Elder Scrolls Online Beta Hopes

Zenimax is having another beta event for the Elder Scrolls Online this weekend. I can tell you that I have a code and that I’ll be participating. But there is an NDA, so I can’t say anything more about what’s going on.

I can, however, mention that, as of this moment, I don’t intend to buy ESO — which I went on record about a little while ago. But as I mentioned at the time, I haven’t seen the game yet, and doing so stands the best chance of getting me to change my mind. If it does I will be very pleased. I can also talk about exactly what I will be looking for in ESO.

TESOAs someone who has been playing Oblivion and Syrim recently, I’m curious to find out how much ESO feels like an Elder Scrolls game. I’ve heard folks say that it does, but from the video I’ve seen the graphics style is different and the animation flows differently, which I see as potentially jarring. Will the world and its NPCs be as interactable as they are in Skyrim? Do I get thrown in jail for stealing from the shopkeepers or murdering the guards? Can I even murder the civilians or do they have NPC Immunity? It the world riddled with zoning and instancing? Does it feel as rich and deep as the Tamriel of the single-player games? As big and expansive despite far more players in it?

How well will it run? I can tell you that EverQuest Next Landmark (which is not under NDA) runs like crap on my laptop… but that’s an Alpha, completely unoptimzed. ESO should be much closer to a releasable state, you’d think. How buggy is it, two months from release?

Does balance feel terribly off? This is one of the major long-term concerns I have for ESO. I worry that with a (relatively) open build system there will be a very small handful of optimal builds and playing any other way is a quick route to getting constantly owned. Truthfully, I have pretty low hopes for ESO’s PvP.

How much does ESO’s “epic story” dominate the game? Becuase when I am playing an Elder Scrolls game, their main plotline tends to run about #4 on my list of things I want to do. Can I do it at whatever level, or do I have to wade through three or ten hours of linear crap before I can become the interpid wanderer and explorer that I want to be? How much autonomy from the rails do I get?

Is it worth $15 a month? With so many free options, that will be hard to justify. But not impossible, and there’s always the hope that I’ll really like it. I’ll be sure to let you know what answers I find, as soon as I can.

Reflection and Redirection

Ardwulf’s Lair began as a blog on a long-defunct site called GAX, a precursor to GameBreaker that never quite took off. Before long (in October of 2007) I migrated here to WordPress, where I have remained since. That was a bit over six years ago. I had begun by blogging about my adventures in Vanguard, and though I soon veered off into many other titles, that’s the game I retain a special affection for to this day.

I have not been blogging much for the last couple of months. Mostly that’s a factor of time; between school, work and family I have had very, very little time to do any video gaming at all, so blogging about it was even lower in priority. But I have been engaged in some other pursuits, including some tabletop gaming and working on some things of my own invention. With Vanguard sunsetting and my own creative urges pulling me in a different direction, it’s probably time to contemplate a change of focus for this blog.

I won’t be going away or anything equally dramatic. In fact it’s likely you’ll see a fair amount of MMORPG content here over the next few months as Vanguard slowly moves toward its sunset. And there will always be video game stuff here. But you’ll also begin to see other kinds of content, in some cases pointers to or reposts from one of my other blogs. So: fair warning.

The Next Best Hope

The latest piece of Elder Scrolls Online promotional fluff is the eight-plus minute trailer embedded below. It’s pulling in raves, largely from folks I would consider outside the hardcore demographic. Which in itself is fine.

Although this trailer is indisputably well-made, as a fan of both Elder Scrolls games and MMORPGs it doesn’t get me excited about ESO. For one, it reminds me of the Warhammer Online and SWTOR cinematic trailers. Which were also well-done and also utterly unrepresentative of the actual game. This one even follows the same narrative arc as those two. It doesn’t highlight any of the things that makes the Elder Scrolls single-player games special. It doesn’t even use the iconic Elder Scrolls theme, a baffling omission. That alone would have stoked me up to buy it.

I haven’t played in the ESO beta, and folks who have are more than welcome to correct me on these points. But what I see is a very conventional game lacking much of the interactibility and dynamic world that made Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim so interesting. The game itself could prove me wrong about this, but unless I get a beta invite I’m very unlikely to drop the $60 it will take to find out. I do expect ESO to sell lots of copies. I doubt its staying power and ability to retain subs beyond the three-month point. I think that MMO players, those most likely to be willing to commit to a subscription, will find ESO uncompelling. Then again, SWTOR seems to have done very well with a modestly big retail splash followed by an agile shift to microtransactions. It’s safe to say that everyone expects ESO to follow the same pattern. Perhaps I will try it then. Meanwhile I hope it does very well, but along with that there’s a hope that it’s a better and more interesting game than I think it is.