ESO – Something New And Shiny!

As you’re reading this, I’m undoubtedly playing ESO. (Actually I’m probably at work, but I’ll be playing it when I get home.) I’m enjoying that magic time in every MMO when you don’t yet know all the things that make you want to quit playing.

I won’t bore you with my impressions of ESO because a) I’ve already posted them, and b) you’ve already got it because it’s a new MMO and you know you can’t stand not playing a new MMO that everyone is talking about, no matter how many bad reviews you’ve seen or how much you oppose a subscription model on principal.

I predict that many people who previously panned the game will start to say, "Hey, I know I said this game sucked, because it was hip and trendy to say that, but now that I’m actually playing it, it’s kind of fun." I’ve already seen subtle hints from podcasters and publications leaning in that general direction.

One thing I forgot to do at the end of beta was try all the classes, so I’m not sure what I’ll be playing. I won’t be playing an Argonian Nightblade, because that’s all I did in beta. (I picked it because it was the farthest from what I might actually play at launch.) Sadly I’ll have to continue with the Ebonheart faction because I know some people that picked them.

In any case I’m thinking about working on crafting skills before combat skills. In my meager testing, it seemed that you could actually craft equipment that was useful, which is a massive departure from what most MMOs provide. I think it would be cool to craft one’s own equipment. (Especially since, back in beta, I noticed that you didn’t often get drops that you could use.)

P.S. Here’s my one and only pro tip for people starting out in ESO: When you craft anything, you need a piece of material that determines the "racial style" of the item. Those can be bought from the vendors near the crafting stations. It took me forever to figure that out. I thought for the longest time they were drops from mobs, so, of course, I never found any.

ESO – What Does Floaty Mean?

Today I am pondering what it means when combat feels "floaty." This is one of the most common criticisms I’ve seen about ESO: "The combat is too floaty." I’ve seen this criticism leveled against a lot of games over the years, actually.

But what does that mean?

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was swinging my dual daggers in the ESO beta, at no point did my Argonian begin to float away into the sky*. His feet stayed right there on the ground where they belonged. His weapons did not levitate out of his hands, either. So what in god’s name do people mean when they say combat is "floaty?"

The only thing I can figure is that these criticisms are coming from people who jump a lot while they fight. That is: Those PvP players. You know the ones I mean. The ones who took advantage of game engine bugs and splash damage back in the 90s and now think of jumping as a core component in fighting, even though it probably has no effect on combat anymore, especially in an MMO.

I say that because I could see characterizing the jumping in ESO as "floaty." It’s a very high jump and you stay in the air a long time. I think you can change trajectories in the air, too, but I don’t remember. It’s very unrealistic in comparison to the rest of the game, because it feels like you’re on a planet with 1/4th the gravity of earth. So if people were saying "the jumping is too floaty" I’d be right there with them. But they aren’t.

So I’m left thinking that people must be using the word "floaty" as a generic term for "unfamiliar." As in: "The combat in this game I just started playing doesn’t feel like the combat in these other games I’ve played for 5,000 hours. It’s too floaty."

(By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that ESO’s combat is not floaty. I just can’t figure out what people think is wrong with it.)

* There was a time in ESO when I was walking up a short set of stairs and somehow got launched into the air like I’d been shot out of a cannon. It was pretty cool but I couldn’t duplicate it to save my life.

Landmark et al – Take My Money!

Here’s my feedback to SOE regarding Landmark’s proposed monetization plans: Hey can I just pay you and not get spammed with advertising for potions and costumes? That would be super. Oh, and by the way I already paid you. Maybe factor that into your plans, too.

Also, are you ever planning to increase the percentage of your game that is finished? It’s been at 60% now for a month. (Okay, that probably wasn’t fair. But I still think it’s ridiculous to claim that Landmark is anywhere near 60% finished.)

Previously I was pretty ambivalent about free-to-play, but now I’m really starting to dislike it as a business model. I like Rift, but I really don’t care to hear about the new mounts in the cash shop every week. I like GW2, but I really don’t care about what’s new in the gem store (I know GW2 technically isn’t f2p but it might as well be). I like Neverwinter, but I don’t like having to close a spammity spam-spam window every time I log in (I don’t even know what’s in it).

It’s so refreshing to play FFXIV and just be able to play. Same with WoW. I can’t wait for ESO’s and WildStar’s subscription models. Pleeeeease. Take my money!

ESO – It’s About The Horse

Yeah I pre-ordered the $79 Imperial Edition of ESO. Big whoop. Wanna fight about it?

I didn’t do it for the Imperial race, which I don’t care about. I fully expect Zenimax to make that available for purchase later anyway. I didn’t do it because I’m an Elder Scrolls fan boy and I think ESO is awesome. (I tolerate TES and I merely think ESO is better than average.*)

I mainly bought it for the horse. Because I happen to remember how much gold it took to buy those things in the beta, and I was able to calculate the amount of time it would take to buy one based on the rate that I was accumulating gold. (Hint: Infinite.)

(Of course, it’s possible they jacked up the horse prices in the beta so that a lot of people would make the same decision I did.)

(Also, somehow, in the beta, people managed to buy horses. I cannot even conceive of how much time those people must have played the beta, or why they would want to play a beta that much.)

I’m having a hard time understanding all the hate about ESO. It’s not a bad game by any stretch.

I’m seeing some disappointment that ESO isn’t more of a sandbox. This is mind-boggling to me. I feel like there’s now some twenty years of solid data to indicate that the majority of MMO gamers don’t want a sandbox. If people didn’t naturally gravitate toward theme parks, then EQ wouldn’t have become popular, and WoW wouldn’t have become popular after it. Sandboxes are for niche players only, so of course a smart AAA studio isn’t going to spend millions of dollars making a sandbox game. Especially when it’s going to a console.

I also feel like a lot of people are clinging to the idea that a new MMO needs to "feel like home" before they will spend any money on it. That it somehow needs to prove it will stay alive and active for at least as long as WoW has before anyone will commit to it.

I’m not looking for that at all. For a box price, I only hope to have fun for one month. Anything beyond that is gravy. If it’s a really good MMO I might have fun for about three or four months before burning out and needing a break. (Right now, FFXIV is starting to reach the end of that lifespan.)

I have seen an argument that it’s pointless to buy ESO now because it will eventually go free-to-play because subscriptions can’t last. I think maybe this is a generational thing. I generally don’t go around expecting to get things for free. Even if ESO does become free later, I don’t want to wait that long, and I’d rather play it when it doesn’t have all the ads anyway. It’ll be at least a year before it converts, if other games are any indication. Even TERA took a year, I think. I bought TERA when it came out and played for a month and decided not to subscribe, and I don’t feel the slightest bit cheated about it.

So I’m fully prepared for ESO to go free-to-play a year from now, if it happens. I’m not going to feel ripped off or cheated. I probably won’t be playing it by then, but I might see it as a chance to jump back into it. That’s what I did with TERA.

Having said all that, you should definitely not take my advice on whether to get ESO or not. I do have a tendency to spend discretionary money on games I don’t necessarily need or want. (I can’t even count the number of Steam games I’ve bought but never installed.) Quite often I’ll buy 3-month subscriptions to games on an impulse and then not play them. I’ve been cheerfully ignoring WoW, EVE and LotRO subs to keep playing FFXIV.

* My definition of an "average" MMO is something like Dragon’s Prophet or Allod’s Online.

ESO – Impressions from Beta

So apparently Zenimax lifted their NDA a day after I speculated why they hadn’t lifted their NDA. Neat. Anyway, now I can post what I wrote about ESO mainly after the second beta weekend I was in.

Fair warning: The maximum level I have achieved is 7. That’s a couple of hours of gameplay. I have absolutely no idea what the endgame is like; I don’t even know what the maximum level is.

Also: I didn’t like Skyrim that much. I thought it was basically a re-skin of Oblivion with an even worse interface. Once I finished the main story I never played it again.

I’m going to start with the things I like about ESO.

I love the way ESO looks. I love “realistic”-looking 3D games, such as we’ve seen in Age of Conan. ESO is in that same vein, so that’s a big plus for me.

I like that it’s similar to other MMOs, but different enough to require some re-learning. I like the variety of Elder Scrolls races. I like that it’s a skill-based game, where you gain expertise by using skills, and you can “customize” your class by choosing different skill paths. I like that you can basically pick up any weapon or armor and use it if you want to. I like that you can follow quests, but you can also go off the beaten path if you want.

One feature I particularly like is that the game will seamlessly move you to a different “instance” of the world as you advance along the quest line. For example, you leave town to go light a torch, and when you come back, the town is in flames and under attack, with no apparent transition. After you save the village, it’s filled with people cheering for you. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s still a neat trick. (I now know this is called “phasing” for some weird reason.)

Another feature I like is that you often don’t have to run all the way back to quest givers. You’ll get a quest in town to go out and do something, and after you’re done, you’ll find the quest giver has followed you out of town to congratulate you and give you your reward. (Why didn’t they solve their own problems, then? Just don’t think about that.)

I like the combat system: It’s active in the vein of TERA, and you have to move around to dodge attacks and interrupt casts. I like that it’s not super fast and twitchy like Neverwinter and to some extent GW2. I like that you have a limited set of abilities to choose from, and not ten hotbars filled with actions you’ll never use. I don’t know how it’s going to hold up in the long run, but at least in the beginning, it suits me just fine.

I like that the interface is “reminiscent” of Skyrim, but it seems more functional.

I like that the inventory is a list of items, not yet another grid of icons. I have come to despise “grid of items” backpacks.

Now the bad.

I don’t like the voice acting for the quest text. I don’t like it in any game, with the possible exception of The Secret World. Not that it’s poorly done, it’s just that I find it really slow and annoying to have things read to me, no matter how good the acting is. Not only that, but quite often I play MMOs while watching Netflix, and I don’t like the MMO talking to me when I’m trying to watch a show. :) I don’t like having to stop my show to listen to NPCs.

On a related note, I don’t like how it zooms in on your character when you talk to someone, or visit a vendor. It’s an unnecessary speed bump.

I definitely don’t like that it’s the same starting place for every new character, and there are only three newbie zones. That means creating alts or starting over will be a chore.

There is no minimap. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. In fact there is very little in the way of a HUD on the screen during gameplay. Only time will tell if this becomes a nuisance or not.

I have already pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition. Why not? It’s cheaper than cable. Does that mean I think this is going to be my MMO “home?” I doubt it. But then I don’t really think of MMOs that way anymore. I play an MMO until it isn’t fun, then I switch to another. It’s extremely rare that I stick to one MMO for more than 3 months. There are so many different ones out now that it’s impossible to think about staying in just one anymore.

ESO – Speculating on Zenimax

Zenimax is getting a lot of flak for their strict NDA, and I thought I would speculate on why they might think it’s a good idea to keep it in place, when other early games don’t. Which is not to imply that I think it’s a good idea, or a bad idea, or anything in between. I’m not a games journalist, so I couldn’t care less whether it has an NDA or not. (Usually journalists complain the loudest about NDAs because not being able to write a story means lost eyeballs.) Average joe gamer probably doesn’t care either.

I’m ruling out what everyone else thinks, which is that Zenimax knows their game sucks and they want to fool people into buying it sight unseen. I have to believe that somebody over there thinks they’re making a good game. Someone would have put up their hand in a meeting at some point and said, "Guys, you know, this idea sucks, maybe we should pull the plug before we spend millions of dollars on it." I mean, it’s not like the way the game turned out is a surprise to them. They meant it to play the way it plays.

The only thing I can figure is that they believe keeping the game under wraps will build more curiousity for the game. All anyone hears about it now is, "Hey there’s this game, but we can’t talk about it." So maybe people will see ESO on the shelves one day and think to themselves, "Oh wow, here’s that game that was a big secret, I want to see what it is!"

To compare, people may not feel the same curiousity about WildStar. I mean, we’ve pretty much seen every single moment of the game with every class from level 1 to 15 already. (If we’ve wanted to.) I know I don’t feel the same anticipation about WildStar as I do about ESO. WildStar feels like a safe, by-the-numbers MMO (kind of like Dragon’s Prophet, which, yeah, there’s that), whereas ESO feels more like uncharted territory, and that’s more interesting to me.

Maybe it has something to do with the console-centric nature of the game. If you’ve seen ESO at all, it’s clear it was designed to be played on consoles, and console game launches do not work the same way as PC game launches. (I guess. Actually I don’t know, but it seems logical.) I would not be surprised if they are viewing the PC market as an after-thought, and concentrating all of their efforts on console players.

I tend to agree with many pundits on this: No matter what Zenimax does, they are doomed to disappoint some portion of their audience. People who are expecting Skyrim are going to be disappointed, because it’s impossible to recreate a single-player experience in a multi-player game. People who are expecting a PC game will be disappointed, because it’s dumbed down for console controllers. People who are expecting a sandbox game are going to be disappointed, because those people are always bitter about everything. (Just kidding. But ESO isn’t a sandbox, so they’ll be disappointed.) People who are expecting WoW are going to be disappointed, because it isn’t super easy. People who want PvE are going to be disappointed, because there’s apparently a large focus on PvP. Even people who want PvP are going to be disappointed, because those people are really bitter about everything.

ESO is trying to do something that has never been done before: Take a wildly popular single-player RPG franchise and turn it into an MMORPG that runs on PCs and consoles. It’s basically impossible. UO is the only other MMO I can think of that came close to doing that, and that was only popular because there was nothing else out at the time. (A game like UO released today would not be popular … see Mortal Online, which is exactly the hardcore sandbox game everyone wants from these Kickstarter projects, but nobody plays it.)

The Delicate Balance of Beta Testing

I think it’s safe to say this: I got an invitation for this weekend’s TESO beta test. I assume it’s okay to say that because they made a big public announcement that they were sending out the invitations. I had to accept a rather harsh-sounding NDA though so I don’t think I’ll be able to say much of anything else.

Beta testing is a delicate balance. On the one hand, it’s super exciting to see a new shiney and possibly shape the course of its future (though to be honest, in my experience, beta reports are largely ignored unless it is a game-breaking bug), but on the other hand, you don’t want to play so much that you burn out before the game even launches. Not to mention all of your progress is going to get wiped anyway. So it’s like, "Yay, I’m in the beta!" Followed shortly by, "Crap, this could ruin the game for me."