Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finally, The Elder Scrolls – Online

The first TES game I played was also the first one: Arena. I got it on 3,5'' discs from a friend on a birthday; don't know what birthday, really. Some 15 years ago. I installed it.

I started it, I remember being in some dungeon. Then I died. Somehow something had killed me. The drivers for my soundblaster must not have been properly configured. I never started it again. In retrospect, and I am not kidding, I remember it to be a great game. So much for nostalgia.

Maybe my memories are mixed with my feelings concerning Daggerfall, the second TES game. I played that one a lot. To be able to climb over the city's wall as a direct consequence of the general rules of the game is something I still remember very fondly. Eventually I stranded in some labyrinth beneath Daggerfall and quit. I remember Daggerfall to be a phenomenal game.

The third TES game I played was Morrowind. I remember how all the characters in this game looked completely ugly and the annoying city guards. I remember that I could teleport with the help of caravans – I really didn't like that. I remember the stupid merchant system. I remember finding really good gloves in some really hard to see spot in some dungeon and how no other character of mine could find them ever again. I remember levitating at 300% speed while blind (boots of blinding speed). I remember the dust storms. I remember never understanding the story. I remember killing almost anything in the game and being really disappointed that some characters just didn't die.

My forth TES game was Oblivion. And while I played it a bit, I don't remember it a lot. What I do remember is that there were too many oblivion gates and that I, eventually, just didn't bother to close them anymore. I remember the stupid merchant system. Oh – and I remember my despair trying not to optimize the fun out of the game – it never really worked for me. Oblivion was a big trap in this regard.

Just like the fifth TES game. Optimizing your fun out of the game is really a curse of the TES games. Skyrim. I didn't like that I started as a hero. I didn't like that characters were running around in snowstorms .. naked. I didn't like the stupid merchant system. Really, when it was released I wrote a review. I think it is a great game that could have been much, much better. Just read my "review".

And now there is TESO. And I like it.

Technically it's pretty good. The graphics are really, really good – and smooth – for a MMORPG! The sound is awesome. The animations are ok.

I like that there are no tier 12 vendors in the 'starting town' - at least I haven't found them yet. I love TESO's missing respect for balance that is the same as its attempt to create a world – and not just a game. Do you know why Game of Thrones is so good? Because, even though it has great characters, its focus is on the world.

But what I really like is that - due to the nature of MMOs - this seems to be the first TES game where you cannot optimize the fun out of it; at least not to the extent that you could in the others.

Of course, there are also things I don't like. There always are: Most importantly, the hero thing. All TES games have you start as a prisoner. The original idea behind this: You start as nobody but you can rise to greatness. Well, this idea was already ridiculed in Oblivion when the first character you got to know was the one who freed you: your king. It was even more ridiculed in Skyrim. Dragonborn – lol.

And now? I start as a prisoner of an evil god, some 'prophet' thinks I'm special. So I walk straight out of the plane of the god. Yeah – right. I'm trying hard to ignore this bullshit.

Now, there are a few other points. Artistically, those rifts are done really, really well. But my first rift also showed me why I loved classic WoW: static combat. My first rift was closed by maybe 10 players – they were hard to count, because it was a complete mess. I tried to heal didn't knowing whether I made any difference or none at all. My screen was a confusing mess to me. It may be too early to tell. Right now I'd say I understand why there's the four-player limit for instances. Oh yeah, instances. Well, I guess they just had to add them. - Just like teleporting. Sigh.

What else? I love that some quests are too hard for you and you need to come back later. This – more than any number appearing on my screen – shows me that my character actually grows stronger. I think it's a good idea that there's no world-wide auction house. Because, Diablo. Auction houses are shortcuts that take the fun of accumulating gear out of the game and replace it with something much less fun (browsing the AH). That's why most items in WoW can't be traded in the auction house.

I love that I cannot quick save and that failing always has a price – however small. Isn't it funny how some good single-player features need to be forced on the developers by the nature of MMOs?

As for the experience/level/skill system I think it's quite ok. You can see the effort that went into designing this. This effort was very well spent money! Having four classes that can turn out completely different if played differently – really good. With some luck there will be so many counter-builds and counter-counter builds that TESO could be almost endlessly entertaining.

What I like a lot is that I can just start walking in some direction and find something to do/explore. What I don't like all that much are skyshards; much too gamey for my taste. Moreover, if you force exploration on me it's not exploration anymore. Skyshards will probably make me look at an online map. The incentive is too strong - IMHO this is a design mistake.

The background story: TESO really tries to explain it to me. But maybe it would have been smarter to have me work for it a bit more. It sometimes feels forced on me. I would have liked to explore the history of the world instead of having it frontloaded on me. Maybe it gets better later on.

Choices: The first time your dialogue turns red and your mind starts going "Does that really mean I have a choice?". I'm not sure how much of a difference those choices really make. But so far I love it. Especially important: Your choices don't influence your gameplay/character and thus you cannot optimize your fun out of it (take that SWTOR!).

Magical items: I find some, but I'm not swamped with them. Feels good.

The compass leading me to the next quest target: Yeah, well. I'd prefer good quest descriptions. But it's ok.

Red markings on the ground warning me to dodge: Very gamey but the much better gameplay might actually be worth the lost immersion.

The crafting – I'm not much of a crafter. But I'll try it out eventually. I heard it's pretty good.

Other players: a nuisance. Is that bad? No, not really. Solving this problem would require turning TESO upside down. What I like about MMOs is the focus on the world instead of the player. I'm already used to the fact that other players are around. And maybe later I can do some socializing, maybe.

The phasing: I play single-player anyway. It's ok.

The PvP? Haven't done it yet. I can't imagine how it could possibly be fun as I am already confused if there's more than three players in front of me. But I'll try to be open-minded; I usually like PvP. Especially if it is linked with PvE. (Damn you WoW).

Oh - one last thing I didn't like: There's corpses on the ground that obviously have armor or weapons on them and I can't take those. Was that really necessary?

Concluding, there were three big problems I had with Oblivion/Skyrim:
- The optimizing-my-fun-out-of-it trap.
- The stupid merchant/economic system with their fixed amounts of coin.
- The focus on me instead of the world.

The first two problems were necessarily fixed due to TESO being an MMO. The third problem is curtailed by it. Because, however much the developers try to make me feel like I'm the greatest hero of the universe. It just doesn't work in an MMO. Thank god!

I can well imagine playing this game for some time. I don't say this lightly.


  1. I too am enjoying the hell out of TESO. Just got my medium armor-wearing, dual-wielding (swaps with a bow) Khajit Rogue (whose character sheet happens to say sorcerer on it) to level 16 tonight. Still working on Glenumbra in the Daggerfall Covenant. Just about done, but not quite there yet. And having an absolute blast. i'm up 2 hours later than I intended to be right now due to the "wait' what's that thing over there?" compulsion. I stopped more becuz my bags were full and I had to head back to town than becuz i wanted to. . . .

    My thoughts on the game can be found at if you care to check it out.

  2. WTF? ESO is probably the first MMO the last decade I didn't even bothered to buy...and then I see you, Syncaine, Keen, Rohan and other bloggers say lot of positives things(especially Syncaine was the most surprise of all). I start questioning myself...after 2 beta weekends and lot of gameplay I found out that I cannot stand the combat responsiveness and animations and further up the character movement...I dare to say that is even worse than lotro...

    Are you not demanding in a smooth/responsive combat?

    1. I don't actually have a problem, with smooth/responsive combat,Giannis. I do, however, have a problem with group combat and fast and constant movement of other players. It's really confusing to me and plain unfun. Maybe I get used to it if I try. We will see.

    2. Thanks for the answer Nils. About the fast and constant movement you say, is it like GW2 or Tera?or worse?

    3. Personally I hated the combat and animations :D I'll be bold and claim some people in the blogosphere are just so starved and nostalgic for something a bit more oldschool that they'll put up with made me shudder.

      That said, great you're having fun Nils! and I loled @ "I'm trying hard to ignore this bullshit." ;)