Massively is reporting that the Elder Scrolls NDA has dropped for almost everyone.
Ironically, I just wiped Elder Scrolls Online from my drive, and I re-subbed to World of Warcraft.
For one thing, WoW is fully translated into Spanish. Elder Scrolls Online is apparently scorning Spanish, despite Skyrim supporting it. The main reason I’d rather play WoW is story and immersion, but I’ll get to that.
Here are my impressions. For eye candy, skip down for screenshots. I played through all three of the ESO faction prologues and partway through the three zones after. My highest level was 7 or 8.
Things I really liked:
The graphics and textures. The art of this game (on ultra settings) is fabulous. The textures are beautiful. The water is beautiful. I want to play this game just to see the architecture, the sea, and the ashen landscape of Morrowind again.
Someone said the palette in Morrowind was too dull, but as a gallery-exhibited artist and painter for the last 20 years, I felt the brown and grey palette of Morrowind was a thing of perfection. I constantly wanted to stop and take screenshots, and I marveled at the architecture.
Unfortunately, I have no screens of this due to the NDA and watermarking in the beta.
Music. The music is excellent, especially in Morrowind. I’ve been listening to music from the original Morrowind game almost every day at work, and while the ESO music isn’t Jeremy Soule, I don’t care. I enjoy the ESO score. The music track transitioning and switching system works well.
The combat. Combat is visceral with lots of active blocking and dodging. I played mostly sword and board as a Dragon Knight. I found both sword and board and two-hander satisfying, although not very balanced.
I liked my “get-over-here” pull skill, but not as much as the same skill with my WoW death knight. The animations in WoW are still pretty much better than everything, so this isn’t a valid criticism.
Lots of female leads. Everywhere you turn in ESO, there are strong female leaders and quest-givers. I really noticed this. I really appreciated this. I’m also super-thrilled that Ellen Page came out as gay today, so your mileage may vary.
Different start areas for factions. This can’t be taken for granted anymore. It adds great replayability, and it’s the hallmark of a highest quality MMO.
On the other hand, by breaking the factions with the pre-order perk (any race any faction, doesn’t matter), and declaring you can play the stories of the other factions later by a mystical twist of fate, they’ve weakened the sense of faction identity.
Character creation. It’s solid, with lots of races and looks to choose from. The front and rear shaping tools are far out. Like another reviewer mentioned, I would have liked more cosmetics, like lips, independent from overall facial looks.
More exploration and puzzles. The KTR (kill ten rats) quest isn’t prominent. You’re playing along, and suddenly there is a puzzle to solve. Heavy phasing is used to create a sense of the world changing. These are good things, although players have reported grouping glitches and difficulties.
The beta questionnaire asked the right questions. Zenimax wanted to know if I liked the NPCs. They wanted to know about the friend factor in the game. They wanted to know if I felt an emotional connection to the story. They asked about immersion.
They’ve got the right concepts, and they’re trying to do the right thing, but the game isn’t quite connecting yet for me personally. This doesn’t matter. I think Elder Scrolls Online will be a financial success in the long term and appeal to lots of players.
Things I didn’t like:
Long load times. They say they’re working hard on this, but until then bring a book, a movie to watch, or some nail polish.
No nameplates. The UI is invisible in ESO, as much as possible. The option for nameplates overhead was greyed out in the first two betas I played, then totally gone in the most recent beta.
This is horrible. I couldn’t distinguish between players and NPCs. I couldn’t find vendors I needed. Names of people create immersion by creating ideas of those people in your head.
Sometimes I forgot the name of my own character. That’s a fail. It was nice though not to see the names of other players: “Drizzrit”, “Fartwrecker”, etc. An option isn’t too much to ask for.
Can’t mouse over skill bar. You don’t have a mouse pointer in normal mode, and your skill bar is gone like everything else. You can’t see your skills out of combat. So you have to go into your skills panel in order to see what skills you actually have slotted where, and you need to memorize them.
Quest tracker limited to one quest. The game is buggy, which may have caused the devs to dumb down the tracker temporarily. Tracking one quest at a time, and managing constantly which one you’re tracking (in the last beta) was frustrating.
I hope for the sake of the pre-orderers that this and the load times get fixed, along with everything else. Or, maybe this is another misguided way to remove interface, causing players to wander around following random markers on the overhead compass instead of the tracker. I hope not.
100% Voiced = Poor Immersion. As in SWTOR, 100% voice leads to minimal information received from NPCs. This leads to a lack of information presented on the setting you’re in. This means it’s hard to be immersed. This leads to critics saying the world seems empty.
Low setting-immersion. You know the cinematics you see in WoW when you create a new character? A narrator introduces the starting zone to you, with a short blurb on local politics. This is good.
Settings often lost me in ESO, although Zenimax revamped the world maps so they are easier to read. I also like the map art style.
Disjointed, unemotional story. You meet friends as soon as you get into the game world, but you don’t care about them, and they don’t really care about you. If they do, it isn’t believable.
Maybe a cinematic will be in the finished product that evokes a gruesome thing like the opening of Kingdoms of Amalur. They need to show your character’s soul being torn from her body and sucked into a machine with lots of pain and screaming.
Then maybe your homies show up to take care of your sweats and fevers, and you get a warm fuzzy feeling. There isn’t even a feeling of camaraderie or danger in the starting prison escape sequence, which drags on too long in my opinion.
Here’s the irony. Zenimax slashed and purged the interface with grand zealotry to prove their concept. There’s nothing on the screen to stop you from seeing the beautiful world, and it feels a little like a facade.
For me, World of Warcraft with all of its panels, popups, and minimap gidgets is more full of life than ESO.
With quest text, an NPC in the game can persuade you, cajole you, and threaten you using your character name. Voice-over can’t handle your character name, so it’s more generic, and often voice actors don’t employ much emotion, maybe because it ends up sounding faked.
In the quest-texted Death Knight storyline I played last night in WoW, I was forced to kill innocent civilians, to turn humans into undead to serve the Lich King, and to kill a hostage of my own race who begged me to wake up from my death and mind control and realize who I am.
She remembered me, called me by my elf name, and referred to my gentle elf past. Then I killed her. This one prologue was a more emotional and compelling storyline than anything I saw in the fully-voiced Elder Scrolls Online.
Do I think ESO will flop? No. The game is really fun, creative, and has great combat, which is enough for most Elder Scrolls and MMO players. I think the launch will be sketchy on PC and possibly horrible due to technical issues, but the game will pull through eventually like SWTOR with the benefit of release on three platforms.
I look forward to paying and playing–at some point.
A few screenshots. Thanks for reading.