Zenimax announced that they’ll be present at Gamescom this year so we requested our press passes, packed our bags and drove about 4,000 km (2,500 miles) to play the game and evidently, to speak with the developers. We played ESO, got a nice interview, talked with the devs and got some impressions from the players. I want to share my impressions of the whole ESO presence there, gameplay and other shenanigans.
The first day we arrived in Cologne, Germany, we noticed that Bethesda had a strong presence there…we found posters of ESO in bus stations, buildings, shopping areas…you name it. We finally got to the Gamescom area more hyped than ever, rushed to the Bethesda Press Booth where one of the guys there invited me and @alexe to a 2 hour (almost) private session of Elder Scrolls Online. Now before I start giving you guys my impressions of the game, I need to tell you that I haven’t played ESO before, my only experience with the game was practically a couple of leaked videos, the official gameplay/presentation videos and of course, other impressions posted on various internet sources. Now, based on my limited experience, I was expecting a fairly simple game in terms of gameplay and interface, decent to mediocre graphics and if I were to listen to all the negative comments out there, an unpolished game, not worthy of the Elder Scrolls franchise. To understand my overall feeling and to make this shorter, let’s just say what I’ve seen/heard in the past, including the more recent Quakecon gameplay video, didn’t impress me much. So I logged into the game and….everything changed, dramatically.
The Gameplay Session
I won’t bother you with all the details you know about the game already so let’s dive in. The character creation screen is amazing, for a MMO you have alot of options to choose from, body type, hair, colors..the works. Very simple, very intuitive, I spent roughly 20 mins creating my character and I was going to spend more but alexe told me “Dude, are we going to play this today or are you just going to look at the damn screen until we leave?”. I created my Nord Nightblade (yes, the Gamescom build is all Skyrimy), alexe took a Sorcerer and we pressed play. Now, I don’t know if the leaks we saw on the internet were taken from a VERY early beta build but the game we were playing, had nothing to do with those videos. Frankly, even the official Quakecon video does little justice to the game, the graphics are AMAZING, I spent minutes looking at the mountains of Skyrim, at the snow, at my character’s textures, the houses or at the enemies…imagine my surprise and joy. It’s like expecting a perfume for your birthday but instead you get a car…this is how I felt at the time.
During our gameplay session we did alot of exploring, questing and evidently, looting random houses – the general impression? We loved it. Let’s start with the interface – we found a very clean and intuitive interface. Extremely similar to Skyrim’s, the action bars are visible only when engaged in combat (or when you’re adding/changing abilities), otherwise, you got yourself a clutter-free screen. Pressing the C key will take you to the skills window where you’ll train new abilities or upgrade existing ones. The inventory screen, as some of you probably seen it in various videos, is also pretty simple, showing you the full inventory with the “tabbed” possibility of filtering your stuff based on the item type. For those who played Skyrim, the inventory system is similar to SkyUI’s.
Now let’s get to the more interesting bit, the combat. Many people asked me: “how’s the combat? does it have that static feeling we’ve seen in the videos? how’s first person with hands? how are the mobs?”. The combat is very fluid and has a a pretty solid Skyrim feel to it. My only complaint (and one of the few general complaints) about the combat is that there’s room for improvement. Don’t get me wrong, the combat is great but I hope they will add some kind of impact to the fighting experience, graphics wise. Maybe a subtle screen shaking (similar to Neverwinter) and/or some kind of collision. The devs also confirmed that there won’t be any floating damage numbers on the screen but using LUA scripting, this can be added to the game via mods. The fights are somewhat dynamic, you can dodge and move alot while hitting your enemies so the “static” impression we’ve seen in the videos is not entirely accurate. There’s room for improvement of course but overall, the combat mechanic feels pretty strong. The mobs have an awesome AI, they try to dodge your hits and have synergies with other mobs in the vecinity. For example, I was fighting 2 skeletons and while I focused one of them to kill it faster, he did a backflip of sorts, pulled me away from the area while the other spawned an oil pool at my feet and light it up. I don’t know exactly how many types of different strategies/synergies will the mobs have but what I’ve seen so far, I love it.
As a conclusion, both me and alexe loved our little ESO experience. Even months away from release, the game feels very solid and polished. The graphics are amazing, the game felt more Elder Scroll’ish than I imagined and while there’s alot of room for improvement, we think Zenimax is on the right path. Evidently, we haven’t got any taste of PvP, crafting or PvE end-game but seeing how the game shapes up, we changed our impression from “oh well, let’s see” to “this is awesome”.
The ESO Gamescom ’13 Experience
The general access ESO booth was packed…actually I think it was the most packed booth we’ve seen at Gamescom. The queue was huge and the devs told us that some players re-queued multiple times just to play the game again. We planned on taking several gameplay impression interviews with players but we didn’t had any room to install our gear.
We’ve managed however to ask some of them what was their impression of the game, if they will buy it/subscribe to it and on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the best), if they love or hate the game, if they’ll play on the consoles or PC/Mac and finally, what was their concern regarding the game, if any.
Here are the public impressions we managed to snatch up, sorted by “The Good” and “The Bad”
– the majority of players loved the game and compared it to Skyrim
– the majority loved the idea of playing “Skyrim” with their friends
– most of them had no problem with the announced subscription model and said they will try the game at least for a couple of months.
– many were hyped about Cyrodill and PVP
– the majority expressed their concern regarding end-game PvE
– some said that porting the game to the consoles will ruin the game
We interviewed 25 people and the average score given to ESO was 8.36, with only 3 players giving ESO a 10. Among those 25, 7 are planning on playing the game on the consoles, 5 are planning on getting the game on both the console of their choice and the PC, 8 are planning on playing it on the PC while 5 said they are waiting to see which system their friends will play.
From our limited hands-on experience with the game, the impressions we got from the show floor and seeing the reactions of people playing ESO, we think Elder Scrolls Online is shaping up to become a very solid title, with a strong Elder Scrolls taste…and we can’t wait to play it again soon.