The Elder Scrolls Online – Mission Accomplished

In which I type the word “Skyrim” over and over.

My to “beta or not to beta question” of the other week was answered in the affirmative.  I did download the client and I did go play in The Elder Scrolls Online beta weekend of the 7th through the 9th of this month.

TESO_small

The client download for the beta was big… at least as big as World of Warcraft is these days… I had to download a fresh copy to my daughter’s new computer late last year… but thanks to high speed internet and a couple of movies the whole thing was set and installed in a pretty reasonable amount of time.

I did not get to spend as much time playing as I wanted.  Since it was the load test weekend, part of the testing seemed to be focused on the login queue, where I spent a chunk of my time.

Waiting to get in

Waiting to get in

However, I did play enough to answer what was for me the burning question of TESO:  Is it an Elder Scrolls game?

I said previously that Zenimax pretty much had to do one thing to make an Elder Scrolls MMO work.  They simply had to scratch the “I want to play Skyrim with my friends” itch.

Yes, execution is important.  If the game doesn’t actually work, then there is no point.  But if they failed to make you think you were playing un-modded Skyrim, then they were doing it wrong.

Well, now that the NDA is down, I can say that the game feels like Skyrim.  I have the advantage of having first played Skyrim this past summer, when I bought it as part of yet another Steam Summer Sale, so my impressions are pretty recent, all things considered.

The character creator felt about the same, and I was able to make a non-traditional character to play.

Wilhelm as you've never seen him

Wilhelm’s Abyssinian cousin

The game intro… the first act or whatever… felt about the same.  There are only a few standard tropes for starting an adventure game as a fully formed person who happens to have nothing.   Escape from prison, come back from the dead, or survive a ship wreck spring to mind as being over-used.  TESO manages to combine two… you escape from a prison for the dead… which I am not sure gets them bonus points or demerits… but it was close enough to Skyrim, where you escape from prison, that it feels about the same in spirit… if you leave out the dragons.

The intro is very linear, as with Skyrim, and everybody is extremely patient while you get your bearings and try to find your way out… as with Skyrim.  In fact, I am going to try to stop writing “as with Skyrim” at this point unless absolutely necessary… like when I talk about the UI, which… yeah, Skyrim.

At the end of the intro...

At the end of the intro…

The minimalist “see the world not the buttons” UI is pretty much straight from Skyrim.  It is all about immersion.  If you are used to raid frames and rotation helpers and hot bars and a dozen quest tracker entries and what not, this will no doubt be confusingly sparse.  You may hate it.  You will not be alone.  If I could find it, I would link to a blog post that Richard Bartle did about Skyrim in which he bagged on the lack of things on screen to poke.

And, of course, the whole UI is designed to work across PCs and consoles, which will make it annoying to PC gamers.  It feels better than DC Universe Online, which suffers from that same cross-platform requirement, but it will still make you angry until you get used to it.  Unless, of course, you liked it in Skyrim.

And, once you get out of the starter area and get situated, there is a linear quest line to follow to keep the completionist achievers happy, as with… you know.  Skyrim had a main quest line too.  But, you can also still says bollocks to that and head off in another direction and run into side quests and other things to do.  These are not post-Cataclysm WoW 1-60 areas with exactly one quest thread running through the whole zone.  Explorers can explore and will be rewarded.

I did not get enough time to run around to be able to say that there were enough side paths as to make it just like Skyrim, but it certainly seemed to be building towards that.  So Zenimax learned its lessons well.

There were bugs.  I ran into a few and I saw people complaining about more.  There was also nearly two months to go until launch when I was playing, so I assume that Zenimax will be working hard to squash between now and then.

And how did I like it?  Enough that I wanted to go back and play it some more.  However, my key appeared to be only good for the load test weekend.  So I guess I am done with any beta access.  But what I had was enough.

And will I be pre-ordering it and playing the game at launch?

No.

Not because I do not like the game.  While I still think a Borderlands 2 4-player co-op model with plenty of post launch DLC was the winning move for an Elder Scrolls game, the MMO version still works.  The lack of mods will annoy the Elder Scrolls purists and the masses of adventurers swarming across the lands changes the essential feeling of the game relative to Skyrim… I often felt really alone in that game, something that drove the desire to play with friends… but those are things that just come with the MMO territory.  So we have a decent MMO based on an established franchise that isn’t a complete WoW clone.  I approve of this.

I just don’t need another MMO to play and nobody with whom I play with regularly is interested in the game at this point.  So I will be sticking with WoW and EVE Online for now.

Maybe come the usual summer hiatus of the instance group Potshot or Gaff will want to go play and we’ll run off to see what has become of the game.  Or maybe I will finally tire of Pandaria dailies and will have ground all the factions I care to before Warlords of Draenor launches.

After my 2014 MMO Outlook post, that was really the best you could expect from me.  It is still higher on my list than Landmark or WildStar.  It could have been worse.

Anyway, that wasn’t much of a look at the game, just a superficial scouting report.  Others in the blogesphere with more passion for the game (and the Elder Scrolls series) have deeper thoughts on the subject.  For me, it was just a matter whether they could make TESO feel like Skyrim to me. They succeeded in my opinion.

For further opinions, I suggest starting with this list.

17 thoughts on “The Elder Scrolls Online – Mission Accomplished

  1. Tesh

    This would be a perfect game for private servers. Just you and a group of your best friends. I’m surprised they didn’t go that route… but I guess the lure of sweet, sweet subscription money made the accounting guys happy.

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  2. bhagpuss

    I’m with Dr Bartle here. After experiencing a number of different MMO UIs over the years think I am about at the point where I can strike any new MMOs that want me to use the mouse to fight things off my “interested” list without needing to look any further. I played and enjoyed DCUO, just to pick on the example of a similar but worse system that you mentioned, so it isn’t that I can’t use these UIs. It’s that I don’t want to.

    Of course, I have to keep my options on this at least nominally open since there has to be a significant possibility that EQNext will use one of these UIs. It’s being prepared for PS4 after all. If that happens it might even be time to buy a PS4 and play the damned games the way they are obviously now being designed and intended to be played.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Talarian – log2(8) = 3

    Well, the initial escape from death thing was pretty quick. I poked around for maybe 10 minutes, but could have breezed through it in less. After that I spent another 30 minutes just sort of poking about before moving forward. I was not moving for speed but was trying to explore.

    @Syl – I’m not saying a lot of things, in part because I waited a week before I wrote it. Memory fades fast as you age. Anyway, I think I wrote “As with Skyrim…” enough, didn’t I? Left click to hit, right click to block, click both to do whatever, press a button for a special. Not exactly Skyrim, but if you played that, then TESO isn’t going to be a big leap.

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  4. Talarian

    Doh, typos.

    Hmm, why do people keep intimating that the tutorial takes hours then? Are people just really bad at it, or are folks just really bad at getting off the rails.

    Also, I think you’re the first person I’ve read that describes it akin to Skyrim. So many folks have said the opposite it seems. I wonder why…

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Talarian – I suppose it depends on what counts as the tutorial. I would have said that the initial escape sequence was the tutorial, since it guides you through basic operations. That is almost no time at all. While the game shows you other things after that, that is sort of the norm for MMOs. Others seemed to feel that tutorial lasts until the game has described every last mechanic to you. I dunno.

    My view of Skyrim is pretty specific. I have maybe 20 hours of play there with no mods used, and I never played any of the previous Elder Scrolls games. So I wasn’t going for “well, this is different and that is different” levels of detail. A lot of things had to be changed a bit just to make it an MMO.

    Given that, it sure feels as much like Skyrim as an MMO is ever likely to. And since I said that was what Zenimax had to do, mission accomplished. Others with more invested can nitpick.

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  6. Syl (@Gypsy_Syl)

    Hehe, that’s the issue I deal with in my own review: ESO isn’t like Skyrim in all the ways that matter to me about Skyrim. :)

    Character screens, UIs and linear openings make it look like Skyrim or any other ES title for that matter. but what made Skyrim such a wonderful experience for me personally was how alive the world feels there, the dynamic events happening, the NPCs coming up to you actively – and also, the very precise physical aspect to the world. You can literally shoot a bird from the sky in Skyrim. combat was also not missing feedback the way it does in ESO imo.

    So yeah, my major gripes about the MMO are all ‘because not like Skyrim’. a beautiful open world is not enough.

    (I used Skyrim 7 times in this short comment. what do I win?)

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  7. Talarian

    Hmm, good input, thanks. My blog post becomes a little less accurate, but not horrendously so. I should’ve just played it, but I didn’t really enjoy Skyrim, so I opted to ignore Skyrim: The MMO.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Oh, and one thing I forgot: Dear game companies, please don’t use John Cleese for voice acting unless you feel that summoning up the images of Basil Fawlty or the Minister for Silly Walks in the minds of old farts like me improves your story. I love John Cleese, but his voice pulled me right out of the game.

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  9. pkudude99

    My take on it here: http://nomadicgamer.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/teso-nda-is-down-finally/

    I’ve pre-ordered. I bought Skyrim back in early December to finally try it out, and have put in. . . um…. a lot of time on that since then. Haven’t been playing any MMO’s during that time. Just logged back in to TSW yesterday for the 1st time in a couple of months, so.. don’t really have anything scratching my MMO itch right now. This also releases right around my bday, so it’s my gift to myself. How long I stay subbed is anyone’s guess, but so far I’ve been enjoying the noobie zones, and am looking forward to playing the later zones as well.

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  10. Jenks

    John Cleese is a lot like Samuel L Jackson – awesome when used appropriately, detrimental when not.

    The best example of how to use John Cleese in a game: Jade Empire, “Sir Roderick Ponce Von Fontlebottom.” Hilarious.

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  11. Matt

    My question is how does ESO factor into the next single player TES game? Is it intended to be something of a side thing that doesn’t interfere with the main games? Or is it the new TES game and there won’t be another single player game barring financial failure on the MMO front? Presumably, the ESO playerbase is going to be made up largely of TES fans, so it seems strange to expect them to play two TES games at once.

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  12. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Matt – A Good question. I think if Bethesda or whoever decided “We have an MMO, no more Elder Scrolls games are required!” it would be a huge mistake.

    But if you expect Elder Scrolls fans to play the MMO, won’t another Elder Scrolls single player game almost assuredly draw players off of the MMO? Hrmm…

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  13. Kevin Brill (@kevinbrill)

    One point not really touched on much–the ability to create a non-traditional character. It really was nice to be able to create a character who had black facial features, and not just a “white guy with dark skin and an afro”.

    I enjoyed the beta as well, but kept getting the feeling that I was in AoC. I’m not sure if it was the art style, the gameplay, or the atmosphere, but it sure was a weird feeling. I do need to give the game another fair shake, but it is definitely not something that I’m plopping down $60 for on launch.

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