Feels Good To Talk
This is one of those posts that I have been waiting to make for quite a long while now. Over the last few months there have been various naysayers, and with the lift of the press beta there was quite a bit of negativity towards The Elder Scrolls Online. As usual when someone has something bad to say, they seem to be willing to defy all the rules to do it. However those of us who have been anxiously awaiting the release of the game and been abiding by the rather strict NDA have had to sit and watch silently as all the negativity circulated. Finally this morning they announced that we were free to talk about any experiences from the Beta Weekend content. This means I can now talk as much as I would like about the 1-17 game as it stands which is quite a bit of content.
Firstly let me start off by saying, that The Elder Scrolls genre is a really difficult one to make into an MMO. Over the course of the beta while listening to player complaints, I have come to realize that there is no one way that people play these games. To some people TES might be a game about stealth and carefully stealing goods out from under the shop keepers nose. For others it may be the grand narrative experience or the lore. For others still it might be about wielding arcane magicks or making deals with Daedra. All of these things are gameplay styles that are possible in the excessively moddable single player experience. However through all of these years the Elder Scrolls setting has felt somewhat lifeless.
The one thing I wanted more than anything else… was the ability to experience all these grand settings with my friends. But as you craft a cohesive mulitplayer experience, how do you make all of these things work with hundreds of players participating in the same experience. This game will not be for everyone, and as I have learned from social media and the forums… the game itself is very divisive. However for me at least the experience is something I am just not getting from other games. At its core this is in fact The Elder Scrolls… Online. This game lives and breathes the Elder Scrolls Lore and settings, and is immediately recognizable the first time you see a creature made famous by the series out in the wild.
At its core the game has a questing system very familiar to the Elder Scrolls setting. As you move around the compass rose at the top of your screen will highlight points of interest that are near you. You have the option to go over there and engage in the quest, or continue onwards on your own. The very first time I sat down to play the game, I completely ignored the quests wandering off on my own exploring the island of Stros M’Kai in the Daggerfall Covenant. This is completely supported as far as a play style goes. In general there are a handful of quests that are required for you to progress to the next area, however in addition to these there are many side quests that are completely optional.
Generally speaking the side quests serve two real purposes. Firstly they give you a chance at gear, and point you in the direction of places that you might want to explore. For example… above is an image of the amazing Dwemer ruins of Bthzark, which I might add looks and feels like a Dwemer ruin should. You can gain access to the ruins through a quest chain, but in most cases these small dungeons and ruins can be explored by simply clicking on the front door and going in. The game is chock full of hidden places that contain treasure chests and skyshards and all sorts of neat things to find along the way. There are books to read, satchels to root through, and crates to crack open. All of which can have really nifty things.
So while you can play entirely without questing, and there are times I do this… there are also a lot of really epic stories in the game that can only be accessed by questing. One of the things that makes this so enjoyable is the fact that everything is the game is fully voiced. Lyris Titanborn is a character that you will see a lot of through the course of the game, and especially with these signature characters they have spared no expense. Lyris for example is voiced by the ever popular Jennifer Hale of “Femshep” fame. You come to love the characters over time, I cheer inside each time Sir Cadwell as voiced by John Cleese appears in the storyline. The characters live and breathe and you really care about them. The Elder Scrolls series in general has had some really amazing characters, and this just continues the lineage.
Over the course of the time I have been participating in the testing process, the crafting system has gone through a number of changes. The current version is probably my favorite crafting system to date in any game. If you are familiar to the way crafting worked in SWTOR, it is somewhat of a cousin. The difference being that while learning all of the really nice patterns in SWTOR involved silly amounts of random chance, everything in ESO is completely logical and predictable. Smithing for example in its most basic form requires you to go out into the world and gather ore and then take it back to a blacksmithing station and smelt it into bar form. From there you need an item purchased from a vendor that relates to the style of gear you are crafting. Redguard require star metal, Dunmer obsidian, so that each racial style requires a unique reagent. These are purchased for 21 gold, which is not a huge sum of money.
The quality and level of an item is determined by a number of controllable factors. Firstly the level is determined by how much of a given material you add. Whereas 3 iron bars might create a level 1 item, but 6 iron bars a level 4 and so on throughout the level range. Additionally you can add a reagent of sorts to improve the quality of the item, shifting it from white to green or blue and upwards. Finally you can add a statistics package to the item, and these are learned through research. When you get a drop out in the world there are a number of things you can do to it. Firstly of course you can sell it for gold, but as a crafter you are generally better off taking it to the crafting station. There you can either extract resources from it, or if it has a stat package on the item you can research that trait.
Researching takes a significant amount of time, generally a number of hours to as much as a number of days. However in the end you are granted the ability to apply that trait to that item type. The traits that daggers can have are different than the traits that a chest piece can have for example. The rewarding part about it however is that once learned you can reliably add that trait to level of that item. Another really cool thing is that you can improve your items at a crafting station similar to how you could in Skyrim. In doing so you have a chance of losing the item, but you can increase the amount of reagent you are using to greatly improve the chance of getting your item successfully.
I feel like I am not really doing justice to how cool the system works. Generally speaking when I roll a new character I can piddle about gathering iron ore and craft a full set of gear far faster than I could earn one from questing. The biggest bonus is that you can craft helm and shoulders at level one, whereas you do not begin to receive these until pretty far into the content. I highly suggest you check out the crafting simulator that is on the newly released esohead.com. I could talk about the nuances of the system for paragraph after paragraph, but it makes more sense if you can actually see how it works by fiddling with the widgets.
Welcome to the Frontiers
I am not normally a fan of player versus player in any game. However Elder Scrolls has me more than a bit excited to be honest. We are finally returning to the most successful pvp set up that any game has had… the Frontiers of Dark Age of Camelot. Essentially the factions each control their own completely sealed territory, and this represents what the players quest through on their journey to level 50. However in the center connected to these realms lies Cyrodil. The map is absolutely huge and would take you significant amounts of time to run across it even mounted. The overarching story of Cyrodil is that the faction that can take the keeps bordering the Whitegold tower, can then place an Emperor on the throne, giving that faction special benefits.
This however really sells what Cyrodil is short. This zone is a living breathing questing destination with all sort of things hidden for players to find. Just like the frontiers in DAoC, there are reasons for crafters, explorers, adventurers to go out here. The excitement is that in doing so you risk getting rolled by one of the packs of players trying to take the keeps and other objectives. Cyrodil of course can be completely ignored if you so choose, but I look forward to going out there with my friends and trying to find out fortunes. From what I have seen in action, PVP in Elder Scrolls Online works just as well as it ever did in Dark Age.
The video above is from the mega guild Gaiscioch, and it shows their guild taking over a keep. Unlike the zergfest that we have seen in the past years brought on my World of Warcraft, this is slow and sustained warfare. If you cannot hold a keep you are of no benefit to your faction, and holding a keep is an extremely difficult proposition. At one point in the video they are being sieged by two different factions at the same time. This is going to be something that is extremely common, but if you can take and hold a keep… there are benefits to your guild for doing so. I am not really sure if House Stalwart will ever pvp enough to hold keeps, but I can definitely see myself helping out as another group does.
Only Scratched the Surface
There is just so much that I want to tell you, but at this point I have rambled on at length about the game for a bit now. I am sure the moment I publish this, I will think of another dozen things to say. Like I said at the beginning… this is not the game for everyone. Elder Scrolls single player purists will be frustrated by the addition of all the people around them. Hardcore MMO players will likely be frustrated with the minimalistic user interface. Personally I admit I have that problem a little bit, but since this game is to support a WoW style LUA add-on system, pretty much all of my woes with the Spartan interface can be corrected easily. I’ve already seen add-ons in various states of progress that will let you have all the bells and whistles you could want.
This is the type of game that grows on you over time. The biggest problem is you cannot go into playing it with the expectations of it being something else. I feel like this game is trying to start its own little genre. There is more than enough meat on its bones to allow players to happily explore it for hundreds and hundreds of hours. I can’t talk about it much but there is an extremely extensive post 50 game that adds more content than I can really even wrap my head around yet. This is not going to be a game that we can “finish” in a few weeks time. Getting to 50 is only part of the journey, there are months of content waiting you after that point. That is not to say that someone who is absolutely crazy will not make it to the absolute end within the first month. But the average serious player will be chewing on this one for a long while.
It feels extremely awesome to finally be able to talk about it. At this point we have been cleared to talk about the first 3-4 zones per faction. So if there is anything you would like to see me talk about, please drop me a comment and I will try and work it in during a future post. I am happy to see the veil lift so we can hopefully start getting a positive buzz going among all the players who are out there enjoying themselves. The beta weekends have been full of players happy to be in the test and happy to be exploring the world. The game is still charting extremely well in its presales. If you plan on getting the game, I highly suggest you put in your preorder. The ability to play any race in any faction is going to be a huge boon going forward.