The Elder Scrolls Online, Still Not Quite Getting it Right

Elder Scrolls Online

I’m picky. This should not come as a surprise to anybody by now, I’m very finicky about the way that I play the games I do. What this leads to, though, is a bunch of games that are just not designed for my playstyle, and that’s completely fine! That’s what makes gaming a great hobby, that not every game has to be made for everybody. However, when a game you really think and hope is made for you turns out not to be, it can be quite disappointing. This is kind of how I feel after trying out The Elder Scrolls Online.

Now, the last time I played Elder Scrolls Online, it was during the game’s beta, and I commented how I liked the look of the game, but felt that it just didn’t capture the “feel” of Elder Scrolls, that feeling of total freedom in a huge explorable world, chock full of so much lore that a full playthrough only scratches the surface. But I’m not one to judge a game fully in beta, especially one I *really* hope to like. So when Elder Scrolls Online flipped the switch to the buy-the-game-and-then-you-can-play-it model, I jumped on board with both feet.

Elder Scrolls Online, Fishing

I’m fishing! I have no idea why, but I can fish!

 

I should’ve trusted my initial instincts, though, which so far have been pretty spot-on. I jumped back into TESO, and due to streamers like the awesome CrazMadSci, I was pretty pumped to do so. There are immediate differences, the intro changed and dumps you right into your head city. I created a Redguard character in the Daggerfall Covenant, because Hammerfell is right next to High Rock, and after the intro I was dropped right into the city of Daggerfall! This is good. This feels open. You have the *option* of heading to the two intro islands or not, and options are good. Options are Elder Scrolls. Heck, in pretty much every TES game I’ve ever played I initially run off into a random direction, and when I get pretty powerful finally remember that “oh yeah, there’s a main story I could follow, too!”  Elder Scrolls is about options, not about linearity.

But it was also during the character creator that I found my first “huh?” moment. When creating a Redguard, I found that I could make their skin color… well… white. This immediately struck me as wrong. There aren’t any white Redguards! There could be light-brown skinned Redguards, sure, but not white. But… MMO. I get it. Also, a human race can join the Aldmeri Dominion? Generally, the only race other than elves that would be allowed into the Aldmeri Dominion are khajiit, because the high elves have basically tricked the khajiit over and over again over the millennia. To see *any* other race that’s not an elf take the Emperor’s throne would cause a reaction, and yet, human races can *join* the Dominion?! This makes no sense. But… MMO. I get it. It’s a bit of fracturing the lore to fit the game … it’s just too bad the lore is a tenet of the series… but whatever.

Elder Scrolls Online

Stros M’Kai, we meet again.

 

The skipping of the intro Islands, though? It lies, it’s not really an option. On the intro islands are collectible Skyshards that, if ignored, mean less skill points for your character. It’s an illusion of choice. Sure, you *could* not do them, but then you set yourself at a disadvantage with less skill points at your level until you come back to play them. So, fine, I did them. But I wasn’t happy about it.

My character sits at level 12 now, and making my way through Glenumbra from one quest chain ride leading right into the next quest chain ride (Grrrrr. It’s crazy, actually. I just finished up a quest chain to help rid a giant tree of… evil, I guess, and what did they tell me but “Oh! Someone stopped by while you were helping us! You should go find and help them!” This is about as far from options as one could get.) and I’ve been building him into what I love playing in Elder Scrolls, or pretty much any classless game that will allow me to, a leather-wearing, mace-and-shield wielding sneaking powerhouse that backs up his mace with healing magic. I’m almost ready for the first dungeon, I think, but when I see in chat people ask about DPS or tank or healing classes, I’m really not sure what I would fall into. DPS, as my armor gives me crit bonuses, I think? I use a shield, have taunt abilities, and heal myself, so maybe tank? I can heal others pretty well, too, so healer? I… have no idea, really. I’m all 3? Been pretty successful so far soloing, no problem keeping myself alive and beating down the enemy, but classifying myself in “standard” MMO terms? No idea.

And thus, if I can’t classify myself then others will judge me, as MMO players do. In fact, they already have a few times. The first time I tried to group up for the first dungeon I was *kicked out* of the group for my build. My DPS isn’t on par with pure-DPS players, my healing doesn’t stack up to healers, and I can’t tank like tanks can. Am I screwing myself over by not sticking to a trope? Basically, even though I’m playing the way I want, it’s quite possible I’m playing “wrong”. Any other Elder Scrolls game, I’m an unstoppable powerhouse and I have a blast. Here? I’m a noob, I’m a scrub. Not exactly a feeling that makes me want to log in.

Elder Scrolls Online

I have my mace, I have my shield, I’m wearing my leather. Come at me… nature!

 

It’s not all bad, though. Take a look at some of these screenshots! The game is drop dead gorgeous. Also, the quests themselves? Fascinating and well written stuff! Though not adding much to the overall story, they are quite Elder Scrollsy tableaus and are fun. Also, the few choices that I’ve made seem to have made differences. At the end of the Betnikh island chain, I pissed off the Captain of the ship I was sailing on so much that she kicked me off! She might’ve kicked me off anyway, again another illusion, but the choices *feel* pretty hefty, about as much heft as you can have in an MMO, I guess.

I don’t feel like these positives make up for the negatives, though. So once more I’m holding on to my initial assessment: The Elder Scrolls Online, though a very pretty WoW clone in it’s own right, does not live up to it’s Elder Scrolls pedigree. It’s too linear, it doesn’t respect and breaks it’s own hardcore lore just because, and they lie to the player that they can truly play the way they want to. If anything, playing TESO has made me want to research the lore a lot more, and even has given me cravings to jump back into the previous single player games!

Elder Scrolls Online

Dude, look at this place. Ballin’.

 

 

I may still level to cap, anyway, just because doing so might convince me to change my mind. I’m hoping it does, just because I hate being so disappointed with a game that labels itself as Elder Scrolls.

//Ocho

 

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Daggerfall: Werewolves and Scorpions

Daggerfall

I’ve finally built a character I think I’ll like. Like my original plan, my character is focusing on Blunt Weapons, Restoration Magic, and Dodge, and lesser skills Medical, Illusion Magic, and Critical Strike. On top of that, I gave my Argonian a boost of magic points, rapid healing, and a bonus to hit humanoids and then to balance out the good stuff, forbade the use of plate armor, long blades, and axes. This seems good, and I get out of the tutorial dungeon relatively easy.

Daggerfall

Bears. Sure. Easy.

After making my way out, the tutorial post congratulated me, and then said it would contact me in 7 days and suggested I start making my way toward the town of Daggerfall. Sounds reasonable. However, opening the travel map, it says Daggerfall is *8* days out. Well, I don’t want to miss what’s going to happen, so I instead opt to travel to the closest town, Gathway Gardens, which appears to be only one pixel on the map away. Sweet. I turn south and start running.

Daggerfall

In a straight line, too.

TEN MINUTES LATER I finally arrive at the town. Ten minutes? Seriously?! I’m going to need to get around faster than this. Since my bags are brimming with loot, I find a general store and sell off a few things, and go broke buying a horse. Well, at least the horse will improve travel times significantly.

With that I auto-travel the rest of the way to Daggerfall quickly enough, and since I’m broke, start asking around for work. NPCs are really here in the game as fodder. They point you from one location to the next, dispense information, and that’s it. Ask them more than one question, and they also start giving a bit of attitude.

In the meantime, I pick up a quick delivery job. Doesn’t pay significantly, and is a simple delivery quest, but whatever. A job is a job. I’m to deliver a strapless wedding gown to this General Store’s customer in town. … it ends up being this guy.

Daggerfall

I have your strapless wedding gown for you… sir?

Gotta love procedural generation.

I pick up another job, but this one is of a little more importance. The rescuing of a shopkeeper’s young cousin. Now we’re getting somewhere. He tells me she’s being held at the Citadel of Gaersley and that it’s filled with orcs. I killed one of them in the tutorial dungeon, so no problem. This is going to be cake. I make my way there, enter the citadel, and the bastard lied to me. Orcs? ORCS?! Not an orc in sight. Werewolves and giant scorpions, though, this place has in spades and both can one shot me.

Daggerfall

Running. Running is good.

I become REALLY familiar with the Save/Load functions, but I do find enemies I can still dispatch. Burglars, thieves, archers, giant bats, they fall before me. But the giant scorpions paralyze me, which is a quick death, and the werewolves just maul me to pieces. For a brief second, I even saw an ancient lich. This is NOT a level 2 dungeon! After about 50 or 60 deaths, probably more, inexplicably, I stumble across my charge. I pick her up, and we make a beeline for the door.

Back in Daggerfall, with the whole mission taking a total of 5 days, we return to a snow filled scene on the day of a holiday. A holiday? This game has holidays, too?! Even better, each province celebrates their own holidays! So a holiday that is celebrated in the Alik’r Desert may not be celebrated in Wayrest.

It’s the day of South Wind’s Prayer, the 15th of Morning Star (January), where all religions give a prayer on the hope of a good planting season (hopefully they’re not planting in the snow, though). Not long after entering the gates, a courier approaches and delivers a note. It’s from Lady Magnessen of Daggerfall and tells me to meet her at an inn where she is staying to discuss my mission. I also get a note from Princess Morgiah of Wayrest saying she knows of this note, and to come to Wayrest to speak to her, too.

Daggerfall

An Argonian named Ocho… that should be your first clue something isn’t right.

 

Plot! Wait… what IS my mission? Oh, right, according to the log, it’s to find out why King Lysandus’s spirit is haunting Daggerfall and to find some letter sent to the Queen of Daggerfall.

So far Daggerfall is turning out to be better than I expected. Procedural generation out the wazoo but what it lacks in depth it makes up in size, like a humongous puddle… in a good way. This isn’t some remote province, this is a HUGE world and it really feels huge, too! Also, it isn’t about hand-holding either. You’re not some fortold savior like in Skyrim or Morrowind, you’re an average joe-shmoe, and boy does the game let you know that, too.

Well let’s go see what the Lady Magnessen has to say.

// Ocho

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Daggerfall: Installation and Character Creation

install_000

Strong words there, Bethesda. Alright. First things first:

Installation

Well, as luck may have it, and through the benevolence of Bethesda, you can download Daggerfall right from their website! I still have a copy of the game around here… somewhere… but this link worked much faster.

Note: I’m not going to lie, the installation and altering of config files may be outside the comfort zone of some, but as long as you follow directions, you’ll also learn more about your PC and there is nothing wrong with that.

The next piece of software we’re going to need is DOSBox, an uber handy Dos emulator that singlehandedly allows sites like GoG.com to stay in business.

After installing DOSBox, the next step comes down to tweaking it’s settings, and installing the game itself. Thankfully, there’s a handy pdf doc inside the Daggerfall zip that details step by step instructions. I found that following the instructions worked flawlessly. After booting up DOSBox, the next steps involve mounting the hard drive, mounting a faux-CD drive, and installing the game itself.

 

DOSBox, DOS

I mean, who *doesn’t* love DOS?

After the game is installed (I suggest creating a basic folder direct on your C: drive, like above), then comes the tweaking of DOSBox’s config file. In a nutshell, keep following the pdf’s instructions, but then throw in a few alterations of your own. I suggest changing the screen size to something that is more comfortable on today’s monitors. For example, here is a Daggerfall screenshot at full-size resolution:

Daggerfall

320×200. I imagine kids today wondering how we played games on such *tiny* screens.

The monitor I’m using now has a native resolution of 1600×900. Not exactly 1080 (1920×1080), but not too shabby, still in the high definition range. However, playing Daggerfall at a full screen resolution stops you from doing basic things like alt-tabbing out. I suggest playing in a window at setting 1125×900, which seems to work best for my screen size.

In fact, here’s a link to a copy of the entire DOSBox config file that I have found optimal to use. By all means, if you are installing the game, too, feel free to use it.

Character Creation

Now with installation complete, the next major step involves creating a character that isn’t completely messed up. Like many other Elder Scrolls games, character creation is so deep in it’s customization that you can seriously create a borked character right off the bat. I won’t lie, I’m on my fourth attempt trying to create one that I think I would really enjoy, and that will relatively get me through the game.

The first character I created, I based off of characters I have enjoyed in every Elder Scrolls game in recent memory: A leather wearing, shield and mace wielding powerhouse, slinging illusion magic and backing it all up with restoration magic when the odds turn.

Since there really isn’t a class like this of the group, I created a custom class, picked a whole bunch of stuff that sounded nice, Blunt Weapon, Restoration, Dodging, Illusion, Streetwise, Etiquette, Backstabbing, etc, picked an Argonian, and started it up. The game handed me a longsword as a starting weapon… I couldn’t make it past the first giant bat.

Alright, so… instead of creating something by hand, maybe the game’s question system would work? Similar to those Buzzfeed quizzes we see everywhere. Why not?

Daggerfall

I’m all about the sweetrolls.

It said I would be a good Monk. A Monk is a pretty badass character… in theory. A monk uses their mental discipline, so your primary weapons are your fists and your only armor is your skin. Oh, and no magic, either. Sounds like a great challenge, getting through the game punching bears in the face and using only your fists as bad guys wearing plate and slinging magic come charging at you… but it’s not really my style. Thank you, but I like to actually USE the loot and magic I might pick up. Still awesome that it’s there, though.

Looking at the list of 18 classes, the closest thing that looks like it could work would be a modified Healer. I’d make Blunt Weapons a Primary, drop Medical to a Major, add Backstabbing and Stealth to the list of Minors, Boost Illusion as well, and then through the use of secondary character traits, force the game to start me off with a blunt weapon.

Onward and upward.

// Ocho

Daggerfall: Part 1

 

Game #2: The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall

Daggerfall

So after Friday’s post about The Elder Scrolls Online and how it doesn’t really “feel” like an Elder Scrolls game, I decided to start playing the only game of the Elder Scrolls series I haven’t played yet: Daggerfall.

Long ago I played the game Arena, my first foray into The Elder Scrolls, which was easy as it is the first title of the series. I loved it. As a role playing game, it was all about the exploration and was one of the first real games where I could just go off in any direction and find adventure. Sure, procedurally generated and nothing but dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl adventure, but adventure nonetheless. Story took such a backseat that I really didn’t know what the story of Arena was. There was something about finding staff pieces and putting them together, some big bad guy. That’s about all I remember. I never completed Arena, though, the most I ever got was three staff pieces.

But still, that taste was enough. The pure freeform exploration, the fantastic loot, heard about only through rumors near a local tavern, and having to hunt down the exact locations. The freeform magic, creating your own spells with a multitude of different effects. The absolutely staggeringly humongous world that was Tamriel.

Daggerfall

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio…

Over time, and with latest iterations, the story of The Elder Scrolls has turned front and center. Morrowind shaved down the land size considerably, and traded the full continent for one province and a handful of cities. Morrowind still had a decent number of guilds, though. Oblivion comes along and really ramps up the story, but at the expense of guilds. There’s only a handful now. Finally we have Skyrim, which has as much of a story as Oblivion and as many guilds, but rewards exploration a lot more as little side quests are everywhere. It also brings back the procedurally generated quests so that, technically, it never ends. In other words the series has shrunk over time, story has become a much greater focus, but the tenets of exploration, skill building, freeform character building, and open worlds still hasn’t left.

Daggerfall has a story, I’m sure. I’ve read the books all about the “Warp in the West” which refers to the events from Daggerfall. It retains a lot from Arena as far as dialogue with NPCs, towns, and the like, but then takes a huge number of steps forward when it comes to guilds. The number of guilds is stunningly ridiculous (There are 6 categories of factions, but each category has multiple branches). Also, this is the first game of the series to chop down the focus size to something smaller, focusing on the region of the Illiac Bay, High Rock and Hammerfell.

Game World Size Comparison

This map puts Daggerfall at 62,394 sq. mi. in size, so it is disputable the main size… but even this puts the game world at 3,900 times the size of Oblivion. (click to enlarge)

However, making the focused region smaller, they did NOT make the game world smaller. In fact, it is considered the largest game world of any game, only now being contested by games like Minecraft that can procedurally generate forever. Some stats on Daggerfall, by Bethesda: The size of the game world is similar to the size of Great Britain, 88,745 sq. mi., featuring 15,000 towns, cities, villages, and dungeons, and 750,000+ NPCs. Walking from one town to another in the game could literally take hours. Hours!

I don’t know how far I’m going to get, if I’ll encounter any real story or not, but I guess we’ll see.

// Ocho

P.S. – This also doesn’t mean I’m necessarily finished Game 1, Gabriel Knight, I’m just taking a break from it. You know how it is.