Opening Up ESO, Impressions and Q&A

emperor-plans

At long last, it’s time to dig in!

Following the extensive media coverage of the Elder Scrolls Online press beta last weekend, I am thrilled to announce that Tamriel Foundry has been granted permission to contribute our own coverage and impressions of ESO. When I started this website a year and a half ago its primary purpose was to serve as a haven for discussion amongst serious and mature gamers. Tamriel Foundry has evolved substantially since that date, but our mission has not changed. In the coming weeks we will have a steady stream of articles, videos, site features, and more which provide you all with what we hope will be a clear picture of the systems, features, and mechanics you will encounter in ESO. It feels strange to be granted permission to talk about my (now extensive) experience with the game following such a lengthy period of non-disclosure that I almost don’t know where to start. The articles that will follow this one will each have a specific focus, taking a close look at a specific gameplay system. To get the ball rolling, however, I want to start with some honest reflection on what The Elder Scrolls Online is as a game and what it realistically offers to the countless gamers who are looking forward to it.

My first exposure to ESO was in October, 2012 at a limited media event where I was able to play a game that was much less polished and refined than the version which will be going live on April 4, 2014. Despite the relative rawness of the game at that moment in time I saw the tremendous potential of ESO to achieve what I (as a dedicated MMO gamer) have been missing in the genre for the past several years. I try to be a realist. I don’t think any MMO is going to be perfect for me, just as I also don’t think that my perfect MMO would be one that many others would enjoy playing. I do think, however, that ESO does a good job of offering something new and unique mixed with something tried and true. Getting the formula right for a game that is supposed to bridge the gap between the Elder Scrolls franchise and the MMO genre is a daunting task. I try to avoid sensationalism, but there’s a good reason fan sentiment is divided on ESO ranging from predictions of disaster to outrageous success. The best I can do is provide you with what I hope is a fair assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the level 1-15 experience in The Elder Scrolls Online.

It’s worth opening this section by stating clearly that The Elder Scrolls Online is a massively-multiplayer online rpg with Elder Scrolls elements blended in, rather than a traditional TES game with multiplayer elements. While this won’t please everyone, I think it’s arguably the only way that a MMORPG can survive in the long term is by putting the needs of the multiplayer game ahead of the single player experience (see SWTOR). ESO does some things very well, with deficiencies in others. In this article I’ll provide some of my general thoughts on where ESO stands, and give you the opportunity to ask me any questions you have in the comment section below!

Combat in ESO is engaging and well paced

Combat in ESO is engaging and well paced.

Notable Strengths

Enjoyable Combat – The first place to start when complimenting the job ZeniMax has done is to mention the enjoyability of the combat system in ESO. Following the trend set by other modern MMOs, ESO employs an action combat system that engages players with combat tools that are more responsive and interactive than traditional ability-centric combat rotations. The active combat tools of blocking, dodging, bashing, escaping crowd control, and switching weapons give the player a toolkit for keeping fights fun and fresh without getting repetitively as quickly as other games.

Aesthetic Quality – While some reviewers may disagree, I think The Elder Scrolls Online provides a truly excellent visual experience. The level designers and environment artists at ZeniMax have done a fantastic job of creating realistic and yet surreal fantasy environments that are thoroughly enjoyable to explore. The game does a great job of walking the line between the hyper-realism of (a modded version of) Skyrim and the painted aesthetic of games like Guild Wars 2. I think the decision to slightly exaggerate the character models in ESO was a good one, and the art style is one that feels comfortable for a video game while retaining the gritty realism that is such a joy of the Elder Scrolls series. I know this is a feature that appeals differently to different gamers, but I personally am so excited to have a beautifully rendered game like ESO coming out instead of the cartoonish alternatives offered by WildStar and EQ Next.

Emphasis on Exploration – The words “theme park” and “sandbox” do a poor job of adequately describing the full range of possible MMO design patterns, but they are the vernacular most often referenced by the genre. In that regard, ESO is much more theme park than sandbox, with level-dependent zones that are intended to be progressed through in a structured (and ordered) manner. This is actually very common for MMORPGs, and within that conventional pattern ESO does a fantastic job of incentivizing player exploration. Each zone has a main quest which will direct you to some of the more prominent locales of the area, however a vast majority of the game’s content is encountered purely by venturing off the beaten path and letting your compass and curiosity guide you. Experiencing the game will be more fulfilling for players who are intent on finding every Skyshard, lorebook, hidden treasure, and explorable dungeon. This is an underlying feature that ESO clearly shares with its single player TES brethren.

ESO environments are beautifully rendered

ESO environments are beautifully rendered.

Character Development – The skill system in ESO does a great job of setting it apart from the rest of the current MMO genre. The flexibility and long run depth that can go into developing a character is really impressive. Speaking as a completionist and character maximization enthusiast I love that ESO will really challenge players who want to master a variety of combat and crafting roles on a single character. ESO is not a game where you need to have several alts in order to feel like you have access to all facets of the game. The respec options that we will have available coupled with the flexibility offered by the skill system can enable you to dedicate your game time to the long-term development of a single character. This is furthered by the ability to experience all of the game’s content from the perspective of each character you create through the 50+/50++ advancement systems. I think this is a feature that many MMO fans will find appealing.

Crafting - The crafting system that ZeniMax have redesigned (there was a previous iteration that was nowhere near as involved) is really special. Crafting enthusiasts will spend countless hours trying to research the variety of item traits and upgrade the quality of their existing equipment. The enchanting system of glyphs creates a more complex itemization problem than had previously existed in ESO, giving players flexibility to tweak their character’s performance to perfectly suit build objectives. Not to mention the wide variety of interesting consumables (both in alchemy and provisioning) that can enhance your characters effectiveness and connection to the world. Crafting in ESO is far less derivative than in many other games, and becoming a master craftsman feels rewarding and is a process more involved than simply spending a lot of time standing in front of a workstation.

The character systems in ESO give you the freedom to become the hero you want.

Character systems in ESO give you the freedom to become the hero you want to be.

Primary Weaknesses

Limited Exploration of a Static World – While I mentioned above that exploration is heavily emphasized, and a positive feature of ESO is how the game rewards you for venturing off the beaten path you can only venture so far. Players coming from a single-player TES background will miss the ability to climb mountains, bypass obstacles, and set a course for the distant horizon in a true open-world context. ZeniMax could have created a game with these true open-world and sandbox features, but ESO would have taken a very different shape than it currently does. The technological requirements to create a massive open environment without structured areas for guided progression would almost certainly have limited ZeniMax in other ways and ultimately they chose to sacrifice some of the essence of TES in favor for a more conventional MMO game structure. In a further divergence from the modern Elder Scrolls experience, the world of ESO feels fairly static. In towns, NPCs have no schedules, they simply stand around all day waiting for the player in fixed locations. The day/night cycle has no affect on the world apart from an aesthetic overlay. The player is unable to choose how to creatively react to various NPCs and situations, and can only choose whether to accept their quest or not. For players who typically play TES games “by the book”, completing quests in the expected way and progressing normally through their stories, this may not be a huge deal. However, for the cohort of gamers who love Elder Scrolls games for their nonlinear compatibility and creative problem solving the rigidity of ESO may come as an unpleasant shock.

Shallow MMO Systems – ESO was designed to be an MMO first and foremost, and yet it has managed to forego some of the fundamental systems that gamers will expect. Character advancement is a flexible and enjoyable aspect of the game, but the underlying RPG system of attributes, equipment itemization, and relative lack of meaningful combat indicators may cause ESO‘s systems to feel obscure and clunky. Furthermore, your engagement with other players in a multiplayer space is limited by the lack of expected MMO features like nameplates, guild tags, titles, and more. ESO does a good job of not forcing you to be in competition with other players while undertaking PvE tasks such as killing monsters or collecting objects, but the difficulty of a vast majority of the game’s challenges is such that your fun level is reduced when other players are in the area. Having multiple people around while questing seriously reduces the difficulty of completing objectives, and leaves you without much sense of accomplishment. In this (and several other mechanics) ESO seems to be caught between two minds. The game could have been made harder with certain notable enemies tuned to require (or at least scale) for multiple players, however this would have frustrated players used to the single-player experience as well as MMO players who have been spoiled by solo-friendly gameplay. Alternatively, more content could be phased or instanced to preserve the challenge of questing alone, but this would further detract from the sense of connectivity in a multiplayer world. It’s a difficult challenge, and one that most games struggle with, but the sparsity of group content in ESO causes its multiplayer systems to be less fulfilling than perhaps they should be.

I worry that AvA will be less meaningful with soft alliance boundaries.

I worry that AvA will be less meaningful with soft alliance boundaries.

Open Alliances – I will not continue beating on the dead horse of the ESO pre-order bonuses, but the removal of alliance restrictions from the game adds further blandness to a system that had already been watered down within the game itself. In ESO you can communicate with members of any alliance, trade with them using mail, guild banks, or guild stores, and even have players of enemy alliances in your guild. Alliances in ESO were originally designed as bitter enemies, fighting each other to the death for control over Cyrodiil in spite of the overarching threat of Molag Bal and his Daedric incursion. As the game has evolved, barriers between alliances in ESO have grown increasingly soft, to the point that the Ebonheart Pact, Daggerfall Covenant, and Aldmeri Dominion are more “frenemies” than actual rivals. I believe that in the long run this lack of meaningful faction delineation will harm the game and reduce player’s incentive to care about the storyline and the success of their own alliance.

Grey Areas

User Interface – While many of the previous points I feel confident categorizing as either a strength or weakness of the game, there are some areas in which the player reaction to ESO may diverge wildly, the user interface being the most obvious example. ZeniMax has worked to create an extremely minimalist user interface that enhances the immersiveness of the game world by removing all of the UI clutter that accmopanies most games. The world, its inhabitants, and combat encounters are all placed at center stage without the flashing lights and blinking buttons that prompt players of most games to action. Many players will love the ESO default UI, but many will equally despise it. The lack of real-time information can make gameplay feel confusing. The absence of MMO standard features like nameplates and a minimap can cause you to feel lost or disconnected. Thankfully, ZeniMax has integrated an addon API into ESO that will allow for the creation of modifications to the default UI. Hopefully the data accessible through that API is such that players who are not fond of the default interface can have the fine-level of control they desire over the information shown on-screen, while avoiding some of the pitfalls from past games where addons have changed the way the game is played.

Guild and Economic Systems – The economic systems in ESO are strangely designed. While I am pleased to see that relatively few magical items are “bound” to your character (at least not until you equip them), exchanging goods between players is strangely difficult. The guild store system promises to alleviate some of this hassle, but it is a very strangely designed mechanic. The guild stores in ESO seem as focused on allowing players to sell items to their own guild members as to other players, and their incorporation into Cyrodiil campaigns (about which I cannot yet comment) will be a barrier to trade. How the guild stores will eventually work in the “live” server with thousands of players using them remains to be seen, but I am nervous about ZeniMax’ attempts to reinvent the wheel when it comes to economic systems rather than using the more conventional “trading post” that was originally intended for the game.

Despite any of it's current flaws, there is a tremendous amount to love about ESO.

Despite any of its current flaws, there is a tremendous amount to love about ESO.

Open Q&A

Alright, aside from the obvious impact of PvP and Cyrodiil (which I am personally hugely passionate about) I think this adequately summarizes my thoughts on ESO. It is very difficult for me to objectively review the state of the game, having seen so many evolutions of its development. I would like to conclude that I think ESO is a wonderful game that has a lot of enjoyment to offer almost anyone who loves RPGs or MMOs. I think that whether or not it becomes a long-run contender or juggernaut of the genre will depend entirely on where ZeniMax goes from here. The addition of adventure zones, further progression lines, and engaging gameplay extensions like crime and morality systems have the potential to evolve The Elder Scrolls Online into an incredibly mature and polished MMO. Despite some of my aforementioned reservations, I absolutely cannot wait for launch day and I cant wait to share more specific gameplay experiences with everyone in the coming weeks.

The most exciting thing for me about the partial lifting of the NDA for Tamriel Foundry is my ability to now engage you guys in discussion about ESO and its game systems. So please feel free to ask any questions that you would like me to address. During the next week I will be responding to as many questions I am able. As a reminder, I can only talk about content accessible from levels 1-15, and cannot go into specifics about the PvP systems of Cyrodiil just yet (although we will soon). Aside from that caveat, please fire away, I can’t wait to start talking ESO with you all!

131 responses to “Opening Up ESO, Impressions and Q&A”

  1. Profile Photo
    Nybling

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 2124

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Good stuff, @Atropos.  Now let’s all get excited because ESO is almost here.

  2. Profile Photo
    Morkulth

    Expert

    Total Posts: 425

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Cmon 4/4 !!!

  3. Profile Photo
    Marsh-Shadow

    Master

    Total Posts: 571

    Argonian Sorcerer

    An-Xileel

    ESO is all I think about anymore.

  4. Profile Photo
    deathflamz

    Novice

    Total Posts: 10

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    ShadowFang Rangers

    it is great when you take the time to note the pros and cons of a game and just go with it because it makes it just the more fun!!!!

  5. Profile Photo
    ESeregon

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 88

    Dunmer Templar

    Reawaken

    deathflamz said on February 9, 2014 :

    it is great when you take the time to note the pros and cons of a game and just go with it because it makes it just the more fun!!!!

     

    /Agreed

    A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.

  6. Profile Photo
    VileIntent

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    Dunmer Nightblade

    Entropy Rising

    very good article dude

    http://atropos.objects.dreamhost.com/vileintent-signature.jpg

    ” If you wish to make a fight boring, make it fair.”

  7. Profile Photo
    Big-Farm-Boy

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 54

    Imperial Templar

    Children Of Auriel

    Thanks for the insite can’t wait to play -you PC guys are lucky xbox have to wait ha ha

  8. Profile Photo
    BroScottcho

    Adept

    Total Posts: 219

    Orc Sorcerer

    ESOTR

    Good article and I can’t wait to get information on level 15+.

    @atropos I thought one of the developers had said you can turn nameplates on or off?

    ESO Lodge – Elder Scrolls Online Guild Tools

  9. Profile Photo
    KegKiller

    Scamp

    Total Posts: 8

    Breton Templar

    So are the Rings of Mara available to everyone or not?

    Are my expectations too high if I can’t help but compare to the “epicness” of Skyrim?

  10. Profile Photo
    FallenPhoenix

    Adept

    Total Posts: 245

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    I agree with were u put nearly all of the information… the only one that I think was place wrong was the “Open Alliances” which I think should have been placed in the gray area because that is a topic that is still debated between players

     

     

     

  11. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    BroScottcho said on February 9, 2014 :

    I thought one of the developers had said you can turn nameplates on or off?

    This is not yet true in the version of the beta that we have been able to play. There is an option in the UI settings interface for it, but it doesn’t actually do anything yet. Whether nameplates will make it in for launch for sure is still unknown (sadly).

     

    KegKiller said on February 9, 2014 :

    So are the Rings of Mara available to everyone or not?

    Are my expectations too high if I can’t help but compare to the “epicness” of Skyrim?

    Rings of Mara are available in-game, not only as a pre-order bonus, but you will need to buy them from an NPC. I’m not sure what the gold cost is offhand. As for your expectations…. yes and no. ESO is definitely epic, but it’s epic in a different way. Rather than being the Dovahkiin, a near god-like figure in TES mythology you are but another one of thousands of soulless who have been enslaved by Molag Bal. While Skyrim is epic at the individual level, ESO is epic at the aggregate level. It’s less about your personal story (which ESO still has) and more about living in the world of Tamriel during a turbulent time in the Elder Scrolls timeline.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  12. Profile Photo
    Micanis

    Master

    Total Posts: 527

    Bosmer Templar

    With the NDA loosening I can feel ESO getting closer and closer! I can’t wait until the NDA comes completely down, but in the meantime it’s great that you can answer our questions.

  13. Profile Photo
    BroScottcho

    Adept

    Total Posts: 219

    Orc Sorcerer

    ESOTR

    Atropos said on February 9, 2014 :

    BroScottcho said on February 9, 2014 :

    I thought one of the developers had said you can turn nameplates on or off?

    This is not yet true in the version of the beta that we have been able to play. There is an option in the UI settings interface for it, but it doesn’t actually do anything yet. Whether nameplates will make it in for launch for sure is still unknown (sadly).

    Ah thanks.  From what I have seen in the videos it looks like it could be difficult  to determine enemy from player.  Can you comment on that?

    ESO Lodge – Elder Scrolls Online Guild Tools

  14. Profile Photo
    Joemeatballs

    Novice

    Total Posts: 15

    Breton Sorcerer

    Was anyone in press beta able to do a group dungeon?

    Joemeatballs, High Penne of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  15. Profile Photo
    Strifur

    Novice

    Total Posts: 15

    Breton Sorcerer

    I’m always interested in armor and the appearance of my character in games. However, the armor seems a little limited in ESO. I know each race has a different look/style, but is there no progression on the appearance of, say, heavy armor for a Breton (or any other race)? In other words, does a level 15 Breton Heavy Chestplate look any different than a level 1 Breton Heavy Chestplate?

    If it all looks the same no matter what level, it really feels less rewarding to finally get high level gear (aesthetically speaking anyway).

    Where there is light, there is darkness.”

  16. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

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    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    BroScottcho said on February 9, 2014 :

    Ah thanks.  From what I have seen in the videos it looks like it could be difficult  to determine enemy from player.  Can you comment on that?

    I’ll be able to talk a lot more about PvP in the near future, but until then I think I need to keep mum on this.

    Joemeatballs said on February 9, 2014 :

    Was anyone in press beta able to do a group dungeon?

    YES, in fact WE were. Stay tuned right here on Tamriel Foundry for what should be an awesome gameplay video of the first tier of group dungeons later this week!

    Strifur said on February 9, 2014 :

    I’m always interested in armor and the appearance of my character in games. However, the armor seems a little limited in ESO. I know each race has a different look/style, but is there no progression on the appearance of, say, heavy armor for a Breton (or any other race)? In other words, does a level 15 Breton Heavy Chestplate look any different than a level 1 Breton Heavy Chestplate?

    Yes, there is definitely aesthetic progression within a single racial style as the gear advances to higher levels. This is part of the crafting system that is one of the absolute best parts of the game. We’ll hopefully have a more detailed article about this in the near future, but in short, yes there is definite aesthetic progression in gear by level.

     

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  17. Profile Photo
    RagnarLodbrok

    Expert

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    Orc Templar

    so can we as members of TF talk about the game level 1-15?  or just the management? all good with me either way just wanted to ask. im assuming we are just allowed to ask you questions?

    ragnar

  18. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3070

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    RagnarLodbrok said on February 9, 2014 :

    so can we as members of TF talk about the game level 1-15? or just the management? all good with me either way just wanted to ask. im assuming we are just allowed to ask you questions?

    As much as I would love to give you permission, unfortunately only the staff of TF is allowed to bypass the NDA (at least for a few more days/weeks). I know it seems kindof strange, but we find ourselves in that middle ground between press and fans. Please do your best to avoid breaking NDA (at least blatantly). It’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to police the discussion of game information as long as it’s not a blatant post like “I played in the beta, and I did this!” (hint hint).

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  19. Profile Photo
    Kotaro Atani

    Master

    Total Posts: 872

    Khajiit Nightblade

    Queen’s Hand

    Great article, @Atropos This one is getting really excited that we are so close to playing the game.

     

     

     

  20. Profile Photo
    Isarii

    Moderator

    Total Posts: 3930

    Breton Templar

    FallenPhoenix said on February 9, 2014 :

    I agree with were u put nearly all of the information… the only one that I think was place wrong was the “Open Alliances” which I think should have been placed in the gray area because that is a topic that is still debated between players

    It’s an opinion piece wherein someone is giving you their opinion. Whether or not something is debated by others is entirely irrelevant.

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