ESO: Genre meld

April 8, 2014

In the post below this one, one line of questions revolved around what percentage of ESO’s content is ‘themepark’, and at what percentage does an MMO go from having themepark elements to just being a themepark.

This post won’t have an answer, because I don’t think we (MMO players) can agree on an answer. Everyone will have a slightly different take, both just on the design items and how a player might actually interact with a game. I’ve mentioned before that if you play ESO as you would WoW, you will progress but miss a lot of what the game is really about, but really that is just one example. What about the player who hits level 10 and goes on to do nothing but PvP? What about those who float between quests and everything else, never finishing anything fully? What about those who do EVERYTHING in a zone before moving on?

Taking a step back, how did we classify WAR? Themepark right? But WAR was designed to be more RvR than PvE, it just failed. What about DAoC? For most they will talk about the RvR (as they should), but DAoC also had a pretty significant PvE side, especially Darkness Falls. So is DAoC a themepark? Do we need to start splitting themeparks between PvP-focused ones and PvE ones?

That I do have an answer for, and it’s no. No because the whole definitions thing has been silly for a while now. Some MMOs blur the lines, some lean more towards one style or the other, and on top of all that each MMO player has their own person view on what they consider to be a sandbox feature vs what they see as themepark. When the genre was UO and EQ, it was easy. One was a themepark, the other a sandbox. When it was EVE and WoW, it was easy. It’s not easy today, because some game devs are actually learning lessons from past MMOs and combining (and more critically, combining well) themes and features from both sides of the MMO table, not to mention aspects from other genres.

ESO is the latest and greatest combination. So far, lvl 17, it gets far more right than wrong, and I think in some aspects we are just scratching the surface of that depth. A great example is over at Keen’s blog, in the comments section, about class builds (starting with Kahlmodra’s comment).

Perhaps the biggest hurdle ESO has to get over has nothing to do with its content or design, but in getting the average MMO player out of “Play it like WoW” mode. After years of conditioning, that’s a tall task, and an interesting development to watch.

#ESO #MMOdesign

ESO: Don’t call it a themepark

April 4, 2014

One way to judge a recently released MMO is by how often the devs need to patch in the first few days to fix things. ESO has had one so far, so while no game to date has been perfect, ESO continues to have by far the smoothest launch out of any MMO I’ve experienced.

I think walking into ESO expecting a themepark is also going to cause more than a few people to miss a lot of the good stuff (and was the root cause of a lot of early beta feedback of ‘more of the same’ feelings). Not to say that ESO doesn’t have themepark flavors, it 100% does, but those flavors aren’t “the whole game”, much like the main plot chain in Skyrim wasn’t “the whole game”.

If you went into Skyrim and stuck to the main plot exclusively, you missed a lot of the good stuff in Skyrim. If you go into ESO and do your routine “quest hub to quest hub leveling until the end-game starts” dance, you are going to miss a lot of the good stuff.

I’m currently just lvl 13, and have only done about 60% of the first ‘zone’, despite putting in a good chunk of time with the game because there is just so much ‘stuff’ to do/see that doesn’t directly progress you in levels, which is awesome. As mentioned before, there is true explorer stuff in this game, and not all of it rewards you with great xp or great items, sometimes you find things for a bit of lore, or to view an insignificant but fun little scene play out (I found a tied up merchant on a beach, approaching him caused a few hidden brigands to jump out, beating them allowed me to untie the merchant, who thanked me and walked away. No quest mechanic, no massive reward, just a random little bit of content that took 5 minutes and made wandering on that beach feel worthwhile).

Another random bit: In almost every village or town so far, there have been multiple houses or areas that aren’t directly tied to some quest. Themepark mode tells you to skip those until the game sends you inside, but ESO never will. Sometimes those houses only contain some random stuff and a lore note/book, other times I’ve found new crafting recipes or treasure chests tucked away. Point being, turn off themepark mode and follow up whenever you go “I wonder what’s inside there”. Unlike in most MMOs, in ESO you are very likely to find something.

I went into one of the instanced dungeons last night with the guild, great time. We had two people who out-leveled the place, which made it a bit easier than intended, but not so easy that we didn’t need to work together and pre-plan the encounters. The group size of four puts a lot more weight on each member, which is fantastic, and the whole experience still felt like ESO rather than a side game or something that played completely different than the rest of the content. Looking forward to more of those.

Finally we are hoping to get into some PvP tonight as a guild. I’ve yet to hear anything negative about it, so really looking forward to seeing what a smaller coordinated force can do and accomplish. Our guild is basically open invite, so if you are looking for people to play with, feel free to reach out.

#ESO #Themepark #Sandbox

ESO: Exploring without a guide

April 1, 2014

When the topic of exploration in an MMO comes up, it causes me to massive eyeroll. Usually what ‘exploration’ means in an MMO is heavily pre-planned, pre-set, and usually pre-marked locations for you to ‘explore’ off a checklist. It’s not only lame, but thinly veiled achiever stuff.

ESO is a bit different in this regard, because it has ‘true’ explorer content; completely optional, not must-have power, off-the-beat-path stuff that if you look around you can find, but if you don’t it doesn’t really matter in the long run. That last bit is especially important, because if the explorer content is found to be a must-have, it becomes part of every guide and recommendation and stops being something to find.

Speaking of guides, I think the best bit of advice I can offer related to ESO is don’t look stuff up as you play. Don’t look up maps, don’t look up builds, don’t look up ‘how to’ guides for crafting; just play the game. More than most recent MMOs, ESO offers a lot to someone willing to just play it, and so far it also hasn’t been punishing for ‘missing’ anything.

Maybe that balance shifts at later levels, but so far the game has just been a rewarding journey. Don’t spoil it for yourself to min/max; there will be plenty of time for that at the level cap.

ESO: Day one was a great day

March 31, 2014

The Elder Scrolls Online 5 day headstart began yesterday, with the servers actually going up an hour ahead of the scheduled start time (I’m sure someone out there raged about that as being ‘unfair’, because some people suck like that). As far as MMO launches go, yesterday might have been the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. Everything worked, there was no queue, I didn’t have to jump through any hoops, and I was able to play the game as if it had been live for 6 months. Being able to patch-up the beta client was huge too. Hats off to Bethesda, they nailed day one.

I’ve noted before that during beta, I was skipping all quest text/voice, and basically rushing through much of the game to see more stuff at higher levels. I’m taking the exact opposite approach to live; I’m intentionally playing really slow, wandering around often, doing one quest at a time to get the full story/point, and checking every little corner and box ‘just in case’. It’s sadly surprising how hard I have to fight down my ‘gamer urges’ to min/max stuff, but I’m committed.

So far the game has been far more enjoyable than in beta because of the above approach. ‘Simple’ quest steps suddenly have meaning, and the entire starter island for the Aldmeri Dominion now makes sense to me from a ‘why’ perspective. I can only talk about that one zone, but now knowing the full story behind it and every quest, I can say it was masterfully done, easily on par with the better quests of Skyrim. If this level of quality and storytelling continues throughout the game, I’m really going to enjoy myself.

Gameplay wise I went with an Imperial Nightblade, wearing a mix of the three armor types and duel-wielding whatever weapons I come across. For skills I’m spreading points across the three skill lines of the Nightblade, while also spending a few points in the duel-wield line and a point or two into some crafting stuff (I love the passive gathering). Basically a jack-of-all-trades so far, and I can always respec to min/max him out later if I get serious about PvP or ‘endgame’.

Final note: One of the early criticisms of the game was that the starter zone was small and limited on exploration. While I know that things open up beyond it, taking my time with the zone I can say there are a fair number of optional areas and hidden things to find, be they sky shards, treasure chests, or just little details like a chair with a bow and arrows on top of a ruined tower that requires a jump or two to access. I loved that kind of stuff in Skyrim, and it’s nice to also find it in ESO.


ESO: Game is live, Inquisition has been created

March 30, 2014

Quick note, ESO is now live (headstart period), and our guild has been created. Inquisition for the Aldmeri Dominion faction. I’m Syncaine in-game. Feel free to reach out.

Reviews vs Facts

March 19, 2014

A while ago I had a conversation with someone about reviews. My basic point was that they don’t matter all that much, and that we sometimes think they do because the media that produces and relies on reviews tries to convince us that they do.

I think Metacritic is good for a quick glance, but a score of 82 vs 91 doesn’t tell me much, especially for a niche or ‘acquired taste’ title. If a random gamer reviews Darkfall after 10 hours, I’d expect that review to be fairly negative. Unless of course our random gamer happens to be someone who has been looking for a different take on the MMO genre and is really into exactly what DF does well (combat, competition, etc). Then the review is a ‘hidden gem’ type of deal.

On Steam I’ll often look at the forum of a specific game before I buy it (on sale, usually), but I’m not looking for opinion about details so much as I’m looking for “This game is terrible and lies about having X Y, Z” with 3-4 replies confirming the message. Or “This game is a totally buggy mess”, especially when looking at early access titles. I view those not as someone sharing an opinion, but rather confirming facts.

Most reviews are not about confirming facts, but rather the written opinion of the reviewer. Is the reviewer a gamer in my vein, or is he someone who thought WotLK was a great expansion? Because if it’s the latter, what he hates I might find perfect.

Side note: I think ESO is going to be a review nightmare. On the surface and in the first 8-9 levels, it’s a strange and honestly fairly poor mix of not quite Skyrim, but not quite anything worthwhile as an MMO. But then it really opens up, brings a lot of new stuff to the genre, and does a lot of sneaky-great stuff.

The contrast between ESO and WildStar is of particular note. Many expected WildStar to be the next-step MMO, and have been disappointed, while those same people expected ESO to be a clone title and instead found (assuming they got deep enough) something surprisingly better.

ESO, DF:UW – Sometimes we go looking for something we already have

March 17, 2014

This past weekend ESO had another beta weekend, but I wasn’t able to play much as I had issues with the account my highest-level character is on. I did create an Imperial on my purchased account, but beyond that and testing mob collision quickly, I didn’t really play the game.

I did play a lot of Darkfall, as that game has sunk its hooks back into me. Momentum is a powerful force in the MMO genre, and who you play with is, IMO, a bigger ‘content driver’ than the actual content itself.

Quick example: On Saturday a few of us went out on a boat to attempt to kill the Ice Dragon. We failed; his regen offset our dps and we didn’t have enough people, enough arrows, and enough repair shards. One member of the alliance was driven to killing him, so much so that he pulled together the enormous amount of mats to craft the biggest ship currently in the game (a Ship of the Line), had it crafted, and put together a large crew to attempt the dragon again.

This time we were successful, and even though some uniquely Darkfall stuff happened (climbing to the extremely tall crows nests of the ship was the key to success, as at that height you are able to target the dragon with arrows much easier), the fight was overly long and the loot was terrible, so until its buffed we won’t be going again.

So overall not amazing content in terms of effort/reward, but something that entertained 16 people mostly because of those 16 people. If that doesn’t sum up WoW 40 man raiding, you didn’t raid enough. Is there such content in ESO? We’ll find out shortly.

Another comparison; DF:UW isn’t known for its PvE. ESO has a lot of PvE content and that is a major selling point. One of the early complaints about ESO is that the PvE is faceroll easy. Another is the combat lacks a real feeling of impact, and Bethesda has made multiple changes to that area to help fix the problem. I don’t think anyone has ever said PvE in DF lacks impact, nor has anyone called it faceroll easy by MMO standards.

Quick example: Near one of the hamlets our clan owns is a mob spawn with some easier mobs and one terror-level mob. Lately I’ve been making the quick trip out to the spawn to kill the terror. It takes me 2-3 minutes to kill him using full plate (3rd best warrior armor) and a leenspar greatsword (second best weapon). My character is maxed when it comes to spending prowess for a warrior and the related stats. I haven’t died to him yet, but each time I have to kite him a bit, recover hp/stamina, and use my life-leach attack as often as possible.

Beating that mob is harder than anything I’ve done in ESO, and that’s 100% ignoring the fact that at any point someone could come along and jump me at the spawn; something that can’t happen in ESO. In ESO I’d also never consider what gear to bring to kill him, I’m always wearing the best stuff I have. In DF I could wear higher-tier armor/weapons, or lower tier if I felt in greater danger and accepted that killing him would take longer. Also in ESO I’d kill him once and be done Perhaps not major decisions overall, but still decisions to be made vs no decision at all.

Another example: Rynnik and I set out to farm some Black Knights. We both had not completed the feat for them, we both could use the loot they drop overall, and Black Knights specifically drop the item needed to make the gauntlet for the new village requisitioning system. Three birds, one stone.

We recalled to his house as a starting point as it was close to the spawn, and we both set ourselves to Deadeye skirmishers since we were going to kite and bow them down. Rynnik also brought a party strongbox deployable so we could store the loot inside rather than carry it on us.

Things were going well for the first wave. We killed and looted all the knights, stored our loot in the strongbox, and waited for the respawn. About a third of the way into the second wave, a warrior and mage attacked us at the spawn. Initially they fought both of us, but shortly both focused on Rynnik and he ran them away from the spawn. I recovered and Rynnik circled back after losing them. Stupidly we started farming again, and quickly got jumped by those two again. I went down, Rynnik escaped.

I regeared quickly and made my way back to the area, as we hoped they had not found our strongbox and we could at least recover all of our farming loot. As we crept back into the area, we noticed the mage was standing on the nearby hill, and as we continued, we noticed the warrior was just returning. They found our strongbox, and the warrior had gone to get battlespikes to blow it open. As they were focused on opening the strongbox, we gained the high ground and prepared to attack.

I opened with a large AoE that puts a DOT and also slows anyone caught in it, while Rynnik went for more direct damage. The warrior reacted quickly and moved away, but the mage was loot-drunk and had his head inside our now-open strongbox. Taking advantage of this, we put a half-dozen arrows in his back and down he went. We fought the warrior for a bit, but the 2v1, double-skirm vs warrior setup was highly in our favor, and he too went down. He had banked my previous gear set, but in return we got his, the mage’s, and also all the loot from our strongbox. A nice ending to our little PvE adventure.


ESO Beta: The picture is starting to clear up

March 3, 2014

Developing opinions about ESO continue to… develop!

Overall I’m coming out of this weekend more positive about the game than I was going into it, and going in I had already pre-purchased the Rich White Man edition.

The good; my character from the previous beta weekend had to be shelved, as I think I gimped him. A Breton duel-wielding Dragon Knight in light armor did not seem to work. Now why is this a good thing? Because if you can gimp a character, that means character development has some actual choice to it and those choices matter. If you can’t gimp, everything is ‘good enough’, and that kind of design sucks IMO.

What’s even better however is that while talking to a buddy, he let me know that light armor Dragon Knight is a thing, but you use a staff to dish out heavy ranged dps. Apparently it works really well in PvP. I don’t want to get too ahead about this, but right now I believe ESO will offer a large range of builds, some more viable than others of course, with some great in one area vs another (PvP, PvE, group, solo, etc). If that actually happens, that will be a huge plus for the game.

The further I got into the game (up to lvl 11 this time), the better the difficulty feels. I’ve had a few tricky/interesting solo boss fights, I’ve gotten some public dungeon experience, and overall I still feel the game is opening up and getting more interesting rather than hitting a plateau. It really is an interesting mix of solo RPG ala Skyrim, and improved MMO themepark content. I can safely say we will see some ‘reviews’ where the reviewer only plays for 30 minutes and calls it hyper-linear or something silly. Those should be enjoyable in terms of blog content.

The bad: Bugs. Oh the bugs. /reloadui was used constantly to get out of buggy NPC conversations, and our small group ran into more than one boss/encounter that wouldn’t spawn or was broken. The game has a month until the 4.4.14 release date, so while there is still some time to get things fixed, I’m not expecting a bug-free release. What I am hoping is that they fix all the major stuff, like bosses not spawning, because those really sour the experience. Getting deep into a public dungeon only to have the game cut the experience short on you and others is not cool.

Those are the big points. I also got into crafting a bit more and liked it. Nothing crazy different, but again tweaked and expanded beyond what I’ve seen in the themepark space before.

Ultimately I think that is where ESO will either just be another title or something special; if most of the tweaks and changes to the standard formula ESO has work out (and I’m leaning towards that right now), the game will be successful. I don’t know if that means retaining 500k subs for over a year or what, but yea, successful.

I will say this right now, all the comparisons to SW:TOR are comically wrong. Worst case scenario ESO will do better than the Tortanic, because structurally it’s a better game, and more importantly, it’s a better MMO. I just can’t tell HOW good, in part because I’ve seen promising titles destroyed in beta or shortly after with ‘accessibility’ patches.

Payday the right way, DF:UW boats, ESO beta

February 28, 2014

Random bits on a Friday.

Payday 2 received a nice free update recently, adding a new difficulty level to every heist and two new enemies, among other changes. The game continues to be another good example of how to support your game post-release, mixing DLC and free updates to keep people interested while still making money. Certainly it’s been one of the better games I’ve purchased in recent years, and is still highly recommended.

Went to a Sea Fortress recently in Darkfall. We had ten with us, and I was driving the boat. When we initially arrived we saw a few other boats fighting it out, and the hitpoints of the Sea Fortress were also dropping. We rolled the dice and tried to get the last hit on the tower, but no luck there. We then engaged one boat with cannon fire, only to eventually be swarmed by 4-5 large boats and another 3-4 smaller ships all from the same alliance. We held out for a bit, as I tried to sail the ship in such a way as to reduce the number of enemy cannons able to hit us, but eventually our boat was too damaged (slows the boat), the enemy ships caught up, and we got swarmed. Good times, and credit to the enemy for bringing so many people.

Finally, ESO beta is this weekend, and I’ve got a nice crew interested in the game. I don’t know if INQ is officially going to jump into the game, but either way I’m in and will have a guild up. Hoping to see some of the dungeon content this weekend, and maybe jump into the RvR area as well.

Themeparks: PvP is the filler between the cracks

February 25, 2014

Wilhelm is asking if an MMO must contain PvP. It’s actually a more interesting question when you really thing about it, especially if you limit the discussion to themeparks (the answer for sandboxes has its own tab on this blog).

Instinctively you might want to say ‘no’ for themeparks, because they are PvE focused and you would want that to remain the focus. Makes sense, on paper. But in reality, themepark PvE content is often one-and-done, and what is repeatable (daily quests, raiding) is often tied to some long term, but still one-and-done reward (rep grind, raid gear).

PvP shouldn’t be the focus, but rather play the role of filler between content updates. From my experience I think vanilla WoW did this best. Whether you were waiting for a raid to reset or had a night off, battlegrounds provided a nice side activity, made more rewarding as you could use your raid gear to get an edge (though not a brutally overpowered one from MC/BWL gear).

As time went on PvP in WoW got a bit silly, first with PvP-specific gear and later with rankings and all that stuff. It went from being a fun side activity to a game-within-a-game. It also didn’t help that all of the talent on the WoW team left and the interns ran the place, but we know that story.

I like, on paper, what ESO has planned. Once you reach the level cap, you can still PvE to gain more skill points for horizontal progression (you can only use a small number of skills at one time, so getting more skill points to open more skills doesn’t increase your power, just gives you options), but you can also get into the 3-way RvR battle areas. I think the limit to horizontal progression will help the PvP balance a great deal, as will the fact that (as of now) the best gear comes from crafting, not PvE, raiding, or PvP. Assuming that stays mostly true (a few items being BiS from non-crafting is fine IMO, so long as most stuff comes from crafting and the gap isn’t too great), I can see the model working.

I can further see it working because as players spend time on the repeatable content that is RvR, Bethesda will be given time to expand the PvE offerings. I don’t think ESO players will experience running into a ‘content wall’ like in SW:TOR.

So my answer to the question is yes, you do need PvP, but at the same time you need to ensure that the PvP remains a low dev time, high repeat, limited impact aspect. Not easy to get right, but certainly pays off if you do.



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