video games

“The Elder Scrolls Online” thoughts

These days, most of my gaming is spent looking down and controlling large armies of space marines in epic, strategic battles. My favorite genre of games, however, typically involves playing a single hero (and maybe a few companions) embarking on an epic quest in some fantasy world where my character grows stronger and find magical equipment and loot. Among these games, known as western (as opposed to eastern or Japanese) role-playing games (RPGs), there are several well-known franchises, such as Baldur’s GateDiablo, and Mass Effect. One important franchise that I came late to is The Elder Scrolls,. Most recently, I have been playing the 5th installement, Skyrim, but thanks to the generosity of my friend Tom, I had the chance to play in the open beta for The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) this past weekend.

So far, the games have all been single-player, but as the name suggests, The Elder Scrolls Online is an MMORPG, so there are some adjustments to make it work. A lot of the changes are pretty typical for MMOs: there are 3 factions divided by race, and you can embark on campaigns to fight for territory (though I never got that far). The primary storyline can be played single-player, it seems, though it seems that few of the areas (if any) are instanced, so you might find other players working on the quest at the same time. On the other hand, some aspects of the game are faithfully carried over and since I’m deep in Skyrim right now, I figured I would give a point-by-point assessment of the similarities and differences along with my preferences.

1. ESO has added classes and abilities.

In Skyrim, you (basically) are an open-ended hero with weapon attacks, spells, and shouts. And if you’re not really playing a spellcaster type, then you don’t have so many spells, which just makes the game endless hack-and-slash. ESO adds 4 different classes, each with unique abilities that are activated out of slots on the number keys. This is definitely more similar to other MMOs and, I think, is a big improvement. As cool as Tamriel is, I have to admit, the combat gets pretty repetitive, and even for a spellcaster with a large library of spells, it’s quite laborious to change things up and swap out spells. I think abilities are a great addition and add a lot of variety to the gameplay.

2. In both games, Skill progression happens with use.

One defining aspect of TES is that instead of experience points, your abilities just improve with use, and if you improve enough, then you advance. ESO largely uses this same system with a few tweaks. First, completing quests will improve skills. Second, all of your active skills are leveled equally, which works with the new ability system. Even if you don’t use, say, Soul Trap to kill a monster, if it’s in your quick slots, it’s still leveled. Both of these changes seem reasonable to me: I can’t imagine TES without this leveling mechanic.

3. Crafting is basically the same, but maybe works more like other MMOs.

I think. I have to admit, this is one aspect of TES that I find annoying and laborious. I’m too much of a completionist to not pick up all of the flowers on the side of the road, but I think Alchemy is a lot of work for potions that I probably won’t use anyways. When there are so many dang potions in your inventory, and it’s not clear that you really need them, and it takes you out of the action, it just doesn’t quite feel right to use them. And with crafting items, I just kind of assume that you can always find unique gear in the wild that’s just as good (if not better) than what you can make, and why even bother at that point?

Despite that, I realize that it’s something that some players really get into, so I won’t withhold that from them. But seriously, I wish it wasn’t part of the game: it’s a bad temptation for me.

4. It’s open world with lots of side quests.

In this respect as well, TES led the way for how MMOs would eventually be built, so it’s another good fit. Although some single player RPGs track you hard through the main quest, TES kind of let you do anything and find random dungeons to clear out for no good reason. That’s all the same. There are also various factions that you can join with their own quest lines for you to play through.

I’m conflicted about this aspect of TES. On the one hand, it’s cool that they have added such a rich world. On the other hand, it sucks for the completionist in me. I want to do everything, but at least in Skyrim, things do get kind of repetitive with dungeons, and unlike, say, middle school Kevin, I’m wondering that my time has value.

(Quick, related point: I think a solid video game should provide somewhere between 30 and 100 hours of gameplay. I think that’s also pretty typical for watching an entire TV show, and yet, I justify getting into a video game far more easily than watching a new show. Count this comparison as a seed for a future blog post.)

I enjoy RPGs because of the big story arcs, so I wish that it was just a little bit tighter. Again, I realize that this is an aspect of the game that I can ignore, but it hurts a little bit.

5. ESO adds other people.

I’m actually really excited about this. Despite having been a big PC gamer for decades at this point, I have never actually played an MMORPG. I have played a lot of online StarCraft, Diablo, and various shooters, but never in a persistent world. I think people take these pretty seriously, and I would like to know what that’s like.

So the verdict is that ESO is going to be awesome. I will probably hop in maybe a month or 2 after release since I would rather skip all of the release bugs, but I should give it a solid shot after that. Hopefully I finish Skyrim before then.

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