I had the opportunity to play in Bethesda Softwork’s beta test of Elder Scrolls Online this weekend and, frequent crashes of the client aside, I liked the game quite a bit. The user interface was so good, in fact, that it started me thinking about all the other online fantasy games I play. So in this post I’ll start of with my impressions from Elder Scrolls Online and move on to compare and contrast with World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Minecraft.
Elder Scrolls Online
Elder Scrolls Online follows confidently in the footsteps of Skyrim, Oblivion, and Morrowind. The familiar world of Tamirel is good looking and well rendered. The small island I ended up stuck on was large enough to get lost on several times, so the sense of being in a large world in the game is present. The quests and NPC reactions were well voice-acted and easy to navigate, thanks to the game’s very good quest, map, and inventory interfaces. So to end the introductions, here is Sagulot.
Most of these screenshots were in the game’s low graphics mode, by the way. It looked nicer in the high mode the client started in by default, but my computer, trustworthy as it is, isn’t exactly cutting-edge. I had also heard that the client liked to crash. So I tried the minimum graphics mode, which played smoothly, and then switched it up to low, which was also very smooth. When I switched to the medium video settings, the quality of the detail improved dramatically, but it also slowed down a bit. It was still playable – I could quest and fight successfully, but it wasn’t quite a fluid as it was on the low setting. I didn’t try any settings higher than that. I know the limits of my old frugally home built desktop. Here’s a shot of it with the medium settings.
The user interface, overall, was the most impressive part of the experience, showing the type of polish in a game that, in my opinion, sets Bethesda Softworks up there as rightly-honored veterans in the video game industry. For example – the spell and special-ability hotkeys are Q, 1, 2, 3, 4, and R on the keyboard, conveniently close to the WASD movement keys. The open-doors-and-loot-chests-and-talk-to-people button, the E key, is your “accept” or “equip” key when you’re in most dialouge windows. And the ALT key is “cancel” when you want to get out of any sub-screen. Overall it makes playing the game vastly easier and is the type of attention to detail that I really appreciate in a game. If you zoom out of the first-person point of view that is the default, it moves up over your character’s right shoulder and looks down at an angle, so that you can still see things that are right in front of you. All together it helps with the immersiveness of the game.
Little touches like the lockpicking mini-game and the various disguises you can use during quests make the cloak and dagger elements fun in a way great games like Mass Effect 2 have used.Here is Sagulot, disguised as a servant.
Also, the client crashed a lot. This is the only reason I took a half star off of my tentative rating. And some of the quests or items were buggy – there was a chest that I could not open until I restarted the client. I didn’t mind too much, except for having to re-enter my password every time. I know some of my friends got frustrated and went back to playing Final Fantasy Online or Faster Than Light, but my thinking is that I’m getting to play this game for free, before they have released it, as part of a stress test of their servers. They are croudsourcing an important part of their quality assurance process, and I think it’s a good deal for them and for us, so I can put up with having to restart the client over and over. And there were a couple of instances of something not loading right, but nothing that I wasn’t able to overcome with a restart of the client.
The stories I played through were good. I particularly enjoyed the escape-from-the-underworld tutorial sequence, which played fast and got you right into the game. The quest and conversation sequences were direct and nicely to-the-point, and every one that I navigated was appropriately voice acted. There were good dramatic moments throughout the quests, and even some funny asides. The world is the wonderfully gritty, brutal fantasy-medieval world those who have played previous games in the Elder Scrolls series have come to know.
In terms of the pvp-free multiplayer, outdoor areas and many areas in the game’s dungeons are common areas, where other online players are there with you. In the online beta this turned the dungeons into perpetual bloodbaths where the goblins spawned as fast as the marauding players could slay them. Return to town, repair your equipment, sell your spoils, and set off on a new quest. And the landscape is dotted with quests, making wandering off into the wilderness a rewarding experience, even on the small island where I played.
Smoothly interspersed here and there are areas where your player is alone with some non-player characters to present a dramatic scene. The game seemed to have a way of keeping the in-game quest scenes private to each player, which was nice and helped with the verisimilitude of the heroic fantasy. Nothing to make a quest you just completed seem mundane like seeing forty other players being celebrated with the same quip. So, overall, I enjoyed the story elements, which were well executed, and look forward to seeing what other adventures like ahead.
Character statistics, skills, powers and spells appeared to work much like in previous Elder Scrolls games. In general, the skills you use the most advance without intruding on the hack-and-slash “first person sword-and-sorcery” thrill ride (FPS&S – to coin a phrase?). You can pick special powers, called “feats” that let you pierce your foe’s armor, or increase your defenses, and it appears most classes get access to some magic spells. I was happy to see the inclusion of their soul magic system, and look forward to making some magic enchantments, which appear to be transferable between items. My orc character’s class was Dragonknight I believe, and within a day of playing I had a flaming chain spell that pulled enemies to me, a sword swing that stunned my foes, and an iron cuirass and shield. It was awesome.
Overall, I give Elder Scrolls Online a tentative 3 1/2 stars. If the client crash issues are the few quest hiccups are fixed, I expect to play this excellent-looking addition to the series with my friends quite a bit when it comes out. But for now, Elder Scrolls Online, I bid you a good night.
As for World of Warcraft,Dungeons & Dragons Online, and Minecraft, tonight the candle burns low, so I will return to the subject in an upcoming post.
thanks, and happy gaming,
Adam A. Thompson