Obviously, the big upcoming MMO release is Elder Scrolls Online. I had not paid much attention to it during development as I really was not ready for the disappointment that I just knew would happen. I have played all of the Elder Scrolls games from the start. Even with a bit of disappointment with Oblivion, I classify the Elder Scrolls games as the best single-player RPGs this side of the original Baldur’s Gate.
I figured they would totally screw up an Elder Scrolls MMO by using the WoW template for everything and I just was not prepared for that. Hot key combat, quest hubs, standard character classes and raids to me is the anti-thesis of what made the Elder Scrolls games great.
So, did they screw it up? Yes and no. Read on for some impressions.
The Starting Areas
Many of the initial impressions of ESO have been negative and I would agree with most of the gripes. The starting areas are very poor and so linear that my fears of ruining the Elder Scrolls legacy seemed to be confirmed. Its tedious and really feels like its on rails. Very underwhelming. I can completely understand if players play until level 7 or so and then quit in disgust. It just is not an engaging experience.
The entire Cold Harbor tutorial zone is bland and cliched. It does a poor job introducing you to the game and offers no challenge at all. I completely understand that its purpose is for new players to get their feet wet but it would be nice if it offered a bit of a challenge or even finished with something interesting.
Look at GW2s introduction. It taught the basics, had a story that was more engaging from the start and it ended with bang. You ended it with fighting something big and mean and it left an impression on you. ESO does nothing like that.
It doesn’t improve much after the Cold Harbor sequence. It feels linear and gives “been there, done that” feel. Not a very good attention grabber though a piece by Jester on his blog does make a good argument that even the starting areas do not necessarily have to be linear.
I really liked the graphics. No, they are not as show-stopping as Skyrim but, for a MMO, are very good. The environments particularly well done. I loved the lighting and the way it filtered through the trees. It really looks beautiful. It goes for a more realistic look than WoW, SWToR or Wildstar and achieves it. If you prefer the realistic graphic style, you will will love ESO’s graphics.
The character graphics are a mixed bag. I thought the faces and bodies of the characters was stellar. They were as detailed as anything from Skyrim and this was amplified by the excellent character creation. Scars, tattoos, hair and everything about the character’s initial look was fantastic.
The letdown came primarily in the armor and clothing. Most armor just looks “painted-on” and not really pieced together. It looks less like something the character is wearing and more like something that was just painted on the body. I understand they did this to make rendering less of a strain in large PvP battles but it was a bit of a let down nonetheless.
Initial questing was linear and boring. Not going to lie. However, it opened up quite a bit after about level 12-15 and I enjoyed it immensely after that. While it does have the standard MMO quests, it does them a bit differently than WoW and such. Rather than having a quest hub that contains 5-6 quest givers that give you a couple of quests each, it has single quests that then unfold into longer quest chains. It is a small difference but a notable one. I never seemed to have more than a couple of quests in my log at any one time. The quests seemed more involved than what I am used to in Rift or WoW and more like a true Elder Scrolls quest, though not as involved as that.
Did I enjoy the change? I would have to say I did once I hit level 12 or so. Before that, the linearity of the zone was stifling but once it opened up, I came to enjoy the quests and there was much more room for exploration.
You can not fathom how happy I was to learn that ESO was not WoW style hot key combat. Is it as free form as Skyrim? No. But it is close enough to Skyrim and far enough from WoW that it felt refreshing. For one, you have to aim to hit your opponents, though the aiming is very liberal. Get the cursor near your target and you will hit it. Even if he moves away from the cursor, the arrow will follow him once you fire it off.
There is no auto-attack and you use your left mouse button to swing your sword or fire off an arrow. These do more damage than a typical auto-attack in WoW and make up a large percentage of your DPS. You also have the ability to block by holding your right mouse button, just like in Skyrim. You also have the ability to dodge by double tapping a direction key. This is much like GW2.
You also have slotted abilities that are determined by your class, weapons and race. You start with a total of five abilities that you can slot at one time. At level 15 you get an additional five abilities that you can slot when you switch to another weapon.
Ranged combat feels more natural at first than melee. Melee felt very “floaty” and I never felt like my hits had an impact. There needs to be more feedback in melee combat. One way to do this, I think, is to introduce collision detection into the game. This may have a negative impact on the performance of the game however, so it may not be worth the trade off.
Combat reminded me a lot of AoC but more fluid due to the lack of combos and the fact that ESO doesn’t root you in place when you use a special move like AoC does. I think ESO is the next step in the “action combat” revolution we have been seeing in MMOs lately. It started with AoC, continued in Tera and GWs and ESO is the next iteration. If they fix or improve the “floaty” feeling in melee, I think its the best yet.
Take a look at the video below and tell me it doesn’t look like a smoother version of Age of Conan:
That is the end of part one of my impressions. I will have part two up tomorrow, which will include character progression, dungeons, PvP and final thoughts.