ESO: Beta impressions

(If this post breaks the ESO NDA… um, sorry?)

I got to finally play ESO this weekend, and more than anything it surprised me. I wasn’t blow away and loved it, but I also didn’t hate it. I wish it was more sandbox, I hate some of the stronger themepark influences, yet after a weekend, level 8, and close to ten hours, I’m still unsure how I feel about the game, which is a good sign I think. Part of me expected to be disgusted with the whole thing instantly, and that didn’t happen.

The biggest surprise was how well the game uses the IP in some regards. There is no mini map, instead you get the familiar bar at the top ala Skyrim. It’s a small UI detail, but I love it. Just screams “this is Elder Scrolls” while also moving itself away from the themepark default.

I also like all of the random, small containers around the world that you can loot for little crafting bits, or read little lore notes; that’s straight out of Skyrim (and games before it), and while again a little detail, makes a small difference; finally you have a reason to check every room and corner for something, even if that something is pretty minor.

When you walk by NPCs in cities, they throw out little comments ala Skyrim. Immersion! Also first-person worked great and again pulled me into the game and helped distance it from ‘yet another themepark’.

I wasn’t listening to the quests (wanted to get as far as I could), but I did notice certain NPCs move with you from zone to zone, which story wise I’m sure is interesting, rather than having the usual one-and-done NPCs in most themeparks.

I don’t want to get into combat too much as I suspect some of it was debugger effected, but it feels like Skyrim. That’s not a total compliment as combat in Skyrim is pretty meh, but meh is better than straight garbage, which is what so many of these games have. I do like the system of limiting your available skills via hotbar slots. I know GW2 did something like this, but tying skills to weapons is more restricting and annoying (I don’t want to use a 2h sword but 2h sword has the skills I want, for example), while in ESO you have more freedom and options. Perhaps long-term the system sucks, but up to level 8 I liked it.

I mentioned in a quick post earlier the game being easy; it still was at level 6-8, but a bit better. I actually died because I pulled a mob group poorly, and I just wish MORE of the game was on that level rather than the usual PvE faceroll. I also have concern about the general PvE when approached as a duo or in a group; it feels like all of that stuff is balanced around doing it solo, which is again an unfortunate themepark flaw.

Speaking of themepark flaws, unlike Skyrim ESO is divided into zones rather than being a world. Hate that. The three early zones I saw were not small, but not huge, and while not as point-A-to-point-B as I’ve experienced in some themeparks, certainly did not have the feeling of freedom that you have in Skyrim, where you can just pick a direction and discover what the world holds.

I didn’t get a chance to try the PvP, although I’ve heard from those who have that it’s not bad (I’ve heard DAoC-like mentioned, but that is a tall mark to reach).

Graphically the game is interesting, in that the graphics are not worse than Skyrim (hyper-graphic mods aside), just slightly more cartoony. Character models look really good, while animations are pretty hit or miss (ala Skyrim). The game loaded quickly and ran great for me, but keep in mind I am playing on top-end hardware. No complaints on the sound, good stuff. (Funny side note 99% of you won’t get: some of the NPCs don’t have text recorded yet, so instead the text is read by a computerized voice. The voice made me think of the Barstool short videos, so I got a good laugh out of that).

Now for some fear/wishful thinking; if the later zones in the game are more linear, that would suck (how many MMOs have front-loaded the best stuff early after all). If the later zones are larger, more ‘worldly’, with the initial zones being more linear to ease people into the game, that would be awesome. If someone wants to confirm which it is, if that’s currently known, that would be cool.

So final verdict? Undecided, although a bit more positive on the game now than before this weekend. Looking forward to ‘testing’ it a bit more, assuming this doesn’t get the account banned.


About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in beta, MMO design, The Elder Scrolls Online. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to ESO: Beta impressions

  1. John says:

    Thanks for the info. My biggest fear for the game was that it may have linear experience…I hate linear questing so much that I may not even play the game. I like have the freedom going wherever I want, pick whatever quest I want in whatever order I want and complete it…Zones restricted by level is already a bad thing, but at least they must give us the freedom on the zone to do what I described above.

    My second fear is that I may not like the characters. Bethesda is known for their ugly character models in both TES and Fallout series. Lucky for them, the mod community was able to “fix” that for us. Now we have to rely 100% on Bethesda/Zenimax. While I could take your word about characters, I think this is very subjective and I have to wait and see them myself.

    I know that 8 levels is very little, but did you by any chance had a look on crafting?at least its UI, or components needed for the first items? Does it seem “deep” from a first look?

    • SynCaine says:

      I tried crafting, didn’t get very far into it, but on the surface it seemed more than just “select item, make said item”. I could be wrong, but it seemed like it was sorta like Skyrim enchanting/alchemy, where you mix stuff together to make something that takes aspects from each mat.

      I hear you about character models in ES/Fallout, and IMO these are much better thanks to the art style; its a little easier to pull off a good looking character because they are not aiming for photo-realism like Skyrim. That said its closer to photo than cartoon, unlike say WoW.

      • Aladin says:

        Crafting is probably the deepest thing what Ive seen of the entire game sofar. You can even craft in certain styles, (e.g. breton or dark elf) to give your clothing other looks. Theres also tons of research options to give pre and suffixes to items.

        Though both things have to be unlocked/learned first which i wasnt able to do in the limited time.

        So if youre a crafting nut (like me) you will be in for a treat.

      • John says:

        Thanks :) thats nice, cause I love crafting when is done right and you gave me lot of hope about characters too…so I am “officially” looking forward for it now…

      • j3w3l says:

        I think crafting might actually be useful too because the quests really don’t reward too much gear.
        Most of the crafting is the usual but with added options. More iron ups the level and damage, certain gems change the state buff(needs research), and there’s an option to change the style of the item based on the races.

        Alchemy is es style of discovery, provisioning is kind of in between.

        With gathering none of the nodes pop out in map either so you really have to be looking and exploring for them

        • coppertopper says:

          I had no plans to play this game until reading this. that is exactly the type of personalization crafting needs.

  2. Aladin says:

    Most things were indeed way too linear (kindergarten level) and I really missed the “open world go out and explore feeling” which I always have in Skyrim. Sofar its just Skyrim online with an extra crafting mod added and for the rest not much new compared to the rest of the mmo competition.

    Only thing ESO does better then vanilla Skyrim is the crafting, for the rest everything was done better in its offline predecessor, sadly.
    Graphics, music, story are all less epic. After playing for the entire weekend I really was wondering what all this fuzz has been about.

    ESO aint very special and once you finished the storyline im guessing that it will just be one more average fish in the mmo pond.

    • Asmiroth says:

      I’m curious. Are you expecting something from ESO that’s different that ES+people? Have you heard the devs say they were aiming for something different? Everything I’ve heard about the game, everything I’ve read, is that they are taking the sandbox of ES, shoehorning a themepark around it and pushing the PvP aspect.

      At no point have I seen anything “new” or “revolutionary”. If anything, ESO has had very little PR.

      • Aladin says:

        The so called sandbox was thrown out too, so a big thing what Skyrim made special aint there no more. So yeah, what rests is just your average mmo stuff.

  3. C. T. Murphy says:

    That’s promising to hear. Any innovation on the tired rollercoaster ride of yore is welcome to me.

  4. Jack says:

    And yes, this is a rather clear breach of the NDA ;)

  5. FUCK THE NDA says:

    I think you broke the NDA, but what are they going to do? Ban you from the shut down stress test?

    The PVP is going to be build like DAOC and I’m an optimist so I really hope it’ll be awesome. You get keeps, outposts and stuff like that each realm needs to take and hold. Once in a while realms are given out bonuses on how many they hold.

    I’m not sure about RVR rank, and I’m not sure they’ve actually build a system that can handle 500 people shooting spells at each other at once. So naturally build like DAOC isn’t exactly build like DAOC.

    I it works all the people from DAOC and WAR are going to like it though.

    As far as combat goes I don’t think it’s great, but it’s not bad like you said. It improved a fuckton since the last stress test a few months ago, so I’m guessing it may still change a lot before release.

    I posted in a previous post saying the UI was the worst thing on earth and it is, but I found out it may be moddable.

    • FUCK THE NDA says:

      “IF it works…” I wouldn’t want to work all those people.

      • Kamuka says:

        Considering all the people I play DAoC with hated ESO, I very much doubt the RvR will be any decent.

        “Slightly better WoW battlegrounds.”
        “Stupid zerg fest.”

        That seems to be the consent.

  6. John says:

    something else I wanna ask now…how is the inventory system? Is it the usually “x slot numbers” which increase by adding new and bigger bags? Or is the skyrim system for “Weight carry” that can increase while you increase in strength and also increase via skills/perks? It would be interesting to have a carry weight system in an MMO that will increase as you progress your character..

    • SynCaine says:

      I know my character had a 50 item limit, and I believe every item only took one slot, so more traditional themepark rather than the weight system from Skyrim.

    • Igolbug OWE says:

      DAoC had a system like that and it worked so well, I actually had some of the rvr skills to give me more encumberance so that I could carry multiple siege rams for stealth taking keeps.

  7. dachengsgravatar says:

    I managed to spend a little time in Tamriel, also, last weekend, and I loved it (except for the huge download). Very much in the Skyrim mould. Melee combat like Skyrim (which I like), lots of detail, lots of crud lying about on the ground, some of which bears furher inspection, I liked the voice-acting, I liked the responsiveness of the controls, I liked the character build options (I spent too much time playing with those when I should have been playing the game), and I liked the atmosphere. I hadn’t any time for crafting or PvP.

  8. Sjonnar says:

    How exactly would this get your account banned? Did you just happen to link your blog to your game account when you signed up?

    • SynCaine says:

      No I used a completely different email/account/character name. Not really worried about a ban. It’s more about respecting the NDA process, vs wanting/needing to talk about some of this stuff now rather than later.

  9. aletail says:

    I agree with this entire post. I played in the previous beta, but didn’t have much time to tinker with things. My initial impressions were not good so I stopped playing – categorizing it as a weak/bland theme park. This time around I had a bit more time, the quests really drew me in. Not sure if it is the presentation or style of the quests, but they were really well done. Though like you I will be really disappointed if the game is centered around the quests/story, I would really like to create my own adventure for a change.

  10. I have a lot of the same feelings and impressions from this past weekend. Did I love it, no. Did I hate it, no. Ultimately I do not see myself spending money buying the client and a few months of sub fees with this game. I think it looks good and handles good so far but I just do not see anything worth me investing my limited MMO playing time here.

    My biggest issue which someone else already mentioned is the inability to just pick a direction and go and find what I find. Yes you can just turn left and explore but areas are intentionally designed with certain geographic barriers that make me feel as though I am in a coral… that I do not like. At one point I decided to head away from my traditional quest marker and see what I discovered and all that I found were a few wild animals to battle and then a body of water that I could only go so far in. I just feel as though they are putting the world Elder Scrolls onto an otherwise traditional themepark style MMO.

  11. anon says:

    Combat in TESO seems identical to combat in Skyrim, just with tacked-on powers to simulate that old-school WoW feel. This to me is not a good thing.

    Skyrim combat is identical to Morrowind combat, just with dual-wielding and active blocking tacked on (badly). Morrowind combat was garbage eleven years ago, when Morrowind was released. Melee combat involves running up to your enemy and mashing power attack and chugging potions and food. Because the range of melee weapons grossly exceeds the length of the weapon models, attempts at dodging are a waste of time. Magic combat involves spamming destruction spells to stun-lock your target. Stealth still ignores light and darkness, as do the NPCs, which I suppose isn’t terrible given that Skyrim nights and even uninhabited caves are all OSHA-compliant, although OSHA compliance does negate any sense of creepiness. Only Skyrim archery is sort of good, but it won’t work in a truly mainstream MMO due to lack of auto-aim and NPCs actually dodging arrows, so that archery at any distance requires actual player skill. There is no situational awareness if you play in first person — a baddy might be ready to stick a knife up your posterior, and you wouldn’t know it, and the animations are so shitty and controls and aiming in third person so awful that playing in third person is almost physically painful because you wind up fighting the game more than the actual NPCs.

    The AI in Skyrim has likewise not changed a bit since Morrowind; it is still dumb as a brick. It gets stuck on clutter, takes nonsensical paths to get to the destination, doesn’t make use of cover, is easily kited, and generally is a flashback to games from ten to twenty years ago. Which is basically all Skyrim is — a reskinned Morrowind with bad voice acting.

    Improving combat wouldn’t have taken much. Better situational awareness, better controls, AI that was not lifted from the original Half-Life, an indicator of what the fuck you’re actually going to hit, and weapon ranges that match the damn physical models would be a good start.

    That said, Skyrim combat is still better than the hit button, receive bacon mechanics that have characterized most MMO combat (including EVE) for over twenty years. At least in Skyrim the player had to actually aim at his target. And Skyrim combat apparently worked well enough for it to sell several million boxes, so maybe I’m just weird.

    But I suspect that Skyrim succeeded, as did Oblivion and Morrowind before it, almost solely due to their promise of endless exploration. In all three games, it is possible to walk in a direction, and keep walking for real-time hours, to stumble on a hidden cave or fortress, or some shrine, or a hot spring, and still feel like there is more to explore. It says something about the power of exploration that despite all of the flaws above, I sunk over a hundred hours into Skyrim, albeit with some rather substantial mods to fix the more-egregious problems. But everything else about Skyrim was far from innovative. The Skyrim quest system, for example, is no different from the quest system of every other RPG — go there, kill that, escort that guy, bring back that shiny. The sandbox element is virtually nonexistent; almost all quests have a single solution, player choice revolves around how to kill this or that NPC, and player influence over the world is restricted to which NPCs will be around to say their lines at any given moment. So if Bethesda can’t pull off the exploration aspect of Skyrim in TESO, and doesn’t provide incentives for strong guilds and socialization, TESO will wind up as just another sinking MMO themepark.

    Also, Bethesda apparently fired its entire QA department after Morrowind, judging by how buggy its games have been since then. So I’ll be very pleasantly surprised if TESO is actually decently-balanced and does not ship with massive game-breaking bugs that will remain unfixed for years.

  12. Tierless says:

    I never thought I’d say this but…you are more optimistic than I am.

  13. Junior Kimble says:

    After playing all the ES games and loving them all except skyrim, I don’t like this at all. I like the open world go where u want with no limits accept the end of the map. I dont see myself leaving FF14,lotro,wow, to play this one. I have always been a big fan of ES but from skrim to this point I am sadly disappointed.

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