Tobold's Blog
Sunday, March 16, 2014
What I think of The Elder Scrolls Online

So after downloading the huge client twice and following instructions from the forums on how to prevent the launcher to uninstall the game every time you close it, I managed to play The Elder Scrolls Online for about 8 hours. Enough to form a first impression. Enough to see the potential of this game, which is undoubtedly there. And enough to see many of the serious flaws the game has.

In many ways The Elder Scrolls Online reminds me of Everquest 2 when it came out, a month before World of Warcraft. And given how much Wildstar resembles World of Warcraft, that is like sitting in a time machine to go back a decade. It also gives us a good estimate on how this will end, as history tends to repeat itself. Personally I would still make the same decision I made back then, and go for Wildstar.

One good reason for that decision is that Wildstar (which I played too, but the NDA only dropped recently) is technically in a much better state than The Elder Scrolls Online. TESO is a buggy mess, from the broken launcher, via the bugged quests, to the ESC key to quit the game sometimes not working. I once was stuck in a quest and asked in zone chat whether that quest was known to be bugged, and was told that no, it worked perfectly, provided that I logged out and back on repeatedly on the spot until the script started. That is pretty much the TESO definition of "working perfectly", you need to know all the tricks and workarounds.

The need to know stuff to be able to play brings me to my problems with the gameplay. I love exploration. So I should be happy about the various exploration style content the game has. But even I start to think that TESO is overdoing it. Exploration is only exploration if it is voluntary. In The Elder Scrolls Online much of that exploration is mandatory. For example you really, really wouldn't want to miss the skyshards distributed in every zone, as three of them give you one skill point. Between getting all the skyshards and not getting them is a huge power difference for your character, which makes searching for the skyshards mandatory. Or, as most people will do, following a map from a third-party site.

The skyshards I could still live with, but what I absolutely hate is having to search items and containers in every room. If you see a screenshot of a room, you would not be able to tell which of the items on it you can interact with, and which of them are just decoration. So you need to go through the room and move the cursor (which is stuck in the middle of the screen, so you basically need to move the camera) over every bloody item in the room to find out whether you can do something with it. And if you can interact with the item, most of the time you just find a crafting ingredient. If you are lucky, a recipe. So for a craft like cooking you would be forced to really search every item in every room, which gets old very fast.

Many people believe that quests are quests, and that is all there is. That is why you frequently hear it said that World of Warcraft didn't do anything innovative to the MMORPG genre, because quests were there before WoW. But what the actual invention of World of Warcraft was, was how the quests guided you through the game, making sure you were in the right zone at the right level and so on. The Elder Scrolls Online doesn't do that. It has tons of quests, heavily scripted and using lots of phasing, but every series of quests stands on its own and doesn't lead you to the next series. Instead you see the icon for a quest-giver on your compass (and then over his head). As there are not really "quest hubs" like in WoW, it is easy to either miss quests, or to follow a quest line to an area which is too high level for you. For example you end the tutorial at level 3 and get dumped into a city with a suggestion in a text (but no quest) to go to the docks. As you can't get to the docks without encountering other quest givers, you easily end up doing level 5+ quests and missing out on the place with the level 3 quests that the docks would have sent you to. I even managed to do some quests where the quest reward item was too high level for my character, and I had to level up to use it. With your quest tracker only holding a single quest, it also isn't all that easy to keep your quests sorted by location, so you might very well do a quest in one location and then follow that quest series away, only to later find that you had another quest nearby.

Otherwise the quests aren't much different from quests in any other MMORPG. There are less quests that ask you to kill a specific number of monsters, but quite often you do have to go to a specific list of locations, each of which has monsters. Or, due to heavy use of phasing and scripting, the monster appears when you go somewhere. The advantage of that system is that if somebody else killsteals that mob, it doesn't hurt the progress of your quest. Even killing a specific quest end boss can be done in a group. Only the person initiating the attack gets the loot, but there is very little loot in this game. For many levels most mobs you kill will have exactly 1 gold piece. With a level 3 item costing already hundreds of gold pieces, your gold and gear will come nearly exclusively from quest rewards.

So what about the auction house? Well, there isn't one. Instead there are guild stores. So you will need to join a big guild with a big store if you want to buy and sell items or materials from / to other players. TESO is the first game I've seen that has "forced guilding", unless of course you don't want to participate in the player economy and crafting at all. The crafting system appears to be highly complex, with elements like "traits" being found by disassembling items, or special crafting stations allowing research that takes hours. And there isn't much in the way of a tutorial or explanation for it, so other than refining some jute I didn't do much crafting in the beta.

Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online is kind of weird. While you do get the choice between 4 character classes, they end up playing not so much different from each other. Your sorcerer will kill his first skeleton with a sword. At level 2 he will learn his first spell, but even then he can run out of mana quickly, and will still use a weapon. If you choose "veteran gear" to show on your character creation screen, you'll see your sorcerer in heavy plate armor with a big weapon. I haven't found a good reason yet why somebody would wear light armor instead of heavy one, but maybe there is some light armor in the game with big bonuses for casters. At the lower levels I played my sorcerer and my templar played basically exactly the same. Weirdly the templar's first healing spell didn't work on himself, only on others, and I read on the forums that xp distribution for healers in groups had issues. Not sure if that is a bug or a feature. Anyway, there was no reason to group in the levels I played. As others have reported, in combat you don't get much feedback whether you hit or missed your opponent. I suffered some lag (because to get the launcher to work I had to play on the American servers), and the system to block and interrupt the enemy attacks didn't work all that well for me. So basically most combat for me was casting spells until run out of mana, and then flailing some heavy weapon wildly and approximately in the direction of the enemy. Sometimes I got blocks or interrupts to work, but that felt somewhat random. So overall I didn't enjoy combat that much.

As I said before, I can see the potential of The Elder Scrolls Online. Some people will enjoy the game holding their hand less, and the complex sub-systems of gameplay. This is a game where reading up on what you should do in many areas is probably needed to do well. If you think that all information about a game should be contained in the game, TESO is probably not for you. On the one side The Elder Scrolls Online is pretty and complex, on the other it is full of bugs and annoying design choices. Personally I am not going to buy it. I assume that TESO will go Free2Play in a year, and that it'll take at least that long to get the most serious bugs out of the game, so I'd rather wait and play this for free in 2015, if at all.

I share a lot of your TESO concerns. As for history repeating itself: I would be very surprised if Wildstar outsold TESO. I actually think that while Wildstar is the more polished of the two, TESO is the deeper game. Wildstar is basically theme park amped to eleven while TESO feels more immersive. Wildstar feels far more shallow and my expectation is that outside of the raiding group, Wildstar will have far less staying power than TESO.
Wildstar feels far more shallow

I absolutely agree. But in my experience, more shallow games sell better.
some of the problems you mention are easily fixed.

-Skyshards: The game support addons, so I am sure there will be an addon that will guide people with big arrows to the skyshards

-Searching in rooms: This is what defines the ES series...however in an MMO I can understand how this might turn up a chore. Although they can add a patch and make usable items glow.

What is not fixable though and is my problem is:

-Leveling: Linear questing with zones blocked by level range and fanction. Extremely not Elder scrolls style.

-Characters: In 2014 those characters look awful, they move awful (they even won lotro on this). On single player games there are mods you can "fix" this. In skyrim some people also changed animations and idle of the characters.

-Combat: Where to start? Animations are terrible and the combat feels weightless. You don't feel you hit something, is like you swing your weapon in the air and somehow your opponent lose life.
im in the recent beta and here's what my impression :

Good stuffs :
- the skill system can be a fun thing to do a specialization.(Tobold, the armour light/heavy/med can be made to have bonus for example med armour with skill point invested can add 1% crit per medium armour you wear...)

Bad stuff :
- Graphic Glitch, Bad animation quality, Combat lacking feedback, no feedback on how much damage we do..
- no minimap, only compass.. which is ok but lacking.. some fanboys said using minimap is like using GPS all the time in real-life.. but if thats true then why not remove the compass too ?
- minimalist UI lacking functionality.. how much XP i get after killing that monster ? how much more before i ding ? nothing on screen, have to check character screen...
- All factors above combined makes combat unbearable.. and if the combat is unenjoyable the whole MMO wont be fun..

basically disappointing and far below my expectation (as im really hoping ESO to be a good mmo).. i cant believe LOTRO perform way better graphically and UI wise compared to this 2014 release...
one other thing that soured ESO for me personally, is the amount of vitrol directed toward those who have honest opinion on ESO (that is not positive)... the attack from ESO fanboys to the critics are beyond absurd..
Thanks for the review - you mentioned a lot of things I haven't seen covered elsewhere. I'm not currently planning on playing either ESO or WildStar and indeed they are the first two major MMO releases I can remember for a long while that I wasn't even sufficiently interested in to fill out a beta app. That said, quite a lot of your "negatives" would be my "positives" and I do think much of this comes down to personal taste.

I played EQ2 at launch and it was five years before I got around to playing WoW. Like you, that's a decision I wouldn't change. I strongly like having quests scattered all over the place, no quest hubs, areas of different level content overlapping and having to explore and hunt around for things to do. I strongly dislike, and generally don't engage with, quest hubs and suggested or directed leveling paths. Even when I played WoW I made no attempt to complete an area before moving on, nor to finish quest lines before starting new ones. I have absolutely no compunction in abandoning a quest sequence half way through. Finishing things just because I've started them means nothing to me.

On that basis I would clearly prefer ESO to WS. I also like bugs and workarounds, at least to a degree. They provide texture and are frequently entertaining. There is a point at which bugs cease to be amusing, of course, but I certainly wouldn't be put off by an MMO being buggy at this stage provided it was otherwise fun.

The fixed camera is my main objection. I find that extremely irritating in any game so for me to play a game that uses it would require me to be a lot more interested than I am in ESO. The combat also looks dreadful and the loot and trading/economy systems you mention sound appalling.

I did think about trying the ESO beta this weekend (keys were everywhere - I had one available via Raptr for example) but in the end I decided I wasn't even interested enough to download it. I still haven't tried AoC or SW:ToR so even if ESO and WS do go F2P I still may not bother with them.
I have not played WildStar but ESO didn't come across as a "deep" game. I would say it's an "obscure" as the game doesn't tell you anything and let you figure out stuff yourself, which is not even fun due to the horrible interface, crafting being a good example among others.
I love sandboxy game where things are not handled on a plate like in the "modern" themepark.
But ESO doesn't fit that bill at all. Actually quite the opposite. It's linear, overscripted. The devs thought that making the interface hard to use, it would make the game more interesting.

It's very much like you arriving at a hotel and you get a very small room. You call to complain the room is very small and that you expected something bigger. Then the hotel manager comes, switches off the light and says "now you can't see the room is small anymore, you can imagine yourself in a suite"
@ Bhagpuss

The problem of ESO cannot really be described as "quests scattered all over the place, no quest hubs" in a positive sense.
It is super linear but without guide. Exactly like a staircase without a handrail. You don't have any more choice in terms of direction but it's unpractical.
It's ridiculous how much I do not agree with most of the points made in this article.

I don't even understand the part about exploration. The number #1 complaint, valid in my opinion, that people have regarding exploration in most MMOs is that it is not properly rewarded.

So here comes TESO, where I've found real off-the-rails exploration to be the most rewarding experience in any MMOs I've played (quests, lore, skyshards, chests) and apparently this is now a bad thing.

Yes, if you want to be good at a game you have to play it. That's really the only decent answer I can think of to your argument that if you want to have the BONUS skill-points, you are "forced" to go off the road.

And while I agree that the game still has some bugs, it's frankly the first MMO I have ever tried that does not seem to have any performance issues. Even in large-ass fights. Surely this counts for much more than the fact that a quest does not start properly sometimes (which most likely will be fixed by launch).
I've hit the opposite problems as you. I've been in TESO beta since August and every build has seemed to work flawlessly for me. Yes some quests are buggy, but over all the game has always been solid for me.

On the other hand, Wildstar crashes constantly for me and I have numerous graphical glitches.

That said I'm buying both because they have rewarded me with totally different experiences I enjoy.

As to the free to play in a year, I doubt it. This is Zenimax's flagship IP. This is not a SWTOR rented IP. They're going to fight to keep the sub model.
Disagree wit this entirely, Especially your idea on having your hand held through the whole game so you don't miss quests... Its a exploration game. Once i broke away from expecting quests to lead me to the next quest for my level i started really enjoying the game, I started bumping other quests off the beaten track and this made the whole journey feel much more interesting. Elder scrolls online is not about the end of the game, its about the journey through the game, once you start playing it like a journey and not just a means to an end you will actually enjoy it. But i guess some people just want to be level 50 tomorrow and everything else is in the way. Other than that this game plays great on my system (which is aging) the graphics are nice and I love that fact that i am having to actually engage with mobs as a tank, I love that I just cant close my eyes and spam attacks until a mob is dead with basically unlimited magic like most MMO's. I know its just a taste thing but seriously i cannot see how on earth people could want to play Wildstar. It seems so generic i am amazed it has such hype.
A big part of your problem with the combat appears to be that you expected it to be like every other MMO where you spam your specials and your standard weapon attack is an afterthought at best. ESO's weapon attacks do nearly as much damage as your specials (and sometimes more), so they're an essential part of your combat rotation.

Additionally, you took the mage's lightning spell as your 1st one and apparently didn't bother to read the description -- it's a "finisher" spell. It does very little damage on its own, but does a very large hit to mobs below 20% health. Spamming that to start combat will barely tickle a mob and run you out of resources in 3 seconds. A better spell to open combat is your Crystal Shard from the Dark Magic line instead, followed with 2-3 light swings of your weapon (or 1 heavy hit), then hitting Lightning to finish. Total Combat time ~8 seconds. Total resources expended are about 50% mana. Total health lost depends on your weapon. With a destruction staff it's unlikely the mob even touched you. With a melee weapon you may have taken a hit or 2.

This assumes you're doing a typical "stand-off" mage to boot. Personally, I find that to be a bit boring with how the sorcerer's class skills are set up, so I've made a melee sorcerer using a 2H sword as my preferred build instead. The sword gives me a charge plus AE melee attacks. Couple that with the lightning form buff that does both AE damage as well as capping out my magic and physical resistance *while I'm wearing light armor* and.... yeah, it's kinda crazy, really. It also spreads my resource usage between my mana and my stamina pools so it takes me longer to run out due to using both, not just the 1.

Anyway.... to each his own and all of that. The descriptions of Wildstar haven't ever caught my interest, and the screenies looks too cartoony/stylized for my personal tastes. As it is, I don't expect I'll be playing ESO for more than a few months, though I may surprise myself. I'm actually finding that I prefer to play Neverwinter and The Secret World as my "main games" anymore anyway. We'll see how it goes once TSW releases their new Tokyo content. ESO might fall by the wayside even sooner if Tokyo's a lot of fun. Time will tell.
Additionally, you took the mage's lightning spell as your 1st one and apparently didn't bother to read the description

How do you come up with such nonsense? Of course I took the whatsitsname plain damage spell as my first spell and only use the lightning spell when the enemy will be below 20% in the next 4 seconds.

You apparently can't even understand why I don't want to play a sorcerer in heavy armor wielding a two-handed greatsword, and relying on that sword for half of its damage.
I think the game suffers incredibly from being US-centric with its netcode and combat.

If you play internationally, the combat is clunky and unresponsive, with the 'catch-up' prediction it tries not meshing with their desired interaction at all. It's frankly a mess from Australia, whereas other 'action-combat' MMOs like TERA, Vindictus, and even GW2 to an extent still manage to handle it just fine.

Combined with the incredibly buggy quests which won't be fixed, so much of TESO is just flawed right down to the foundations, to the point that no post-launch patch is likely to resolve the issues that make it a terrible game.

I'm still baffled by the half-assed not-even-a-nod to TES games with their 'interactive objects'. There's no rhyme or reason as to which object are or aren't interactive, why you can pick up this flagon but not that goblet, or whatever. They've should've gone fully-interactive or not bothered at all, as it is it's now just an unintuitive and frustrating guessing game.

I was so unimpressed I uninstalled after the first beta weekend, and unsubscribed myself from all updates. I definitely won't be buying.

The fan-base is also rabid beyond sense. You can criticize the game as you like and they'll either respond that you're unfairly criticizing the game for being an MMO instead of an Elder Scrolls game, but if you then turn around and say, "It's just like every other MMO," they'll complain that it's not like every other MMO at all (ostensibly because of X, Y, Z minor features, while the core experience is essentially the same). They'll have it both ways, thankyou.
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