Last week, my email was graced by something different from the usual spam and political machinations. Laying between an email from Investopedia and a discussion on an alternate form of welfare was an email inviting me to play the beta of Elder Scrolls Online that weekend.
Now, I may not have mentioned it, but the Elder Scrolls series is probably my most favourite video game series of all time. I love the world, the immersion, the gameplay and the atmosphere. Even the admitted dumbing down of Skyrim was not enough to destroy my appetite for TES.
But ESO had me sceptical. Here was a game made unique by its signature first person fantasy action and now trying to imitate the generic MMOs that flood the market. I felt betrayed.
As trailers were released, however, and I matured ever so slightly in the span of a few months – I began to give it a little bit more room. I signed up for beta and finally, last week, I was given access.
At 21 gigs, and with my currently despairingly slow internet speed, I left the download running for the entire week – till I finally played on Friday night.
The reason behind the test itself was allegedly a stress test of the North American servers. For those who don’t know what that is – it’s basically packing as many people onto a single server as possible in order to test the server capabilities as well as necessary optimization.
In Dota, I get deathly lag when I play on the European server – which is closer than North America in regards to ping. Due to some odd internet thing, I have been getting an average of 500 to a 1000 ping on South African servers. Thus, with all the odds stacked against me – I was expecting ESO to be unplayable.
What I got was not perfect, but was not only playable but actually fun. There are plenty of glitches in ESO, which is to be expected, but optimization is something they have done exceedingly well. The only occasional lag I got was easily fixed by a quick re-log or was caused by activity on my connection.
Thus, from a technical viewpoint – the game is doing well. There is no point mentioning the individual glitches which do occur, as those will be fixed.
Levels, maps, zones and instancing in ESO seems quite odd compared to other MMOs which I have played. Everything seems to happen on a big megaserver with all quests being undertaken by all other players at the same time. This caused a few problems in regards to boss fights as simultaneous play caused the boss to die and not respawn due to the presence of players who were waiting for him to revive.
This will most probably be fixed, but it does damage the immersion slightly knowing that you are only one in a million doing the same thing that you are apparently doing yourself. This is a problem that most MMOs have and that games like Entropia do not (as you do not have a purpose in Entropia. You are a soulless shell with no determination but the procurement of pseudo-currency)
Lore wise, TES is probably one of the best games out there. Bethesda is famous for crafting engaging and imaginative worlds which could rival classic fantasy literature. The problem arises that the stories themselves tend to be clichéd and badly written. There are exceptions of course, and the video game as a platform still tends to be beaten by other mediums in regards to coherent story-telling.
Don’t get me wrong. TES stories are not bad. In fact, some of them are very good – but they are not near as engaging as the world that they take place in. The reason for this, I believe, is pacing.
Morrowind was a true hardcore RPG. It had pacing which made a sloth seem fast but with that it also felt engaging. You were not thrown into destiny. You weren’t a hero. You had to build everything from nothing. Later TES games have become faster and more casual. They are still fun – but they have never returned to the depth that was Morrowind.
ESO does wonders to expand the lore – and I dare say that in this respect is may surpass Morrowind if the developers play their cards right. Even some of the stories are good, even if they are heavily predictable. I just hope that they slow the pacing down to make the journey mean something.
Combat, Gameplay and Graphics
ESO does a very good job mixing traditional MMO skills with the signature combat style of TES. Combat is fluid and the abilities that I used as a Nightblade were fun and added to the gameplay. My only concern with what I saw was that some of the skills are so overtly over powered that hardly anyone is going to pick the others. This will hopefully be balanced.
There were quite a few criticisms of the graphic style being too light and well, MMOish. While playing, I didn’t actually notice anything bad about the art style. Character design was excellent compared to past TES games and it was not too bright to be childish. In fact, I found the art style to be quite charming.
Everything aside – all that really matters with my impression of Elder Scrolls Online is if I enjoyed it or not. And I must say that I did. I neglected a lot of work to play it and as much as that neglect came to sting me on Monday – I don’t regret spending most of my weekend playing it.
But simply enjoying a game can never be the only thing that dictates my purchase. There are other aspects which sadly influence my choice. Which brings me to the final points…
It has been reported that besides the initial cost of the game at approximately $60 (which I can live with after selling two of my appendages), we will also be expected to pay $15 per a month. For those that don’t know, I live in South Africa and currently the Rand is doing terribly in financial markets. This means that what may seem like a mere $15 to some is actually R161 a month which further translates to R1932 a year. For someone without income, that is over the top.
So as sad as it may be, I am going to have to wait it out. For chances are that ESO is not going to be able to maintain its price structure. Something being worth a $60+$15(m) doesn’t mean people will be willing to purchase it for that amount. Value is determined by the buyer, not the seller. It will have to go F2P or preferably B2P to survive and Zenimax is going to have to learn to live with it.