Elder Scrolls Online Log #2: Reflecting on the game’s beginning
Last week, we began our critical look at Elder Scrolls Online. Truth be told though, as evident by my letter to GameZone Editor-in-Chief Michael Splechta, I really didn’t want to stop playing. Now that I’ve had a day of travel before PAX East to think, it’s time to truly reflect on the fifteen and a half levels I’ve played. In summation, my original assessment (that the game is nothing more than an Elder Scrolls title that happens to be an MMO) has yet to change.
That’s not exactly a bad thing, though. The MMO genre has arguably suffered a dry spell of innovation. I’m not ignoring the games out there that have attempted to mix things up (TERA, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic), but at the end of the day, their total packages were lacking. Even Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, despite its surprise success, wasn’t immune from these feelings. Realm Reborn did a lot of really, really good things, but we’ve arguably already seem them done before.
While Elder Scrolls Online also doesn’t necessarily re-invent the wheel, it also didn’t have to. Simply by being an Elder Scrolls game is enough to help it break the MMO mold. The combat happens in real time and tends to be unforgiving. Didn’t step out of the way? You’re going to take some damage. Forget to interrupt that incoming attack? Damage time. Didn’t realize you should probably block those incoming attacks? Yep, you’re going to regret that. Not even TERA, a game built and sold entirely on its action based combat, comes close to feeling the same way. While some of my issues from the beta, namely having no idea why I’m unable to use a certain ability or interrupt channels, persist, they’ve mostly been fleshed out for the live release. So, you know, it’s exactly how an Elder Scrolls game works.
Combat hasn’t been the only aspect of Elder Scrolls Online that stands well in comparison to the franchise. The narrative focus on the game has been beyond enjoyable. While, yes, you can argue that the presentation of SWTOR is stronger, I never really felt compelled to stop and take in the story. At the end of the day, I was still doing the same quests I was in any other game. ESO is different though, because you’re not doing the same old same old. While, yes, they’re still present and you can still tell when 1) they pop up and 2) they’ve been attempted to be spruced up, stronger quest objectives are present. For every time I need to interact with X amount of objects, I have to explore a couple of dungeons. Whenever I have to loot a certain amount of items, I have to uncover a treasonous plot. It’s not perfect and it honestly may never be, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t stopped to enjoy the dialogue and events unfolding around me.
It’s a stark comparison from my experience in the beta when I played in the Daggerfall Covenant. To call both the quest line and zones in the Aldmeri Dominion better is truly an understament. It’s like if you took the original quests in Barrens and put them together to the overarching narrative of Mount Hyjal, a night and day comparison that is truly no contest. When it comes to the zones, however, I do understand that a lush forest filled with plenty of scenic vistas is far more appealing than a desert. Maybe my opinion will change when I go back and play it for Veteran levels.
If I feel like I’m totally gushing about Elder Scrolls Online, it’s because…well…I am. It’s going to be really, really hard to go five days without it; I’ll probably beg Bethesda to hook up a computer at their PAX booth, though I have the feeling my pleas will fall on deaf ears. There is one silver lining to spending so much time away from the game, though: it gives ZeniMax Online some time to iron out the bugs. I mean, I guess it wouldn’t be an Elder Scrolls game without bugs, but some of these are beyond frustrating. Banished Cells, the first available dungeon for my faction, can’t be completed because there are times where the final boss will not spawn. Man, I’d sure like to see that bug, but I haven’t; the dungeon won’t work beyond the first boss for me.
It’s okay though, it’s not an integral part of my leveling plan. I’ll just head to the next area and work on this quest to save the city of Haven from--oh wait, that’s bugged too. I had to spend about an hour re-logging in hopes of getting an instance that worked, but since that didn’t work, I just went into the game bright and early when it wasn’t peak hours. Low and behold, it worked and I could move on.
It’s sounding like this is an all too common experience. I’m hearing that MAIN quest lines are also bugged in the zone that awaits me next. Man, I really hope that gets solved, because to be perfectly frank, logging out and in is not a valid fix. Remember, Bethesda promised no lag for their launch. While the game has been mostly stable (I was suffered from slight delays the other night but it was pretty much only noticeable in chat), the bugs haven’t been shy at all.
I apologize for my schizophrenic-like attitude change, but it reflects my feelings when playing the game. It’s really easy to get lost in the environments of Elder Scrolls Online and just as easy to get taken out of the immersion by its issues. Is it enough to recommend against the game? Not exactly; no MMO launch is perfect after all. But for now, if you’re on the fence on the game and don’t have that much time to spend a day playing, I’d probably wait until you see these issues fixed up a bit.
Know this, though: despite the last two paragraphs of complaints/saddening thoughts that I can’t complete certain quests, I really wish I was playing right now. I’ll just have to settle for Bravely Default on this flight.