As many of you know, three staff members of Tamriel Foundry attended PAX this year including Atropos, Fizzle, and myself (Byronyk). PAX East 2013 was hands down the best gaming convention I’ve ever attended. The atmosphere of the gamers and exhibitors was invigorating and intense – all at the Boston convention and exhibition hall to celebrate something we love; gaming. The focus of this article is going to be my experience over the weekend including my two hour hands-on with The Elder Scrolls Online and my interaction with the staff of Zenimax Online.
Zenimax Online – The Staff
Before I get started, I believe Tamriel Foundry and the community overall needs to get to know the developers and staff of Zenimax Online. I was privileged to speak personally with Paul Sage, Nick Konkle, Joseph Burba, Matt Firor, Jessica Folsom, and Maria Aliprando. I have spoken to many game developers in the past, and while many have been eager to explain why their game is amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever met a larger group of people that actually care about the fans and their communities more.
Nick Konkle, the lead gameplay designer, was the first person to talk to me when I sat down for my two hour play session in the private ESO booth. He spent well over an hour giving me advice, tips, and answering my questions as I quested through the beautiful world of Tamriel. I felt humbled by the fact that someone of his caliber would spend such a gratuitous amount of time giving me a 1-on-1 discussion about everything ESO. Later that evening, I spoke with Paul Sage about this occurrence and he suggested that “We [Zenimax] should ship every box of The Elder Scrolls Online with a personal Nick Konkle – you know – Konkle in a box!” I knew from that point on that my play through write-up would be called Konkle in a box.
The community also needs to know about the staff at Zenimax Online that isn’t always at the forefront of ESO news. I want to give a big shout out to Joseph Burba, the director of social media and Jessica Folsom, the online community relations manager. Both of these people made my experience at PAX that much better with their candid talk and forthcoming attitudes.
Finally, being able to drink some choice whisky while discussing ESO with the devs at the Tamriel Beer Garden was a treat. Tipsy devs are fun devs.
Character Creation – Butt Slider
Now for the part you all have been waiting for! Immediately as I sat down, I was presented with the character creation screen of The Elder Scrolls Online. We were only allowed to play as the three races of the Daggerfall Covenant (Breton, Redguard, and Orc), so I chose an Orc female of course. After choosing Templar as my class, I was given the option to customize my characters physical features split up into two tabs – body and face.
I won’t lie; I don’t think I’ve seen such a detailed character creation screen since perhaps Star Wars Galaxies. Zenimax Online gives you two basic ways to create your character; a profile triangle and detailed sliders. The profile triangle lets you quickly choose the generic look of your character whether it be angular, heroic, or muscular. This is for the players that want to jump into the game quickly and not spend hours adjusting cheek bone and eye slant features. For those players, you can adjust nearly every feature of your body including the posterior slider which allows you to adjust, well, your butt. Yes, the butt slider will be in the game for launch.
As a side note, I have played many fantasy RPGs and I don’t think I’ve ever had the ability to actually make an Orc female pretty. Don’t get me wrong, I made my Orc female in the image of a long-lost cousin of Jabba the Hutt, but you can make your Orc female look very feminine which is great because it simply means more customization choices.
After I pressed the “Create Character” button, I waited in bated anticipation as my new nemesis – the loading bar – finished. I entered Tamriel in tattered garbs in the belly of a ship. Guess what the first thing I did was? Attack a rat and open a barrel. God I love Elder Scroll games! After that, I decided to actually follow the quests that lead me to the surface of the ship. I was immediately presented with a bustling harbor within a desert oasis. I’m not going to name names, but the gaming news sites that reported poor graphics can walk the plank for all I care – The graphics, on medium settings, were hands down on par if not better than Skyrim. In no way will you catch me saying that graphics are synonymous with gameplay, but it doesn’t hurt.
As I traveled to the location of an enemy encampment, I stumbled across a dead NPC who left a note detailing gnomish artifacts. Each of the artifacts were in the four corners of the zone which made this quest a way to guide me to quest NPCs and points of interests. When I arrived at the enemy encampment, I fought through ridiculously hard enemies to free four of my comrades. At the end of the quest, Nick Konkle came up behind me and asked why I wasn’t wearing my disguise. Dumbstruck, I went into my inventory and found out the reason I died and struggled killing level 2 mobs was because I wasn’t supposed to kill them – I was supposed to play 007 and avoid the sentries. Feeling both proud and embarrassed, I moved on.
Shortly later, I was given a quest to kill a goblin king. Seriously Zenimax, not 30 minutes in and I’m committing regicide? As I worked my way to the king, slaughtering droves of his soldiers, I had a long encounter with a group of enemies that ended up leaving me extremely excited for the future of finesse. The finesse system is a method to determine extra loot, experience, and other bonuses for executing a fight perfectly by blocking, avoiding, and dealing damage in an effective way. On my final target of that group, I was presented with a kill cam for executing a perfect finesse. I won’t lie if I didn’t have a smile on my face as my sword ripped my target apart in a cinematic fashion.
At the end of the zones critical story line, and assuming you had made certain choices during those quests, you conclude with a grand finale by stealing a ship under the noses of it’s owners. I don’t want to give any more spoilers, so I will leave the story to you, the player, when you get to play The Elder Scrolls Online. I will say however that if you are a hardcore TES fan that is concerned for the direction of the story or lore – don’t be. The questing, journal entries, scattered books/notes (which there are a lot!), and the atmosphere create an immersive environment that even the most veteran of RPG players will love.
Talent System – We Must Go Deeper
The talent system in The Elder Scrolls Online is split into three major categories; Armor, Weapons, Class. Within each of those major categories, there are sub categories that effect active or passive abilities. Within those sub categorical abilities, there are morph abilities that change the inherent nature of the ability after you reach certain level ranges. If you feel overwhelmed – good – you are not alone. Let’s start from the beginning and explain each major tree and work down the waterfall.
The first tree your character has is your armor tree. This tree allows you to increase the effectiveness of light, medium, and heavy armor. For example, if you purchase a higher level heavy armor perk, you decrease the amount of damage you take and increase the amount of healing done to your character. For medium armor characters, you can choose the option to increase passive melee damage and reduce the stamina cost of sneaking. Nick Konkle told me during my play session that having more pieces of the same armor type increases certain benefits that fit that armor type.
The second tree is the weapon tree. At the top of the tree, you can choose from every single weapon type in the game. From there, you can choose specific abilities that fit that weapons fighting style. For example, the first ability you can pick up for dual-wielding is dual-strike; you attack with both weapons at the same time. This is where things start getting complicated. Having an ability on your action bar gains you experience for that ability as you participate in combat. When you level up a weapon skill or class skill (third major tree) to level 4, you are given the option to morph that ability into something new. An example would be adding armor penetration or a knockback to your existing ability.
The third major tree is the class tree. Here are tools that you are given specific to your class. As a Templar, I can choose from 3 different trees that focus on a specific path. These abilities work similarly as the weapon tree such that you can level them up and improve upon their effectiveness. The two trees I focused on were the healing and melee damage tree. I picked up a melee attack that manifests a spear of light to quickly jab your opponent at the cost of Magicka. Another ability I used, from the restoration tree, was Rushed Ceremony, a powerful AoE heal. Within the class trees, you can not only pick active abilities, but passive abilities as well. These passive abilities typically work hand-in-hand with your active abilities either making them better, or altering their effects in some way.
3010 Achievements and Soul Gems
There are so many details in The Elder Scrolls Online that I can’t possibly list them all. However, I did learn some great information during my play session including soul gems and achievements. Soul gems are going to act as they are in Skyrim and more. As of now, you can use soul gems to recharge weapons, craft items, and resurrect players. I wasn’t given details on how soul gems will work in crafting, but Nick Konkle confirmed that you can use soul gems to restore players to life. To charge soul gems, you equip them into your quick-slot “Q”, use it on your enemy for 45 Magicka, and if you can kill them within 5 seconds you will fill your soul gem. Whether or not soul gems can resurrect players in combat is still unknown, but be sure to save all that you get while leveling!
One of the first things I noticed in the client build I was playing on was an achievements panel. In total, there are slightly over 3,000 achievement points which are sure to grow as the game gets closer to launch. Each achievement in ESO gives 5-50 points depending on the difficulty of the achievement. From AvA and dungeons to exploration and crafting, there are many categories to fulfill us achievement nerds with satisfaction! Some examples include heroic level 50 dungeon achievements such as killing a certain boss while your entire group is at full finesse, reaching multiple PvP/AvA ranks, and collecting sky shards in each zone.
I am a very critical gamer as many of you noticed with my harsh criticism in the vague nature of adventure zones. While those concerns for endgame PvE are not fully at rest, I must say that the game as a whole surprised me in not only how polished it is, but how seamless Zenimax took an Elder Scrolls game and turned it into a MMORPG. I have been playing Elder Scroll games since Morrowind and I can say that The Elder Scrolls singleplayer series has one of the most dedicated and devoted fan base of any RPG I know. I was nervous that a development studio other than Bethesda was working on an Elder Scrolls game – not anymore. I have no doubt that Zenimax will produce a game that we can all be proud to own.
Beta: The Longest Day
In a short few days, Zenimax Online (should) be following through with their previous statement that beta invites will be going out at the end of March. As some of you might have heard during a previous Rubicon podcast, I speculated that beta invites would be going out during or after PAX since the hype and excitement would be at its peak. Keep an eye on the official Elder Scrolls Online website, their twitter account, or their facebook page.
This is @Byronyk signing off after a long weekend!