Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

Elder Scrolls In Edit Mode

Massively reported today that Zenimax is restructuring their play flow in Elder Scrolls to skip players straight to their capital cities, where a more open world is found.

This is a startling good idea. Your arrival in Tamriel will have an immediate graphical awe factor, unless maybe if you’re Daggerfall, where I think the desert island is pretty in comparison.

I see “many updates to the UI” in the patch notes, but nothing alluding to an information-loaded interface that won’t implode my frontal lobe.

So how can Bethesda just let players skip a whole zone and not screw up the story? Well, when I said “disjointed story” in my beta impressions post, I could have said “the main/personal story is lost and missing almost completely from the entire first zone.”


Immersion WoW vs. Elder Scrolls Online


In the wake of the ESO beta, I took the below screenshot in WoW, which illustrates a lot of the immersion I missed in ESO. See the screenshot, which could be titled “a death knight and a panda walked into a bar.”

There’s my name for one thing (of a now-deleted DK), and my guild, and the names of other players. In ESO, no nameplates means other players are just bland, indistinguishable bodies on the landscape. I don’t know who they are, so they don’t register in my head.

There’s a trusty mailbox next to the panda in the image. In ESO, you get mail off of a game panel, which is fine in the world of consoles I guess, but it’s still another immersion fail.

In WoW you also have a “home” in the inn, instead of a glowing way shrine thing that doesn’t mean anything. Then there are gryphon-flights instead of teleports. I hated teleporting everywhere when it was instituted in Oblivion, and my opinion hasn’t changed on that.

The keep status at the top is immersive for me personally. Things are happening–conflicts and battles with the enemy not too far off. In ESO, these indicators would be anathema.

While I was watching Angry Joe’s ESO PvP video, I wondered how you’re supposed to know what’s going on in PvP. You can’t see the names of the other players, which means no color coding in red or other distinguishing faction allegiance colors.

And what about a personal vendetta against a specific creep who just mace-raped you? All the Argonians look the same to me with no nameplates. Maybe Zenimax will put nameplates back in the game and let players mod the UI to their liking.

Anyway. ESO isn’t overrated, but neither is it worth getting panty-twisted over. Enough writing for tonight. I’ll save an obligatory “what I’m doing now in WoW” post for some other time.

World of Warcraft Burning Crusade Inn

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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


Elder Scrolls Breaks Own Gameplan

On coming home from work tonight, I was re-assured to see a lot of other players cranky about the Elder Scrolls faction and race unlocks being sold as extras. Maybe I’m not crazy.

It was pointed out in forum commentaries that Matt Firor more or less promised 100% game access with the subscription, which is what we’ve come to expect from a subscription MMO. This is legitimate. These Turbine-esque statements were made. (Source.)

The cash shop was also said to offer “fun items and character renames”. (Source.) Race and faction unlocks are a lot bigger than that, and constitute triple-dipping (box sale, sub, and unlocks).

Atropos on Tamriel Foundry has similar points to those I made in my last post. For example, the factions are now a lot of meaningless except for the story. Atropos opines:

1) Incompatibility With Lore. “How can you justify over 50% of Dunmer opposing the Ebonheart Pact by allying with Altmer or Bretons? How could you fathom a majority of Altmer siding against their ancestral race? How could it possibly make sense for a majority of Bretons to take up arms against the King that unified their people?”

2) Destruction of Faction Identity. “The absolute best thing about a unique three faction system is the ability to identify and associate with your chosen group. ESO was off to a great start from the beginning with this, headed by Matt Firor, Brian Wheeler, and others of DAoC fame, they chose a three faction system where each alliance was different, with its own lands, ideologies, races, and political agendas.”

Faction identity is gone, along with some immersion. What about the mechanic of crowning an emperor? Why would an emperor from the Aldmeri Dominion (high elves, wood elves, and khajit) ever be a Dunmer or a Breton?

I would suggest a compromise to Zenimax if they are listening. Allow the cross-faction races, but add a penalty or two. Maybe you can only have one cross-character of each faction per account, and you can never be a cross-faction emperor. That sort of thing would pacify fans.

Otherwise, it’s more or less red/blue/yellow already, and the game hasn’t launched yet.

For more on this topic, ShoddyCast also has a video up, talking about boiling frogs and nickel and diming, and all kinds of good fight.

I disagree with Josh’s conclusion that these decisions were entirely the marketing and suits jacking the intention of the developers. I believe the imperials and cross-faction characters were always a design possibility.

The question is how it should be implemented: earned in-game, or purchased for more cash. Earned in-game is the way a subscription MMO should go. That’s the whole point.

And still more on these issues from Force Strategy Gaming, if you still haven’t had enough: “The reason I like sub fee games is because you don’t have to put up with bullshit.”


Elder Scrolls Pre-Order, CE Editions Announced

Massively reported this morning on a new 8-minute Elder Scrolls trailer and the announcement of the collector’s edition and pre-order bonuses. Pre-ordering will entitle you to five days head start access, as well as unlocking the playability of any race in any faction.

So the three factions of Elder Scrolls Online have been reduced to meaninglessness due to a money-making mechanism, since we can 99.9% assume this will remain as an unlock in the cash shop. You have to pre-order or pay more later to play the character you want if the race and faction don’t match up.

This includes if you want to play with your friend or significant other. Like a simmering Morrowind volcano, this will spew endless ash clouds of complaints. It’s still better then the hard three-way faction split, a fact that the fanboys will surely keep copy and pasting.

So ESO is following in the same footsteps as the TORtanic F2P in blocking access to most of the race combinations up front, and asking for money to allow players to play the character and story combination they want.

Clockwork opines on the Out Of Beta blog:

So they want me to pre-order (a risky move already) AND buy the collector’s edition to have the same level of choice for character creation that I have had in all the previous games.

Fuck. That.

I’ve mocked games like Neverwinter and SWTOR being cash grabby, but ESO has just taken the cake. They’ve taken two of the most interesting elements of Elder Scrolls (being able to choose your race and who you side with) and run them through the corporate “good-to-shit” converter.

For me, this is a little disappointing that they’re throwing faction immersion, flavor, and pride under the bus for profit. Even as critics lambasted the three-faction split for months and months, this was surely the plan all along. In retrospect, it had to be.

I’m not going to spend my evening crying like an elf over orcs in my forests doing the same quests as me. I had decided that I wanted to support ESO and pre-order out of a strong nostalgia for Morrowind and the fact that it’s a subscription game, and therefore free of money-grabbing cash shop tactics. But wait.

I was also interested in the release headstart time for making a pre-order decision, since I’m supposed to move residences at the end of April. I wanted a 10-day or 2-week headstart. The offer is five days, which isn’t much. I don’t know. A lot of that could be downtime while things are broken, and then I’ll be cleaning and packing.

Kitties just want to have fun immersed in beautiful fantasy world, not immersed in marketing and sales and microtransactions. The video was okay, with a sort of Hellraiser flavor going on with the chains. The artwork in ESO is impressive.


Elder Scrolls Online: A Scrollocaust On The Horizon?

We’ve had at least three Elder Scrolls Online reveals in the past few days: a group mechanic Q&A, a press release on the ESO voice actors, and a group mechanic video.

I haven’t finished my new comic strip, so I’ll do ESO commentary instead. Only Molag Bal can say whether I’ve played the ESO betas. Praise thee, great master of the Daedra.


100% Voice in ESO: A Story Of Pros and Cons


There are lots of parallels between ESO and TOR (The Old Republic), causing kibitzers to predict a “Scrollocaust” to follow the “TORtanic”. A couple similarities are an enormous budget upwards of 200 million, and that budget’s 800 pound gorilla, 100% voice acting.

Voice normally fails to give enough information. That’s the irony. It’s the daughter of immersion, but it can’t convey setting and character like text, for anyone intelligent enough to read and imagine things.

Why? Due to the scrimping of voiced syllables. In TOR, there is also repetition. My characters will repeat the same stock phrases in conversations, i.e. “Yes, I’ll do that for you.” Each time this happens, my face glazes with an accusatory look of immersion betrayal.

The logbook/background information journal is designed to satisfy what the voice overs can’t, but it’s never implemented in a way intrusive enough to make its proper contribution to being-in the game world. I rarely open it on the fly–only later if I have time.

I prefer a mix of voice and text. I.e. the main story and personal story are voiced, while the meat and potatoes–the quests that give the game world its humble flesh and entrails–are literary with all that entails.

That said, I love the star-studded voice reveal for Elder Scrolls. It’s great to see the MMO-sphere fusing with the highest tiers of entertainment, sparkling with legitimacy. It makes me proud of my favorite genre, the sweeping fantasy RPG.


The Gameplay Video: Too Short As Usual


This is the first video I’ve seen that gives a good daytime impression of the beauty of the Elder Scrolls Online game engine, and how it renders distance, light, and shadow.

The minimal interface is also striking. You can see the health bars of your fellows and your handful of skills, but that’s about all. You’re also auto-targeting whatever is in front of you. You aren’t target locking.

So if you’re the healer, you’ll need spatial awareness and fast movement to get in position. This was an issue that turned me off to healing in Neverwinter with the cleric.

Per the Q&A: “Again, many MMOs have an interface game for healing and ESO doesn’t have a lot of interface elements. It is more about being active in the world. Cone heals, AoE heals, and spread heals will be the norm.”

The ESO combat and gameplay are complicated topics best left in the capable hands of MMO brainiacs in the post-NDA era. My scattered kitty mind is focused on group size.


4-Person Parties Are Better Than Expected


In the past, I would have said 4-person groups were “dumbed down”. Ok, they’re still dumbed down, especially in terms of dungeon play, but this does have positive aspects, which I’m learning from SWTOR.

Every party member is more important. Each role is more important. Your personal play makes a big difference. There is no room for slacking. You also get to know your group a little better–their tendencies, how they are screwing up, and how they are doing well.

On the downside, four-person parties defy mother nature–that natural balance of DPS, Tanks, and Heals. In ESO, theoretically anyone can take up a shield with a one-hander and tank, but you’re going to be ineffective if you haven’t spent points on Health and Stamina (required for active dodging and blocking.)

In TOR you have tanking and healing roles built into classes. It will be interesting to see how ESO pans out, since you need to use a healing staff or a shield to skill up those roles. You can’t just 100% solo DPS and then change stance or your skill tree to tank or heal for a group.

In addition, Paul Sage suggests you’ll need active party communication to understand who has what stats and who can do what, due to the flexible system and lack of interface. He dances around the subject of aggro and tanking. The video shows the healer taking a lot of heat.

I’m not thrilled about the non-interface in Elder Scrolls in terms of grouping, or in terms of anything at all. It’s the worst part of the game for me, and it’s pointless. Lack of moorings on the screen seem to give me a feeling of vertigo.

I didn’t like the Skyrim UI either, and I was frustrated with not seeing my buff durations. For example, you could attack a group of monsters, and your pet could just disappear suddenly, its spell duration over. Oh joy.

The ESO devs are supposedly working on a LUA system, so I hope they plan to let the PC community mod and support a more fully-featured, customizable interface. The devs can then just focus on a cost-effective, simplified, and unified UI for all three supported platforms.

To answer the question posed by the blog title, no.

I think the Elder Scrolls Online is going to raise a lot of criticism and frothing from MMO players, but if it launches without crippling problems on three platforms through spring and summer, the kitty predicts that it will be financially perky by the first of next year.

Perky is a word used in the kitty world. It means looking good.


Personal (SWTOR)


This week I’ve been playing SWTOR. I’ve pretty much settled on the Cyborg Operative as my main character, as opposed to the Powertech or Jedi Knight.

I’m wanting to play a tank, but I need a more mature, even-tempered game for that. I’m old, and I think and go slowly. These Sith kids don’t have the patience for me.

I also wanted to play a good Republic character, but my decision was greatly influenced by available companions for Republic. I don’t like my first Smuggler companion at all. (Corso.) He’s annoying, and I’m stuck with him until the Wookie furball.

The SWTOR classes have a surprising lack of female companions, which are safe picks for the mostly male players, yet the companion roster in SWTOR is a litany of dudes and droids. It’s a design decision that I’d like to question sometime in an official forum thread.

The Operative is a fascinating class. It’s like a LotRO Burglar with some Lore-Master thrown in (Flash Bang works the same as a Bane-Flare). It’s also a DPS/Heals class that replaces my abandoned LotRO Rune-Keeper.

I feel like my healer on the Empire side is a good idea. Already I’ve been of assistance in Heroic groups, helping my violent and better-armored Sith allies triumph.

That’s all for now. Kitty out.