Writing this post has proven rather difficult. Partly because I’ve just been struggling to write coherently recently, and partly (well, mostly) because I’m not pleased with what I have to say. I wanted so badly to fall in love with Elder Scrolls Online. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the single player series (first person gives me headaches and I never find the stories to be particularly interesting) I’ve always thought that they are the closest I’ve seen to my “perfect” game. I love the idea of a sandbox game, but I also love a game with a fascinating and compelling story. I love that if you steal you are punished, that you can be a hero or a crook. I love that you can destroy the world or help rebuild it. I love that concept. But despite all of the things I feel the Elder Scrolls franchise has going for it, the games have just never been able to keep my attention. So when I heard there was going to be an MMORPG I was pretty jazzed. Perhaps this would take care of some of the problems I had with the single player game. Unfortunately it didn’t. So with a heavy heart I must tell you why I will not be playing Elder Scrolls Online.
As per usual let’s start with the story. I’m not going to go into details like I usually do partly because it’s been so long since I played through the first part of the story, and partly because I want you to just experience it for yourself. (I’m sure the voice actors have already been spoiled for you, but in case they haven’t I’m not going to say anything.) At it’s most basic you are a prisoner (of course), but you are also dead. You are trapped in Coldharbour and must escape back to the world of the living. This initial tutorial section feels…well…like a tutorial. Parts of it are just weird (like all the conveniently located weapon racks in one of the rooms where you can choose your weapons). It felt very tutorial-y and I didn’t really care for it. I was mildly interested in finding out what was going on (hello, why am I dead?), but the pacing and the scripting of it just felt off. Not to mention there was an overabundance of (mostly) empty chests and pots everywhere that I felt I had to search through just in case there was something super interesting. I got some items that would help with crafting down the road, but nothing to warrant the amount of time I spent pulling myself out of the immersion to search for them.
Once out of Coldharbour I found I quite liked the story. The starter island for the Aldmeri Dominion I really enjoyed. During our first beta weekend we played through the almost all of the island and, as with most MMOs, some of the quest chains were fairly dull and not terribly interesting. The second beta weekend we kept to the main story only and THAT I found perfectly enjoyable. Many people have complained that the island takes too long to finish and it doesn’t allow the player the freedom one would expect from an Elder Scrolls game (you can’t leave the island until you’ve finished the main storyline). After listening to all of this feedback they have now decided that at launch you will be able to skip the island with the chance to return to it at any time. If you choose to go this route I do suggest that you return because I found the storyline quite enjoyable. The way it all came together at the end was a nice touch that’s often missing in games.
From the limited experience I had beta testing, the story seemed okay. Not edge of your seat or anything, but I didn’t get all that far into the main storyline so it I won’t rule that out as a possibility. That said, for the most part what I did experience I rather enjoyed and if you play games for story then you will probably enjoy the quests as well. While some of them are certainly your typical MMO “go here, now go there and do this” some of them bring you in closer to the story. You work with NPCs to accomplish things and oftentimes you are right there in the action. While they may not have been the most fascinating stories I’ve ever encountered, they were decent enough that, had I not been so upset by other aspects of the game, the story alone would have been enough to keep me interested.
The combat is about 85% of the reason why I will not be playing ESO when it comes out next month. The second I heard that it would be using Elder Scrolls controls rather than the typical MMO hotkey system I knew this game would probably not be for me. Some people really adamantly hate the World of Warcraft “button mashing” system of combat, but the ESO model is physically painful for me. I have something going on with my wrists (probably the early stages of carpal tunnel or something…) that makes playing PC games, writing, and typing (gosh, the three things I do the most…) a bit difficult at times. When I plan on playing WoW for an extended period of time I often have to wear a wrap on my wrist to keep it from hurting. That said, of all the games I play, WoW is the least painful, mainly because I’m a keyboard turner (oh I know, the horror! Calm down, I don’t raid. 😉 ) Having to frequently press or hold the mouse starts to hurt quite a bit when I’m playing games, which means even something like Minecraft becomes quite uncomfortable after awhile.
My two issues with ESO controls are that:
1) you CANNOT turn your character with the keyboard, at least not that I found. This results in super fast side to side movement which, as you might remember, is why I don’t play FPS games. Even though you can scroll out to a sort of third person view, the movement is still too fast for my eyes and results in a headache within about 15 minutes. (I understand that many people play WoW this way too. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it–to each their own–I’m simply saying that it doesn’t work for me and the fact that there is no choice in the matter is a huge red flag. I’m not going to buy a game that I can hardly play.)
2) To do your basic attacks you have to use your left and right mouse buttons. So rather than just hitting a hotkey once and then moving to the next, you have to spam your mouse which, for me, becomes quite painful within moments. Some people find this “more engaging” but I find it more bothersome. It’s funny because when I first started playing WoW one of the things I thought I would hate the most was the hotkey system. I’d never played a PC game before and was used to just running up to things and wacking them. So I’ll admit that it’s weird for me to say that I prefer the hotkey system to the constant button mashing present in ESO combat, but it is what it is.
Other than these two concerns I don’t have much to say about combat because I tried to do as little as possible. Ouch!
Two more general gripes about the controls–First is the weird way in which scrolling works. You can either scroll all the way in for those who enjoy a first person view, or you can scroll out for third person. However, when going between the two (or zooming out further) things get a little wonky and your character is ALWAYS positioned to your left. I have no idea why this choice was made, but as a nerd who loves taking screenshots of beautiful game locations, I found it pretty frustrating.
Second, I never figured out how emotes were supposed to work. I mean, this is an MMORPG, right? So like, we should be able to make emotes at one another, right? Since there are emotes in the game I imagine it must be possible, but I was never able to figure out how to target another player.
Crafting was another feature of the game that I was pretty excited for. In every game I play I LOVE crafting–there’s just something about creating things that I really enjoy (and is probably why I’ve been playing so much Wurm Online lately). I’m not big on combat as I’ve mentioned in the past, so to be able to do other things to supplement my time is something I quite enjoy. The bigger and more involved the crafting system the better! That said, ESO crafting was a bit hard to get into right off the bat. I think that once you’re leveled up a bit and are playing the actual game as opposed to the beta it could be a lot of fun, but given time constraints I wasn’t able to experience as much as I would have liked. One reason for this is that you must do research in real time, which I was too impatient to bother with during the beta. However it wasn’t something I minded really as anything that adds to the difficulty is fine in my book!
I’ve seen ESO take a lot of flak for having bad graphics, but I’m not sure why. I thought it looked quite nice to be honest, and I’m usually a bit of a snob. I mean, this was gorgeous:
And so was this!
The faces weren’t great, but are they ever in an Elder Scrolls game? I thought the game was quite lovely, but if lovely isn’t what you’re going for than maybe it isn’t for you.
I love RPGs and MMOs partly because I love making unique, distinctive characters. I put great thought into my character design and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of playing games. Character creation in ESO was pretty enjoyable for me, though as one might expect you had to work within the confines of whichever race you chose. ESO, like so many games, still doesn’t believe in hair dye.
(Which come on, I can mix and match armor, weapons and class and end up a plate wearing, bow wielding, sorceress, but I can’t dye my hair blue because my race doesn’t naturally come with blue? Seriously??)
I honestly didn’t experiment too much with the character creator because I knew what I was going for–a small, lithe wood elf who is able to dart between trees as nimbly as a deer. Being able to make my already short wood elf shorter was a really nice touch–height is so rarely acknowledged in creation screens.
There were some aspects of it that made no sense at all (as per usual when you are designing a female character). For instance, you can choose various head adornments for your character which was a wonderful addition. But a lot of the items were, well, dainty like earrings, circlets, and other beautiful pieces of art that no fool would wear into battle lest they want their earlobes ripped. I ended up going with a nice sturdy head adornment made of leather and iron–decorative but not something that would be easily destroyed or cause her bodily damage.
The Nail in the Coffin–ESO Business Model
It was announced fairly early on that ESO would have a subscription model just like WoW. This didn’t bother me at the time–I have no issue paying a monthly subscription for a game that I play frequently. It’s cheaper than the movies, cable, or most other forms of entertainment and the quality is almost always vastly superior to free to play games. But then the Imperial Edition of the game was announced for pre-order. With the imperial version (which is $79.99 and $20 more than the standard version) you get a vanity pet (perfectly reasonable), the Rings of Mara for an xp boost when you play with a specific friend (okay, that’s fine), an Imperial White Horse mount (!) and the ability to play as an Imperial (!!!).
These last two really irritated me. It just feels wrong on sooooo many levels to have a race locked behind a pre-order system. The point of pre-orders is for people to get cool vanity items or little perks like the Rings of Mara. A race is not a vanity item–it’s a whole new level to the game that only a select few will ever experience, and that just feels weird and wrong to me. Playing the game from the beginning doesn’t make you special. If you want to reward people who are with you from the beginning, maybe hold unique in-game events that no other group of players will ever experience. Unique experiences seem like a far more honest way of rewarding those who helped your from the start than to give them something as significant as a race which will stay with them for the entire duration of the game.
But now let’s talk about the horse. If you’ve played the game then you know it is DAMN hard to get one. Yeah, there may be no level restriction, but there’s a gold gate instead. The lowest tier horse costs (as of the last beta I played) 17,200g with the next tier costing 42,700g. While that’s a lot of gold, I was prepared to grind it out and just imagine it being similar to the level 20 gate in WoW. But then they added the horse to the imperial edition, and I’m going to guess the Imperial is a hell of a lot faster than the common.
If this doesn’t seem dishonest enough to you, don’t fret, because it gets better! Just last week they announced that horses will also be available for real money in their store.
So you’re telling me that you are selling the game, selling monthly game time, and offering microtransactions? And not just any microtransactions, but access to parts of the game that will take others ages to grind for?
What happened to microtransactions being vanity items? I mean, will this be like WoW where you at least still need to learn (and pay) for the riding skill before you can use a store-bought mount? Somehow I don’t think so and I am incredibly saddened to see that this is the road they are going to take the game down.
There’s a very good chance Elder Scrolls Online will win our Most Disappointing Game of the year award for 2014. I could have possibly looked past the combat that I hate, the lack of housing, and the lessened sense of exploration (for heaven’s sake most of the books I came across weren’t even readable, and most items weren’t move-able). In the end the game feels less like an actual Elder Scrolls game and more like an MMORPG using the Elder Scrolls world and characters. I really expected better and while it pains me to say it, none of us here at +10 will be playing Elder Scrolls Online once it goes live. Mhorgain and Syndrome share my thoughts on it and feel that there’s nothing about it that makes them want to give Bethesda money instead of Blizzard. They stopped playing the beta months ago and I only kept at it to take screenshots.
What are your thoughts? Did you play any of the betas? Did you like ithem? Is the Imperial Edition justified to you? Let us know your thoughts and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!