Posted Mon, Oct 22, 2012 by Sardu
Back when instancing first reared its head in the MMOG space, players and developers alike quickly took to the concept as a means of allowing massive numbers of players to share the same experience, but without constantly stepping on each other’s toes in the process. Over time, the overuse of instancing ended up creating segmented communities, and in the current era of the industry most gamers would prefer it be kept to a bare minimum.
And then came phasing.
When the concept was still new, it was put to great use for things like the Death Knight intro sequence in Wrath of the Lich King. However, just like instancing before it, overuse of phasing in Cataclysm did a lot of damage to the social aspects of the game, to the point where it might as well have been a fully instanced co-op game in some areas.
For better or worse, TESO makes prolific use of phasing. On the one hand, it helps individual players feel like their every action or decision matters, but that doesn’t negate that it is a fundamentally flawed mechanic in social gameplay settings.
Jeff and I were grouped up for the bulk of our hands-on time, and at various points the phasing created a major disconnect between even a two person group. Even when working on the exact same stage of the same quest, we had no way of knowing if an objective had been completed for the other player. In one instance, Jeff stopped and asked if I had helped a nearby NPC. I was a bit confused by the question since I could see her husband and dog sitting right next to her; a fact that Jeff had no way of knowing unless he stopped playing to ask me what I could see on my end.
Much of the time the phasing didn’t make a huge difference, though a quest bug on my end led to Jeff being in one version of an area, while I was stuck in another. We could see each other on the mini-map, but were quite literally separated in time and space and could no longer actively play the game as a group until I caught up to him.
The developers may need to tone down the phased aspects of the game in a major way if TESO is ever going to have a healthy in-game community. Shared experiences are paramount to the success of an MMOG, and I personally feel that even if phasing is used, it should account for groups as a social unit working on shared objectives.
Deciding what to highlight for our first hands-on experience with The Elder Scrolls Online is an admittedly daunting task. There is a lot to the game that simply couldn’t be covered in a single article, so be on the lookout for additional coverage from the event later this week.
In the meantime, if I were to impress any one thing upon you based on my hands-on time with TESO it would be this: the game works as both an Elder Scrolls title and an MMOG, and will no doubt appeal to gamers from either background. That said, don’t expect that TESO is going to be exactly like Skyrim only with more players on the map, nor will it be exactly what you’d expect from your standard AAA MMOG. Instead, it represents a true marriage of the two.
Once you factor in the extremely smart design decisions behind the world PvP system (think another worthy successor of DAoC’s RvR), a robust character creation system, and overarching objectives like the mages and fighters guilds, The Elder Scrolls Online has all the makings of a game you’d want to spend time playing over a longer period. I’m excited to see how development progresses and we’ll be keeping you up to speed all things TESO related in the meantime.