Monday, 5 August 2013

First glance at the Elder Scrolls Online

I watched this live stream of the Elder Scrolls Online the other day, when the beta version of the game was played in front of public for the first time. Being a fan of Skyrim, I'm really curious what this "Skyrim MMO" is going to turn into and watched the whole thing in excitement.

From the video, it didn't really become clear to me if I should think of the Elder Scrolls Online as an "Elder Scrolls MMO" or as "Elder Scrolls with a multi-player option" in terms of gameplay experience. The world looked nice enough from what I could see, Skyrim-quality but then without the mods. When I started watching the stream (14 mins into the video), the player was just using a group finder option and ported to a dungeon ("Fungal Grotta"). The dungeon was also very much in the Elder Scrolls style, including the impending darkness that I hate so much in the games, albeit realistic or not. I do hope not all 'dungeons are literally dungeons', if you get what I mean. In previous games I always got bored from exploring dark caves and tried to stay in the daylight to explore the beautiful surroundings as much as I could. But as I am a group player by nature, I'll want to play dungeons as well.

We got to see the group fight in a cave full of goblins. There were several things that came to my mind. First of all, much of what we saw was from first person perspective, the familiar Elder Scrolls look with your hands holding your weapons on the sides of your screen. I guess it's a love or hate thing. For me it's a hate thing, though. I find first person view more stressful and less visually appealing with your weapons taking a prominent spot of your screen. It has always bothered me that I have to switch loads between the two views on my elf archer Ravereth because you just need first person perspective in order to aim, but perhaps this has to do with the interface feeling a bit clunky in Skyrim on PC. I hope all gameplay is equally viable in third person view, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

 Try getting this view in reality and you'll end up with sore arms.

Other things that came to my mind was that the graphics look very much like Skyrim, but that this highly realistic environment also made it hard to distinguish friend from enemy. In Skyrim it's easy enough as you're the only real player around and basically everything around you in dark caves is evil. I guess the fact that goblins and creepy insects were being fought helped a bit in this case, but this might be a challenge and possibly an annoyance elsewhere. The developers did think about this, as mousing over an enemy gives it a red glow, indicating it's an enemy. Before you mouse over it's just a guess, though. This might just be something one needs to get used to. I must admit that I am fond of a very realistic view in games.

I'm not sure how difficult the gameplay was. Having no damage numbers float around does make fights look very immersive, but it also makes it hard to guess what exactly is going on. I guess the inner MMO player in me yearns for mental control over a situation. I had no idea I was such a control freak! I didn't see any special game mechanics apart from using an artifact at a certain point in the cave from whereon the goblins would fight for you. The fights looked pretty hank-and-spank and the combat animations weren't particularly impressive either. Sure, new hard-to-see enemies were introduced in the badly lit cave, but I must admit I got a bit bored as the video continued.

There's so many things we don't know yet. What will the class balance be like? Will mages be overpowered, as they quite frankly are in all the other Elder Scroll games? Will archers have the highest player skill requirement, having to put the most effort in fighting by zooming in and aiming? At this point, the game is of course still very much under construction. It was announced to get released in the spring of 2014.

During the stream, a live chatbox to the right showed a duality in comments. On the one hand MMO players were leaving extremely negative comments about how the game seemed 'just the same as <insert game they were currently playing> but then fantasy' (and these were the most eloquently put messages, the most were a lot shorter and less friendly of nature). The blunt nature and lack of nuance in these sort of comments make me feel ashamed of the MMO player base of which I too am part. On the other hand there were the Skyrim fans, leaving super positive exclamations of fandom. I find myself somewhere in between.

I hope the developers don't get set off by the negativity of the spoiled self-entitled brats that sadly enough seem to represent the average MMO player online. Yet I also hope they do listen to some of the critics that were given: group gameplay didn't seem that interesting to me, although it might of course be different when playing yourself. Collecting skill points to become better is good, but what is the goal? Many players hope for an MMO that will be a change from what they're used to. I hope the developers make the Elder Scrolls - MMO combination work and look very much forward to the game's release, however far away it may be.

Pictures in this article (apart from the video and the logo) are taken in Skyrim, not in the Elder Scrolls Online.

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