I’m just about to level 10 as the sun sets on day three of my Elder Scrolls Online pre-launch experience. After plenty of decisional paralysis on Sunday, I settled on a Redguard Nightblade and spent Monday and Tuesday leveling him through Stros M’kai, Betnikh, and the city of Daggerfall.
Now I’m working my way northeast through the wilds of Glenumbra, stopping occasionally to assist the citizens of Deleyn’s Mill and clean up the Vale of the Guardians.
There’s a lot of solo quest content in ESO’s early Daggerfall Covenant levels, and I haven’t even bothered with the main story quest as of yet. Well, technically I have, but the level 3 quest in that line is buried underneath all the other errands on my Glenumbra to-do list, so whenever I can stop gawking at the sights, sounds, and resource nodes of Tamriel at some point, I’ll polish it off.
The story’s not half bad if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not, really, since I’m more of a sandbox fan, and in ESO’s case, a fan of wanderlust and random exploration. But the story looks to be competently handled. It’s fully voiced, of course, and there are some interesting wrinkles in terms of decisions that may affect my access to NPCs down the road.
For example, I chose to side with Betnikh’s Orc clan and destroy a troublesome artifact rather than turn it over to the Daggerfall Covenant, and while the tribe and its chieftain greatly appreciated it, the Covenant-sympathizing pirate captain who transported me to the island and farmed out her crew to serve as my quest-giving NPCs was none too happy with my decision.
She made noises about refusing to do business with me again, but thus far the moral choice hasn’t had any discernible gameplay consequences since the Orc chieftain forced her to sail with me again, anyway.
It’s a nice idea, though, branching story quests with gameplay consequences. BioWare shied away from meaningful choice in Star Wars: The Old Republic, so I’ll be interested to see if ZeniMax follows the same path with ESO’s narrative or if the devs had the time, resources, and inclination to actually implement consequential arcs in an MMORPG.
Random fun stuff
Apart from questing and Glenumbra’s terrific production design (seriously, high fives and raises all around to the art team and whoever is responsible for those gorgeous god-rays-through-the-forest-canopy effects), a few other positives stood out on my third day. I love, love, looooove all the emotes in the game. The fact that ZeniMax included six different sitting animations, not counting /sitchair, is indicative of a game that at least acknowledges fringe groups like roleplayers and immersion junkies, even if it doesn’t build itself around them.
Public dungeon instances are a treat too, and the dev team has absolutely managed to capture that oh-cool feeling from the Elder Scrolls single-player series where you happen upon an unmarked labyrinth in the open world and discover a vast network of tunnels and crypts, all beautifully rendered, beautifully lit, and stocked with plenty of those addictive trunks, baskets, and bone piles that basically serve as a sort of kleptomaniac’s harvesting node.
Though I’m still having quite a good time with the game, I do have a couple of bones to pick, as it wouldn’t be much of a launch week diary if I spent it all telling you how The Elder Scrolls Online is a big fat fangasm from start to finish.
Let me start with ZeniMax’s decision to reveal player account handles to everyone on said player’s friend list. I wish I were joking here, but unfortunately the devs did fail IT Security 101, so if you’ve got a login handle that you’d just as soon keep private, well, don’t join a guild and don’t make friends!
I can’t for the life of me understand the logic behind this decision unless ZeniMax is hoping for a rash of account hackings so it can start selling you USB security keys in a few weeks. Gold spam is already prevalent in ESO’s zone chat, and making one half of a player’s login pair public is simply asinine with a capital-A.
To say nothing of the fact that now I have to buy a second account if I want some quality alone time with an alt apart from my guildies!
Past Elder Scrolls games have been fairly notorious for their launch bugs, and while I’m still willing to callESO the smoothest pre-launch I’ve experienced in a number of years, it’s certainly not perfect. [Ed. note: OK, maybe it’s not all that smooth anymore due to the NA megaserver being offline for hours on April 2nd!] I’ve experienced no lag to speak of, but I’ve encountered a handful of iffy quests throughout my Tamrielian vacation.
I say iffy because I’m not sure whether they’re all bugged or just poorly designed. I found myself waiting around for what seems like an eternity for those infernal Bloodthorn Necromancers to spawn and deliver their motes. After that, I found myself waiting around for another eternity as the Seamount hunters I was supposed to duel stubbornly refused to regenerate their health bars after their encounter with the previous player.
And who could forget those Bloodthorn Assassins who have been refusing to spawn on that damn ship at the Daggerfall docks for several days now? Yesterday afternoon’s impromptu one-hour maintenance session fixed two of those quests, at least for me, but stuff like that does unfortunately have to go in the negatives column of a fair launch summary. Finally, come on guys, it’s 2014. Shouldn’t we be able to claim pre-order account rewards across our entire account without having to claim them on one character and then spend half an hour moving them around at the bank?
These are small nitpicks, to be sure, but I feel the need to point them out since, contrary to occasional commenter opinion, I am not on ZeniMax’s payroll and I can get away with saying, hey, fix this stuff!