Posted Sun, Feb 09, 2014 by gunky
Competition: Previous Elder Scrolls Games
Sound-wise, you'll know you're playing an Elder Scrolls game the moment you hear those sweet, familiar Jeremy Soule themes. Some of the voice acting will sound a bit familiar, too, but far from all of it. On the other hand, in terms of graphics, this comparison is only really fair because this game is bearing the Elder Scrolls brand. But it's really not fair at all, because it's a different sort of game with different system demands.
Skyrim was (and still is) a freakin' gorgeous game. Even with the weird face textures when it first launched, it looked amazing - gritty and realistic with just enough style to be cool. Back in its day, Oblivion looked pretty amazing, too. And a hundred years ago when Morrowind was current tech, that game looked fantastic also. Each game has looked significantly better than the game before it.
Well, friend-o, this isn't The Elder Scrolls VI, and it's not a continuation of that upward trend. ESO is a gorgeous game for a MMO, but if you go in expecting improvements over the graphics of Skyrim, you are going to be disappointed. Many of the NPCs in ESO look like plastic mannequins compared to the muscle-bound, grimy Nords of Skyrim. The environments are breathtaking, but the character models have the long-legged stiffness of the Morrowind character models, and the lower polygon counts and simpler skeletons of a game from several years ago. The textures wrapped around those character models are great, but they're not near the grimy, big-pored hi-def Skyrim models. Some of the NPCs look kind of plastic. The graphics fall somewhere between Oblivion and Skyrim quality.
That's how MMOs roll, though. You will never get video-card-crushing graphics in a MMO because that's too much data to stream at once. Good video cards get taxed enough in mid-grade MMOs when a large number of characters appear on screen at once, all crackling with enchantments and casting spells and fluttering their capes. If you start adding thousands of extra polygons per character, and all the fancy pixel shaders and shadow renderers and lighting enhancers and refraction vectors and all the techy stuff that makes the very newest games push the most powerful cards to their limits, your trip into town turns into a slideshow and your video card starts smoking. Also, at 20+ gigabytes, the game client is already big enough. Adding a bunch of fancy new tech and more polygons would only make it more gigantic and bloated.
The best games do lots with little, managing to look pretty without hammering your bandwidth and GPU processing power. For a MMO, Elder Scrolls Online looks quite pretty. Not "better than Skyrim" pretty, but certainly "better than a lot of other MMOs" pretty.
Competition: World of Warcraft. HA HA Just kidding!
But seriously, World of Warcraft is the elephant in every other MMO's room. Comparisons will inevitably be made because it's a high-fantasy MMO with elves and humans and orcs, regardless of whether or not the game bears any other resemblances in terms of gameplay. I believe a lot of people are fearing that ESO will be another "WoW clone" set in an Elder Scrolls themepark, which is totally not the case (though I imagine the term will pop up a lot in general chat in the low level areas for a while, because it always does). So let's just get it out of the way in order that we might discuss more accurate comparisons.
It does have some genre-specific similarities to WoW, as stated above. Characters go questing for gear and gold and story advancement, and both games feature crafting. And that's about all they have in common.
The action combat style is more modern than what WoW and its legion of "clones" uses, closer in spirit to Guild Wars 2 or Neverwinter or TERA. Enemy power-attacks are telegraphed with red marks on the ground. The character hits whatever is in front of his weapon, not what he has tab-locked onto. It's a "soft targeting" system - targeted enemies are highlighted, and ranged attacks might curve a bit to hit targeted enemies on the move, but some enemies tend to move around a lot and avoid getting hit. Like the ninja goblins on Stros M'kai, who perform spectacular Yuen Wo Ping-style wire-fu overhead leaps to get behind their attackers. If you play in 3rd person view, it's kind of funny to watch. If you're playing in 1st person, you might be all "Whaaaa..." for a second until you realize he ninja'd behind you.
Telegraphed enemy attacks, like those seen in Neverwinter, are a hallmark of the modern action-combat MMO.
As mentioned earlier, classes are quite flexible, so a character's gear and skill loadout plays a really significant part in determining his combat role. Sorcerer with a 2-handed axe? Sure, why not! In this sense, it is once again more like Guild Wars 2, where warriors and wizards can use many of the same weapons to more or less equal effect. And with a maximum of 5 slottable combat powers, to be split between the dozens of class-specific powers and shared common, racial and weapon specialization powers, it's important to work out an effective combat rotation, the same as some old-school games like original EverQuest.
It's going to be terribly interesting seeing some of the wonky build failures that come with that kind of flexibility and lack of any real guidelines. As with any game, ESO will be some players' very first, and it is sure to draw in some players who have played all the Elder Scrolls games but not one MMO. Heavily-armored stealth archers tend to work super-awesome in Skyrim, and even for low-level solo questing in ESO, but such characters might not work so well in a multiplayer dungeon, and are liable to get eaten alive by the super-efficient min-maxers in PvP.
We can't really make a PvP comparison just yet. That's a whole other beta