Monday, April 21, 2014

First Impressions: The Elder Scrolls Online (PC)

I really wish that there was a game stats screen  in The Elder Scrolls Online, similar to what you would find in Skyrim and Oblivion, that way I would know how much time I have put into ESO in the three weeks and change that I have spent playing the game since its early access release on March 30th.  I would not say that I have been dumping truck loads of time into ESO at this point, but I have been neglecting some of the other games that I had been working on before (Assassin's Creed, Bioshock 2, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Papo y Yo, Final Fantasy VII, et cetera) and I think that part of that is that since I have paid for the game and am on a monthly subscription, I want to feel that I am getting the most out of the game for the money I have and currently am putting into it.

However, that argument will not be valid until, I believe, May 6th, which is when the 30 day free period for my account ends and the paid subscription starts.

But enough of that, what about the game?  How does it compare to the beta test?  How buggy is it, even after just under a year of beta testing? How have the early access perks given you an advantage over the regular players?  What are the quests like?  Does it feel like an Elder Scrolls game?  You know, the usual.

To answer, what I feel is the most important question: yes, The Elder Scrolls Online does feel like it belongs with the rest of the games in The Elder Scroll series.  Like every game in the series, you start out as a prisoner (this time finding out how and why you are in prison), you escape by going through a tutorial level and are then plunged into the larger world with a brief hint that something larger that does not involve (or maybe it does and I just don't know about it yet) the war in Cyrodiil between the three factions.

One aspect that has been retained, to a certain extent, from the Elder Scroll series has been the inclusion of books and reading about the lore of Tamriel throughout the various eras.  While in previous Elder Scrolls games you could read individual books on a bookshelf/table/floor/cauldron, in ESO, you can only read from a bookshelf.  This initially made me sad that I could only read one randomly (?) selected book from a bookshelf full of books.  Once I realized that this was how the game was going to operate, then I grew to accept it as is.  As in the other Elder Scrolls games, you still learn skills and can gain quests by reading books.

I do greatly appreciate though that Bethesda still maintains the level of quality of the books in ESO that the community has come to expect.
While you can simply run up to a bookshelf, click to open a book, see that you've gained a level in your Heavy Armor skill then run away without reading a word, I love that I can crack open a tome and read two and-a-half pages of text.  I know this isn't for everyone, but for me, it's a key component for immersion and I love its inclusion in an MMO game.

Another Elder Scrolls staple is the quality of the voice acting, which so far has been very well executed.  Bethesda has reused a lot of the voice actors from their previous games and the have even brought on a fair amount of "Hollywood talent" to voice both main and minor characters.  Most notably has been Michael Gambon (Sleepy Hollow, Harry Potter) as the character of "The Prophet," whose reading of "Let the will of Molag Bal be denied!" is chilling.  Kudos as well to the script writers.

I have noticed a few changes between the released game and the beta tests, the most notable is that I have only experienced one real bug that impeded my progress:
One other bug was similar to the "MISSING" box bug that I encountered during the January beta test, just something else that went missing in a different location.  Other minor bugs have been missing dialogue to text, but those come across as purely cosmetic.  I have, however, seen other people bring ask about potentially broken quests, but I personally have yet to encounter a broken quest so I do not know if I should count myself fortunate or maybe I am simply progressing slowly enough that the bugs are being fixed by the time I reach the formally broken quest.

I have noticed that the combat feels more "real," which was one of the biggest complaints that I kept seeing creep up during the beta test.  It is a hard thing to explain, that when you attack someone that it should feel like your hits are connecting.  Without a rumble feature, this has to come across visually and whatever was done between the middle of March and release has been a great improvement.  I no longer feel like my weapons are simply passing through the enemies, but are coming into contact with them, it is very satisfying.

Personally, when I think of MMOs, I tend to have a mental image of some crowded plaza in World of Warcraft and to date, the greatest number of people I have seen congregate anywhere was at the bank, where you can store items to use between characters, group members and guild members.
There is also a lot of grouping around crafting stations, where you can craft your own armor (heavy, medium and light), enchanting, woodworking (shields, bows, staffs) et cetera, but the nice thing is that you do not have to wait for the station to be free for it to be used.

So far, I have been playing solo and without grouping or questing with others.  There have been certain events such as when Dark Anchors (portals that lead into Oblivion) start depositing beasts of all sorts into the world.  These events, which happen pretty frequently usually draw about 10 other players and a decent sized battle en mass commences against the forces of darkness.

While it is possible to approach the above Dark Anchor or certain quests solo, these are events/instances that are specifically designed to be taken on by a group of people.  I have tried, accidentally to take on a Flesh Atronach (flesh golem) who was supported by two skeletons alone and quickly found myself dead.
This battle was not on purpose either.  I was approaching the two skeletons and right as I "killed" the one, the Flesh Atronach came through a portal as the skeleton archer backed up.  Let it be known that I died with honor.

There are plenty of aspects to The Elder Scrolls Online that I know I have not covered, most importantly the PvP area in Cyrodiil that deals with siege engines and storming castles.  I also did not mention anything about the lack of lag, even in areas that appear to be heavily populated by both PCs and NPCs.  There is just too much information to convey.  I also have not even mentioned the music, but that I will cover in Friday's post (so come back for that if music is your thing).

I will say in closing for today that I am having a lot of fun with the game and, presently at least, I feel that the cost of the game plus the $15/month subscription fee has been and will be worth the experience contained within.

The Skies of Hell Unfell to Earth

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