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Elder Scrolls Online Column: Strengths and Weaknesses

By William Murphy on December 29, 2013

We’re a few scant months away from the launch of Elder Scrolls Online, and we’re beginning to learn more and more about the game from Zenimax Online. Last week we got a good dose of detail about the game’s PVP: Alliance Warfare. We learned about taking keeps, small groups, PVP ranks, and so on and so forth.  And all this information got us thinking. There are quite a few facets to ESO that could be construed as both a strength and a weakness. So in today’s Elder Scrolls Online column, we’re going to look at a few features from both sides of the table and try to explain why we think their inclusion to the game could go either way as a positive or a negative.  Read on and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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THE STORY FOCUS

The Elder Scrolls series is known for its many long and involved quest lines, so it’s not surprise that ESO would have a heavy focus on story.  It’s a strength in the same way it was a strength for Star Wars: The Old Republic - a strong narrative keeps the questing interesting. From what we’ve seen of ESO, the quests tend to be a lot more interesting than kill this many of this or that.  It’s also a great way to make solo play intriguing and keep ESO close to its TES roots.  But there are a few reasons this very focus could be a weakness as well.

From what we’ve experienced in the numerous playthroughs of the Ebonheart Pact’s starting area, there’s a good deal of phasing in ESO’s story. This gives us cause for caution, for while it’s an excellent tool for telling a story, it’s also an all too effective way to break players up and keep them from playing together in the open world.  When people are on multiple different parts of the story, they can’t see each other, can’t team up on quests, and are limited to just conversing via chat. For all the immersion a good story brings, phasing can take it right away when you want to play an MMO.

It’s also a concern, on a more minor note, because a story focused leveling process tends to create a “cliff” when a player reaches the end of the game. Suddenly, there are no more tales to be told. ESO hopes to get around this and give the developers more time to create content, by allowing players to go through the other factions’ main campaigns once they reach the level cap.  Admittedly, this could be a really solid idea, for players who don’t want to reroll to experience all of the content.

 

A LONG INTRO

Over the many months we’ve been covering ESO, we’ve played through the Ebonheart’s starting zone quite a bit. It’s actually a really nicely done questing area. But the problem is that it’s also relatively linear in its play. You choose in which order you do the starting quests, but there are still only a few main quests.  And you must complete one, a few, or all of them before leaving the starting island and moving onto the game proper.  On one hand, a lengthy intro is a great way to set up the story of each faction. But on the other? This is an Elder Scrolls game, and to have such a linear and lengthy beginning might throw off players expecting a more open-ended experience. When you have to spend your first few hours “on rails”, it’s easy to believe the rest of the game will be as such. For what it’s worth, the adventure does open up and allow a lot more freedom later. But chances are there are a lot of MMO gamers who won’t stay around to find out.

SO MUCH CHARACTER PROGRESSION

Character progression is one of the most appealing parts of ESO in my book. You pick a starting class from four basic layouts, but then what you do from there is entirely up to you.  You don’t even have to use your class skills if you don’t want to, and your character won’t be lesser for it. You could focus entirely on weapon skills and other additional paths, and be just as efficient as someone who focused entirely on their sorcerer path of skills.  I’ve spent several play sessions focused on being a heavy armor wearing sorcerer that wields two swords and calls upon the help of a clanfear as a daedric pet.  Who said all caster types have to be the same in MMOs?

But the same thing I see as a true strength for ESO could just as easily be a weakness. There’s intentionally no respec in ESO, and if a player builds a character for twenty levels just to find out they want to try something else then they have to earn the skill points to do so. Their health, magicka, and stamina points will be spent for good though, so if they spent all of theirs on magicka and decide they want to tank it might be harder to do so without the extra health. Unless Zenimax makes it possible somehow to respec skills or stats, then I foresee a lot of players being upset when they realize they can’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zenimax made it possible to a limited extent.

EDIT: In this video, Nick Konkle confirms there will be a respec in ESO. Praise, Molag Bal!

These are just a few ways in which I think some of ESO’s biggest selling points are also its weaknesses. By no means am I trying to get down on the game, rather I’m merely trying to see both angles from a critical perspective… you know, like I should. What about you? From what you’ve seen of the game, are there any parts that strike you as more a strength or a weakness?  Let us know in the comments.

Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.  

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