lore and a solid storyline immersing.

The Elder Scrolls Online faces perhaps the hardest task. Not only does this game strive to immerse the already existing divisions between the RPG crowd, but it also has to contend with the different platforms on which it’s releasing. Our commenters on this site are heavily divided on the console-vs.-PC subject. To top it off, some have already been turned off by Bethesda’s shying away from calling the game an MMO.

Today, I face head-on some of game’s immersion pitfalls and tackle the divisive comments from last week’s Tamriel Infinium.
Tamriel Infinium Immersing yourself in The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online has deep and extensive lore; the history of Tamriel spans thousands of years. The nine different player races have solidified their personalities in 18 different games and expansions. Given this level of lore development, I’m slightly surprised the franchise didn’t attempt an MMO before now. However, knowing how rabid the Elder Scrolls and MMO fanbases are, I can sympathize with the publisher’s reluctance to step into the market.

When you’re playing a single-player game, it’s fine to have situations where your character doesn’t say anything or maybe your character is voiced by a single actor. And in the primary storyline for your MMO character, it’s fine to have one voice as well. But when you’re interacting with other players, things start to get hairy as far as immersion is concerned. I don’t know about you, but I find it odd when I’m running quests with another person and his character sounds exactly like mine — even if it’s not a fully voiced MMO.

Then there is the issue of interpersonal communication. We touched on this a little bit a couple of weeks ago with factional divides, but what about the people standing next to you or those in your party? I find it detracting from my immersion if I have to look away from the character I’m talking to see what he’s saying. That’s why in games without chat bubbles, I try to keep the chat box as close to the middle of the screen as possible. Unfortunately, ESO has yet to explain how this going to work, especially since the game is going to release on consoles as well. Are we going to have a spatial voice chat as in APB, Neverwinter, and DC Universe Online? I hope not; those are the most horrid VoIP systems I’ve ever heard.
Tamriel Infinium Immersing yourself in The Elder Scrolls Online

Let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum: What about the console gamer looking to be the hero of his or her adventure? Obviously, ZeniMax is developing an extensive personal story, but with so many different players all becoming the heroes of their own stories, where is the uniqueness? Other MMOs have run into this trap, Age of Conan being a prime example. I’m concerned that ZeniMax might have written itself into a corner with every player being the “soulless one.”

My deepest immersion happens when I lead my own adventure and discover quests without prompting from some tour-guide dotted line or exclamation point over an NPC’s head. From the previews that I’ve read, ZeniMax has nailed this one. Being able to randomly pick up items and talk to NPCs sounds like the beginning of great world design. I am holding out hope that ZeniMax will nail the communication part of the game, too.
Tamriel Infinium Immersing yourself in The Elder Scrolls Online

Last week, I discussed the implications of Bethesda inching away from the idea that ESO is an MMO. I wondered whether it would turn people on to or off from the game. Commenter VoySy feels that a single-player game with mulitplayer aspects will not be worth it, “especially if that means on-going payments like microtransactions or subscriptions, one or the other of which will be present in ESO for sure.” And I can certainly understand his concern. My hope mirrors Trumanlee4’s, who wrote, “I think the format of the game should be like Guild Wars 2’s: buy the box, and the game is yours to play whenever you want for free.” But I think Fevered.Dreamer nailed it when he talked about the current climate of MMO gaming:

Frankly I think it is a pretty stellar idea. MMOs as a genre are kind of a mess right now, and in several ways dubbing something a new game an MMO probably has more negative connotations than positive ones. Worthless story, endless grinding, and an obsession with gear are all things that have become fairly synonymous with MMO play. These seem to all be aspects of play that the MMO crowd prefers while simultaneously complaining endlessly about them. They’re also aspects of play certain to turn off anyone who isn’t already a big fan of the genre. Maybe shying away from the “MMO” title is a healthy thing for any game trying to do more than rehash WoW.

When I spoke to a developer friend about the compromises of a multiplatform launch, he told me that there are always cutbacks in game design no matter the number of platforms. The ideas always expand beyond the realistic scope of the project, and developers will narrow that scope based on the weakest platform. However, in the particular case of ESO, he believes that the MMO side might be scaled back but that it can easily be a very good Elder Scrolls game.

Commenters varied on the subject. Spectrelight saw little issue: “Releasing a game for consoles doesn’t necessarily mean that the PC version will be compromised, but it almost always will be. Take Skyrim, for example: It was obviously designed for the Xbox and ported to the PC with the minimum amount of effort.” But Rottenrotny was obviously concerned about the depth of the game as an MMO: “I prefer the complexity of MMORPGs designed for the PC. Console port might be a good idea for the bottom line, but likely terrible for anyone who wants a deep, complicated MMORPG experience.”

Bethesda is on the right track, I think. Short of suddenly finding ESO set in outerspace, we are going to buy the game when it launches, but best thing a publisher can do right now is curb our expectations so that we aren’t disappointed when the game launches without chat bubbles or something.

This week’s question: Which MMO compromises can you handle without losing immersion? And as a follow-up, which items must you have in order to stay infatuated with a game world? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I will see you next week.