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

 

Advertisements

The King of the Underworld is Exploration

Ultima Underworld

Chalk another game off my backlog, I just completed Ultima Underworld and I must say it was much more than the game I was expecting. Sometimes when the nostalgia bug bites, you head back to an older game or two, and they just don’t hold up. It’s not as good as you remember it being, the graphics are just too dated to enjoy it, or times have changed so much that the flow of the game is totally opposed to today’s standards. Ultima Underworld, though, was more of a look into the future from the past.

Did I forget to mention that you could also play musical instruments in Underworld? Yup, you totally could. Not only that, but at one point it became integral to the main quest. Fishing, too. The amount of features stuffed into this one game, a game who this month is turning 23 years old, is absolutely staggering. Not only did the game hold up well over time, it held up well enough for me to play a complete runthrough of the game without even wanting to divert my attention elsewhere.

Ultima Underworld

I should… call Origin to receive a personal congratulations?! I wonder if any one of the old Origin employees or anyone at EA would honor this.

The best feature of Underworld, hands down, is it really nailed that feeling of exploration. The storyline was bare at best, and revolved around saving a maiden and finding a handful of particular items, using clues given by the NPCs you met. Finding them is what drove you forward, and every item you needed was just down one more level tucked into a far corner somewhere or held by some unsuspecting NPC, and all you had to do was find it. Around any corner could be a monster that would slap you around, a friendly face, a pile of treasure, a piece of lore, a freaking game of Pac-Man, a talking door, a developer homage, lava and waterfalls, a platform puzzle, etc. In other words, Ultima Underworld rewarded handsomely the person who explored every nook and cranny.

Ultima Underworld, Pac-Man

So I’m to collect these blue orbs as I run around this maze that’s filled with different colored ghosts. Sure, that sounds perfectly reasonable.

And not a single drop of procedural generation was used. The only randomness seemed to come from periodic monster spawns. After clearing a level occasionally you would meet a random monster, and these either didn’t happen often, or happened and they mixed in so well that they weren’t that noticeable. They didn’t use random encounters as an experience crutch, though, as is commonly found in a metric ton of other games. Everything was on purpose. But even with those rails, it felt like the rails didn’t exist.

Werit, another Star Trek Online player, makes a couple great points about the topic of exploration. If “exploration” is made procedurally generated, it doesn’t “feel” like you’re really exploring. It instead feels like you’re traveling down the highway and seeing yet another rest stop. A few restaurants, maybe a quirky gift shop, bathrooms, and that’s about it. If all you have to look forward to with more exploration is yet another rest stop, it doesn’t feel that fulfilling. And yet, Star Trek Online players, like many other players, are clamoring for more exploration!

Ultima Underworld really nailed what games today are still having problems trying to emulate. The Elder Scrolls series, I think, has come the closest to that feeling of rewarding exploration, where you could pick any direction and find rewarding adventure. That’s the reason why Skyrim has sold an almost mind-boggling amount of units. Rewarding exploration is what players really want. It is also why The Elder Scrolls Online didn’t fare so hot on release, their rails were showing too much.

Ultima Underworld, Warren Spector

A spectre named Warren, a not-so-subtle nod to Warren Spector. Wonder why he’s upset, though? Maybe the whole ‘ghost’ thing has something to do with it.

Not many younger players these days can stomach a game that has such dated graphics, no matter how good it is. Ultima Underworld, though, felt like listening to good classic rock. Different from today’s music, both in structure and style, but the soul never changes.

Playing Ultima Underworld evoked feelings like listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. You know that what you’re experiencing is from a different time period, but that does nothing to diminish the genius that went into producing it.

//Ocho

P.S. – By the way, mark it down. On March 2nd, 2015 the Internet was won by Ocho.

Ultima Underworld, Richard Garriott, Congratulations

P.S. – Supporting the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter for me was a no brainer. It’s being produced by the same designer, Paul Neurath, someone who obviously knows what’s up. Their biggest hurdle, I believe, will be in topping what was an industry-changing game. No small feat.

P.P.S.- Here are links to my other two writeups on Underworld: My initial writeup, My mid-game writeup.

Ultima Underworld, Moongate

The whole Pink Floyd analogy was a little more apt, too. The run after the final encounter is a little… trippy.

Summer Gaming Patterns and Outside MMO Impressions

 

Assassins Creed

I am a creature of habit.

Sometimes those habits don’t quite mesh well with my hobbies, but that’s just the way it goes. Specifically, my gaming habits change dramatically with the changes of the seasons. I’ve found that during the fall and winter (last winter we got 68 inches of snow) I tend to stay indoors and will start picking up and playing more long-term games like MMOs a lot more seriously. During the summer, though, I head outdoors. BBQ’s, bars, camping, going down the shore, baseball games, disc golf, weekly Ultimate, you name it. So in the summer, gaming takes the far backseat. Sadly, writing about gaming goes with it. When I don’t play, I don’t have a lot to say (unless you want to hear about my Ultimate and disc golf exploits? Maybe?).

Walking Dead, Season 1

Walking Dead, Season 1. Complete. Damn, Telltale really is doing a fantastic job.

I realized I had a pattern to the way I play games way back during my young days of playing World of Warcraft. Back when I kept the subscription going year round on the “hope” that I would find time to play, but never did (what a fool I was). I found, though, that I kept coming back at the same time every year. Right in the middle of the Halloween festivities.

So from October to March, I’m all about gaming. From April to September, not so much.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped playing entirely. Quite to the contrary, I’ve found my tastes shift. I’ve really started getting into single player and indie games, finishing up games like Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. Also playing a lot more mobile games like Tiny Tower, games that I can pick up on the go (Note: I use the phrase “mobile” and “games” in the same sentence very loosely, these mobile things are more like psychological traps).

Tiny Tower

Tiny Tower. Seriously, this game should come with a Surgeon Generals warning.

The latest MMO offerings this Spring really haven’t been enough to draw me away from this pattern, either. Here are a few very off-the-cuff thoughts:

Landmark – A Minecraft clone with better graphics. Pass. Sidenote: Why did they remove the Everquest title from Landmark? Are they now backpedaling, and cutting any possible link that would have existed between the two games? Sorry, just seems a little shady.

Elder Scrolls Online – Yet another fantasy hack and slash themepark MMO, wearing the trappings of Elder Scrolls, one of my favorite series. I won’t lie, the setting of a game means a lot to me. It’s why I’m still such a big fan of Star Trek Online after all this time. But when they remove the soul of the series, TESO doesn’t have much left that hasn’t been done before. The title may say Elder Scrolls, but it just doesn’t have the *soul* of Elder Scrolls and that’s a major turn-off for me. If it had been the same engine, but any other IP, I might have been more interested.

Wildstar – Looks a lot better than the others, I’ll give it that, but even the premise of Open Beta didn’t entice me. The telegraphing system looks to be just an evolution of The Secret World’s style, which is fine, but nothing drastic. The art style, though gorgeous in it’s bright colors is too reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s cartoon styling for me to not be reminded of it at every turn. Finally, the “elder game” looks to also be trying to grab that piece of the Warcraft pie, using the same raid-or-die approach. What this all says is that the game simply isn’t for me. I’ll leave all the real time-investment-heavy stuff to those of you with more time and interest.

ArcheAge – This may be the only title that has really piqued my curiosity as of late, but I’m not sure why. I don’t think sandboxes and I make a good fit. I don’t have the time to invest or the inclination to use others pre-made efficient builds, which most sandboxes require. But the whole “paying for alphas and betas” thing seems too sketchy. Pay a lot of money to be a part of a buggy experience and the chance you might get really tired of the game before it even launches? Ha! No thanks. If anything, the cost to be a part of alphas and betas should be LESS than the cost of the game when it launches. Stop this enticing with items nonsense and entice with price. I’ll wait for release, whenever that will be, to see if I’m still interested.

Octodad, Dadliest Catch

Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Not a long game, but frustratingly fantastic. Not to mention some of the awesome one-liners.

But in the meantime, I’ve heard that The Secret World’s Tokyo is right around the corner. Even though the hype of it has long since faded, I’ve read that it is still very much worth the wait. Star Trek Online has released Season 9, and has a new Featured Episode, which I hear is one of their best ones yet. My backlog is still plenty full and needs trimming, and then I’m still working on that old resolution list.

In other words, don’t mind me. I’m still here, just more in the background, getting as much out of summer as I can. Even if that means less gaming.

// Ocho

Is The Elder Scrolls Online Really Elder Scrolls?

Elder Scrolls Online

This has been my main thought concerning The Elder Scrolls Online recently. I’d like to think that I have a pretty open mind when it comes to games, and I don’t just offhandedly dismiss a game simply because it’s not one of my preferred styles. I play games from all styles, and all forms, and will try anything once.

So being a huge Elder Scrolls fan, when I received a beta invite for TESO I excitedly jumped in head first! What I saw in TESO, though, confused me.

See, if you’re going to create a game based on previous fantastic games, it needs to retain the same “feel”. Mechanics can change, for example, but the Final Fantasy games have always “felt” like Final Fantasy. Why was there so much flak about the new Dungeon Keeper game? The feeling changed, it went from a fun dungeon builder to a P2W time grind. Why has the Assassin’s Creed series been so successful? The feeling has stayed the same.

The Elder Scrolls Online simply doesn’t feel like Elder Scrolls.

I should know that feel, too. Of the Elder Scrolls games I have fully completed, there’s Arena, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. The only one I haven’t really played is Daggerfall. That’s always been on my list of games to play, though, and I do plan on eventually getting around to it. How could I not? It’s one of my favorite series.

So I went into TESO already having a loose plan about my character. I was going to be swinging a one hand mace, bearing a shield, wearing leather armor, and wielding a combo of illusion magic and healing magic. This combo in other TES games is wicked. The shield gives great survivability and control, the mace stuns, the armor is light enough to be stealthy, but can take a few hits, illusion magic confuses enemies, gives more control, and healing gives me an “oh shit” button. It’s a stealth character overall, very rogue-esque but in a “hiding in plain sight” sort of way, and awesome to play.

Well what did I find when I got there? Same old trinity. I was told my build would be most suited for a healer, and that it would be a bad healer. I’d have to get a staff, and ditch the leather armor. I’d be crippling my character from the start. Listen, I get it, it’s an MMO and has to come with the illusions of choice that gamers demand. MMOs “have to work” under “trinity guidelines” with “classes” in order to “work right”. Or something. It has to be just like every other MMO out there or it will fail… for reasons.

And the questing, although I hear it’s a little different when you reach the top, is still very linear. Right off the boat (or right out of jail, as most Elder Scrolls games work), I couldn’t just pick a direction and go, only coming back to the main story when I reach a “oh yeah, I forgot that was even there” moment. I’ve heard you can do this once you reach higher levels, but by then what’s the point? You’ve already been led by the carrot from ride to ride, and suddenly be given a different game. Well where was that game in the beginning? Consistency is much better than Bait and switch.

Elder Scrolls Online

I physically have TESO currency! Maybe I could use it to buy more interest in the game itself… It’s awesome, though, given to me by Tushar from Technical Fowl.

In other words, it may have the lore and be dressed as Elder Scrolls but it doesn’t have that feeling, that spark, that makes the Elder Scrolls games a masterpiece of modern gaming.  This difference is more than enough to kill it for me.

The sad thing is that if the game wasn’t using the Elder Scrolls IP and was using a totally new IP, I would probably have more interest. But this? This is a spinoff. Just like the show Joey was a spinoff of Friends.

Will it do well? Who is the primary audience? Elder Scrolls fans like myself, who see it for what it is? Or MMO fans who don’t see much bother in playing single player games, but want the powerful zeitgeist that is Elder Scrolls? I really hope it does well. I’m curious to see if ZeniMax can keep up the expectations of monthly, meaningful content (at least past the first three months). And who knows, down the line it may turn into a game that lives up to the Elder Scrolls name, and I may find myself picking it up when it goes on sale.

However, until it starts living up to that name I’ll be on the sidelines holding onto my wallet in the hopes of receiving a product I’ll be happy with.

// Ocho

Listmas 2013: 5 Games That I Have Zero Interest In #Listmas

Privateer, Star Citizen

To correspond with yesterday’s list of 5 Games I Am Really Looking Forward To, today my list is the opposite, 5 Games That I Have Zero Interest In. None. Well, it’s none, or it’s very minimal. Whenever I see a post come up on these games, my first reaction is generally a huge eye-roll. Like “Oh no. Not this again.” I’ve left the hype train at the station a long time ago and I am just not jumping on.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m not getting on all the hype trains. Maybe I’m tired of jumping from game to game. Maybe I’m tired of making what seems like stagnant progress that adding yet another game to my currently playing list (which would also mean kicking one of them to the curb), isn’t that enticing. My current stable of MMO’s that I’m playing primarily are The Secret World, then Neverwinter, then the sidegames Guild Wars 2 and Star Trek Online. The last two I even haven’t played in a long while, so any of these new games will have to top my interest of even them.

So, these are the games I am wholeheartedly NOT on the hype train for.

5) Star Citizen by Cloud Imperium Games Corporation

Chris Roberts had a big hand in some of my favorite old school games, the Wing Commander series. And Wing Commander IV is still one of my favorites. Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davies, Malcolm McDowell, and Tom Wilson are just a few in the star studded cast. Star Citizen, which has received an exuberant amount of funding, and looks to be a rebirth of the series in the MMO space, looks fantastic on paper. But yet, it doesn’t feel right. Have you ever played Privateer? Privateer is the base of Star Citizen. An individual pilot, you making funds trading and taking out the random pirate here and there, helping the local authorities, and then when you think you’re good enough to explore outside your own system, you’re shown how wrong you are. The game has an intense ability curve, such that if you leave the starting area of like, 4 planets, you better have already grinded out the best ships and the best weapons. If not, you’ll be coming back to those saved games over and over again. I also feel like they’re going for a more active combat EvE Online, and since I don’t really have any interest in EvE Online, either, this isn’t helping.

4) Wildstar by Carbine Studios

I do have a little interest in Wildstar, but it is only after hearing some of the news coming out after the press NDA drop. But that interest is slim. From what it sounds like, Wildstar is essentially an active-combat stylized World of Warcraft in space, mixing in some elements of Guild Wars 2. That sounds great and all, but when the game’s closest cousin is World of Warcraft, that is not that enticing. I played the heck out of World of Warcraft ages ago, then completely stopped after I looked at exactly how much I spent on that one game. On a whim, I bought the Cataclysm expansion, signed back in, took a few steps in Azeroth, and realized all the things that made me quit in the first place, and haven’t returned. The cheesy dialogue, the overly cartoony graphics. It just rubs me the wrong way, and Wildstar looks like it’s taking all the things that Warcraft has that I found annoying (including the subscription), and making them the game’s focus.

Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls Online

3) The Elder Scrolls Online by Zenimax Online and Bethesda

I love the Ender Scrolls series. I’m a huge fan. I started playing with Arena, skipped over Daggerfall, and then played the hell out of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim. I love the lore, I love the open-ended single player style. So much so, that I don’t think the game will work in the MMO space. Making an Elder Scrolls game into an MMO, you’re taking away some big keys of what makes it feel like an Elder Scrolls game. Yes, the games do have a linear story, but in the single player games, you could ignore the single player story for as long as you want and still have a massive game ahead of you. In themepark MMO’s, if you ignore the main story, you don’t get very far. I don’t think there’s a way to have your cake and eat it, too. Trying to create a game that’s a Themepark and Sandbox simultaneously, you’re going to either make a terrible Themepark or a terrible Sandbox. And what makes The Elder Scrolls single player games great is that they get that combination right! I just don’t think that it will work as an MMO.

2) Rift by Trion Games

My apathy with Rift first started during the game’s beta. Not only was my system having a really hard time with the graphics, such that I had to turn all the settings down to their lowest, but I found the game’s core mechanics terribly annoying. I started as a Defiant character, and started the standard moving from quest hub to quest hub, leveling up. Except I would kill my ten rats, come back to the quest hub, and there would be a rift having taken it over. And I remember thinking “Cripes, this rift is just getting in the way. I just want to turn in this quest and head on to the next hub, but I can’t!” I found the rifts to be annoying, and when the game is called Rift… yeah, it’s just not going to work out.

World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor

1) World of Warcraft by Blizzard

World of Warcraft was my first foray into MMOs. And I loved it for the few years that I played it. I met some great friends that I still have and keep in touch with to this day, and I have a lot of great memories from the game. But I feel like I’ve matured, I’ve grown up, and going back to World of Warcraft is as appetizing to me as going back to high school. It was a great starter MMO, but it is far from perfect. I’m not a fan of the end-game grind, which is then completely nullified when the next expansion comes out and you start at the beginning again. Over time, they’ve included some great improvements. Tokens, instead of a slot-machine loot system. Easier grouping tools, and easier access to raids. But, even with that, I feel like I’d be taking a large step backwards if I headed back to WoW. So, this new upcoming expansion with housing? No thank you. I wish Blizzard and all WoW players well, but it is simply not for me.

Now, please, go ahead and tell me how wrong I am.

// Ocho

Photogenic Friday: Spelunking Solstheim [Skyrim]

Yup. I’m still playing Skyrim. Let me tell you, I played the hell out of this game. Completed every single quest in the main story, every side faction, every mission I could get my hands on. Only during the last week, though, have I picked up the final DLC, Dragonborn, and started playing it again. I’m such a high level, though, the difficulty isn’t even registering on the scale. Level 67 will do that, though.  With that, here is a shot I picked up while dungeon diving under Morrowind’s neighbor to the north:

Nice, right? It seems the DLC so far is about some dude who has the same Dragonborn powers the main character has. Hopefully the reason I haven’t been able to absorb dragon’s souls has something to do with him, and isn’t just a bug. For being such a pretty, pretty game Skyrim does have bugs galore.

It was also recently announced that TESO will follow the new latest trend of having a subscription again. Welp, there goes my interest. We’ll see how it is after the first three months… Maybe I’ll pick it up in a Steam sale or something. Having subs is all well and good, it just doesn’t fit into my personal playstyle when the only thing you get out of it is simply game access. I see where they’re coming from, though, with the feel of Skyrim being an open land that having any walls, especially behind a pay shop, doesn’t follow the exploration theme of the game.

I wish them luck. I love TES universe, I love the lore, and The Elder Scrolls Online looks like a lot of fun, but now it’s just not for me. I’m sure they’ll have plans to change that eventually.

// Ocho

P.S. – It’s said that the universe works in waves. Lightwaves and sound waves are 2 basic examples. Another is the rise and fall of the stock market, the rise and fall of the housing market, or the rise and fall of deer populations. We had a round of subscription-based games, then we had a round of FTP-based games, and now we’re heading back into a round of subscription releases. Funny how that is.