Impressions: The Elder Scrolls Online

Over the past few days, I played around 10-15 hours of The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) and the experience has been… odd. I say “odd” because while in general I found the experience pleasant, the more I played the game, the more I wanted to be playing something else entirely.

I'm pretty spoiled by my 970 card at this point.

I’m pretty spoiled by my 970 card at this point.

There is a lot of interesting things going on in TESO. For example, while there is an option for a more traditional 3rd-person perspective, I stayed in first-person the entire time for its sheer novelty. I also appreciated the dedication to the traditional Elder Scrolls trappings, up to and including the ability to literally steal all the things. Want some Grand Soul Gems as a level 3 character? Just crouch behind the merchant’s cart and pocket (?) them. Finding a random armor rack with a full suit of wearable armor that you could just take and equip was rather delightful.

The progression/leveling system in TESO is interesting as well. There are four classes, each with three class specializations. Beyond that, every class has access to the same dozen or so general specialization lines: Light Armor, Two-handed Weapons, Destruction Staves, and so on. Most of these specialization lines have ~6 active abilities and a number of passives. Your character has a total of five hotbar buttons and one ultimate, and it is up to you to mix and match. Additionally, individual abilities level up with use in typical Elder Scrolls fashion, but once an active ability hits rank 4, it can be “morphed” into one of two mutually exclusive options, which typically adds bonus effects.

While all of the above systems felt satisfyingly crunchy, it reminded me heavily of Guild War 2’s system – limited ability slots, choosing abilities from a wide list, earning Skill Points from exploration (every three Skyshards found in TESO grants 1 Skill Point), and even “leveling up” skills in a sense. In fact, that was my exact problem: the more I played TESO, the more I felt like I’d be having more fun playing GW2. Especially when I started thinking about PvP and three-way battles.

Hell, I’m resisting the almost overpowering urge to redownload GW2 right now.

Not pictured: any combat.

Not pictured: any combat.

Strictly viewing TESO as a sort of pseudo-Skyrim did not assist in keeping my interest level high enough to justify more play time. As tends to be the case, the existence of other players ruins the MMO experience. Apparently mobs drop individual loot so there isn’t any kill stealing, but objects in the world (chests, etc) absolutely disappear if someone loots them. I did not stick around a particular place long enough to see if they respawned, but the bottom line is that there was never a point in time that I was thankful to see another human playing “my” game.

It’s worth noting that I made it to level 10 without seeing even one “kill 10 whatever” quests. In fact, many of the (non-side) quests I encountered were fairly lengthy and involved. Not quite Secret World-level involved, but more than the industry standard. That being said, I found myself actually missing those kill quests, as the opportunity to kill anything was rather muted.

Sometimes I like pushing buttons, you know?

In any case, those are my impressions of TESO. I deleted the 44gb installation yesterday and don’t particularly see myself downloading it again. It wasn’t bad – at least the little slice of the beginning I played – but my New Years resolution is to not play “just OK” games to completion as if I don’t have a backlog of potentially amazing games to play through.

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Posted on December 29, 2015, in Impressions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Interesting read, especially the comparison with GW2. Whilst I’ve sunk a lot more time into GW2 (and have a max level character there, as opposed to a level 11 in TESO) at the moment I can see myself continuously chugging away with TESO for the next year or so in small chunks, but the thought of playing GW2 again is nauseating.

    “In fact, that was my exact problem: the more I played TESO, the more I felt like I’d be having more fun playing GW2. Especially when I started thinking about PvP and three-way battles.”

    Is there any reason why, though? GW2 invariably pisses me off because I can’t actually make a character I want to play with any of the classes and, as sad as it is, the arbitrary limitations and some of the animations really piss me off (why would you hip shot when you have a rifle? Why would you not give Revenants a beefy 2h melee weapon? Why can’t I just play a satisfying magic melee brawler? Why don’t the bows have arrows in them? Why not include 2h axes? Why half ass staves as melee weapons? the list goes on). I was at first inclined to agree that GW2 is more fun to play, but on reflection TESO’s combat and build variety make a lot more sense to me, at least at low level. I can actually make a dual wielding life leech plate wearer with stealth if I really want to, which (imo) is a lot more satisfying from both a build and gameplay perspective than going to metabattle wiki and picking the newest zerker build for PvE, or the newest soldier/knight build for RvR. Even building without help is better in TESO; GW2 throws a lot of different options at you but most of them are boring to read and/or useless, whereas at least you get a sense of difference with some of the TESO build options. GW2’s different trait lines never really felt like they made a fundamental difference to my character’s playstyle or the theme of their abilities (elite specs aside).

    I’m especially confused by your inclination for WvW in GW2. Following tags is not fun, and neither is endlessly roaming around a large, unhelpfully signposted map where for some fucking reason you can’t have a mount so instead you have to spam whatever movement abilities ANet decided were worthwhile to give to your class.

    “Strictly viewing TESO as a sort of pseudo-Skyrim did not assist in keeping my interest level high enough to justify more play time. As tends to be the case, the existence of other players ruins the MMO experience.”

    I see what you’re saying here but I think it’s potentially the wrong way to approach the game. To what extent it’s Skyrim online is going to vary depending on the person (and how much they like Skyrim) but for me at least – and I’m sure this is something we won’t agree on at all – Skyrim is fundamentally only slightly more interesting gameplay and story wise than TESO but the fact that nobody else is ever going to be involved in my world there really kills any desire to play it. At the end of the day I don’t care about the world or the people in it, the gameplay isn’t good enough to justify spending time on it and the progress really is just a grind rather than an emergent life skill simulator. At least in TESO I’ll be able to do things with people at a later point.

    “that I was thankful to see another human playing “my” game”

    I’d agree that TESO does a poor job of encouraging grouping; other players really are at best a slight help for some tough mobs and at worst an immersion breaking drain on your time for most quests. But is that any worse than GW2? You can do most of the content when you want to in TESO, rather than waiting for a specific event to pop up and a zerg of what may as well be robots at this point doing all the work for you. What’s the point of fighting Tequatl with my character if all I can see is damage numbers and my contribution is to make up 1% of the damage? Is it any more “my” game as part of the zerg?

    Let’s not even get started on the solo experience. TESO is leaps and bounds ahead of GW2 in terms of writing and of actually being involved in the storyline that at least has some sort of believable premise that you can get behind. I don’t know if ANet’s writers are just really bad or purposefully make it very accessible, but jesus christ GW2’s writing makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon. It honestly boggles my mind that they chose the setting they did with the themes they write about; why not just set it in the present day and be done with it rather than making hackneyed versions of inclusiveness and war coalitions with anachronistic plot devices at every turn just because you want your story to be relatable?

    “That being said, I found myself actually missing those kill quests, as the opportunity to kill anything was rather muted.”

    Very true. TESO’s combat is reasonably satisfying to play, it’s a pity they don’t make more of it (or make it just a bit smoother so that it really sings).

    “Hell, I’m resisting the almost overpowering urge to redownload GW2 right now.”

    It really isn’t worth it man. GW2 is such a tease when it comes to fun in MMOs; ultimately you end up being sucked in by the presentation and realise it’s a hollow, soulless grind that you either play very casually with a casual guild or very hardcore and know everything about. There really is no middle road in GW2, at least from what I’ve seen.

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    • Satisfying combat is hugely important to me, and I can’t really say I felt that in TESO. It’s entirely possible I simply didn’t get far enough – I’d laugh at anyone who only got to level 10 in WoW before writing it off – but I looked at all the specialization lines in all the classes, and none of the ability descriptions really engaged me in a “I want this button to push” way. Nightblade was the closest, and the class I got the furthest with, but all of them were missing… something. Cadence? It’s hard to describe. All I know is that I feel it in WoW combat, felt it pretty close in GW2, and didn’t feel it much at all in TESO (or Secret World for that matter).

      I do largely agree with you about GW2. My fond recollections are undoubtedly colored by the passage of time – the last time I played was three years ago. But when I think about having to play TESO in 3rd-person versus GW2, I have a hard time imagining TESO winning out.

      In the scheme of things, I should have perhaps titled this as one of my Unfair Impressions, as I knew in the back of my mind that I had games like GTA 5 and Dying Light waiting for me. Like I mentioned though, it’s not that TESO is necessarily bad or anything, it just didn’t quite grip me enough to maintain a hold.

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      • Ye I wasn’t really arguing for TESO if I’m honest, I’m not in love with the game by any stretch, the negative comparisons to GW2 were just a sore point I’ve had since GW2 started to really grate on me :P

        I know what you mean about the combat, it isn’t as satisfying as WoW (was); then again it’s closer to Dark Souls and Mount & Blade than WoW was as well, so for me at least the weight cancels out the sluggishness you sometimes get.

        “Cadence? It’s hard to describe. All I know is that I feel it in WoW combat, felt it pretty close in GW2, and didn’t feel it much at all in TESO (or Secret World for that matter).”

        I think the best analogy might be MOBAs, to be honest. Everything in TESO feels like it has a cast point and wind up animation that delay the actual response to the button press, and as you can just power through your resource bar and then be left with only AAs it feels a bit dry at times. Compared to GW2 where there’s usually something off CD you can press, it’s sluggish.

        TSW is a whole different league of bad though. The sluggishness of TESO with the floatiness of WoW/GW.

        “Like I mentioned though, it’s not that TESO is necessarily bad or anything, it just didn’t quite grip me enough to maintain a hold.”

        Isn’t that virtually every current MMO, though? :P

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  2. I had a mostly similar experience with TESO, although this was at release and I know they have fixed and improved a TON of stuff since then. The core problem I had was I had a lot of fun in the first zone. Loved exploring the whole thing, doing all the quests, and ‘finishing’ it. Then you go to the next zone and realize the game basically reset back to zero, only your character has higher numbers. The second zone felt like a slog and I wasn’t excited or interested in the exploration or crafting aspect anymore. I don’t think I ever made it out of the third zone.

    It’s weird too, because TESO does a lot of things different and new than FFXIV, but FFXIV to me is 100% more playable long-term, because the ‘same old’ that FFXIV has is what really keeps you going in a themepark.

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  3. I’m the opposite. I was jiving along in GW2 happy with my carebear existance (never been into PvP) until the new expansion hit. It was an immediate pre-order for me and then what an utter disappointment. I can’t go anywhere in the new zones until I’ve spend hours grinding learning how to glide? Or jump on a bloody mushroom? No thanks, I’ve got better things to do with my precious gaming hours. I’ve not logged in since. I might at some point go back to level a Rev just to feel like I’ve got *some* value for money from the expansion, but I will be unlikely to set foot in the new zones.

    Then I tried TESO on the recent free weekend, having vowed never to play it as Elder Scrolls was MY WORLD and I didn’t want anyone else in it thank you very much. Myself and my SO played all weekend, then bought and subbed after. We are both playing it whenever we can now.

    I love the story questing. I think the combat is great. I like having to move around rather than stand stock still while casting like in older MMOs. The voice acting is generally good quality and dayum the world is pretty. I’ve not really been bothered by other players. Those I’ve joined up with briefly have been friendly. Like GW2 there is a more co-operative feeling than competitive and that works for me. I also adore the exploratory nature of the game. Much like all Elder Scroll games, players are rewarded for going off the beaten trail.

    So thats where I’ll be when not working on my single-player backlog!

    Also, hi I’m new to your blog. I found it via another gaming blog (Cannot be Tamed). Looks good!

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