Elder Scrolls Online Beta Impressions: The story so far

vexx February 10, 2014 10 Comments » Share

teso-scenery5

The Elder Scrolls Online Beta gates were opened up for alot of players this past weekend and Zenimax was kind enough to lift the NDA for some of us to express our  honest, biased impressions about the game. Now, before I give you my subjective 2 cents, let me begin by telling you a short story – after all, we have to draw some kind of background here don’t we? Almost 2 years ago, Zenimax announced The Elder Scrolls Online – the MMO version of a series loved by so many. I was mad, pissed at the thought that Bethesda/Zenimax could ruin a franchise so dear to me. I was experiencing  SWTOR all over again and I just couldn’t take it. After a short while, I decided to douse my anger and give the game a chance, by keeping an eye out, reading possible impressions, maybe find some leaks – you know, the works.

Shortly after the first beta test, some gameplay leaks started to hit the webs and the game started to get alot of noise, screeching sounds from angry people who never played the game but flagging it as a crap game, not worth your money. Evidently, nobody knew how much the game will cost and everybody judged the game by some idiotic leaks, some PAX impressions and later on, an official Quakecon gameplay footage. I have to be honest here, I didn’t liked anything I’ve seen in terms of gameplay, just by reading other people’s impressions and seeing a bunch of short gameplay videos. Basically, here I was, a guy who never played the game but disliked it because others told me I should. Once I realised my stupidity, I firmly decided to give this game a fair chance and go play it.

With Gamescom around the corner, we asked for some press passes, hoped into the car, with the ultimate quest in mind – to play the game. Keep in mind that I already had a weird taste in my mouth – I disliked the game and that thought pissed me off. I wanted Zenimax to convince me, throw something at me, change my impressions..anything. Nick Konkle from ZOS introduced me to the character creation screen, some quick tips and left me with the game. I was familiar with the character creation, it was probably the only thing that appealed to me at that point – I created my character and jumped into the game. I was shocked – not because the game was epic, it wasn’t really – I was playing a different game than others led me to believe – and it was good, my brain was confused. The same thing happened this weekend, with alot of people, while others are still lead by the screeching sounds.

Don’t expect a walkthrough for the first 15 levels. If you want to see that, I’m sure most outlets already covered this. Instead, I’ll give you my impressions of the game, based on other people’s complaints.

Graphics

I’m a fierce adept of Gameplay > Graphics. I’ve seen alot of eye candy fail miserably in my 20 years+ of gaming experience. Alot of people say ESO looks horrible, the graphics are outdated. From all the possible legit complaints, they’ve chosen this reason. This makes me laugh and cry, at the same time. Sure, they might know a guy who knows a guy that played the game on his iPhone, but the truth is still out there. I think ESO has the best graphics I’ve seen in any MMO to date…but don’t take my word for it, here are some non-iPhone images you might find interesting.

As you can see, the game looks incredible and you won’t need a 2,000 USD beast to run it. Actually, it works perfectly at max settings, on an i5 with 8 gigs of ram and a nVidia 660…at 60+ FPS. Did I mention that most of these areas have weather effects such as sun, storms and rain? Day and night cycles? Meh, I’m sure you knew that already.

The Interface

I’m a fan of both simplistic and complex things. I like WoW’s interface and GW2′s interface just as well and I think both styles fit those games like a glove. Elder Scrolls Online took the more simplistic approach, similar with Skyrim and improved it. The screen is clutter free, ZOS told us repeatedly they don’t want to distract the player from the actual gameplay. Some like this, some don’t and it’s perfectly understandable. I’m kinda in the middle here, but I have no problem with it, you know why? Addons – more on that later. What’s important is that many people really detest ESO’s UI, I’ve even seen some big gaming outlets advertise the UI as a “way too simplified” interface. On top of that, it’s hidden out of combat. The horror, the pain folks. At that point, it was clear to me that everybody rushed their impressions article for a bit of prime time this weekend and it proves once again that playing a game for 2-3 hours will often be enough for many. And it seems that this UI ability bar hiding thing..is really a turn off point for many.

ui-tips1

I’ve also seen complaints about the loot system – people want area loot – and this game, for some reason, isn’t offering this option. Should we check the menus again? Let’s. Or, how do I see the damage I make? I want damage numbers and I want it now – game is crap, clearly. Let’s stop addressing the complaints for a bit and get into the word of the day, ADDONS. Yes, some game outlets expressed their concern that this game is missing the Skyrim’s cherry, addons. Well, guess what, the game actually supports a LUA scripting system, similar to another unknown game and it’s gonna be there on launch. There’s also a menu somewhere called Add-ons, but don’t take my word for it, it’s just a rumour. Through add-ons, the game has the possibility to change the whole UI completely along with some extra features such as damage/healing numbers, map addons, minimaps, gathering, profession enhancers, inventory addons and all that. Hell, you can change the game’s experience completely. Sounds familiar am I right?

Professions

I don’t want to sound like a fan boy, I have my own gripes with ESO, but the professions aspect of the game is AMAZING. I’ve never experienced nothing like it and I truly love it. I often found myself at the blacksmith station, researching and improving or at the alchemy bench, constantly looking for ways to discover alchemy recipes by combining anything I could gather from the world. It’s a truly unique system that has alot of potential and will keep the players engaged in so many ways.

But what about gathering? I’ve read that people actually complain about not seeing the gathering nodes properly in the world. The mines are hidden, the plants are blended within the scenery…is this a bug? That’s completely true and it works as intended. However, most  beta testers failed to notice that each gathering profession has a passive that highlights the gathering node when you get at 60 yards (20 yards per level).  You don’t have to be level 50 to see the passive, seems I can at level 1. Sure you have to invest some points into that particular profession but that’s progression, isn’t it?

keen-eye

Also, some might not know this but ESO has a pseudo-companion system, similar to SWTOR but not quite. There’s a passive you can unlock for each gathering profession that gives you an “invisible” companion that brings you random things every 24h. Not sure if the 3 levels will allow the hireling to get you things faster or better quality, my bet is on the latter.

miner-hireling

Another thing I love is that you can craft alot of end-game weapons/armors, with the possibility of upgrading the crafts and even the drops, to legendaries, with the help of a rare reagent. I tried to upgrade a normal weapon to the Fine quality and it seems 1 Stone wasn’t enough – each stone increased the chance of upgrading the item for a given percent.  Basically, this means that you need a certain amount of regents to get that 100% chance. Of course, you can try to upgrade it with a slimmer chance but you might end up destroying the item instead – I love this system, it makes getting the good stuff way more difficult.

weapon-upgrades

Gameplay & Mechanics

And we finally got to the hot spot, the gameplay. I’ve seen alot of mixed reviews on this one and in the end, it’s a matter of taste. Some really love the system, some really hate it. I’ve even seen remarks such as “this is like Skyrim co-op”. The targeting system got some bad reviews aswell, along with the limited NPC actions and linear gameplay. I have to blame Zenimax here, sorry, but I have to. Allowing people to get into a weekend beta stress test, where clearly they will encounter alot of downtime, crashes and unknown bugs…then lift their NDA and ask for their impressions…no, just no. 80% of the player’s impressions I read so far are from people who got out of Coldharbour at level 2/3, played until 5, encountered 2 mob types (maybe 3)…and that’s it.

Ya, the start is rather dull, the quests are linear but this has nothing to do with the game as a whole…maybe Zenimax could’ve done it better, who knows, but the thing that pisses me off the most is that, depending on what faction you choose, the start may be more fun or a bit more boring. The reality is, you can’t judge a MMORPG by the first hour of gameplay – you just simply can’t. This is not a single player and ya, WoW gave me a crap first impression for the first 2 hours. That being said, I got deeply immersed in the game soon after I hit lvl 7-8 and the story and gameplay kept me at my desk, with severe back pains and the will to progress..this was ESO for me in a nutshell.

Conclusion

Getting this outta the way first, THIS IS NOT SKYRIM and will never be. If you’re looking for Skyrim multiplayer, ESO isn’t the game you seek. Now, for my first legitimate worry: the game doesn’t force people to group up together. You can easily approach ESO as a single player game and you’ll do just fine. Sure that might be the case with many other MMOs out there (until end-game) but me personally, I’d want to be forced into grouping…killing rares, doing dungeons or maybe some hard quests, it doesn’t matter. Another aspect that has me worried is phasing, which is closely related to my previous point. What phasing means is that, depending on how do you approach a given quest line, you’ll see different things than other players who are with you on the same quest but have chosen a different path than you. That will prohibit grouping for certain quest lines if the group members didn’t handled the quest in the same fashion. This won’t be a major problem for most players however and will definitely not affect the end-game in any way, but some might get frustrated in the process and see this as a real turn off.

Overall, I feel that ESO is a very solid MMO, which deserves anyone’s attention. I’m not saying play 100 hours until it gets “less boring”, but ESO, unlike other MMOs, has with a very slow progression rate that gives you real satisfaction and alot of freedom to progress. In my opinion, along with Elder Scrolls Online, we’ve finally gotten out of that WoW clone thing that plagued the MMO scene for a long while – the game feels fresh while keeping that familiar, strong Elder Scrolls taste many of us grew up with. Sure, there’s also the mass PVP (which is a big selling point) and a whole lot more end-game activities – but until proven otherwise, ESO has a solid chance to keep us glued to our chairs for months. Is it worth the price and the subscription fee? For me, it does – for you, depends. If you’re looking for a game to sink your teeth into for 1-2 months, that has rapid progression and serves as a bandwagon jump point, it’s definitely not worth it. If you’re like me and understand that with a subscription fee comes alot of fresh new content regularly and keeps the developer working on improving the game, that fee is definitely a good choice here.

10 Comments

  1. Anfalee March 5, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    I'm more along the belief, that if someone is willing to overlook a game due to bad reviews after only a few hours gameplay, or just not happy that they can't level to endgame after one weekend, or that it will cost them money to play and that won't buy them the best of everything, well maybe this isn't the game for them. :) I love the lore and spent a lot of time just talking to the people in the towns, sitting in taverns to listen to the songs being sung, wandering the crafting areas trying my hand at the different crafts and wandering the world gathering and enjoying the scenery. Spent time just watching my shadow dance across a field of flowers that were softly swaying in the wind. Looking forward to the release date so we can start really developing our characters and enjoying the world that has been created. [hint for the lockpicking- I sucked until my BF explained it to me- once the cylinder starts to wobble you have gone to far, release and try again stopping just above where the wobble had started . You will quickly get a feel for when you should stop so the cylinder locks in place. Went from not being able to open simple chests to doing hard chests in a matter of an eyeblink once I understood how it works. good luck!]

  2. last son of Odin February 12, 2014 at 10:31 am

    aaaaaaaammmmmmmmmaaaaaazzzzzzzzziiiiinnnnnngggggggggg…….. really!!!!

  3. Hexipox February 10, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Vexx: hehe as lizzy asked me 'you trying to break a record on long comment' i guess i did – i couldnt use enter. Btw about the unresearched reviews.. I wise man told me once, that such reviews only scare off the bitching type of players.. If only i remember who that wise man was… ;)

    Netthfel: i understand as much and yet to me that i kinds og strange that you do an melee animation, even pull out dagger but has the bow as your weapon – i understand its a class ability still feels strange to me, but i can cope with it! :) oh and Hey thx for the tip on releasing mouse.. As Said played 8h didnt find that solution :)

  4. Nethfel February 10, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    A very nice, honest review of the title. So many "reviewers" are hung up on certain things (sub fees, cost of the game, complaining that the CE edition has something that the standard doesn't have, the fact that it works differently then so many other MMO's, etc.) that I think a lot of people have missed other aspects of the game (can't see the forest for the trees). There are definitely some goods and bads in the game that could be adjusted. I also agree the partial NDA lift for reviewers was a HUGE mistake on a stress test weekend (just like Sony lifting the NDA on EQNL on its first alpha weekend, wow was that stupid considering the large problems it had and the fact it was still considered alpha).

    An interesting read, I'll be interested to see more of your articles in the future.

  5. vexx February 10, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Holy…did your enter key died? :D

    I agree, the majority of the Beta testers didn't had my time with the game but that alone doesn't give them the right to shout on every medium possible that the game is crap. Hell, even I don't have the right to bash the game. The game is flawed in some aspects, maybe, buggy, maybe but constructive criticism is a totally different beast compared with what's happening now on different forums and game outlets. Also, I agree with gaming outlets calling different past MMOs great or giving them 10/10. AoC got this treatment, SWTOR got it and so forth. I didn't said ESO is perfect and I won't give it 10/10 even after launch probably…but I won't give 2/10 just becuse the first 5 levels were somewhat boring..seriously now :)

    Also, if I learned anything for the past 10 years, there's no such thing as an objective review. I stated in the beginning, this is a pure old fashion biased review, you should treat it as such :p And don't get me wrong, I don't bash the average tester, I'm pissed at the average tester that is VERY loud about his opinion that the game isn't worth it because he was bored by the first few levels. I'm sorry, even if the game will turn out to be crap, I can't accept that. Gaming outlets, such as your Danish example, had no idea that this game has certain options, such as showing the ability bar at all times, area loot or addons. You can't consider yourself a gaming outlet that does 0 research on the game you're reviewing and has no clue about what's going on. And then you tell your readers, this game isn't worth it..because it doesn't have that…and the reader believes it.

  6. Nethfel February 10, 2014 at 8:06 pm
    Hexipox

    The most popular Danish gaming magazine shouted out loud, when Age of Conan was launched, that it was the best MMO to date, giving it 10/10 only saying that this is the next massive MMO. It's probably the biggest failure on the long list. After this the magazine had so many angry readers, who has bough the game due to their review. That made the gaming magazine say "We will never give a MMO grades again, we will give an objective review, nothing more" Because just say you say, Vexx – You simply can't give a fulfilling review due to 5 hours of gameplay, nor can you give one playing 50 hours, your review will hit the nail better the more hours you play, but you can never hit it with a "nailed it!"
    But one thing in your review i think is a bit contrasending, is the way you talk to the average tester – Bro, you tested the game for endless hours, many of the things you speak about didn’t show up for you the first few hours either, but you were not playing on a clock, trying to get as many impressions you could. I understand the frustration of people not finding what they seek the first time they look, while they also struggle with "i want to try all classes, crafting, races OMG OMFG!" I understand that. I also got pissed at the game, sitting in queue whole Sunday – game not working most of Friday (they had problems with people loading for hours) – but got some solid test hours Saturday, didn’t test half or even 20% of what i wanted .. so i understand the frustration, but i agree with your, no need to write half-hearted articles about stuff they really don’t know. But some of your razor comments were at their place, i mean sometime people cry about things before they even checked the games options. I mean i dislike the bar disappearing, I’m too use to them always being there, but i just went straight to options to fix that, while there, had a look at what i could do to improve my game interface. But i must admit some things just didn't make sense, took we well some minutes to even find out how to make logs into boards so i could actually craft a bow.
    About the graphics, remember i send you a msg on face? wondering why you thought the graphics was good – I mean i thought it was dull, boring, not really good. I played a lizzard and it was not before i left the first island (lvl 7 or so) that i got to see what you ment! The graphics are simply amazing, wonderful and so damn well made, fluent, i agree, this game has awesome and the best graphics ive seen in a MMO!
    I overall, after 8 hours of gaming, agree with what you write here, I see huge potential in this game, feel very free and enjoyable to play. I have my worries of cause, but as you said to me on facebook once; "I still have flashback about SWTOR" hehe ye dont we all? :) And i sure hope this is not a repeat, because i loved SWTOR untill i hit the PVP stage… Illum, you said the other night, now i remember, the horror, thank you for bringing back lost memories. They should stay locked away!
    Anyways, ill throw in some of my worries, the things that hit me playing trough the game, and keep in mind, this is from 8h playtime, got my Templar to level 10..?
    Charge abilities, they simply dont work, charge anything that is not in a straight line makes you stay where you charged from and the mob get idle. I removed this ability from my hotbar after a few hours, simply just useless. (admit the lag can have caused this skill to fail)
    Crafting, vendors any interaction with NPC that was not a part of a quest often resulted in you getting stucked, i mean in my 8 hours i typed /reloadui at least 20 times.
    Weapons, they do not seems to have any impact on your abilities, so the reason to get new weapons of same line ofcause, is only for normal attacks, that tip me off a bit. I like when weapons have an impact on skills.
    They said exploring is so OMG good in this game, well so far (again remember i went to level 10) no matter how much i tried to explore i kinda just felt like i followed the quest line and never actually found any "hidden quests" just a few hidden chest (btw, i never got around to figure out how you use lock picking, wtf?… I’m a noob) – but at this point, exploring seems nothing like what was promised.
    I didn’t like that abilities was not tied to a weapon, i also made an nightblade, i could use my teleportstrike (where he draw daggers in the animation) but having a bow equipped, i could do any of the attack that seemed melee like with a bow equipped .. that felt kinda wired.
    I felt like no matter what weapon i used on my Templar, that my class didnt really change much, i mean it did and ofcause i need levels to state this, but for a level 10 it felt much the same, but i REALLY enjoyed the idea about picking up any weapon and just go with the flow. I was Bow, 2h, staff, dual wield – was kinda fun! but i didnt really feel much of a difference, only that the bow seems really useless in the game, but maybe that was because NO quest ever gave me a good bow, best dmg i had was 10… while my 1h swords were 23 dmg …
    You cannot enter chat without going into a menu, like pressing C, else u cannot get a mouse, that seems a bit odd to me too.
    Overall, in short words, the game seems fun, good and has potential, i agree in most you write and it defiantly is worth your attention – First MMO for ages that also represent the last 3 letters, MMORPG, this feels like a RPG! Am sure this will keep me busy for quite some months when its launched, if not ill just bug you Vexx, blaming you for getting me to play yet another bad MMO, then it will be my turn when i force you to play EQN!

    "You cannot enter chat without going into a menu, like pressing C, else u cannot get a mouse, that seems a bit odd to me too."

    Actually – this isn't quite accurate. You can press '.' to bring up cursor mode which will give you a mouse cursor to move around the screen and into the chat interface without going into the full menu system.

    In terms of the attacks you were referring to (like daggers while using a bow) you are using class skills as opposed to weapon skills. If you had a a skill in your bar from a 2 handed weapon and tried to use it with a 1h/shield combo you'd find it doesn't work so well :). I do agree that they could have adjusted the explanation on that a bit better and/or made it some sort of a magical weapon attack that is tied to your class.

    There are some other mechanics that I'd like to see changed, but they are nitpick things honestly.

  7. Hexipox February 10, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    The most popular Danish gaming magazine shouted out loud, when Age of Conan was launched, that it was the best MMO to date, giving it 10/10 only saying that this is the next massive MMO. It's probably the biggest failure on the long list. After this the magazine had so many angry readers, who has bough the game due to their review. That made the gaming magazine say "We will never give a MMO grades again, we will give an objective review, nothing more" Because just say you say, Vexx – You simply can't give a fulfilling review due to 5 hours of gameplay, nor can you give one playing 50 hours, your review will hit the nail better the more hours you play, but you can never hit it with a "nailed it!"
    But one thing in your review i think is a bit contrasending, is the way you talk to the average tester – Bro, you tested the game for endless hours, many of the things you speak about didn’t show up for you the first few hours either, but you were not playing on a clock, trying to get as many impressions you could. I understand the frustration of people not finding what they seek the first time they look, while they also struggle with "i want to try all classes, crafting, races OMG OMFG!" I understand that.

    I also got pissed at the game, sitting in queue whole Sunday – game not working most of Friday (they had problems with people loading for hours) – but got some solid test hours Saturday, didn’t test half or even 20% of what i wanted .. so i understand the frustration, but i agree with your, no need to write half-hearted articles about stuff they really don’t know. But some of your razor comments were at their place, i mean sometime people cry about things before they even checked the games options. I mean i dislike the bar disappearing, I’m too use to them always being there, but i just went straight to options to fix that, while there, had a look at what i could do to improve my game interface. But i must admit some things just didn't make sense, took we well some minutes to even find out how to make logs into boards so i could actually craft a bow.
    About the graphics, remember i send you a msg on face? wondering why you thought the graphics was good – I mean i thought it was dull, boring, not really good. I played a lizzard and it was not before i left the first island (lvl 7 or so) that i got to see what you ment! The graphics are simply amazing, wonderful and so damn well made, fluent, i agree, this game has awesome and the best graphics ive seen in a MMO!

    I overall, after 8 hours of gaming, agree with what you write here, I see huge potential in this game, feel very free and enjoyable to play. I have my worries of cause, but as you said to me on facebook once; "I still have flashback about SWTOR" hehe ye dont we all? :) And i sure hope this is not a repeat, because i loved SWTOR untill i hit the PVP stage… Illum, you said the other night, now i remember, the horror, thank you for bringing back lost memories. They should stay locked away!
    Anyways, ill throw in some of my worries, the things that hit me playing trough the game, and keep in mind, this is from 8h playtime, got my Templar to level 10..?
    Charge abilities, they simply dont work, charge anything that is not in a straight line makes you stay where you charged from and the mob get idle. I removed this ability from my hotbar after a few hours, simply just useless. (admit the lag can have caused this skill to fail)

    Crafting, vendors any interaction with NPC that was not a part of a quest often resulted in you getting stucked, i mean in my 8 hours i typed /reloadui at least 20 times.
    Weapons, they do not seems to have any impact on your abilities, so the reason to get new weapons of same line ofcause, is only for normal attacks, that tip me off a bit. I like when weapons have an impact on skills.
    They said exploring is so OMG good in this game, well so far (again remember i went to level 10) no matter how much i tried to explore i kinda just felt like i followed the quest line and never actually found any "hidden quests" just a few hidden chest (btw, i never got around to figure out how you use lock picking, wtf?… I’m a noob) – but at this point, exploring seems nothing like what was promised.

    I didn’t like that abilities was not tied to a weapon, i also made an nightblade, i could use my teleportstrike (where he draw daggers in the animation) but having a bow equipped, i could do any of the attack that seemed melee like with a bow equipped .. that felt kinda wired.
    I felt like no matter what weapon i used on my Templar, that my class didnt really change much, i mean it did and ofcause i need levels to state this, but for a level 10 it felt much the same, but i REALLY enjoyed the idea about picking up any weapon and just go with the flow. I was Bow, 2h, staff, dual wield – was kinda fun! but i didnt really feel much of a difference, only that the bow seems really useless in the game, but maybe that was because NO quest ever gave me a good bow, best dmg i had was 10… while my 1h swords were 23 dmg …

    You cannot enter chat without going into a menu, like pressing C, else u cannot get a mouse, that seems a bit odd to me too.
    Overall, in short words, the game seems fun, good and has potential, i agree in most you write and it defiantly is worth your attention – First MMO for ages that also represent the last 3 letters, MMORPG, this feels like a RPG! Am sure this will keep me busy for quite some months when its launched, if not ill just bug you Vexx, blaming you for getting me to play yet another bad MMO, then it will be my turn when i force you to play EQN!

  8. Yasmine February 10, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    One of the best reviews I've read till now. And great issues debated.

  9. vexx February 10, 2014 at 4:03 pm
    Keihndeth

    I agree with you Vexx. A lot could be done to catch people in those first 6 levels. It's unfortunate so many will overlook the game due only to the first few hours being a little lackluster gameplay wise. Wasn't a problem for me since I'm a big lore nerd and it hooked me right from the start. Why can't I have my Molag Bal statue N-O-W?! =(

    that's my problem too, god damn toys hehe

  10. Keihndeth February 10, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I agree with you Vexx. A lot could be done to catch people in those first 6 levels. It's unfortunate so many will overlook the game due only to the first few hours being a little lackluster gameplay wise. Wasn't a problem for me since I'm a big lore nerd and it hooked me right from the start. Why can't I have my Molag Bal statue N-O-W?! =(

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