April 4th is shaping up to be an epic day, if you go by early reviews that is. It looks like Captain America: The Winter Soldier could end up being one of the best Marvel movies yet.... But you probably are here for news about that other big thing coming out on April 4th.
Speaking of big, we finally received word on some big numbers out of the Zenimax camp last week in Matt Firor’s ESO Road Ahead letter. Elder Scrolls Online had over 5 million accounts registered for beta. This is a pretty telling number but it does not paint the whole picture. It is worth noting that Matt said, "registered for beta". Zenimax has been coy with their numbers and have not released a peak concurrency or how many participated in each individual test, which most developers do not. It is also worth noting 5 million registered accounts does not mean all 5 million accounts participated. That same 5 million does not take into account the number of times people created more than one account. I still think at this point it is safe to say that even if Zenimax holds on to 20%, and I would not be surprised if it eclipses 40%, of those registered 5 million accounts they will have a commercially successful product even if it is not a critically successful game.
Matt also mentioned a few other interesting items I’d like to touch upon before we get to the meat of the issue in this column. First, Matt talked about over 98% of characters created looking different. With the multitude of sliders in character creation this really isn’t surprising. Having one slider off by one tick makes your character “look” different from everyone else. But do they really? From a distance everyone still looks like a silhouette with skin tight armor and, while this is not an issue that bothers me, I just wanted to point out the absurdity of this statistic.
Next up was the change to the starter islands. It’s a great change. It’s also a change I have talked about ad nauseum; dead horse has been beaten dead. Moving on.
One of the more surprising announcements, but most sensible, is the addition of overflow servers for launch. While it will have certain limitations, like you won’t be able to PvP, you will be able to actually play the game and not sit in a queue at launch. You can then roll over to the real server and retain everything that you have accomplished. Zenimax isn’t the first company to think of the overflow server idea but it is great to see them implement it after the spectacle that was the North American data center and queues that plagued the recent launch of FFXIV:ARR.
The crux of this week’s column though is the lack of Craglorn for launch. If you watch my This Week In ESO video series (and thank you if you do, if you don’t, go check it out) I speculated that the Adventure Zones would not make it in the game for launch and if they did they would probably be a buggy mess. As a person who does not have the luxury of being a power gamer anymore this change will more than likely go unnoticed by others like me. However, for those of you who have time to dedicate to playing MMOs for extensive periods of time you might find yourself wondering where the large scale PvE content is.
Craglorn has been announced as part of the first “additional content” to be released for the game. We do not have a time frame yet on when that will be. Four weeks, six weeks, two months? At this point we really do not know. Additionally, even if they did give a specific date would we really believe them? I’d be willing to bet it is before the console version release date. All we really know at this point is that content updates are supposed to be frequent and consistent and the justification for the sub based model Zenimax chose. While this article is not an indictment on the business model, personally I’d rather pay a nominal monthly fee not to have to deal with all the in game annoyances that come with microtransaction-based games. But we have all heard the frequent and consistent content updates song and dance before and we bear the emotional scars to prove it. The only developers that have actually been able to deliver on that promise are those with Trion for Rift (for the first 18 months or so) and ArenaNet with Guild Wars 2. Even saying that, both of those come with big buts like "Trion’s substantial updates stopped once the game shifted business models" and "ANet’s Living Story is frequently and consistently update, those updates are hardly considered substantial for the most part".
Adventure Zone’s, which Craglorn will be the first of, are slated to be dedicated to group PvE content. It is recommended for a full group of 50+ players with certain challenges, known as trials, requiring up to 12 players to complete. Craglorn will be an outdoor adventure zone, roughly two thirds the size of a normal zone and adds a new wrinkle to the current end game raid that has become so prevalent in MMOs. It is repeatable content and will be able to extend Veteran Ranks.
Even without Craglorn there are plenty of things for your average player to do at 50. You can start playing through the other Alliance’s main story quests. You can PvP in Cyrodil. You can explore the world like you would in any other other Elder Scrolls game. I’d love to say that you can spend hours finding Skyshards but in the end we all know that a lot of people will just look up their locations on the internet. There will also be end game PvE content designed for 4 players in the form of Veteran dungeons. There are also Dark Anchors spread throughout the world that you can do with more that 4 players but they aren’t really designed for that.
While I’m ok with the change for a number of reasons, primarily because it really only will affect a small percentage of the population, and secondly because I would rather Zenimax release a polished Adventure Zone as opposed to one the bleeding edge of players are forced to beta test on the live server, how do you feel about this announcement? Is it ok for a MMORPG in 2014 to not have a “raid” at launch? Do you think this diminishes ESO in anyway? Other than the lunatic fringe, aka the vocal minority, do you think this change even really matters? Let me know in the comments below.
Robert Lashley / Robert Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can find him spending his free time checking out the latest games and technology. Feel free to hunt him down on twitter @Grakulen
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