I’ll admit something, that’s probably apparent from earlier previews and columns I’ve written: I’ve been wary of Elder Scrolls Online living up to the immense hype created by the Elder Scrolls IP. And yet, with every passing time I’ve seen the game, I’ve seen many of my worries addressed by (most notably) making ESO feel more like a true entry into the Elder Scrolls franchise. Today we’re going to have a lot of previews for you. From starting zones to crafting, to fifteen minutes of our own in-game footage. You’ll get several different views on the game, but for my part I’m going to list the good and bad of what I’ve played so far. This was the first time I’ve really been able to focus on one character and play for over ten hours, and I can say definitively: I’m now getting very excited to play this game for real.
We didn’t get to preview the Alliance vs. Alliance warfare this past weekend, but that’s a big part of what next week’s content will bring (spoiler!). For this week’s press NDA drop, we were allowed to cover anything up to level 15 but we have some specific tests of AVA coming up this weekend so we’ve held off talking about that facet of the game until we get some solid playtime with ESO’s PVP component.
I’ve played the beta for ESO a lot at shows and events, and while it’s improved with every showing, it wasn’t really until this testing experience over the course of a whole weekend that the game finally “clicked for me”. It was somewhere along the 10 hour mark with my Khajit plate-wearing, dual-dagger wielding, daedric summoning Sorcerer that I realized I was hooked. It took all of those ten hours for me to step out of my traditional MMO playing mindset and to let The Elder Scrolls mystique and storytelling take over. I’m now looking forward to Zenimax’ game more than ever, though there are still plenty of things to explore and my own fair share of ups and downs. So let’s dive into those, starting with the rough bits:
THE BAD STUFF
The armor models in ESO are probably the biggest graphical letdown of an otherwise gorgeous game. I never had any issues with animations like some readers have, as I think they’re light years ahead of past TES games. But I will say that the armor is a step back. It’s all got this painted on look, except for helmet, shoulder pads, some hip and belt wear. That was passable in 2004’s MMOs, but in DX11 and with all the graphical upgrades this game has received… it’s just weird looking. I gather it’s probably to help ease the load of rendering in large-scale PVP, but if ArenaNet can figure out how do display their armor in WvW, I think Zenimax could too.
Some Weird Phasing
A lot of the story in ESO uses the phasing technology that made Lich King’s story so epic in World of Warcraft. With phasing you can see really significant changes to the game world based on your decisions. Two players can be standing right next to each other, and see different things happening. This is great for storytelling, but tends to be bad for when you want to get a friend to come along on a quest. Almost all quests in ESO can be grouped on, even those in private instances to complete a story. But the one time you can’t is when you’re both on the same step of the same quest. Cue sad horn here.
Some gorgeous scenes in ESO.
That’s right, if you and a friend are having a particularly hard time on a part of a quest that’s instanced and you want to group up to tackle it, one of you will need to finish it or get help from someone who isn’t on the same step, before you can both enter it together. It’s a weird side effect of the phasing and instancing used in some of the storylines, and it’s a pain in the butt when you can and will run into solo quests that are actually hard to beat solo. ESO is not a face-rolling kind of MMO, and that’s a good thing… but it’s bad that I can’t always enlist friends to help me then.
Slow to Come to Boil
ESO is a slow building MMORPG. It’s got a great intro tutorial sequence, don’t get me wrong, but it’ll be several hours before you fill up your hotbar with the meager five skills you have as active-use (until you open a second weapon at level 15). So for a while, just like any TES game, all you’ll be doing is blocking and swinging (or firing) your weapons. As I stated above, it wasn’t until level 10 or so when crafting, adventuring, exploring, and building my character all started to fall into place. It’s also not the fastest game to level in. While not as slow-paced as say the original EQ, you won’t be level 50 in ESO within a week (well, most of you won’t be). After about 12 hours of play, I’m level 10 with my character and that feels like a snail’s pace compared to other recent titles.
Not Quite as Lootable as it Could Be
One of the things I’ve frequently told the dev team at shows and playtests is that I wish I could look in, loot, and interact with more stuff in their version of Tamriel. From the earliest tests back in October of 2012, I’ve been watching ESO’s world interaction grow. Now, in this most recent test, you’ll find books and shelves, and barrels, and bags all over the world. Corpses can’t be looted every time and stripped naked like in Skyrim or other entries. But the sheer amount of stuff to find and actually use in crafting, picking locks, or even just for fishing up provisioning goods out of a nearby river is more than you’ll see in most any other MMORPG. Still, you’ll get into the mindset of “Elder Scrolls” and go trying to loot everything you see, only to realize that not everything can be interacted with. But if this were launching today? I think I’d be okay with that.