Monday, February 17, 2014

My Time With The Elder Scrolls Online Beta Testing (PC)

Now that Bethesda and Zenimax have officially lifted the Non-Disclosure Agreement, I am now able to babble to my hearts content.  Keep in mind though that this will end up being a longer post than usual as I will be blabbing about experiences from three different beta tests going back to November of 2013.

With that in mind, I present to you:
The first of many loading screens, since updated.

First off, I am not exactly sure how many beta tests Bethesda/Zenimax have run, but I was able to take part in the last three (November 2013, January & February 2014).  The current word is that there will be one last beta test before the game is released on April 4th of this year.  My experience that I will relate to you in frustratingly bad detail will be from only those three beta tests.

Secondly, before November 2013, I had never played an MMO of any kind.  I never played World of Warcraft at any point even though I loved Warcraft I and II (still sad that I never played III).  I never played Final Fantasy XI despite my general love of the Final Fantasy franchise, although that love began to wain with Final Fantasy's VII, VIII and X, so it's no surprise that I didn't do anything with XI.  With all of this in mind, it will be pretty obvious that I am not hep with all of the lingo and understanding of acronyms and verbiage.  During the post play survey, I had to look up what LFG meant and I am still not 100% on what "aggro" means in the context of a battle and how it works.  Maybe I do know but I don't know it.  Even though I find it hilarious, this rant that I first saw as a flash back in 2006 doesn't mean a whole lot to me.

Thirdly, with the exception of the last beta test, each session was over a weekend that I had to work. At least two of the days of the test.  In November, I didn't work the first day, but the test did not start until 12pm PST, but as to be expected during a stress test, the server was overloaded at many stages.  The above picture I took after I had logged on.  The progress bar got about as far as the circular band before if froze and I had to restart.  Three hours in I was finally able to make it to the character generation portion, but I was booted out a handful of times before I could create my character:
Bosmer Nightblade, part of the Aldmeri Dominion (November)
In the forums (where the majority of people were very cool with not everyone coming from an MMO background), a lot of people were coming up with names that would be based on the race of character they were playing while I chose a name that people might recognize me by as opposed to a name that would blend in with the world.  So, I chose to be a male Bosmer (Wood Elf) and I was immediately excited that the heights of the races was restored to something more similar to their respective heights in Morrowind; that Orsimer (Orcs) are larger than Humans who are larger than Dunmer (Dark Elves) who are larger than Bosmer, et cetera.  While I am usually not a fan of tattooing my characters, I early on decided that I would give all of my characters the same tattoo pattern, just because.

Because I am lame, I didn't take any pictures during the character creation process, but I will say that it is somewhat similar to the process in Skyrim, but different in other ways.  For instance, you are able to change the general shape/look of the body to be muscular, large or thin and the face to be soft, heroic or angular.  The video put out by Zenimax Online does a good quick job of describing the process.

Moving onto the beta test.  While playing each time, I always had the fact in the back of my mind that what I was playing was not a finished product.  There were going to be errors, which was the whole point of the beta existing.  We were there to find bugs, problems, glitches and whatnot with the game so that it would be as bug-free as possible come launch day.  

My first time though, I initially felt that the controls (keyboard & mouse) felt very loose, almost as if I wasn't totally in control of my character.  Granted I was coming from playing Morrowind which has somewhat sluggish controls and your player does run pretty slowly, even when sprinting, but after a while, I became used to how the character moved/ran/interacted with the environment.

Battles/Fighting in the game is something that I have not noticed any changes to since November.  The fighting has seemed, for lack of a better adjective, weak.  Yes, when you swing your weapon and it comes into contact with an enemy damage is done, except that the contact part does not feel real.  I know that is an odd sentence but I cannot find an easier way to explain what it is that I am trying to say.  Here's another go: when your sword (or your weapon of choice) comes into contact with an enemy, the weapon passes through them as if they were not there, but damage is still done, but the feeling that you have inflicted damage is not there.

My first playthrough, I encountered a number of animation glitches while trying to draw my bow back.  I don't have any pictures or a capture card, but my character would draw the arrow and then begin to rotate very rapidly in a 90 degree arc.  When I released the arrow I would hit my mark, but the character was still wigging out.  In the last beta test, the main animation glitch was that my character would use a long range attack and the animation would stick at the end with the last bit of sound effect that accompanied so the effect sounded like buzzing tin foil.

The most frequent bug that I came across was that while exiting out of a conversation with an NPC, the dialogue options would be gone (as they were supposed to be), but I would be stuck in the same frame, unable to move, re-establish dialogue.  My only option at that point was to submit a bug report (by typing /bug in the chat window) and then killing myself (/stuck) so that I could respawn at a "wayshrine."  A random bug/glitch/error that I encountered and that I actually took a picture of was during the January beta test.  I was playing as a Breton Templar (Cleric) and running around part of the island and came across a missing graphic:
Just in case one "Missing" didn't get the point across.
Mainly because this didn't turn out to be the Dwarven Part that I was searching for, I thought this was pretty funny.

The last bug that I encountered with my Breton Templar, which was a game killing bug, was that I accidentally did a quest in a closed off area out of order and as a result, I was unable to leave the area or proceed with the quest line.
How many Orsimer does it take to kill an invisible prisoner?
What is going on here, is that you are in a memory.  The Orc with the arrow above his head should be standing next to a prisoner.  Upon talking to the Orc he states the prisoners crimes and you decide if they should live or die.  Being an Orc (in the memory I was an Orc), I felt that the prisoners should die, so I found four prisoners and had them all killed.  Only after the fact did I talk to the person who gave me the quest for the area.  The arrows above the specific Orcs appeared but the prisoners remained dead.  I was unable to reload the quest and even after I killed myself (/stuck) I was permanently stuck.  I submitted my /bug report but I was unable to use this character for the remainder of the beta test.

Over the course of the three beta tests, I did see some changes.  First there was a sound effect of coins dropping after purchasing or selling an item that was not present in the November test.  The second was the inclusion of two enemies that greatly expanded the first tutorial area, but I won't say anymore to prevent spoilers, of which I am trying to be somewhat vigilant.

The music!  I just realized I haven't said anything about the music.  From what I can tell, based on the music in the menus and in game music, Jeremy Soule is still the composer for the Elder Scrolls Online, although that is not confirmed.  The credits in the game consists of "Credits Text 1" through "Credits Text 3."  After listening to the music, I do believe that Jeremy Soule is still the composer.  At some point between the January and February beta tests, a lot of the menu music changed and while it does sound less dark than the previous versions, there is a lot more use of a choir, which in my book is very rarely a bad thing.  

And while we are on the topic of sound, Bethesda and Zenimax have gathered quite a cast to handle some of the voice acting.  The "only" voices that I came across, due to my inability to reach Level 10, was that of Michael Gambon and John Cleese.  Again, I will not say in what capacity they offered their vocal talents, but I will say that they were used very well.  I am told that this cast also includes Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale, Alfred Molina, Malcolm McDowell and Lynda Carter.  Not that just because the vocal cast is notable will make the writing any good, but the vocal notables do do a great job with the material that they have been given.

That being said, there was not as much reading material as one might have found in any of the previous Elder Scrolls games.  Books were few and far between and when you were able to read a book, it most likely came from a bookshelf full of books rather than a single volume.  This is something that saddened me greatly during all of the beta tests.    Because The Elder Scrolls Online takes place in an era that has, as of yet, been unplayable (ie the Second Era), I never really felt that I was playing roughly 700 years before the events in The Elder Scrolls: The Arena begin or nearly 900 years before the events in Skyrim.  Reading books is what helped me solidify my immersion in the Elder Scrolls games so I was a little sad to find out that, at least, as of the February test, literature would be somewhat scarce.  Or, maybe I am just not looking hard enough, which is always a possibility.

There is a lot that I have not touched on that is present in The Elder Scrolls Online.  There is a crafting system where you can create items related to your specific ethnicity and learn those of other groups as well.  I did not do anything in the way of crafting as I tried to spend the majority of my time doing story and side quests to raise levels.  There are group dungeons that you can only explore with three other people.  I am sure that voice chat is a thing, but I never looked into it as I primarily played by myself and didn't bother with anyone else.  And finally, there is the whole of the mass battles in the PvP area of Cyrodiil.  As briefly stated somewhere up there in all those words, I said that I never made it to level 10 (to note, level 17 was the goal and max for the last three beta tests) which is the minimum level required to enter Cyrodiil and the massive PvP areas.  I did not.  I also do not know about controller support for the PC as I only played with keyboard & mouse.  It would seem like controller support of PC should be a thing as there are plenty of people who simply prefer this way of playing a video game.  I guess these will all just be wait and see.

In closing (because it's late for me and I still need to sleep, as of the writing of this), I will say that I have (so far) enjoyed my time with the Elder Scrolls Online beta tests.  There have been a number of bugs/glitches that have hampered progress and some occurred frequently enough to make me turn the game off because of having to kill myself to become "unstuck."  The beginning areas, which act as tutorials were very linear, almost annoyingly so when compared to other games in the series, but I figure that they are simply that, tutorial areas, for you to become used to your character and to build their levels and abilities up a bit before putting you out in the big bad scary world of people yelling over the internet.

To date, I have had a very fun time playing, despite all the bugs/glitches that I would expect to be present in a beta test and I know that both Conklederp and myself are looking forward to the end of March when the game will launch for pre-orders and April for the rest of the PC market.

People Running 'round, It's Five O'Clock

I wanted to share some of the other pictures I took during the three beta sessions.  Sadly though, I did not take many pictures of bugs that occurred during game play as most were either based around animations that would not translate to pictures or because the glitch would not have looked interesting in picture form.  So here are some others which you may or may not be interested in.
Breton Templar, part of the Daggerfall Covenant (January)

Dunmer Kightblade (Theif) as part of the Ebonheart Pact (February)

Mudcrabs feasting on a washed up corpse of an NPC.
It's never a good thing to see and/or be near a portal that leads to Oblivion.

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