Day one of PAX East has come and gone, and while most of it was spent surveying the general offerings of the show, it did reveal some interesting details regarding The Elder Scrolls Online.
The ZeniMax Booth
The Elder Scrolls Online had one of the more impressive booth setups in the expo hall. They occupy three exhibitor slots, with a screened-off gameplay area which rotated players through for fifteen minute hands-on play-tests. The public demo allowed players to go through character creation, choosing either Templar, Dragonknight, or Sorcerer. Their character was automatically created at level 5 with some “veteran gear” and given free license to roam the High Rock countryside. Due to the brevity of the sessions, most visitors contented themselves with simply trying out the combat system. While I also was eager to check out some of the new mechanics since my last visit, I spent a majority of my own mini-playtest investigating skill trees and game configuration options. My main hands-on time is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, which will allow me to provide some much more detailed analysis of new gameplay features, however, some things did pop out immediately during today’s appetizer.
- The new character advancement system was viewable in game, featuring spec-able skill lines along 6 weapon paths, three armor types, and three class trees. Additionally, Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konkle who was on hand confirmed that a wide range of additional skill lines will also make an appearance, most notably of which are unique racial progression. This adds another facet to advancement and keeps ESO in the tradition of having racial choice be a meaningful first step in character development. He also hinted that AvA progression would feature not just one, but three separate skill trees as players improve their Alliance Rank through AvA combat.
- The UI settings allowed fine tuning of a lot of interface options, including the display settings for friendly and enemy nameplates, quest markers, UI tooltips, and scrolling combat text. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this interface element from past MMOs, scrolling combat text are floating numerical representations of damage dealt and other status effects like stuns, disrupts, or knockdowns.
- There is an impressive variety of emotes in the game, including many varieties of /dance, as well as a bunch of maneuvers which should serve as infuriating ways to taunt your enemies after killing them in AvA, /pushup for example.
- Combat dodging and disruption mechanics were added and felt very fuild. Double tapping a movement key would send my character into a dodge roll. The controls felt very responsive and useful in combat, although it drained a considerable amount of stamina.
Fizzle, Byronyk, and I headed down to the ESO Food Truck to grab some lunch. The food was surprisingly good, although it was essentially just grilled cheese with dipping sauce and chips. There were also plenty of ESO devs on hand to chat with.
I joked with the devs that I was going to record the house/trance music that was blaring in the background and troll the TF community by claiming it was authentic in-game tavern music being played at the food truck…but ultimately I knew someone would actually believe me and cause a panic.
Future of Online Gaming Panel
The final Elder Scrolls Online related activity for the day involved listening to Matt Firor and his contribution to MMORPG’s Future of Online Gaming panel. The panel itself was all a bit politically correct. The panelists (all leaders of forthcoming MMO development studios) did their best to promote their own products without being too aggressive or disparaging towards their competitors. Matt Firor’s comments were all pretty sanitary, and didn’t really give much away about ESO. The good news is we got to chat with Matt a bit after the panel and we got discussed (briefly) the issue of endgame PvE with him.
When asked about his vision for raids and PvE endgame in ESO he explained the controversial IGN quote by recognizing that World of Warcraft is the best in the business at constructing competitive progression raiding. ZeniMax doesn’t want to become embroiled in a struggle to out-do WoW at it’s own game, and would rather develop it’s own brand of large group PvE which fits the Elder Scrolls context. Most WoW-style raids involve 20+ players hacking away gleefully at the ankles of a much larger foe, when Matt Firor claimed “That’s not Elder Scrolls” it was this type of confrontation in particular to which he was referring. The developers at ZeniMax would rather pit a group of players against a much larger force of threatening NPCs to emphasize that heroic feel which is latent throughout the Elder Scrolls series. While nothing explicit is confirmed, it does sound like adventure zones are definitely penciled in as post-launch content. Hopefully there is at least one such epic endgame PvE encounter in the original launch version of the game, but if not, I hope we can look forward to adventure zones shortly after launch as a good compromise for players which crave large group PvE endgame. We should have a better opportunity to talk to Matt further tomorrow afternoon, so I’m hopeful that we can get more juicy details then!
Further Thoughts – Fizzle
We had a great time playing the game today and checking out the rest of PAX. The ZOS team has done a great job with their booth; resulting in a line to get in that faded off in to the distance. Some interesting things I noticed today during the play-through were a really robust character creation system that allowed you to customize a character to extremes without requiring spending a ton of time to do it. A second noteworthy point was when we were able to get Matt Firor aside for a moment after the MMORPG’s Future of Online Gaming panel he confirmed that players will be able to distinguish progression of players through raid content and that there will be plenty of long-term goals to focus on regarding PvE. Overall day 1 was great and we’ll learn more in the next two days.
Further Thoughts – Byronyk
This was my first appearance at a PAX convention — I was not disappointed. The atmosphere of gamers and exhibitors drew a picture of the young and old, the themepark and the sandbox, the Call of Duty player and the Dungeons and Dragons players. PAX is one place you can go where gamers are void of dispassionate internet rhetoric. This was no different with the developers of The Elder Scrolls Online. Of anything I brought away today from PAX East, it was getting a chance to speak — multiple times — to a myriad of developers and community staff of The Elder Scrolls Online. While either at the ESO Food Truck, the Bethesda booth play area, or at the Future of MMO Gaming panel with Matt Firor, the staff of Zenimax was there. They were down to earth and some of the most friendly game developers I have met (I have met many).
A highlight of my day was hands-down the 15~ minutes of playtime in The Elder Scrolls Online. I froze my ass off in the snow, waiting hours in line, but you know Tamriel Foundry was there to test the new Blizzard trading card game Hearthst…. haha, got you! I got to play a level 6 Templar today! How about I rapid fire some facts to you guys?
- Scrolling Combat Text (UI Option)
- AoE Looting (UI Option)
- Insane Character Creation Customization
- Full Armor/Ability/Weapon Talent Trees
I am a very critical reviewer and it’s difficult to impress me (see: Raids). That being said, I was very impressed with the state of ESO from my brief playtime. From a min/maxer and Elder Scrolls fan perspective, the game is really shaping up to be the MMO of 2013. You guys are going to have to wait till a future podcast to get our full views on the game (That and I have a 2 hour play test on Saturday instead of just 15 minutes), but it will be worth the wait. Thanks for all your patience!