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.
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
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’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…
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?
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.