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Sunday 09 February 2014 - 18:11

[Tamriel Foundry] Opening Up ESO - Impressions

informationInfo: The text below is an excerpt from this article.

Atropos wrote ...

Primary Weaknesses

Limited Exploration of a Static World – While I mentioned above that exploration is heavily emphasized, and a positive feature of ESO is how the game rewards you for venturing off the beaten path you can only venture so far. Players coming from a single-player TES background will miss the ability to climb mountains, bypass obstacles, and set a course for the distant horizon in a true open-world context. ZeniMax could have created a game with these true open-world and sandbox features, but ESO would have taken a very different shape than it currently does. The technological requirements to create a massive open environment without structured areas for guided progression would almost certainly have limited ZeniMax in other ways and ultimately they chose to sacrifice some of the essence of TES in favor for a more conventional MMO game structure. In a further divergence from the modern Elder Scrolls experience, the world of ESO feels fairly static. In towns, NPCs have no schedules, they simply stand around all day waiting for the player in fixed locations. The day/night cycle has no affect on the world apart from an aesthetic overlay. The player is unable to choose how to creatively react to various NPCs and situations, and can only choose whether to accept their quest or not. For players who typically play TES games “by the book”, completing quests in the expected way and progressing normally through their stories, this may not be a huge deal. However, for the cohort of gamers who love Elder Scrolls games for their nonlinear compatibility and creative problem solving the rigidity of ESO may come as an unpleasant shock.

Shallow MMO Systems - ESO was designed to be an MMO first and foremost, and yet it has managed to forego some of the fundamental systems that gamers will expect. Character advancement is a flexible and enjoyable aspect of the game, but the underlying RPG system of attributes, equipment itemization, and relative lack of meaningful combat indicators may cause ESO‘s systems to feel obscure and clunky. Furthermore, your engagement with other players in a multiplayer space is limited by the lack of expected MMO features like nameplates, guild tags, titles, and more. ESO does a good job of not forcing you to be in competition with other players while undertaking PvE tasks such as killing monsters or collecting objects, but the difficulty of a vast majority of the game’s challenges is such that your fun level is reduced when other players are in the area. Having multiple people around while questions seriously reduces the difficulty of completing objectives, and leaves you without much sense of accomplishment. In this (and several other mechanics) ESO seems to be caught between two minds. The game could have been made harder with certain notable enemies tuned to require (or at least scale) for multiple players, however this would have frustrated players used to the single-player experience as well as MMO players who have been spoiled by solo-friendly gameplay. Alternatively, more content could be phased or instanced to preserve the challenge of questing alone, but this would further detract from the sense of connectivity in a multiplayer world. It’s a difficult challenge, and one that most games struggle with, but the sparsity of group content in ESO causes it’s multiplayer systems to be less fulfilling than perhaps they should be.
I worry that AvA will be less meaningful with soft alliance boundaries.

I worry that AvA will be less meaningful with soft alliance boundaries.

Open Alliances – I will not continue beating on the dead horse of the ESO pre-order bonuses, but the removal of alliance restrictions from the game adds further blandness to a system that had already been watered down within the game itself. In ESO you can communicate with members of any alliance, trade with them using mail, guild banks, or guild stores, and even have players of enemy alliances in your guild. Alliances in ESO were originally designed as bitter enemies, fighting each other to the death for control over Cyrodiil in spite of the overarching threat of Molag Bal and his Daedric incursion. As the game has evolved, barriers between alliances in ESO have grown increasingly soft, to the point that the Ebonheart Pact, Daggerfall Covenant, and Aldmeri Dominion are more “frenemies” than actual rivals. I believe that in the long run this lack of meaningful faction delineation will harm the game and reduce player’s incentive to care about the storyline and the success of their own alliance.

Grey Areas

User Interface – While many of the previous points I feel confident categorizing as either a strength or weakness of the game, there are some areas in which the player reaction to ESO may diverge wildly, the user interface being the most obvious example. ZeniMax has worked to create an extremely minimalist user interface that enhances the immersiveness of the game world by removing all of the UI clutter that accmopanies most games. The world, its inhabitants, and combat encounters are all placed at center stage without the flashing lights and blinking buttons that prompt players of most games to action. Many players will love the ESO default UI, but many will equally despise it. The lack of real-time information can make gameplay feel confusing. The absence of MMO standard features like nameplates and a minimap can cause you to feel lost or disconnected. Thankfully, ZeniMax has integrated an addon API into ESO that will allow for the creation of modifications to the default UI. Hopefully the data accessible through that API is such that players who are not fond of the default interface can have the fine-level of control they desire over the information shown on-screen, while avoiding some of the pitfalls from past games where addons have changed the way the game is played.

Guild and Economic Systems – The economic systems in ESO are strangely designed. While I am pleased to see that relatively few magical items are “bound” to your character (at least not until you equip them), exchanging goods between players is strangely difficult. The guild store system promises to alleviate some of this hassle, but it is a very strangely designed mechanic. The guild stores in ESO seem as focused on allowing players to sell items to their own guild members as to other players, and their incorporation into Cyrodiil campaigns (about which I cannot yet comment) will be a barrier to trade. How the guild stores will eventually work in the “live” server with thousands of players using them remains to be seen, but I am nervous about ZeniMax’ attempts to reinvent the wheel when it comes to economic systems rather than using the more conventional “trading post” that was originally intended for the game.

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