The Elder Scrolls Online Beta Impressions: Prison Break
I think I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before that I’m not a fan of MMOs. If the subscription model (that requires you to pay the equivalent of four games to play for that first year) and microtransactions aren’t enough to scare me off, the grinding and fetch quests seal the deal.
I’m not unwilling to put my previous experiences aside to give MMOs another try. For example, I got into last weekend’s beta session for The Elder Scrolls Online and was willing to give that a try to see if I’d like it.
First, I’d like to point out that the game was a 21 GB download for me. Not only did the download take forever and ate up a large chunk of my bandwidth for the month but it was only the beta. That’s investing 21 GB of bandwidth and download time for a weekend of play. The value proposition just isn’t there and I should have taken that as a hint to avoid. Is the beta client going to require an update to bring it up to the full release or will you have to download an even larger file to get started.
Anyway, into the game. You start with character customization. While attire isn’t customizable at the start, you can tweak just about everything else with a variety of sliders and boxes. Right at the start, you get ten races to choose from (with Imperial locked behind a paywall [in a $60 with a required $15 per month subscription] at full release as the eleventh race) and you can also choose your character class from four options. Those classes only really dictate special abilities rather than equipment options but playing as a High Elf Sorcerer, it seemed as though I was pushed to play as a mage given my special abilities and attributes.
Still, despite the fact that this was only a beta, I noticed at least one other High Elf who was virtually identical to my own. Also, I went through about two dozen names, including some generated by a random MMO character name generator, before I could come up with an available name so I could start. I wish TESO had a random name generator or instant feedback on name availability. I had to click create to find out if a name was available or not. As a result, I ended up with some terrible name with an apostrophe in it. Good luck getting a decent name on full release.
The beta starts with a cutscene-ish opening labeled as a beta placeholder showing that you’re a prisoner about to be executed. I think that Bethesda is just letting this prisoner thing be an inside joke. Unlike the rest of the time, you actually get killed. You have to escape from the underworld with The Prophet in order to save Tamriel from being pulled into Oblivion (sort of the underworld) by Molag Bal. I probably got a lot of the lore messed up but I’m really an Elder Scrolls neophyte. If you’re into the lore of TES, you probably find this more compelling than I do.
When you get into things, The Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t really seem to do anything particularly new or innovative. At least the fetch quests are nice enough to move the person you’re meeting to near the end of your quest to limit the amount of backtracking required. You still have to find them and navigate your way through the dozen plus people standing around them also trying to complete the quest. Though it does make for some funny moments where you see like 8 people in an arc around thin air because that person hasn’t moved there in your game.
I guess I should point out that the game is slightly asymmetrical in that sense. Story companions appear to you as themselves but as generic companions when you see other people with them. Some missions, mostly story missions, include areas where only the player and companions exist as if it’s isolated from everyone else running around in the game. It works to an extent because you have to do the work and don’t have to camp out an enemy to complete a quest which is something that was an annoyance during my time with The Old Republic. Basically, if something needs to get done (in a main story quest), the game appears to be designed in a way that you aren’t obstructed by the actions of other players.
Combat is about what you expect from an Elder Scrolls game. The left mouse button controls your right hand and the RMB controls the left. Playing a mage, I didn’t find too many issues with the attacking portion of combat, though I have seen a number of melee weapon users mentioned some issues with collision detection as though they were swinging through thin air when it looked like a hit. I often found the opposite. Enemies missing by six feet only to drop me like a rock. It wouldn’t have been an issue if the block button actually did something.
That’s the danger with real-time combat in this as opposed to the subtly turn-based combat in The Old Republic. If you’re doing something in real-time, it has to be real-time. The slightest bit of lag will screw everything up. Perhaps that was my problem. Though it was perceptible to the naked it, maybe the server saw something I didn’t and punished me as a result. Of course, it could just be a case of beta being beta. It’s certainly not an issue I often notice playing Planetside 2.
Character progression happens in the standard Elder Scrolls way. You gain XP and level up as usual and skills improve as you use them. The UI doesn’t really show how you’re levelling up but it does tell you when you have in nice detail. That said, the inventory and character progression systems don’t take much time to figure out at all. Even if there wasn’t a tutorial, it wouldn’t be too hard to sort out. It’s very easy and intuitive to get a hang of.
For an MMO, I found the graphics quite good. From what I’ve seen of World of Warcraft and played of Skyrim and The Old Republic, the visuals are an improvement. The animations aren’t spectacular but the character models, environment design and textures all look good but it won’t challenge the hardware of a purpose-built gaming PC. It goes for a more stylized approach with vibrant colours rather than a realistic style of graphics. If you want hardware-pushing, realistic graphics in a first-person MMO, there’s always Planetside 2 (the only MMO I still dabble in).
The audio in this game is absolutely fantastic. You’re immediately greeted in the game with the voices of Sir Michael Gambon and Jennifer Hale who are both absolutely awesome so no complaints there. The soundtrack is fantastic. The combat audio isn’t too memorable but how often is combat audio outside of “Fus ro dah!” As far as I can tell, all the dialogue is voiced by actors of greater or lesser skill.
This is still a beta so nothing should be taken as being set in stone. Things can still change and bugs can be fixed. Speaking of which, there were a few besides combat collision detection. Occasionally, players would get locked into the conversation screen which lead to a lot of frustrating logging out. (You can type /reloadui into the chat and that should fix it.) However, that’s a problem because every piece of dialogue takes you to a conversation screen. One mission requires you to follow a trail but the trail never renders so people in the chat had to tell you where to go to complete the quest. Apart from those issues, I didn’t encounter too many issues myself.
I should probably close with a reminder that I’ve never been much of an MMO fan. I enjoyed my time with the free-to-play version Star Wars: The Old Republic more than this. That has nothing to do with beta bugs, either. Sure, the combat was a little more lively in TESO because it’s real-time in the tradition of The Elder Scrolls games even if it can be painfully frustrating at times. The audio was far and away better in TESO too.
I suppose if you’re a massive TES fan, this is something that you’ll be interested in. For me, it made me think that I shouldn’t have given up on Star Wars: The Old Republic so soon. As for MMOs, TESO isn’t going to change my opinion any time soon. If I want more of The Elder Scrolls, there’s always Skyrim.