Eurogamer Expo 2013: The Elder Scrolls Online First Impressions

Posted Sat, Sep 28, 2013 by Lewis B


I'm unsure how I feel about The Elder Scrolls Online. An hour with Skyrim, without question, is too little time spent. However, it is enough time to get an essence of what the game feels like, how it plays and how it presents itself.

I wrote on my notepad and underlined the word “rough”. Part of the reason for this is because the demo that we were treated to, where we started in Bleakrock Village, was neither engaging nor of much interest. The game world looks just like Skyrim (I'll complain about that shortly) but lacks the grit and dark edge of something such as Age of Conan.

Heading out of the village to summon a Dragon Priest as an Argonian Knight Blade, the game at times feels at odds with its own design. On one hand, it's replicated Skyrim within an inch of its life (right down to the UI and interaction with NPCs) but has then crow-barred in traditional MMOG elements that don't quite sit well with its intended premise.

A prime example of this is the skeletons you encounter just outside the village. Armoured up and wielding swords, shields and bows, combat becomes a clumsy affair of rapidly clicking while strafing (akin to many of today's modern MMOG's), and yet enemy attacks hone in on you irrespective of how you dance around them and all without satisfying feedback or attack skills. On that basis, it's much easier to stand there and take their blows (or block them, which doesn't always work well). What I found frustrating though wasn't necessarily this, but the fact that my head was telling me I should be able to avoid all attacks if I maneuver properly (ala Skyrim) but the game was telling me that I can't because this isn't Skyrim – it’s a game bound by laws of the massively multiplayer genre, but laws which don't seem to fit. All the worse when a band of Skeletal Archers fire upon me, only for their arrows to curve in mid air like a guided missile, regardless of my movement.


This brings me nicely into the general feel of the game world and animations. Overall I was incredibly disappointed in the latter but pleased with the former. Characters feel weightless and stilted in 3rd person and feel even less natural when in 1st. The game engine really doesn't do 3rd person as well as the likes of WildStar or Guild Wars 2 and lacks any sense of interaction or placement with the environment. Where 1st person is concerned, again it feels as though this late addition is exactly that – it lacks the tactile feedback we're akin to in 1st person games. When I'm hitting a skeleton with a greatsword I want him to flinch, stumble and stagger not stand in the same place unmoved (the same occurs with all enemies I encountered). As far as the animations are concerned, they are neither polished nor pleasurable to watch, with my Argonian clumsily hauling her shield from her back or dodging awkwardly. The same can also be said for attack indicators that both TESO and WildStar share. When an enemy is about to attack you, a clearly defined animation plays out complete with vulgar area marker. I appreciate the helping hand as much as anyone, but the markers are neither attractive of visually pleasant. Subtlety is not the order of the day here.

All that said, TESO does have its positives. It looks lovely and the world seems, at first impression, plenty large enough to get lost in. The styling is identical to Skyrim to the point where it's hard to separate the two products at times. This really isn't a bad thing but it does lead it to lack identity. There's also a lot to be said for the fact that none of the quests I came across were kill 10 this or 5 of that, in complete contrast to WildStar. For me though (animations and poor combat aside) it was the fact that the game has a lot of potential. Visuals can be ironed out through the course of the Beta while animations can also be improved upon with future iterations. The core structure is there, though it feels like bare bones relying heavily on its predecessor at the current time. Luckily, the release has been delayed and Bethesda have bought themselves time to fine tune and take on feedback such as this.

I do fear that some of the issues run deeper than polish can provide and I'll be returning to the game eagerly to see how it progresses, even if it is to play more with the skill system (there seems a lot of depth there).

Lewis B. managed to score some hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls Online at Eurogamer Expo this weekend. Find out what he thought of the MMORPG in its current state.

It's funny - all of your complaints about attack animations, combat lacking weight and heft, etc were the very complaints I had about Skyrim, to the point that I find it basically unplayable. For me, the tightness of the controls in TESO vastly outpaces the floaty mouselooks I deal with in Skyrim.

As for the aesthetics - it looked like Skyrim because the demo zone is in (off the coast of, whatever) Skyrim. Other areas look appropriately different.

Here is my issue with modeling TESO so heavily after Skyrim and previous ES titles: the combat in these games has never been their main draw. Combat in ES games has always had herky-jerky animations and third-person in Skyrim and Oblivion was absolutely useless. So honestly, there's no surprise there. The thing is, that the combat worked for those games because they were single-player RPGs that allowed your choices to actually affect the world, and so the combat basically worked for what the games represented.
Unfortunately, when you're making an MMO, if you don't have engaging combat you really don't have much else. Combat is such an integral part of MMOs that it simply cannot be overlooked or swept aside in favor of some other aspect of the game. No matter how much they attempt to make this game like other ES games, an MMO is simply not going to be able to reproduce the importance of player choices and anyone who thinks that a storyline in an MMO is going to save the day is kidding themselves. Case in point: take a look at SWToR and GW 2, two games that hyped story and player choice. Both of them failed horribly to deliver on both counts, not because of any flaw in the games, but simply because you cannot do that in an MMO. How can you possibly allow one player to change the course of history when that player is sharing the world with others? You can't, simple as that.
And so I fear that the TESO devs just don't realize how important combat is to MMO players. Sure, there is time to adjust animations and such, but the problem is that the core systems are already in place. Even if the game is still six months away from open beta, the core systems aren't going to be altered much from now until then; there simply isn't time. I worry greatly that if combat and animations don't improve, the other aspects of the game, great as they may be, aren't going to be near enough to sustain a decent player base. I am a huge ES fan, but I can tell you this: my beta experience thus far has been underwhelming, also, and that is primarily due to the terrible combat. If it doesn't undergo some drastic improvements, I won't be paying for this game, either.

11/23/13 ESO review; yesterdy, in game;

I REALLY like that there are no useless blinding special effects during combat! :)
(In Guild Wars 2, I often can NOT find my mouse curser! during multiplayer combat.)

My biggest complaint, is
1. loot:
basicly almost NONE.
In the beta, that was what happened. Not like GW2 where everyone tells the map where a big Chest or Mob is, since EVERYONE gets loot from it, in ESO, it's first come first serve. Ninja looters are encouraged in this pathetic game.
This is a major backslide!! (IMO)
To make that issue worse, there have been NO drops from kills (so far for me 4 hrs playing) and chests are also rare and usually empty (Although Chests are where the armor or weapons are found). Already looted. Re spawn unknown, and likely not at the same spot to avoid camping.
Same with the not very often found boxes or any other (rare) container, already opened, empty, and when their IS something in them it's food or crafting material, never armor or weapons. (when I first played, with fewer players online, they were more accessible, not all empty, after a while, 99.5% of everything was EMPTY.)
AND, Much less of the environment is interactive than Skyrim.

2. Aside from the positive of having no fireworks during combat, combat is not fun.
To me it feels awkward, not sure action follows key press, delayed? or there is a built in delay, so clicking too fast overrides the last press?? dunno.
But to me it doesn't work.
Strafing to avoid hits sort of works but not really, since the mob keeps you targeted just fine. (Fine for him: although there is a clear red target zone you CAN avoid with some Mobs.)

3. Quests:
I had to find 3 crew members, but when I picked the first one to see what it was about, I became locked into that one crew member quest, with no option to choose another one. Although I could go on and ignore that quest. But,
Feels LINEAR! I HATE predestined games! I want to be in charge. NOT the devs. I need choices, options, FREEDOM!
Don't know if this game has them but the worst thing that has entered Single Player games is the quicktime movies, where you have NO choice of the outcome.
I RENT a movie if I want to WATCH something someone produced.
In a game I want as much freedom as POSSIBLE.

I'm not giving up yet. but so far, not looking good.

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