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

 

ArcheAge Noob Closed Beta Impressions

ArcheAge, Firran

Recently I have found myself quite interested in the upcoming Trion title ArcheAge. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. ArcheAge is an Asian-inspired fantasy sandbox title where player vs player combat is the norm coupled with a full player-driven crafting economy. MMO purists should be rejoicing, for those that constantly complain about the “downfall” of MMOs and the “dirty casuals” that infect the genre, this is a title that actively promotes their preferred style of play.

Believe it or not, I don’t subscribe to that ancient style of thinking. I take no joy in slaying other live players, or the imaginary competition of loot races, I’m not a fan of PvP. I’m also not a fan of crafting, either, as most crafting systems entail as much entertainment as watching grass grow. I get more enjoyment standing in front of my sink, instead of a crafting station, cleaning dishes for 20 minutes. That at least nets me clean dishes, something a lot more valuable to me than digital ingots.

Yet it’s the pureness of the concept, the overwhelming statement of “this is not the game for you” that is quite tempting. It’s a challenge and feels like the perfect chance to test whether this MMO style really is for me or not. Plus, it’s always good to try new things. So, ArcheAge beckons.

I didn’t pay for it, though. Despite the overwhelming prevalence these days of paid alphas and betas and the ridiculous prices thereof, there were plenty of free beta keys to go around. With that in hand I set the 20+ GB download to start and promptly went and played Marvel Heroes for a while. Don’t look at me like that. Marvel Heroes has come a long way since it started and is really a fun dungeon brawler! Nightcrawler is a freaking blast to play. About 2 hours of downloading ArcheAge later, though, I was able to get in.

ArcheAge, Firran

Sure, this is a “water buffalo”… I guess…

Why is it in Beta, anyway?

First, I get it. This game doesn’t actually need testing. It’s been released in Japan for the past year, and Korea for the past year and a half. So this whole beta is nothing more than a sales ploy. At most, Trion is testing for translation accuracy and different cultural metrics so they can accurately determine prices for cash-shop items for the NA/European audience. That’s cool, though, and they’d be fools to not take advantage of the hype and make boatloads of money while they’re testing. In that effect, charging for alpha/beta makes sense. At least the game is polished and playable, which is a lot more than I can say for most paid betas.

Logging in, I created my first character, a Charr Caitian Firran. As in most fantasy, the choice was elves, humans, other humans, and cat people. Throw in a short race, and you could have the lineup for every other fantasy game. Oh, wait… that’s being planned. I opted for the non-boring race that wasn’t aligned with those dirty elves. Some pretty great cutscenes followed, describing how the Firran were a nomadic race, how they were at war with the “other humans” and beat them but then became lazy and then got beat themselves, and how they were once more on the cultural upswing. Sweet. In fact, all the cutscenes were pretty sweet. Nice art style and good exposition that wasn’t useless or felt out-of-place.

ArcheAge, Firran

Now THAT’s a moon.

We Heard You Liked Punctuation…

I approached my first NPC, I saw it, and I sighed heavily: A giant yellow exclamation point. This again? Could be me, could be that I’m getting old, but the yellow exclamation point has been done to death. They told me some short statement and sent me along the road to the next hub. Here, same, and they sent me to the next hub, and to the next hub, and to the next hub. Go kill 10 rats, then come back here so I can send you to the next hub. This is one of the many reasons I don’t play World of Warcraft anymore. This style of gameplay was popular and novel over a decade ago. It’s lame. We haven’t grown out of it yet? At least cover it up better to make it not FEEL like hub-jumping.

I know, though, that the whole point of ArcheAge isn’t the story. So these hubs just give brief exposition, a little cultural identity and send you forward, ever forward, sometimes without much sense, and very quickly. At the end of my session I was already level 10, and had been through 6 different quest hubs.

This is by far not the meat of ArcheAge. Sad thing was, though, this wasn’t even a real taste. If you want your whole game to be based around crafting, trade and PvP, then, I don’t know, why not have that from the very beginning? Why start with Game A and then slowly merge into Game B? If people are coming for Game B, then give them Game B! Why have them slog through Game A first, especially a really terrible, half-assed Game A?

ArcheAge, Firran

So. Darn. Cute.

But, Wait! It’s not All Question Marks! 

There were some really great novel concepts, though, that were shown in the introductory zone. Use of supplies to help build structures. Nice graphics. Musical instruments used by anybody to give bonuses and help in healing. Getting your first mount and raising it from a cub (alright, it took about a minute to fully grow, but it showed the promise of more). Having your mount fight by your side (couldn’t get this to work initially, my mount wouldn’t get out of follow, but the commands were there, so it’s coming), putting armor on your mount. Housing. Working with a farm.

The jewel, though, is the class system. Fully switchable and seems so deep it makes TESO’s look like child’s play.

I started with an offense “occult” as my first specialization. Next, I chose a physical “defense” style. Not sure if I can make those work, but who knows. Could be fun. Last, I picked a “music” style, because why not? The combination, as random as it is, is called a “Dark Aegis”.

A dark magic slinging, shield bearing, music blasting cat-man riding a huge fanged white lion. I can totally dig it.

ArcheAge, Fiiran

A Dark Aegis and his snowlion, ready to… do something in the next zone, I guess.

More, Please

If I’m allowed in future betas without paying, I’ll definitely keep it up. So far I feel like I truly haven’t experienced ArcheAge. I want to taste more and start getting to the real game before I make any lasting impressions or commitments. The game feels really solid and true to their intent, even if the starting zones may not fully reflect it. From watching ArcheAge streamers on Twitch like Pookahontus, even the PvP looks like a blast to play. Maybe I’ve just taken PvP a little too serious all this time.

But who knows if it will catch on. I’m an anti-social MMO gamer at heart and this is a cooperative game. But even in my casual style, if I can still feel like I make a contribution it may make it into my rotation.

My suggestion to you, dear reader, is that if you can snag a beta key you should at least give the game a shot. Like anything else, you never know if you’ll like it until you try it.

// 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

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.