Icy Fire Drill
Yesterday here in Tulsa it was roughly 13* Fahrenheit… aka really freakin cold. About 9:30 in the morning the fire alarms went off, and since we had just gotten chastised for not taking them seriously, myself and another coworker made a brisk pace to the stairwell and descended the 6 flights to ground floor. Problem is… the sidewalks we were supposed to follow as an escape route were an absolute death trap. In Oklahoma we barely clear snow from the roads, let alone the sidewalks and parking lots. At 9 am we had not gotten enough melt to clear them, and what did melt the day before had turned to a solid sheet of glaze ice. As we penguin walked the three blocks to the parking lot we are supposed to meet in, I was certain that any moment someone would fall and hurt themselves… and I was hoping it wasn’t me.
In front of me there was a woman in a walking cast, and as crappy as the traction on those are… I expected that any moment she would slip and go down. So as I walked I was trying to be prepared to grab her if she started to slip. Remarkably she navigated the ice rink just fine, but the lawyers in front of me in slick bottom shoes struggled a bit in a few places. We get to the corner near the parking lot, and one of the floor wardens is there waving us back into the building. Apparently it was not a fire drill but instead a malfunctioning fire alarm on the 5th floor. So I suddenly had to jettison all the righteous indignation I had built up over the course of our ice skating trip around the block. Knowing where I work, I was just absolutely certain that this was a case of a poorly planned fire drill.
I spent a good chunk of last night playing Elder Scrolls Online and working my way through the Daggerfall quest chains. While the starter islands are very much optional in the new build, I still plan on doing them just because it gives you a significant level boost. By the time I completed Betnihk last night I was roughly halfway through level 8. As compared to previously when you would be roughly level 6 about the time you completed the starter island experience. I know a lot of people hate Betnihk for some reason, but to me it was a blast. I love “dances with orcs” as I refer to it. It has really awesome Orsimer architecture, plenty of undead, and lots of ancient ruins… all of which are things I look for in a zone. Hell if they put in player housing, I would probably locate myself on Betnihk if possible.
One of the things that is frustrating having played this game for so long, and watched it evolve is to see new players spin up all sorts of tinfoil hat controversies about the game. I watched a back and forth on twitter that left me absolutely baffled, so I wanted to take a few minutes to address a few of the more egregious ones. I am not trying to call anyone out here, because I have seen these so many places from so many different people. So without further ado… lets begin.
Any Race in Any Faction is Lore Breaking
Honestly I have seen two versions of this, firstly that it is lore breaking and secondly that it erodes “faction pride”. I call a massive bullshit on both of these points. I wonder if the players who are saying this have ever actually played an elder scrolls game. In Skyrim, most certainly the Nords were front and center, but you could not go through Whiterun the archetypal Nord town without also seeing at least one Altmer, Bosmer, many Redguard, a Breton or two and the ubiquitous group of Khajiit nomads. The Elder Scrolls universe has always been a melting pot of races, and while there are most certainly groups like the Thalmor that are essentially racial supremacists, they are very much not the majority. It is expected that you will have a Nord fighting alongside a Breton fighting along side a Bosmer, all working to take down a greater evil. While Elder Scrolls has purposefully conflicting lore, just like there are different sides to a tale in real life, there is no place one could ever say that racial exclusivity is a “Elder Scrolls Value”.
Now to the second point bout breaking down “Faction Pride”. If you wanted to play only with your factions races… then quite honestly Elder Scrolls is not a game series for you. The Factions we have in ESO are relatively artificial constructs and most of the alliances do not get along at all. They have banded together to fight greater forces in a bid to try and claim the Whitegold throne. Lets take the Ebonheart… the faction that most people will play…. because Skyrim. The Dunmer view the Nords and country bumpkins that are barely intelligent enough to pick up a weapon, and they view the Argonians in the same way they view Guars. The Argonians view both the Nords and Dunmer as oppressors, and the Nords view anyone that can raise a weapon as a potential enemy… especially other Nords. Granted this is a great over simplification of things… but suffice to say the races do not really like each other, and the alliance they have formed is barely holding together. Alliances in this game series are not racial boundaries but instead political organizations, and the sooner players realize this the happier they will be.
Personally I wish there were not faction walls, because I hate having to decide which group of friends I get to play with, on which characters. I feel like the Horde/Alliance red versus blue bullshit is the absolute worst thing about World of Warcraft. However I realize I am in the minority here. The bonus with Elder Scrolls is that I can at least tell my friends that if they preorder they will be able to play whatever race they want to play in the Daggerfall faction that the guild voted on and chose. After living through the launch of WoW and how it split my friends between two different servers and two different factions… I welcome this olive branch with open arms. While they have not said anything about it, I am sure at a later date you will probably be able to pay to unlock this functionality as well. For the time being however it is a really awesome perk for those players who bet on the game at launch time.
Imperial Edition is Paywalled Content
While I cannot really go into details because some of the testing is still covered under NDA, I can firmly call bullshit on this one as well. While the Imperials are a different race, they are very much a cosmetic one. At least I think I can say that much, if not many apologies to the ESO community staff, but the information needs to be out there. The feeling on the ground however is that Imperial Edition has something that players will not be able to get otherwise. Sure the racial graphic for imperials and all the armor styles are unique… but they are just cosmetic. It is not like you cannot be effective in the game without access to the Imperial race. I personally plan on making Belghast an Imperial but that is for mostly Lore reasons, and the fact that I can make an Imperial look exactly like how I always make Belghast look.
Players with access to the Imperial Edition are not getting anything that you cannot get otherwise in the game other than what amounts to some cosmetic skins. What I don’t get however is why this is somehow more angst inducing than a World of Warcraft collectors edition, or any other MMO collectors edition when you get exclusive items that you cannot ever get any other way. They have already mentioned that you would be able to upgrade to Imperial Edition at a later date if you wanted to unlock the Imperial race and its gear styles. The rest of the argument against the Imperial race seems to go back to point one. While Imperials are in fact native to central Tamriel, they have never been uncommon in ALL parts of continent as you have encountered them in every single game to date. The Elder Scrolls setting is extremely racially diverse, so it makes complete sense that you can be an Imperial anywhere in the world.
Elder Scrolls is Triple Dipping
Essentially this controversy stems from the fact that Elder Scrolls has a box price, a monthly subscription and there has been talk of an in game cash shop. I have no clue why this is a big deal, because until the Free to Play model rode in with its promise of something for nothing… this was pretty much the model of every single AAA game. Even today World of Warcraft is doing this exact same thing. You pay for the game, then you pay a monthly fee and then on top of that they have the audacity to offer additional cosmetic stuff for more money in an easy to use cash shop? Those blasphemers. they should bow down to the god of something for nothing! Pardon me if I get more than a little bit hyperbolic here, but that is generally how I view the cult of free to play, as a bunch of people who are wanting something for nothing. If you are not actively supporting a game, either through a monthly subscription or regularly buying stuff from their “priced to own” cash shop… you are actively a drag on that game.
I realize that is a controversial stance, but these are not charities running the games you want to play. They are companies with staff and that staff has families they need to feed. Everyone gnashes their teeth and laments the death of an MMO, however had they given some monetary support to the game rather than just lip service it might have not died in the first place. Granted sometimes there are situations like Star Wars Galaxies that were absolutely doomed from the start. Lucasfilm wanted their license back, so as a result a game that was marginally successful had to die on the process. However City of Heroes and Vanguard are squarely on the shoulders of players who love those titles but just stopped paying for them. If we love games we have to put our money where our mouths are and show them the only kind of support that keeps the lights on in the building… our cash. Granted this little rant is going off in a completely different direction than I had intended it… but that is the side effect of writing my posts on the fly.
Back to the “Elder Controversy” at hand. Why shouldn’t Elder Scrolls have a cash shop? Everyone else does. So long as they limit thing to cosmetic unlocks and game services like character renames… it seems like business as usual to me. If we accept this as “normal” when World of Warcraft is concerned, I feel like we have no real ground to stand upon when another game wants to do the exact same thing. There are many people who are going to “wait for free to play”, and if it goes that direction I am fine as well. So when a game converts from subscription to free to play I have never felt “robbed” of the time and money I spent on it when it was a subscription. In fact I tend to continue to subscribe to these games after their conversions. While I may not play Rift as much as I have in the past, it is always a game I return to and as such I keep a yearly patron account subscription. I view it as my way of supporting a game that I love, even if I am not actively playing it.
Can of Worms
Firstly I feel like I should apologize for some of the tone I have in this post. It has ended up being a bit more vitriolic than I had intended it to. As a fan of the Elder Scrolls franchise and a fan of Elder Scrolls Online, I can completely accept when someone tells me “meh, it just isn’t for me”. What frustrates me is when someone decides that for some reason Elder Scrolls Online has stolen their puppy. Then decides to come up with a complex lattice of paranoid reasons why NO ONE should play the game. In this post I tried to address a few of these “elder controversies”, but in fact I got more than a little bit hyperbolic myself in the process. I am passionate about gaming, and I am passionate about the games I want to play. Some of that passion spilled out onto the page today.
This gets back to an overall problem I have with the gaming community. We tend to view it as a zero sum game. There are many who view the world in terms of… if I want my game to be successful I have to take a crap on the competitors. While I am 100% on the Elder Scrolls bandwagon… I also really want to see Wildstar succeed and Everquest Next succeed… because quite frankly we NEED more successes in the MMO genre that are not named “Warcraft”. That is not a jab at the juggernaut in the room, because I play WoW as well… but we need to see more equitable sharing of the love if we hope to salvage this genre. I feel like free to play works for games that have already repaid the costs of development, but it just simply does not work for every game… nor should it be the cure all to every gaming ill. Free to Play feels like a death spiral for the genre, and while the fact there is a subscription cost will likely keep me from playing a game I only marginally cared about like Wildstar. It most definitely is not a substantial barrier between me and a game I am passionate about like ESO.