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Player Versus Player: ESO vs Wildstar: NDA Free Edition

Column By Christopher Coke on February 21, 2014

Welcome back to Player Versus Player, your bi-weekly foray into the world of MMO debate! This was a week of free speech and strong opinions. Zenimax finally saw released the NDA keeping Elder Scrolls Online fans silent and the internet has erupted is review. Last month, PVP took a stab at pitting ESO against Wildstar but with the NDAs still up, there was only so much to say. Now that our authors are free to speak their minds, we’re back for a revisit. Which game will win the day: Wildstar or Elder Scrolls Online?

The Issue:

Which game is better positioned to win 2014: Elder Scrolls Online or Wildstar?

The Sides:

Chris “The Mudcrab” Coke: Chris believes in the power of the Elder Scrolls -- the mage’s guild tells him so -- and has no doubt, Elder Scrolls Online will be the game of 2014!

Gareth “Double Jump” Harmer:  Gareth thinks that fresh and fun game mechanics will win out over franchise fiction, and is confident that WildStar will be the game we stick with this year.

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FIGHT!

Gareth: Lets get things bloody. From my own experience in Elder Scrolls Online, combat is a painful clunkfest that just doesn’t flow or feel natural. I’m not just talking about the early experience - even later it still feels stilted and disjointed. That’s partly to do with the painful animations and awkward character postures, which only served to distance me from combat rather than make me feel a part of it.

When I compare it to WildStar it’s like the difference between night and day - everything feels just right. The weapon restrictions act as a payoff, because the strong animations make you feel more connected to your character. Because of the clear telegraph system, abilities feel more responsive and accurate. Even dodging and double-jumping are both present and reliable, which isn’t my experience with Elder Scrolls Online.

Once all the quests have been completed and all the dungeons run, are the foundations underneath still fun to play? With WildStar I get a grin every time I log in. I can’t promise the same for Elder Scrolls Online.

Chris: That’s a good point, Gaz, but isn’t it all just a bit unproven? When I look at Wildstar’s combat, I see a colorful, more dodgey Guild Wars 2. Now, forgive me, but that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. How long before all of those stand-in, dodge-out patterns start to become more annoying than engaging? They’re adding to a formula that, a good bite into Guild Wars’ life is really proving to be hit or miss. And if it misses, is there much option than to move to another game? What about when you don’t want to dodge and leap and roll like a crazed acrobat?

Elder Scrolls’ combat has been proven in game after game. Rather than install a mod, Zenimax gives you an action bar to manage your abilities. And with no global cooldown, you can unleash hell at a moment’s notice. That this all happens in the first-person also makes combat far more immersive than other MMOs on the market. When you’re in the thick of battle, you’re in the thick of it.

Gareth: My next gripe is about ESO’s endgame. Once I hit level cap, I’ll have four options - mass-combat PVP in Cyrodil, Adventure Zone PvE in nebulous sizes, veteran mode dungeons and questing in enemy lands. And that’s it. No arenas, no battlegrounds, no raiding. I’ll concede that both MMOs are planning regular content packs of between 4 and 6 weeks so anything could happen post-launch but, out of the gate, that feels unappealing.

With WildStar, I get a 40 and 20 man raid with layouts that change every week, making me constantly earn my place on the leaderboard. I get battlegrounds, arenas and 80-player warplots, each with ELO support and laddering to keep me challenged. I get veteran mode dungeons and Adventures where I choose my own route. And because the combat system doesn’t feel like slamming keys on a typewriter, I’ll have much more fun while doing it.

Chris: But how many Elder Scrolls players do you know that actually wanted high-end raids? That’s not what these games are about and Zenimax is wisely choosing to wait and see how the community reacts before committing to them. Remember, we might be on an MMO site, but the audience for ESO goes well beyond MMO players.

Let’s not write off ESO’s other options so quickly either. The leveling dungeons have been nothing short of fantastic and bring out the very best we’ve seen in holy-trinity action combat. To take on veteran level versions of these will provide a hefty challenge for even the most skilled player. Dark Anchors are a blast, too, but do you know what I really think will call players, though? Three-faction Alliance Versus Alliance warfare. It’s better than Guild Wars 2 and that makes it the best on the market. It’s easily accessible, rewarding, deep, and offer far more repeatable content than weekly challenge raids.

Wildstar is impressive, to be sure, but let’s face it: the core of what they’re offering is raids. Everything else is a side before the entree, making Wildstar one more raid treadmill for an audience that is tired of raid treadmills. 

Gareth: I’ll admit, the questing in Elder Scrolls Online is good fun, making it one of the highlights of my time in the game and the reason why I’ll possibly buy it. But it’s fully voice acted throughout, which creates a huge problem when trying to release regular updates. Zenimax has promised a 6 week schedule, but will they be able to get the voice actors back to record new lines? EA didn’t manage it with SWTOR, and even ArenaNet runs into problems with Guild Wars 2, so why should ESO be any different?

No, WildStar isn’t fully voice acted. It has a lot of incidental dialogue, including areas where you don’t expect it; graveyards, bounty boards and transmat bind points all have token dialogue that’s designed to raise a smile. But it also means that, when it comes to adding new content, WildStar’s designers will find it much easier to drop in quickly.

I also think they’ve made a misstep with the art style. Skyrim wasn’t any oil painting when it first came out, but legions of fans created mods that will make even the greatest graphics cards weep. In many respects, Bethesda’s offline RPG will continue to look great as long as modders spend their time on it. By contrast, ESO will walk the same path as LOTRO, DDO, Rift, AoC and others; it will age quickly. It’s not even using the latest graphics techniques - I was disappointed with the lack of tessellation or anything that would tax my gaming rig.

WildStar’s art style is more cartoony, that’s true, but it’s also much more timeless. The Pixar inspiration comes through when you look at the lavish character animations - just take the recent Chua emote video as an example. Just as with World of Warcraft and Leauge of Legends, it’s a style that will hold up for much longer.

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