We’re always inspired by the talent of ESO fan artists. Take a look at some recent works, and don’t forget to visit our official ESO Tumblr page and art section on the official ESOforums for more!
“Take a picture of a picture in an MMO,” I said to you guys a couple of weeks ago, and darn it if you awesome folks didn’t come through! We have two entries from that screenshot challenge this week, starting with reader Chiara taking a look at her good looks in Lord of the Rings Online.
“One of the things that impressed me the most when Riders of Rohan launched was the furniture,” Chiara wrote. “I spent the whole day breaking into NPCs’ houses uninvited (they weren’t amused). The first time I saw a mirror, I squealed.”
I’m squealing right now myself, but that’s mostly because a mouse just ran across the ceiling tiles. I need to throw a cat up between the floors one of these days to solve that problem. Anyway, let’s take a gander at the other great entires from players’ screenshot folders!
Blade and Soul continues to demonstrate how there is no shortage of incredible-looking MMOs being made in Korea. This shot comes from reader Dibbs, who appreciates the option not to look completely perfect.
“Here is my Jin Assassin taking a moment to take in the wonderful view before killing everything, again,” Dibbs said. “She is probably the only female character that has a scar on the left side of her face. Who says women can’t look amazing with scars?”
Will we ever see this game over here? No? Well, OK then.
Here’s another picture-of-a-picture, this one from reader Vestus: “Hi! This weekend I returned toNeverwinter after around seven months away in an effort to combat the World of Warcraft pre-expansion doldrums. I made a hunter ranger, fun class. In answer to this week’s request for screenshots, I submit this one from the Orc Barracks in the Temple District zone. Everything in the Barracks is trashed or on fire, yet this single painting appears to be untouched. Why?”
Because it’s magic, that’s why. A wizard did it. Any other questions?
Our characters should really thank us for taking them on a non-stop tour of the most impressive sights of the world. You know they’d be total couch potatoes that never left the house if we didn’t make them. Too bad someone doesn’t do that for us?
Reader John shared this vista: “Here is Kulono, who is still only level 8 in Elder Scrolls Online. He’s leveling very slowly because he keeps stopping to read books and admire sunsets on a regular schedule. The joys of living in Tamriel.”
Our screenshot challenge of the week is to dance, dance, dance… and take a picture of your character getting funky with his or her old bad self!
My adventure in The Elder Scrolls Online continues this week with my Nightblade Fa’saad making his way through Stonefalls for the Ebonheart Pact. As the format of Choose My Adventure has changed slightly, the polls from the first two articles mold my journey through the rest of the month. At the end of it all, I’ll give my summary impressions and tips I learned along the way.
This week it’s all about addons as I tried out a dozen or so to report back on my favorites. Addons can aid your gameplay in so many different ways, from stat counters to UI mods to quality of (virtual) life improvements, but they’re not for everyone. I’m not usually an addon fan because I think they verge on cheating in a way, so I’ve approached these addons from the perspective of a skeptic. Did they really help my game? Will I continue to use them?
First off, I’d like to talk a bit about my progression. The game was down several times during my regular play time, so I didn’t get to do as much as I’d have liked, but I did find out what the holy grail at level 10 was. It’s that really amazing storyline interlude that happens when you ding 10, right? Wait, no, it’s the availability of PvP! Hmmm, I’m not sure exactly, but I do plan to venture into PvP at some point next week.
One thing I’ve learned is to stop trying to do everything at once with crafting, gathering, weapon skills, etc. This is something I always learn (the hard way) at this point in every MMO but forget because I want to do all the things. I’ve decided to focus on Medium Armor for the bonuses and dual wielding for my weapon. I also decided to expand a bit out from Siphoning to throw in that one Shadow skill (Dark Cloak) and grab both Killer’s Blade and Teleport Strike from the Assassination line. Don’t worry; I’m still focusing on Siphoning with Swallow Soul and Prolonged Suffering, and my Ultimate Ability is currently Soul Shred.
My inventory is thanking me for giving up on trying to collect as much as possible as I’m focusing entirely on Clothing. I’ve gained some points in other crafting lines due to deconstructing, but I’m not doing much else with them.
I definitely find myself exploring and smelling the roses more than in most other MMOs. I think this game was designed for that, especially considering the vast lore. But you are rewarded for stepping off the beaten path and checking out what’s behind that big rock over there. If you find yourself lacking quests while following the regular storyline, head out to the corners of your map. You’ll have more than you need.
The lack of an auction house has been a hot topic from the beginning, but it doesn’t bother me too much — except for the spam. It actually reminds me a lot of the original Guild Wars. There are pros and cons to doing things this way, but the biggest plus is the fact that it’s bringing people together for more personal interaction. Sure, it’s not quick or efficient, but it’s more immersive.
As promised, I tried out a few addons to see what best suited my playstyle. I skipped all of the ones that put markers on maps because they either work or not, so there isn’t much else to say about those. I mean, I love HarvestMap and SkyShards for what they do, but there’s not much discussion there. This list isn’t necessarily a top list in any order, but it’s more of a report on a few of my favorites that I now use regularly.
Foundry Tactical Combat
This one is a necessity because it adds so much to the game that should’ve been there in the first place. You get more feedback on the damage you’re doing and what type of damage you’re doing as well as buff and debuff info. Sure, some might argue that it clutters up the screen with too much info, but what’s shown (and where it’s shown) is all customizable.
Mark your unwanted items as junk and they’re automatically sold the next time you talk to the merchant. How easy is that? There are other similar addons that do the same thing, but this one is my favorite so far. There’s even info in your chat window that tells you when something is put into your junk bag, and it’s all customizable.
I admit, I’m a bit of a stats freak, and this addon is a dream come true. Based on the original Xpview, MyXpview is a bit more refined with some slight ease-of-use tweaks. It will detail how long you’ve been in game for the current session, how much XP you’ve gained, your current XP gain rate per hour, approximate number of mobs left to kill, and time left at the current rate until you reach your next level. How cool is that?
Oh Bank Stuffer, where were you in my first three weeks with this game? Bank Stuffer will take the stackable items from your inventory and put them in your bank automatically when you talk to the banker. It will work only with items already in your bank, but it certainly makes life a lot easier and more organized. It especially helps when you can’t seem to stop opening crates and barrels and bags for the Provisioning goodies that add up and fill your bags completely, even though you’re not actually a Provisioner. OK, so I still do that.
Overall, I enjoy these addons but found so many that really weren’t for me. If you’re skeptical about add-ons, I invite you to head over to ESOUI and flip through the categories to see what might be best for you. Not all addons are quality, so make sure to heed the community’s advice and check out the most popular ones with ratings.
For next week, I’m going to dip my paws into PvP and give my final impressions of the game as I’ve been playing it. It will be my last week for this current CMA, but I plan to return in a few months to have you choose even more adventures for ole Fa’saad.
If you have any suggestions for other addons or just want to give me some PvP tips, make sure to include them in the comments below. I already have the next CMA game picked out and can’t wait to reveal that as well. Until next week!
Let’s start our time together today by playing a game! The game is this: You have until you hit the “continue reading” button to figure out what color this horse (well, technically a unicorn) is. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
This picture comes from reader Becca: “Here is my EverQuest 2 Fury, Sarense, riding her mighty steed. I spent a few hours grinding out candy hearts to get this mount, which shoots hearts out of his eyes and hooves (unfortunately not captured here). He’s a hardcore stallion. Look at his cocky stare. He knows thatyou know he’s a badass.”
Have the collective wounds from Free Realms’ closing healed yet? I would be doubtful, especially in the case of reader Space Cobra. He sent in a portrait of one of the game’s unsung casualties.
“Here is the last day of roaming/swimming around on this character,” he wrote. “I had him since beta, and I even used the name ‘Space Cobra’ for beta, but when it went to live, there was a glitch that said the name was taken (by me, but I couldn’t delete the wiped beta character), so I just created this name. I scored the penguin-mask in a set of cards I acquired when SOE used to sell the physical card game in stores; this was done only in the first expansion or two, and then they decided to just sell digitally. Maybe that was a mistake in retrospect, although this was near the end of the card-game boom and people were tired of card games, but any marketing items are advertising!
“What was good about the mask was that it lasted a long time and it was easy to refresh. So in essence, I was always a small, baby penguin. I got lots of attention because the item was rare, although there was a shorter version. I think they made changes to the item and the game sorta treated it strangely near the end, but I could still get it to work. I will miss the mask and the game!”
The Elder Scrolls Online screenshot parade continues, this time from reader Will. He’s taking a break from the slaughter and in-game book reading to lay down a little classical jazz on us.
“While doing a bit of PvP, my buddy Rick and I decided that we we’re tired of getting to a keep, only to find that it had already been taken or lost,” Will said. “After looking around the map a bit, we realized there’s a bit of PvE content in our PvP soup and somehow managed to weasel ourselves behind enemy lines, winding up in Cheydinhal. After a bit of sneaking about the town, we set up shop, with a few other companions, atop a building and rained unholy fire, arrows, and life siphoning down on folks of the opposing factions as they went to turn in quests with only the warning of our lute to warn them of the impending bloodshed. Let it be known, you should never mess with a Minstrel.”
You know what’s tough? When you guys send me in a huge batch of excellent screenshots and go, “Pick one!” That’s my weekly Sophie’s Choice, right there. It’s terrible and it makes me break down crying each and every time. They’re just all so great! Don’t make me choose!
Reader Cim submitted several great Star Wars: The Old Republic screenies, but this one called to me. It looks so dang cool that I wish I could be there in person and then lean up against the glass to look down at the planet. Head rush!
Your screenshot challenge for the week is to take a picture of a sight, object, or even creature that you feel is unique to the entire MMO genre. What does your game have that others do not? Show us!
I have always thought it presumptuous to declare that anyone can know the true meaning of anything. However, I believe that players might be led slightly astray by the latest Elder Scrolls Online video. I don’t think that the ESO creators were lying because I do believe that it is distinctly possible to take on nearly any role no matter the class or race choice. However, as in every other MMO in existence, only certain combinations will reign supreme, and unfortunately, I also suspect that if you wish to fill a specific role, you will have to pick specific classes. Thanks to some of the data fan sites have gathered from convention playthroughs, we can guestimate which combinations will fill which roles the best.
In order to understand where I’m coming from, let’s explore how the progression system works. The minimalistic user interface for ESO displays four components related to your skills. Your health bar depletes every time an enemy lands a hit. The magicka bar indicates the amount of spell-slinging power you have. The stamina bar depletes when you perform a physical action like dodging or swinging your axe. Then you also have the toolbar, which gives you five active ability slots and an ultimate slot. When you reach a certain level, you will be able to actively switch between two toolbars based on your weapon. Your weapon, armor, and skills determine which role you play in a group.
As always, the following information stems from conventions and other public playthroughs and so is subject to change before the game goes live.
One of the quintessential elements of an Elder Scrolls game is the player’s ability to pick up nearly any weapon and be able to use it. Of course, you never start out as an expert, but variety is the spice of life in Tamriel. And your weapon skills determine most which role you play in a group. From what I see, ESOoffers healer, tank, and DPS roles as well as a mezzer thrown in for fun. Those roles are divided into six different weapons lines: one-handed and shield, two-handed, dual-wield, bow, destruction staff, and restoration staff.
One-hand and shield allows the player to take damage as well as taunt. Two-handed plays the heavy-but-slow melee-DPS role. The dual-wielder hits a single target hard and fast. A bow wielder also hits hard and fast but stays at a distance. The destruction staff deals multiple types of AoE damage. Lastly, the restoration staff heals.
ZeniMax has mentioned that tanking in ESO varies slightly from the traditional way of tanking. Most of the time, a tank’s job revolves around holding the attention of the mobs then taking the brunt of the damage. InESO, the idea isn’t always to hold a mob’s attention but rather to reduce the damage taken by other team members. As of right now, we are aware of only one taunt ability granted by one-hand and shield: Puncture. But there are a number of abilities that stun or reduce the damage output of an enemy. It possible that a player will need only one taunt because there are no cooldowns on abilities, but Puncture is not an area taunt. That tells me that other roles will get hit by an aggroed mob.
Of course, the armor skill lines revolve around defense, but they also help determine how effective your character is in a specific role. But aside from helping further narrow your group role, each armor skill set focuses on a specific energy pool. Heavy armor, naturally, focuses on your health pool. Its passive abilities reduce the amount of damage taken, increase healing, and increase health regeneration. Medium armor concentrates on the stamina bar. Besides increasing the stamina regeneration, the armor also reduces the cost of dodging and increases movement speed while you’re sprinting. Lastly, light armor focuses on the magicka pool. Players wearing light armor will have reduced cost on spells and increased regeneration of the magicka pool.
Although slightly less flexible than the weapon skills (which can be swapped on the fly), a player’s armor can be changed while not in combat. Before a given fight, a player can don her heavy armor and become a tank, or if the fight needs only one tank, then she can flip on her medium armor and do melee DPS more effectively.
As you might have guessed, however, not every weapon works well with every armor set. This will not stop you from using a restoration staff with your heavy armor, but you will notice a sharp decrease in your effectiveness as a spellcaster. In fact, I’m not sure that I would accept a spellcaster in heavy armor into my dungeon crawl unless the idea were to carry that person through to gear him up.
Once you choose a class at character creation, you’re stuck. You cannot change from Sorcerer to Nightblade no matter how much you beg the Divines. However, each class allows flexibility by giving players three possible areas of expertise. For instance, Sorcerers can pursue Storm Calling, Dark Magic, or Daedric Summoning. Besides the classic trinity that the other skill trees exemplify, the class skill trees add crowd-control to the areas of focus.
Unfortunately, the way the class skill trees are laid out makes certain classes more effective in certain roles, even though in theory any class should be able to take on any role. For instance, the Dragon Knight’s Draconic Power tree gives that class gap closers, heavy defensive cooldowns, and health regeneration, all abilities that a tank should have. But if you take a jump over to the Templar skill trees, you will notice that none of those trees would be helpful in tanking, even if the Templar is wearing heavy armor or carrying a one-handed weapon and shield.
I wholeheartedly believe that your choices should matter, even the choices you make at the very beginning of the game. But I also believe in giving people realistic expectations. Yes, there is a lot of flexibility inESO‘s progression setup, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to do anything as the progression video might have led us to believe.
Before I go, I want to hear your thoughts on ESO progression. What do you think about the way it’s handled? Do you think there could be more flexibility? Do you think there is too much? Are you going to try some odd combinations like a Sorcerer Daedric Summoner tank? Let me know in the comments.
Did we all have a good April Fools’ Day this year? Oh hush you; this is why nobody invites you to parties. I certainly had fun, especially while running around with my giant bobble-headed characters in Guild Wars 2. Giant bobble heads are scientifically proven to make any video game 75% more enjoyable.
Reader HawkEye sent me in a disturbing number of screenshots with his large noggins, but I chose this one because it also tickled me that the animals had their heads enlarged. “‘Sup Mister Ram?” HawkEye said. “Don’t headbutt me, okay? Please?”
I think that creature more wanted to end its misery than contribute to yours, HawkEye, so hopefully you survived the experience. What other strange views await you in the rest of this column? Probably nothingthis strange, that’s for sure.
After a solid week of crafting, reader Jonnyfive had a brand-new (if dinged-up) dune buggy to enjoy in Fallen Earth. And why shouldn’t he show it off to the world, I ask you? What have you spent an entire week making that does something useful? Oh hush, pregnant women. Nine months is dragging it out way too long. Jonnyfive built a giant car in a week, and you need the better part of a year to make a tiny pooping machine?
Please do not tell my wife that I wrote that, OK? It will be between you and me forever.
Speaking of screenshots that I had to jack up both the brightness and the contrast so that you wouldn’t think I’m merely posting dark black smudges on your monitor, here’s a mysterious view from EVE Online.
“After exploring low-security space for a few weeks, I thought I was ready to make my mark and headed to null sec,” sent in reader Taras H. “I found a remote and solitary system and launched my probes. Good, the system was full of data sites. As I warped into one of these sites, I saw something darker than space itself. In my amazement and horror I read its description ‘…is full of stars.'”
It’s about time that you guys started sending in Elder Scrolls Online pictures! This one is reader Bramendor standing next to his chosen method of suicide. “This is my Imperial Templar Magnus Warborn and a newfound tiger!” he gushed. Then he gushed blood. I’ll let you connect the dots.
This week’s screenshot challenge is to take a picture of a picture. Or a painting. Or a tapestry. Or any wall decoration that caught your eye, really. Let’s be so meta that it’ll hurt!
This past weekend, ZeniMax invited the press to play its addition to the Elder Scrolls franchise: The Elder Scrolls Online. We were allowed to play any faction or race that we wanted, with the exception of the newly introduced Imperial race. We took video and screenshots. We truly wanted to see whether this game lived up to our expectations for the series, and most of all, we wanted to know why this game has hidden behind an NDA for much longer than its closest competitors.
Not everyone is going to love The Elder Scrolls Online. Many of the things you find in ESO coordinate with existing MMOs, but it also has its own twists on certain aspects of the genre. Although I didn’t find every moment a thrilling dive into the world of Tamriel, I did enjoy myself, and I can certainly see myself playing this game for a while.
For the next few minutes, I would like to put aside the marketing strategy and the issues I have with the payment model and preorder bonuses. Let’s examine just the story and the characters in the game and take the measure of their worth.
Because this is an Elder Scrolls game, you’re required by law to start as a prisoner. But in The Elder Scrolls Online, I began my adventure as a different kind of prisoner, starting in the realm of Oblivion as a captive of the Deadric Prince Molag Bal. The atmosphere was dank and moist. My prisonmates had apparently died a long time ago because all that remained were their bones.
Like most MMO beginnings, the Coldhabour starting zone doubled as a tutorial and setup for the rest of the game. I learned how to operate my character with WASD and why I was a prisoner in Molag Bal’s dungeon of horrors, all from a man calling himself the Prophet (voiced by Dumbledore aka Michael Gambon). Then a scaly humanoid — Elder Scrolls fans know them as Argonians — unlatched my cell door and told me to run, which will be a common theme for the first few levels. The Argonian led me to racks of weapons ranging from a pair of axes to magic staffs. My first time through, I picked a sword and shield, and on my second trip, a bow seemed more appropriate.
As instructed by the Prophet, I found Lyris Titanborn, but truth be told, I didn’t feel that I could do anything but find Lyris. It’s not as if I had to actually look for her; she stood in my way as I ran down a narrow corridor. I told her in the pseudo-cutscene that the Prophet told me to find her; she replied that we must free him. Of course, our way to him was blocked, and just as in the dreams I
used to still have, our only hope was a rambling John Cleese playing a lute. But unfortunately, he served only as exposition.
In my creative writing courses in college, my professors impressed on me the idea that “showing” always outmatches “telling.” But it’s inevitable, especially in fantasy settings, that the audience will have to be told the story of the land they are watching. It’s not a horrible mistake of design, but there are more subtle ways of explaining what’s happening instead of inserting a character whose sole purpose is telling you everything you need to know. Alas, very few video games have suffered from good storytelling.
Secondly, I was not shocked at what Lyris had to do. I felt that the writers wanted me to beg her not to do it, then be sad when she did it anyway. (Trying to avoid spoilers here.) But the saddest part was that the events didn’t phase me at all. Of course, Cadwell and the Prophet both told me who Lyris was, but because I was not shown who she was until much later, the impact of what she did during the tutorial lost its power.
Thus I finished the starting area for the Aldmeri Dominion and the first two areas for the Ebonheart Pact. Both stories were intriguing enough for me to continue on, but I felt the cast of characters in the Aldmeri Dominion tipped a scale a bit. Perhaps it’s because I’m all Norded-out with Skyrim and the Dominion felt fresh and new. The characters had more than two dimensions and didn’t seem as dim-witted. Additionally, the overarching story was politically driven, which always intrigues me more.
I can’t say that the Nord characters were fleshed out any better than the tutorial characters, but the second time that I ran into the Prophet, he and his associates started to deepen in characterization. I won’t spoil anything other than to say that Lyris’ (let’s call it) sacrifice started to make more sense and became more meaningful.
Based on these early wanderings in the game, I think that if you are looking for a game to fulfill all of your wildest Elder Scrolls dreams, you will be disappointed. And although the storylines started to broaden at higher levels, it never gave me the sandboxy feel that Skyrim and the other Elder Scrolls games gave me. The phasing used in the storytelling, intended to make me feel that there were actually other players around, only made me feel more isolated because I knew that the guy running by me didn’t experience the same thing at the same time I did. In fact, the only reaction that I likely received from these passers-by was a raised eyebrow as they wondered why I was just standing there.
The storyline, as in so many other MMOs, centers on the player character. You, yet again, are the star of the show — just like all the other people running around with you. Is it inappropriate to call this the Tortage syndrome (after Age of Conan’s starting zone)? Your being the “only one” who can save the world loses its impact when these thousands of other people are the “only one” as well.
I can’t knock ESO completely because the story was good. Its cast of characters was for the most part interesting, and if linear and interesting storylines push your buttons, then you will not be disappointed in the game. The story has more than its fair share of choices, and thanks to the phasing system, my choices could actually affect the world around me. But ultimately, the choices that have the greatest impact on my gameplay revolve around my weapon, armor, and class choices, not the tale being told.
Here’s a thing that happens sometimes: A high-budget MMO has a tiered beta with an NDA that is lifted in parts. Sometimes those parts include early access for press, and sometimes that NDA lifts for press before anyone else. This has only happened a handful of times, and it never really works as intended. Almost everyone thinks that everyone should be able to talk about what he or she is playing and that games press is wrong.
I’m not sure it would matter if I had an issue with them because I benefit from them so much. There’s nothing inherently wrong with an embargo or press NDA, as usually the problems are in the details. I can admit that I like being “the person who got the exclusive.” That’s just fun and gives my ego a bit of a boost. Call me human. The problem I have with it is when the specifics are so ridiculous that writers are literally worried about even mentioning the fact that they are playing the game. In the end, I’m not sure it matter with AAA titles. No matter how negative the NDA or how much we claim to all hate hype, certain IPs will sell to a point. If we want to see change, we’ll have to see a change to how companies charge for pre-orders, betas, and all that.
I really can’t stand NDAs and the media circus they generate, for press or for anyone. I’m always appreciative when we get to test out a game and post our thoughts for our readers, whether it’s a year or a month or a week before launch, and I appreciate the page views we get thanks to exclusive previews because it’s part of my job to consider page views. But I’ve seen far too many press events (and their subsequent NDA lifts) become carefully structured hand-holding that misleads us into praising games that don’t deserve it — and vice versa when the studios neglect to show us the truly great parts of the game. When we’re close to an MMO launch, the barriers need to come down — for everyone — else the conversation is one-sided and frustrating for everyone involved. Not every genre needs to operate that way, but MMOs survive on community and feedback. Don’t stifle it.
It varies. A lot. If you’re giving press plenty of time to play and plenty of opportunities to interact with potential fans, it’s an acceptable way of doing things. Arguably not ideal, but stuff like WildStar‘s open streaming mean that you have plenty of opportunities to show off the game and let people really understand what the game looks like. On the other hand, if you’re putting a tight leash even on press with a game that’s less than two months from launch… it doesn’t exactly scream confidence in the game that’s being developed or its reception upon launch.
So what it comes down to is developer transparency. Press-only beta stuff is a part of the process, but it should be inviting discussion rather than squashing it. If the press can talk about beta experiences and other long-standing beta testers can’t, flags are raised.
I think press only beta coverage is BS. The blurry distinction between “press” and “not press” drives me crazy, and it irritates me that I’m considered more legitimate because AOL sends me checks. There are plenty of people with quality YouTube channels, Twitch streams, or blogs that aren’t considered “press” by default, but they’re pumping out content that’s influencing game purchases just as much any member of the press I’ve met.
Developers are slowly catching up and beginning to include nontraditional press, but they are too slow and their reach is insultingly limited. If someone’s putting out quality content but has only a few hundred subscribers/followers, he or she is likely to be passed over while “press” access is given to some openly bigoted livestreamer who pulls in big numbers by being a huge jerk. The major issue here is that finding smaller (or larger) content creators who “should” be let into a press beta and therefore be allowed the privilege of a lifted beta NDA would be an absurdly massive undertaking. I think the most reasonable solution is to drop the idea of press-only beta coverage entirely. Go ahead and special invite whoever you want, but anyone else who happens to get in shouldn’t continue to be gagged while a special pen of media players is released onto the world.
There’s no guarantee that someone will be better at producing content just because we’ve crossed the magical barrier into a world where attending E3 is a chore instead of a privilege. How often have you read a major site’s beta preview/review and thought, “I could do better than this”? Well, you should be allowed to try. When a beta NDA drops for the people that company considers press, it should drop for everyone else too.
I really don’t care for the fact that beta coverage is even a thing, whether it’s press-only or a public beta or what have you. Hype is counterproductive for both developers and consumers, and though it will never happen, I sometimes think I’d prefer it if the games industry returned to the days of devs being holed up in their cubicles working on products that gamers rarely even know about until they launch. That might put me out of this particular job, which would be a shame because it’s usually fun, but if the tradeoff was a saner, slimmer industry that featured fewer PR people and other marketing types who add no value whatsoever to a given game from a consumer perspective (and in many cases, actually subtract value), it would be worth it.
In terms of the bad vibes circulating around Elder Scrolls Online, it’s the exact same song-and-dance that we saw with SWTOR. BioWare’s game also had a press-only beta reveal, an NDA that overstayed its welcome, and lots of negative buzz in the MMO community. And none of that mattered in the slightest, nor did any of the negative reviews, because the IP guaranteed its (eventual) financial success. ESO will follow that same path.
Well, let’s be frank about it: Press doesn’t like to complain about it because when we get to talk about something others can’t, we get more attention and hits. It’s unfair, but it’s unfair to our advantage. That said, I hate it. When I was “just” a blogger, I seethed when press got to talk about something that I was still under NDA regarding. Generally, I’m just coming to the opinion that once beta hits, the NDA should go away. Players are far more educated about what alpha/beta entails these days, and they understand that it’s a process, not a finished product. Having an NDA for the players but not the press stifles conversations and discussions that really should happen in order to make these better games.
I don’t see any reason studios should be drawing lines between “press” and “player” when it comes to allowing conversation about a game. The line between “professional games writer” and “enjoyer of games” has almost evaporated. Twitch, YouTube, and other innovations have completely democratized the process of providing feedback about games. From that point of view, there’s no rational argument for locking down the comments of one group while letting another speak. Honestly, doing it that way seriously damages the possibility of creating an actual conversation (as we saw last week).
There will always be a need for professionals who create content about games, I think. Studios obviously can’t rely on people whose jobs aren’t on the line to live up to the agreements of an NDA and some gamers prefer to read reviews or previews from “trusted” sources rather than from some Pokemon fan’s personal blog. But if a developer is opening up part of a game for comments and coverage, that developer should open the conversation to everyone with access to that part of the game. Otherwise fans and players who disagree (or agree, even) can’t engage, and all that does is create frustration for everyone.
Also, stopping players from talking about your game certainly gives off the vibe that you’re not super proud of it. SOE practically threw a parade when EverQuest Next: Landmark‘s alpha launched, but ZeniMax Online seems as if it’s trying to sneak Elder Scrolls Online past the prying eyes of the gaming populace and directly to store shelves. If I were a developer and I loved my game and thought it was beautiful, I’d be re-tweeting and sharing every stream, YouTube video, or player comment I could find, press or not.
Betas and alphas are a joke now, and NDAs are a way to funnel the coverage and extend the hype as long as possible. While people are demanding that Bethesda “take control” of our opinion articles (no, seriously), the truth is that the publisher is eating this up because it keeps its game in the spotlight for a long time. Marketing folks don’t get paid a lot of money to just look good. But it’s the actual quality of the game that should always mean the most, not what we’re allowed to talk about during the honeymoon stage. And that’s a whole different discussion.
It’s been about nine months since I first got my hands on The Elder Scrolls Online. Since then, like many of you, I’ve been trapped on the sidelines, watching and waiting for my turn to jump into the game. This past weekend, I got my chance, but I’ve found my experience to be distressingly similar to thosedescribed by other journalists. Like Massively’s Eliot before me, my early foundation was in console gaming, but my reason for avoiding The Elder Scrolls series was very different from his: The Elder Scrollshas always been a single-player series, and after having my world opened by MMOs, I found that going back to single-player games has become difficult. I need people! I need multiplayer options! I need MMOs.
Enter The Elder Scrolls Online and my excitement for it. I knew a lot of the series’ famed freeform gameplay would be cut back in exchange for letting me play alongside my friends, but that was something that I, as a series newbie, was willing to sacrifice. But while my overall impression of the game was positive, I still have this lurking sensation that something important was missing.
Rather than think of ESO an MMO, I decided to think of the game as a single-player RPG with a multiplayer option, the way I play Star Wars: The Old Republic. Instead of investing in the community as I would in a traditional MMO, I focus more on my own storyline and helping friends. I explore the heck of it, but I don’t pursue achievements. I expect an end at endgame, not a living world or repetitive activities to keep me logging in.
With that in mind, I partnered with a friend and rolled an Argonian, appreciating very much the character creator since I skipped past it during my earlier play-through at last year’s E3. The graphics and models in general are much nicer than what I saw in my limited time in Skyrim. The basic controls exemplify what all MMOs should aspire to in that they’re rather simple and use A&D as strafe keys rather than turn keys. Alt, E, R, and other keys the game makes use of are very accessible with just the left hand.
At the start, the game feels linear but still encourages a bit of exploration (e.g., opening a certain bookshelf may increase your heavy armor skill). It felt like playing Dragon Age 2 with a better version ofGuild Wars 2‘s combat — it’s not revolutionary, but it’s fluid enough. I’ve heard complaints about the game feeling “floaty,” which may come from the slow reaction and cast times of the starter mobs, but certain effects (especially exploding corpses) really train you early on to not stand in the red zones.
However, the story is also what you might expect from GW2 rather than DA2. I’m the only one who can save the world, it seems, even though my partner is waiting for me after having done the exact same thing. You’d think that after SWTOR and GW2, quest writers would see that no, we don’t need to be the lone hero. This isn’t a single-player RPG, and most of us immediately lose immersion when we see other people in the same area we “heroically” arrived at. Now, try to imagine walking around a busy city on a normal Monday morning when everyone is pantomiming various circus and fire-fighting related jobs as you try to make your way to work. That’s what emerging from the first tutorial feels like. It’s not so much a world as it is a video game where other people have their own pink elephants to deal with.
One of those other people was my partner. Finally, we could group, right? Nope. I could see an arrow where he should have been, and the game said we were grouped together, but something wasn’t quite right. After some technical jiggery-pokery, we could finally see each other and get to our questing, but the content didn’t quite work for a team. It wasn’t that it was too easy; it was that the entire environment as designed needed only a few people in it to feel overcrowded and broken. In fact, a few quests didn’t update even though we were grouped together, and realizing that we couldn’t share all the awesome stuff we found in the game world also degraded the multiplayer aspect. For example, while we both could loot creatures we killed while in a group, ore and bug nodes and chests were still limited to first come, first serve, mechanics fast becoming more dated by the year.
Several times while climbing mountains, ledges in caves, waterfalls, and other adventure locations, I’d round the bend only to find some other guy wrist-deep in what I expected to be a virgin treasure chest just for me. The combination of instancing to make a world just for me while still using limited node supplies felt contradictory and unwelcome. Apparently while fishing, more people using the same node increases the chances of finding rare fish and speeds the depletion rate, but I could never find enough people who wanted to fish to test it out, probably because crafting doesn’t seem to affect base experience gain, contrary to other TES games.
On the other hand, the crafting experience itself enhanced the MMO feel of the game. While you can’t become a master of everything, crafting basics are all available to you as a newbie. Players can specialize in a few schools or become jacks-of-all-trades, a system intended to encourage trade, though we can expect armies of alts to put an end to that. Skills raise as you use them, but to pick up new skills, you must dip into the pool you’d normally assign to combat skills, which would seem to encourage crafting mules. For example, one skill made resources easier to spot thanks to a smokey aura.
Some crafts amount to simplistic click-to-craft gameplay without minigame or quality considerations, but the customization seems deeper even for lowbies. For example, alchemy and enchanting allowed me to combine various ingredients to make something new. I actually made nothing on my first try and wasted my mats, but that was good motivation for me to get back out there to hunt for more, explore new places for new ingredients, and maybe actually read some of those notes I was blasting through while exploring. A second attempt resulted in a potion that slowed down my run-speed, showing that those who avoid spoiler sites will need to learn what ingredients do and write down or memorize recipes.
Blacksmithing, on the other hand, started with the basic click-to-craft mechanic, but increasing the number of ore used raised the stats (and level) of the item. It also had a lot of visual and stat customizations for me to unlock or change, which reminded me of Albion‘s crafting, but with low levels and low material supply, it was hard to extrapolate. For example, I found a woodworking area inside a dungeon that hinted at special crafting abilities, but I hadn’t learned any recipes I could use there. Apparently there are books scattered around the world that unlock them, but I never found one. I did, however, find several cooking recipes, and the hunt for them was rewarding.
Ultimately, where unsocial nodes and limited leveling paths are disappointments, crafting and exploration are true gems. Rummaging around people’s houses and towns for just scraps of leather, a few wine grapes, or even goat meat is a lot of fun for me. Yes, there are a lot of lockpicks in the first zone, but I enjoyed that little minigame of correctly timing my press and release of various levers with my mouse. It’s not perfect, but it’s more entertaining than simply right clicking and waiting for a success/fail message; knowing that some other guy is waiting next to the chest ready to break it open if I fail added a bit of a sense of urgency.
This is the very feature that is perplexing me about The Elder Scrolls Online: Multiplayer at this early stage seems irrelevant. I can only trust that it blossoms later, but why wait? If my friend is coming along, I want to leave crumbs on the ground for him to follow in case I get lost. I want to toss him a rope, have him help me lift something I couldn’t lift on my own, just something different from the usual MMO murderfests we’ve had for over a decade. The quest design itself has plenty of RPG appeal in that when I was on the main quest, I wasn’t simply tasked with killing 10 rats (that’s reserved for side quests).
But to my irritation, the few choice I’ve made (when given an option) didn’t seem to change anything, in contrast to my experience with SWTOR’s conversation trees and dice roll-offs that created reasons to repeat quests, both alone and in groups. Sure, in ESO, I helped reinforce the wall rather than directly attacked. No one important died, no one blamed a failure on me, and I was once again the hero. The whole thing left me feeling rather hollow, especially alongside my partner, who contentedly treated it just like all the other quests we’d already done — because it was. Much later, I came upon some of the NPCs whom I had helped, all mourning ones I presume I did not. Maybe this was a hint that my decision did matter, or maybe it was just for flavor, but there was no clear indication that my choice had led to that gathering, and I think that says a lot both about the game’s single player RPG qualities and its multiplayer.
As much as I enjoyed my beta weekend in The Elder Scrolls Online, my experience simply didn’t feelsubstantial enough. The bugs alone caused me to take breaks to play other games and get some work done. As much as I’d like to believe in the game and its developers, what we’ve been allowed to see in this current version less than two months from launch just feels incomplete and at odds with the rest of the game. Every time I felt the urge to pre-order, I found myself considering the game as an investment, not as something joyous and wonderful that I’d be playing come April. Like many people, I fully expect the game to go either free-to-play or buy-to-play eventually, and I’ve felt that “founder burn” from other single-player-with-multiplayer-options RPG before. The question of how much the game will be worth after a conversion is too strong in my mind to ignore. I just don’t think the value is there right now for an MMO player like me, and I don’t see an easy fix, with or without PvP.
I still feel the urge to purchase a new multiplayer game or RPG, but it probably won’t be ESO.
Discover more about the creatures of The Elder Scrolls Online in this look at the small but malevolent scamp.
The creatures that inhabit Tamriel come in all shapes and sizes, from massive beasts like the wamasu to small—but still potentially deadly—enemies like the scamp. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the mischievous little Daedra and how it weaseled its way into ESO.
Fans of Morrowind and Oblivion will definitely recognize this Daedra. Scamps are small, and they aren’t particularly intelligent, but they’re agile combatants who delight in cruelty just as much as any of the larger Daedra. They’re often summoned to perform simple tasks, and make good (if sometimes unruly) messengers and servants.
In ESO, we wanted the scamp to have a big personality despite his diminutive stature. As always, we looked carefully at the existing art and lore for the scamp when we began creating concept art. Our artists wanted to capture the scamp’s agility and attitude in their concepts to give our animators a good base to work from, since animations would be so important in giving the scamp a unique feel.
Even though the Elder Scrolls setting is generally serious, we all know that there’s plenty of humor to be found. The scamp’s behaviors (especially its melodramatic death animation) can be comical, but they fit its size and attitude very well. Its abilities— like fireballs launched from its hands and raining from the sky—are intense and serious, and make it feel bigger than its voice and actions really are.
The scamp’s voice also has a little humor to it. Several of the monsters in ESO speak their own special languages that aren’t comprehensible to the player. Every now and then, you’ll hear the scamp gibbering away crazily in its own little language, which is known to get a laugh or two when noticed. Be careful, though! The scamp is still dangerous, and you may find yourself locked in a deadly, fiery battle if you spend too long giggling.
You can see a video of ESO’s scamp in action below. Thanks for checking out this edition of Creating ESO, and stay tuned for our next creature feature!