MMOments: Elder Scrolls Online Part 1

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The Elder Scrolls Online is a game that, for all intent and purpose, should have launched and immediately crashed into the ground. Most of us will remember a couple of years back when pre-alpha footage leaked onto the net, showcasing a product that looked nothing like what we would expect out of an Elder Scrolls MMO. It looked like a shoddily built World of Warcraft clone, a cheap mockery that harkened back to the days where the MMO was a stick that companies used to beat their properties to death. With the impressions deep in everyone’s mind, and much of the media already declaring the game dead on arrival, Zenimax went back to the drawing board and reshaped the game to what it is today.

And frankly, we should be thanking every single person who overwhelmed Zenimax with feedback after that leak. We will likely never know for sure if that is how the game would have turned out had the leak never happened, but I’m willing to go ahead and say we should treat the scenario as Earth Prime and be thankful that Warhammer Online hasn’t been guaranteed a successor in post-launch exodus. The game as it is right now isn’t perfect, but it is indicative of a company that quickly pulled its head out and at some point since that pre-alpha footage was taken, started treating the game like more of an Elder Scrolls experience and less like a new World of Warcraft.

But what The Elder Scrolls Online fulfills is wholly based on your expectations. If you want Skyrim online, you’re out of luck. As with previous additions to the series, ESO is a new take on the Elder Scrolls formula that adds and removes features as it sees fit. There is certain to be a block of Elder Scrolls fans who want nothing to do with this title, as we saw with the releases of Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and undoubtedly those who never played earlier games in the series who will give the game a try.

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Elder Scrolls Online brings to MMOs what has so woefully been lacking over the years: Exploration, and more importantly the desire to explore the world around you and tinker with the things that you find. What Zenimax brings to the table isn’t just a scavenger hunt disguised as exploration, either. Whether you find yourself in a dark cave or some alchemist’s house, there is always something to grab your interest. Resources dot the land, herbs require a keen eye and maybe a helpful perk in order to spot in the tall grasses and flowers. Treasure chests can be found and picked for loot, and one of the grandest features of the Elder Scrolls series is back in full force: The books. Those of you who have played Elder Scrolls games will be fully aware of the series’ signature massive library of hundreds of books of varying length, and Online does not disappoint at all.

I have a love hate relationship with the combat in Elder Scrolls Online, and admittedly most of my problems will likely be smoothed out in the next couple of months. Combat is a pretty straightforward system of using your mouse keys to attack and block, and the number keys to use special attacks. Enemies choreograph what they are about to do to give you ample time to defend or interrupt and get in a quick counterblow. Some foes pull off cool abilities, like freezing you in place or hopping over your head to get in an attack from behind. You won’t get very far standing still and spamming buttons.

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The problem with Elder Scrolls Online right now is that combat is very clunky and occasionally completely unresponsive and deceptive. I can count several instances where my character simply refused to attack or defend himself, as well as others where he did attack but the animation did not play. In a game where visual cues are everything and bugs can be expected, it becomes frustrating when you can’t tell if your inability to move is because of lag, or because the NPC you are fighting cast a freezing spell but a bug is causing the ice not to show up. ESO also has a terrible habit of not conveying why you can’t do certain actions. Some enemies have the ability to momentarily stun you, but there is no visual cue on the player when they do. Again, no way of knowing if your inability to attack is due to a bug or intended game feature, because it could be either.

When I originally began writing this MMOments piece, I meant to talk about how the interrupt ability was completely broken. Turns out, after reading through a Reddit thread, that isn’t the case. The game tells you to press the left and right mouse buttons to interrupt certain attacks, when what you actually need to do is block and then hit attack. If you press both at the same time like the tutorial tells you, odds are you may accidentally stumble into the right formula ten percent of the time. You can also bind interrupt to a single button, apparently, which is much more convenient.

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Leveling in Elder Scrolls Online continues the ongoing evolution of the series, sticking to its roots while branching into new areas. As was the case with Skyrim, leveling up offers points to invest in health, magic, or stamina. Gaining levels and obtaining Skyshards also awards skill points to invest in combat or crafting related skill lines. As with Skyrim, you will need to raise your levels in individual skills by bashing the skulls in of mudcrabs or making mudcrab stew in order to unlock related perks and abilities using your skill points. Those of you familiar with the series will be happy to know that the system of gaining levels by finding specific books has made its way in as well.

One of my peeves with Elder Scrolls Online has fermented in the form of provisioning recipes. Barring finding other players willing to sell them to you, your provisioning ability is tied one hundred percent to recipes that you find randomly in stashes or in mob loot. In the last beta period, I managed to finish the tutorial with four extra copies of all of the starting recipes. Once the game went live, I didn’t find a single recipe until several hours into the game when I managed to stumble upon a recipe for pork soup.

The Elder Scrolls Online looks great and sounds amazing. The world changes rather dramatically as you go through and complete multi-quest storylines which often revolve around liberating some village from a curse or group of bandits. It is a very sharp turnaround from the standard MMO fare where you are asked to kill twenty five wolves to cull overpopulation only for it to have no visible effect on the game. It also diverts away from The Old Republic, where phasing was mostly done in isolated chambers that only you could access.

Oh and did I mention that you get to talk to Sheogorath?

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I expect to have a part 2 for MMOments as I go along, likely within the next week or so.

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