Tag Archives: eso

Elder Scrolls Online: Nameplates Coming

skyrim mod

While playing Skyrim, I miss my ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) high elf Templar.

We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of ESO. Most reasons I left the game I know are still in place: no real Auction House, only four classes with a very limited skill bar, and a super-obtuse UI that’s difficult to navigate.

I’d almost forgotten about the missing nameplates.

I remember when the ESO devs were showing off their game pre-launch, practically thumping their chests proudly at their amazing non-existent interface. Apparently they hadn’t noticed how much players don’t like their interface.

SkyUI – the super-popular interface-fixer mod for Skyrim, has over eleven million downloads. That’s a shocking number, apparently about one download for every two copies of Skyrim sold on all platforms (22 million) worldwide.

Last month the ESO devs actually announced they are planning to make the ESO interface a little less painfully opaque. They are planning to put back nameplates, which have been gone since beta. (I saw them – they weren’t glorious, but they worked.)

Apparently it only took two years of begging from players (I was one of them early on) and even a Change.Org petition!

I’ll probably give ESO another try in subscription mode as soon as I finish Skyrim.  I miss my elf, and I miss open world cooperation.  ESO has a strong focus on open world coop, i.e. Delves.

In the Orsinium preview last fall, the Creative Lead said public dungeons are a place they want to get more characters to, so they increased the experience rewards.  I love public dungeons.

Rift also has excellent grouping, public and otherwise, but I’m not ready to return yet.  Archonix put out a producer’s letter this week.

Rift has introduced login rewards, and intends to roll out multi-core and 64 bit client support this year, along with new souls, and new Carnival content.


Hearthstone


In other news, Blizzard announced a major change to Hearthstone – new ways to play. Casual and ranked play will be broken into an official tournament division using only the most recently released decks of cards, while a “wild mode” will allow all cards from all sets.

I think it’s a great and needed change for various reasons. The players get a lot more new cards. The devs are less constrained, so they can do more creative things.

The game is free, so the amount of money that players spent on the retired cards (Naxx and GvG initially) in “standard” mode is not that much money over a two-year time period, unless they spent far too much in the first place. The real catch is the amount of money needed in the future to keep up with the pace.


Gaming Stocks


Stocks today (Friday) are giving up on their attempt to rally from Bear mode, and are dying in a fire. Even companies announcing great results this quarter (Google, Facebook), are being pummeled (down 4% and 6%).

That’s not wild mode – that’s crazy mode. Blizzard’s stock is continuing to get killed, and I’m now back to break-even.

I sold my Electronic Arts last week at break-even after they reported lackluster results, and the stock dropped 8% in one day. So I’m happy enough to see it drop another 10% this week.

I also sold Alibaba last week because I realized it’s a liquid trading proxy for China, and it no longer trades on its own merit. So that means I have to play that game, so I’m looking for the chart of the China ETF (i.e. FXI), to break out of the downsloping pattern before buying back into Alibaba as a proxy for China.

I’m just holding Activision-Blizzard and Microsoft until hell freezes over. Blizzard debt is even more of a potential albatross with the rising interest rates (I think?) but clearly no one else understands characters and can create new IPs and cross-marketing like they can.

The Electronic Arts CEO was going on (in their conference call) about Star Wars Battlefront’s great visuals, and how they are trending for a younger demographic. Apparently their new direction isn’t working well for them, since they drastically missed their revenue estimates, which actually fell from last year according to Zack’s.

So happy Friday! This went longer than expected, so next time I’ll try for an update on my game project. I’m programming this weekend. Last weekend was art.

I’m puzzled a little trying to make elves look like elves, and not like humans with pointy ears. If anyone has a genius observation, I’d love to hear it! The below portraits need a few touches still.

Professor Aspen is supposed to be an homage to Professor Snape (Alan Rickman, who passed on last month), but the semblance isn’t exactly brilliant.  The elf naming needs research and decisions.

elf ports

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Elder Scrolls: A Hearty Alchemy

shrooms

I’m two weeks into Elder Scrolls online, and I’m having fun. Some of my opinions haven’t changed since beta: beautiful scenery, average story, and profitable, although they’ve postponed console releases until next winter.

The public verdict on ESO seems to be that it does nothing better than any other MMO, but it’s a solid, enjoyable package. I agree, and all of the bugs I saw in beta are gone.

My beta report said caveat emptor, but now it’s two kitty thumbs up. Jump in at a discount. I want to talk a little about the game writing, combat, Fallout, Dragon Age, and this and that.


ESO: Combat Is Better When–


You play a Templar. Why? Because with spells and a weapon, you have two resource pools to strategize and use (stamina with weapon, magicka with spells.)

I can’t imagine playing ESO as a one-pool class after playing my Templar. There’s no going back. The game is also a perfect challenge for me so far. Mages and Dragon Knights look like they have it too easy.

I’m trying to play my Templar like a LotRO Captain. Support, off tanking and healing. We’ll see how that goes. I was happy to find out there are oodles of theoretical skill points. You aren’t as restricted as I’d feared.

You can craft like a gnome on crack if that’s your brand of gaming hat.


Elder Scrolls: Writing Weaknesses


I often harp about my Smiling Jack concept (borrowed from Vampire: Bloodlines, maybe the best example I’ve ever seen). When you get into the game, you have a smiling, sympathetic friend who shows you the ropes, not just pop-up tutorials to follow.

Elder Scrolls Online doubles up and gives you two interesting friends: the Prophet and Lyris Titanborn, notably voiced by Michael Gambon and Jennifer Hale.

The problem is that you find no emotional connection or camaraderie with them. It’s very cold, and the story isn’t about your character. Neither one of these people give the impression of caring about me, although the stakes are high and dramatic. I can say that.

In fact, the last mini-dungeon story episode was about Lyris Titanborn and her experiences and past. Well, what about my past? Where is my soul and all that? It’s off track.

And then, on a particular low-level questline in Morrowind, the NPCs make a big deal about you being a great hero, a saviour. It just seemed off-key and unbelievable to me at level 8 or 9.

The issue with limited writing is the voice-overs. There just isn’t enough forested real estate (dialogue “trees”) to say everything or have a real dialogue with real conversational choices like in Vampire: Bloodlines, and meanwhile the voices of Hale and Gambon aren’t empathetic. So.


Idea: Make Two Versions Of MMOs!


MMO devs of the world, here’s an idea for you: write your MMO in text first, and then boil down the text into voice over synopses, and give players a choice.

Players can play the unedited director’s cut, or they can play the Hollywood version.

Why not? The writers write a long version in the first place. It’s called the second draft. Then everything is edited and cut several times over for voice. Just delineate a boundary where everything goes into the text.

The effort will half pay for itself in saved bandwidth if you offer separate downloads. Writers will be happy dancing if they are worth their salt. Players will exchange lore back and forth, lore that will seem special.


Elder Scrolls: So What’s Next?


I have no idea. Due to a ridiculous persisting bug, beta players are denied forum write access. That includes this kitty, so here is my furry finger. (Yes, you can file a ticket, whatever.) I’ll say this.

The game needs more classes desperately, more than Neverwinter did. Four classes is not enough.

A better auction solution is still needed. Everyone agrees the guild stores are horrible. It can’t even be a girly bargain-bin delving game without properly functioning search features. Geez.


Fallout Online?


Where is Fallout at the moment? Bethesda gained the rights to a Fallout MMO from Interplay a few years ago. After all of the resources and investment Zenimax (Bethesda’s parent company) is putting into Elder Scrolls on PC and the next gen consoles, it would seem foolish not to use that experience to push forward and leverage a post-apocalyptic Fallout campaign.

I’m hoping to hear something about this at next year’s E3. What about this year’s E3? Oh, was there one? I almost didn’t notice.


Class Dependency In MMOs


Mark Kern wrote an article last week for MMORPG, and I thought it was horrible. The thesis is that MMO classes are being homogenized and class dependencies are being quashed for soloability, but really for profit.

The author argues that “it’s worth it to invest R&D in this area.”

Really? R&D? He talks about MMOs being effectively single player these days. This is an example of vaguely false exaggerations made for the sake of writing out a controversial article.

What’s killing class dependencies isn’t soloability and homogenization per se through self-heals, aggro management, personal CC, and general survivability. It’s dumbing down, reducing the need for skill, and giving players only 6 skills to use at a time. That forces all of the other stuff out the window.

It isn’t necessary to “strip away a lot of the identity and customization and role that the class used to offer.” You can have both like in LotRO, except no. Apparently we can’t handle that, certainly not on our couches with console controllers.

Unless you want to argue ESO has class dependencies because tanks and healers are needed, then dumbing down is my final answer. You say chicken, I claim egg.


Dragon Age: Inquisition Angry Joe Interview


Angry Joe posted an interview today with the producer of DA:Inquisition. I’m excited for this game.

The game will give you a combat choice this time. Choices are the future, we players can only hope. You can play top-down tactical like in DA:Origins with better camera controls, or go with actiony combat like in DA2.

DA:Inquisition will have an epic story, but also a big breach in the sky with demons pouring out. You take the good with the bad when it comes to sky rifts and cliches.

You’ll be managing the resources of your organization, which I’ve never been into in a single player RPG. It’s hard to feel like any of that gathering and building makes any difference when the game is going to end in a few hours.

Managing a keep-like housing facility in an MMO? Purr. Now that’s something I’d like to see, and I’m keeping my eye on Blizzard’s Draenor expansion for that.

Leliana plays a big part in Dragon Age:Inquisition! Yay. I’m not super thrilled with her new look, but we can ease into that topic later in our relationship. You know how it goes.

In related news, David Gaider, lead writer for Dragon Age, last month affirmed Bioware’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ characters and romances.

So duck and roll, I might vomit a rainbow. I’m feeling better. I think. Thanks for reading. Have a cookie and five gold kitty stars if you got this far. Happy gaming.

gold stars


Elder Scrolls Online: Beta Impressions

elder scrolls onlineMassively 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.


Conclusion


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.

elder scrolls image 1
elder scrolls online screenshot