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Elder Scrolls Online Beta Impressions

The Elder Scrolls Online NDA has dropped so I guess that means it’s time to give my opinion.  You won’t be surprised to hear that I am disappointed by what I’ve seen so far.  No, I haven’t played a ton like some of the diehard fans out there.  I participated in a few of the test weekends, leveled up as much as I could stand, ran around and explored as much as I could, but I didn’t try out the PvP.

ESO is incredibly linear.  This is such a hard pill for me to swallow.  I wanted so badly to run around Tamriel and experience the world as it has been experienced for over a decade, but it’s simply not a sandbox.  The leveling is quest-driven with a forced path of progression.  Someone who knows more than I can help me clarify, but I felt like the game used phasing a lot in the first couple of zones.  Lots of people popping in and out of obvious phased areas.  The story is too forcefully delivered, and I found myself wanting to click past forced dialog like I did in SWTOR.

I can’t decide if the combat is awful or just needing improvement.  I like how it’s closer to The Elder Scrolls series, but the animations were not up to par.  Animations felt janky, and on more than one occasion the combat devolved into me standing still swinging my weapon just waiting for things to die.  I tried just about all of the weapon types and none of them felt great. I was underwhelmed by the overemphasized combat — that’s really key.  The Elder Scrolls series, although full of combat, could be played for hours without even using a weapon.  I never felt that way in ESO.  The NPCs and story wanted me to always be out killing something.

PvP looks like GW2′s Door Wars 2.0.  I haven’t experienced it myself, but the recent videos out there show some moments that do actually look fun.  I think it’s hard to say sitting back and shooting people off walls with a bow and arrow isn’t exciting — I like that stuff — but I have to look at the game as a whole and realize those moments are just that: moments.

Although I could pick apart individual mechanics for days and shred them for spending their budget in all the wrong places, there are important questions to ask.  Is ESO a good MMO?  No, not really.  Is ESO a good PvP game?  For some, but not me.  Is ESO fun?  There are moments where I can honestly say I do enjoy myself.  Not all of my enjoyment is tied to linearity, combat, and PvP.   And most importantly…

Will I buy ESO?  I think the whole “vote with your wallet” mantra is easier said than done.  Although I’m not excited enough to be anticipating ESO’s release, my own personal taste in games doesn’t always dictate my buying decisions.  I’m influenced by my friends, community, and Graev.  If Graev was to buy ESO, I might buy it too.  Even though I wouldn’t like quest grinding and some of the ways the combat plays out, jumping into a dungeon and slaying monsters together could still be a fun time.  Do that enough and the cost of entry is justified.  I’m a practical person, and there are situations in which buying ESO could be both fun and worth the price.  If one of those situations presents itself, you’ll all be the first to know.

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Comments

  1. UnfoldingSquid says:

    I think when you look at every subscription based MMO released in the last few years, I just can’t justify spending $60 and $15 / month when I’m pretty sure this game will go FTP or BTP within a year. Hopefully they adopt a BTP model like The Secret Wars did, then I may give it a chance, but FTP is a death knell as far as I’m concerned as that model is usually pay walls on everything.

  2. I have heard that once you move out of what could be called the tutorial zones the game opens up and becomes more inviting to exploration. The problem with that though is I spent two beta weekends with the game and could not make myself play long enough to get my character to that point.. I was just totally underwhelmed. I will say that once I started using my logitech controller I had more fun but the game itself just felt like a lot of the same mechanics rehashed with just a new IP.

    In the end it looked good and my pc and ran smooth enough but I just did not experience anything to justify spending so much money on a game I can not see playing for more then one or two months.

  3. lolol TESO

  4. I haven’t played ESO enough to judge but you should know by now that basing your opinions just on the starter zones isn’t fair. . .

  5. I think at level 6-7 is when I left the somewhat linear second zone (after cold harbor) and entered what played to me like a pretty open, pretty big, not linear ‘zone’. Did you get that far?

  6. Based on the earliest pre-NDA feedback I was expecting this to be the Lone Ranger equivalent to the MMO genre and massively tank, but I am surprised that most reviewers I have read (including players) are on the positive side.

    I am glad that players will have another MMO choice for awhile.

  7. Worst thing about elder scrolls for me the fact there seems to be elements of taking root which then get destroyed by some convenience oriented mechanic. It looks like they might be trying to connect economy in PvP, and build realm pride (no auction house, crafting is a little interesting) but then mega servers, campaigns and the now most any race can join any factions.

    The combat is horrid in the same regard. I really like that its slightly realtime but not about rolling around and running in circles. But its so horridly implemented I have no idea what happened. I am playing from across an ocean and the ping mixed with the luggy combat is unbearable.

    The PvP was big. Dying sucked and the walks were long a lot more than Gw2.

  8. @SynCaine: I got to level 15 and it all felt incredibly linear still. I did so for each of the factions. LIke I said, I didn’t get far because I simply couldn’t will myself into playing more.

    @ILkRehp: Judging a game by the first few zones is absolutely fair game. Is it always accurate? No. WAR was a great game until level 20. ESO may be a great game after. My opinion is that I’ll have to wait for someone else to convince me it’s worth the risk. What I saw wasn’t enough to get me goin.

    @Wufiavelli: I feel the same.

  9. Misaligned says:

    I agree with everything you said. I expect this game to end-up with some sort of F2P model in less than a year.

    I would have much preferred a co-op Skyrim.

    I will only buy this if a number of friends do and based on the feedback I’ve gotten from everyone I know who played in the beta weekends I only have one friend who actually enjoyed it.

  10. It has its linear moments. I got to level 10 as Ebonheart. The Davon’s Watch area I really started to explore and came across a lot of things. There are quests that will take you places, but a lot of stuff you just find. Of course, most of it was group content, so I didn’t partake, but I found it none the less.

  11. There are indeed reasons to explore, but the zones/areas that I was in around level 15 felt like WoW zones. WoW technically had things to find when you explore too, but that didn’t mean exploring was much of an experience.

  12. Combat killed it for me. I just can’t imagine spending any significant amount of time playing an MMORPG where I disliked the combat as much as I disliked it in ESO’s beta. So I definitely won’t be picking this up. Nothing to do with the price or sub, either – even if it was F2P, I wouldn’t spend my leisure time on it.

  13. intruder313 says:

    I found TESO very dull at first but it did grow on me. I found 3rd Person was, alas, required as 1st Person meant you could barely see the animations and enemies could easily step inside you or at least outside your FOV.

    I certainly won’t be paying full price AND Sub for it though, it feels like the sort of game that I’d want to play for free and I think it will be there in 3-6 months.

  14. Over the past 5+ years, I’ve been conditioned to look through the bad MMO “3 monther” hype. Most MMOs have released to overwhelming positivity, and after a few months, the euphoria fades and people start to admit they’ve been playing a mediocre game.

    There are a lot of lukewarm impressions being posted about ESO. “It’s not as bad as I thought, so I guess I will buy it” is how most have come off sounding. That can’t be good. I don’t see this one going anywhere.

  15. Considering the huge time commitment (and thus opportunity cost) of playing an MMO, I’m going to need a lot more than “There are moments where I can honestly say I do enjoy myself.” from any MMO I pick up. Considering the huge variety of entertainments available to us these days, the above quote (which I agree with) is pretty damningly faint praise.

  16. Ok, I’m gonna step up and defend this game, because at this point a lot of people are speaking from perspectives of ignorance. So I’ve played the beta for quite a few weekends and I’ve been in the position of not enjoying the game, and that’s partially because the game does not do enough to sell what I believe are it’s best features. So to start:

    Questing/Levelling.
    Alright, so here’s what’s funny. I’ve seen a LOT of folks, Mostly WoW players, but some other MMO players as well, talking about ESO in a negative light, and most of them are addressing the linearity and the questing, so I’m going to explain what really happened. You played ESO like it was WoW, and you got a WoW experience out of it. You went to the cities, and followed the quests, and didn’t stray unless you were told to go somewhere. Because if you HAD strayed, and actually walked out onto the map, you would have noticed that there are random quests everywhere, open dungeons allover the place, and anchors as well as skull points on the map that present one challenge or another, with some good loot to boot. The quests that are available at random points of interest are MUCH more interesting, and the game gives bonus xp for grouping, so I found that this was the perfect game for playing with my friends, and all running around willy-nilly, just kind of finding things to do. We all got to level 18-20 without doing any of the admittedly HORRENDOUS city/main quests, and spent most of our time playing in dungeons, saving the random towns and other folks in distress scattered around the map.

    Combat
    In this case, I’m going to agree with you that the default, weapon swinging, bow shooting, staff casting combat is juuust kind of shit. But what’s missing in your analysis is an understanding of WHY, which I feel like you might have to do PVP to get a better point of view. In skyrim when you fight, you’re not using hotbar skills. You’re using your cursor/mouse to aim, power up attacks, and overall fight much more interactively. That, latency-wise, is just not feasible in a large scale MMO (PS2 comes close, but still has issues in large scale engagements, and is mechanically much more simple.). So the left-click attacks use soft target locking and you can’t use head-shots, etc with bows. This makes the default combat less interesting, but it also makes the game better optimized for massive engagements, which it is (about 400 people on screen in cyrodil gave me no latency or FPS issues). That said, the only way to make combat interesting, from a design perspective, was to make the combat more skill-use based, which you can like or dislike, but it can be very interesting, depending on how you build your character. Which brings me to my only real defense of the combat system:
    How much you enjoy the combat will be STRONGLY based on what kind of character you build, and the synergy of the skills you use.
    The first character I created was a Nightblade, and I HATED him, he felt weak, the combat felt, uh, “wiffy”, and my mana/stamina resources to use skills felt inconsistent and underwhelming. My GF felt the same way about her templar. So I tried an experiment. I made a sorc and a dragonknight, and focused each of them to specialize in a single thing. The dragonknight was pure tank, with all my abilities based on control, knock-downs, and self-buffs/heals, and the sorc was a pure mana-charged glass cannon, with all of my skills designed to be combined into a insta-kill combo. When the character is specialized, and you play it more like an older MMO character (think DAoC wizards/eldritch/runemaster/stealthers, where you had opener spells and combos, but had to plan your engagements), the combat becomes much more interesting, and required careful consideration of resources and potential complications. Attacking out of stealth still gives you damage boosts, which can be increased by speccing into various bonuses.
    After years of playing WoWesque combat where I just run in and mash buttons, I LOVED having to specialize my character to truly excel, and with each new character me and Faey created, we enjoyed the process more, and were able to create a very strong combo pair, as opposed to simply 2 people playing together. That’s something that is not easy to find in modern MMOs. For a group of people to compliment each other, they need to have strengths and weaknesses. And finally:

    PvP
    The PvP has been given mostly good reviews, and I certainly loved it, so if it’s not to your taste, that’s just how it is. Some things I will note, however, to at least emphasize why I’m impressed:
    PvP skill trees: They look like RAs, some of them act like RAs, and I was a pretty big fan of DAoC, so I like them.
    5 slot bar: Again, this is forcing you to specialize. I came down like the wrathful hand of a merciless god on DOZENS of players when I was up on a wall, and firing Arcane crystals out of sneak is an AWESOME ambush, but there were some situations where I felt very much like the glass cannon I was, and even in beta I saw some groups that would have amazing potential. Also synergy abilities, which are nothing special, but nice nonetheless.
    Darkness Falls type area in the middle: Not sure what the plan is there, but they have said there is one, and it looks very cool.
    Performance: The game is optimized EXTREMELY well. It runs better than WoW, MUCH better, and I experienced no FPS drops when there were hundreds of players on the screen.

    In Conclusion, I’ll just say this: I think an expectation has developed for MMOs to try and grab players, feed them quests and content early, and give them a “ride”. ESO’s “ride” sucks, and to enjoy the game, you have to get off of the ride, and take a walk around. Because the game has tons of things to offer and it’s a blast if you just run off and play around in their world, but that option isn’t shoved in your face, much the same way that in Skyrim, you can either follow the first quest to Riverrun, or you can run off in a random direction and punch a wolf to death. If you approach ESO in the same way you approach most modern MMOs, you’re going to be disappointed by the experience that they spoon-feed you.

    TLDR: The longer I played this game, the more it grew, and the more I was addicted to it. That’s a GOOD sign.

  17. I enjoyed my short time in ESO to know it will be a purchase sometime this year but not enough to make it a day 1…I used to have a 6 month rule for mmorpg’s because they launched so buggy but these days it’s to give the community time to sort itself out.

    Pvp and exploration are the wins for me along with the skill system (which doesn’t get enough credit imho) and the amazing UI which is seriously groundbreaking in a mmorpg.

    But notice I didn’t say combat was a like and that’s where ESO is going to have problems. I loved The Secret World until it was time to kill some mobs and deal with that wonky combat and AI and it was over.

    I see ESO being a nice AOC or Rift game for me, 3 to 6 months of play before the Autumn games hit.

  18. ESO is by far the worst MMO I have seen/tested for years…it does not have anything knew and all it have others do it much better. As an MMO there are xxxxxx better out there, even some crappy f2p games. As an TES game I don’t even want to compare because ESO is not a TES game.

    What bothers me the most is that some people will blame the sub model for ESO failure…

  19. @Haziel: I have actually seen a few other reviews similar to yours where they say if you can play it like a “WoW” MMO and just do the hub quests and level that way and if you do the game is horrible and really sucks but if you ignore the hubs and run around looking for stuff you can level that way through the things you find and it’s better and feels more open.

  20. As someone who played DAoC from release until a few months after New Frontiers was released and absolutely adored that game, ESO is the closest thing that exists to DAoC rvr. Testing AvA in ESO didn’t feel anything like Guild Wars 2 or WAR to me and actually gave me that same thrill and excitement I had in DAoC. The first time I approached a mile gate in ESO that lead to an enemy’s Elder Scrolls (think DAoC relics) I almost pooped myself with excitement.

    The head pvp dev had a Q&A with mmorpg.com that mentioned they were working on a Darkness Falls-like zone, also.

  21. As much as I love the ES series the beta weekend I tried it I was left wanting so much more. ESO should be buy to play like GW2 it was a major mistake for them not to go that route.

    I will just stick with Skyrim when the need to play ES hits me. I saw nothing in my few hours of playing ESO that cried out MUST HAVE which is a shame as ESO done right could have actually had a larger player base than WoW.

  22. @Burt: What is ESO’s PVP reward system? Are there the equivalent of realm ranks? What type of rewards do they have (armor, abilities, etc.)? Also, is advancing in the PVP system a long term endeavor as in DAOC or is this something you can crank out/grind out in a few months? Are there alternative ways to gain PVP advancement outside of open world PVP, e.g. scenarios?

  23. @Argorius: There are pvp ranks and each one gives you an icon next to your name so you can tell what rank someone is. As far as rewards, you can use the points you accrue from killing/taking objectives to buy siege weapons, forward camps, armor/weapons (the armor/weapons are the same stats-wise as what you get from pve, so you can wear it in pve or wear your pve-obtained gear in AvA) but have unique armor models, I believe. You don’t get abilities like your RR5 stuff, but there are Alliance War skill trees where you can get abilities like a group run boost, protection vs ranged damage and siege equipment damage, passive bonuses for being near a keep, short term buffs for taking minor objectives like farms/mills/etc.

    There are no battlegrounds/scenarios/open world pve/pvp (in the pvp server sense.) You have one zone for pvp called Cyrodiil, and it’s like a DAoC frontier. It’s the only place you can pvp, and there are some pve quest hubs that function as a risk vs. reward spot that gives another area to focus the pvp. If you don’t want to zerg keep takes, you can hang around the pve hubs and try to either gank or get small group confrontations with people running quests.

    I’m not sure how far the ranks go or how long they’d take to max out, but after playing all weekend, I got to I think level 4 or 5. During that time I didn’t hop from keep take to keep take, but rather roamed around looking for smaller fights and just exploring.

    It’s not EXACTLY like DAoC, but I get a real sense of deja vu when I play it. That’s something that I never had in GW2 or WAR.

  24. Joy-Energiser says:

    My 2 cents? I haven’t played it….
    but I have read a lot of mixed reviews, and 2 things click in my mind from what I have read.

    1) if you play it like Skyrim ,you will be rewarded with a Skyrim experience.If you quest hub it like WoW, that’s what you will get.

    2)It’s Pvp sounds like Daoc, and many people have said it reminds them of Daoc.

    Leveling up like Skyrim with RvR like Daoc ?
    Instant day 1 purchase for me then regardless of initial combat issues that will be ironed out.

  25. @Burt:
    That was similar to the way I felt when playing the PvP (or AvA or whatever they want to call it). Whereas GW2 felt like a keep swapping game that was so clustered together that it couldn’t really grow much, and the classes were all so self-sufficient that grouping was just arbitrary, the first thing I noticed about TESO was how much you can specialize in a single task (much closer to classes in DAoC, with distinct weaknesses/strengths), and throwing bolts down from on top of the milegate to hold the covenant off our scroll was profoundly nostalgic of my eldritch, and someone was yelling “Mids suck without AE stun”, which gave me a laugh. It’s not the exact same as DAoC PvP, but the zone is of the same kind of size and scope as DAoC’s frontiers, and I experienced a pretty even split of open field combat and seige warfare. There were zerg fights, small group combat, ambushes, gankers, and all manner of random engagements. Definitely the most enjoyable PvP I’ve had since DAoC.

    @Joy-Energiser

    1) Yeah, that really sums it up well. If you go into the game and make the character you want, and then do pretty much whatever you want, it’s fantastic. It’s really not rewarding at all if players go into it with the WoW quest grinding mentality.

  26. So all those people who didn’t liked it is because they have a “wow-mentality” right? Ok………..I really can’t believe myself that I like xxxxxx MMOs with such shitty mentality I have on games…

  27. @John:
    I don’t think anyone called it shitty, The WoW-mentality is demonstrably one of the most popular and successful approaches to MMO levelling/questing. I primarily play WoW, and WoW’s questing is designed to carry you through levels and zones in a convenient manner. Same with a large degree of modern MMOs. Questing and linear direction-following are the most rewarding, XP and lore-wise (although one could argue the merits of instance-grinding and other speed-levelling techniques). In TESO, the linear questing mentality just isn’t very rewarding. On my first character, I leveled simply by doing all the quests, following the markers, and going about it basically the same why I go about playing a character (especially below level 20) in WoW. It was frustrating, and took a long time to just get to level 7, with the quests splitting off into random directions and requiring a lot of traversal and some tedious navigation in cities. The second time I made a conscious decision to just bolt out the gate, and go exploring in a random direction, and was rewarded with random quests, zone/POI discoveries, and dungeons, all of which gave excellent experience.

    So yeah, most of the people who don’t like TESO’s system do have a WoW-mentality. Because people who played older MMOs wouldn’t even blink at the notion of just running off and finding mobs to kill/quests to do. WoW created a set of expectations about how MMOs are supposed to “handle” their players, and whether you like WoW or not, it created a standard, and deviating from that standard has not generally flown well with the main stream MMO crowd. I had to honestly sit down and think about how I approached MMOs when I was playing in the ESO beta, because I made a snap judgement with my first character, and it was only after hours of exploring and discovering that I had that 360 moment, when I realized I was finally playing an MMO that rewarded people for straying from the path and taking risks. This game nurtures playing with friends and having an adventure so much, it’s a shame that most people get caught in the cities/quest hubs.

    Besides, there’s a slough of other reasons people might not like ESO. I’m merely addressing the tendency in the reviews to address the quests as monotonous and tedious, and I find it more than coincidental that a VAST majority of the reviewers got to around the same level as my first (frustrating) character. Their opinions are not any less valid, they just went into the game with a well-practiced approach that has worked for almost every MMO in the last 8 years, and in this game, it didn’t pan out as well.

  28. @Haezriel I hate linear questing/experience. Old wow was not like this though, I stopped playing wow when cataclysm hit and they designed all quests in extremely linear manner. That said, I don’t have the wow mentality at all. I like sandbox games, I loved all TES single player games because of this. I liked Age of Wushu and GW2 because there is no single path you should take and you can go wherever you want.

    But ESO still felt very linear but this was not the only problem…the combat feels bad also. The attacks feel weightless, you don’t feel that you hit something. GW2 seem more like a TES game than ESO. Scale-able huge world that you can experience in the way and order you want to and nice combat animations. When I say combat animation, I don’t expect the fancy korean animations, but something that “feels” natural and fluid. ESO did not gave me that feeling.

    Also, first time I found a game that I cannot have keybind with modifiers (Shift+, ctrl+, e.t.c.) I know TES single player is like this but they don’t have 10 slot action bars and MMO menus.

    All in all my experience in 2 beta weekends and until level 15 in 2 classes was mediocre at best.

  29. So they just announced that they were making hit detection in PVE, so make the combat feel better. It wouldnt make it for this beta weekend, but I cant wait to try it out

  30. I’m going to play this weekend and see if I can make it into the PvP. After reading about the removal of the starter island I might be more willing to try it — although that won’t be in the patch this weekend.