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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.