Wow. This weekend was absolutely chock full of phenomenal information for ESO. And while the ESOTR hosts weren’t allowed to bring in filming equipment, they gleaned some awesome details during their 2 hour hands-on with this juggernaut. But, like some of you out there, I’ve never played an MMO before. I’m not familiar with the mechanics and intricacies that differentiate MMOs from single-player TES games. And so, while I remained optimistic about this game, I had a few reservations.
Well, those reservations are now completely smashed and nonexistent. Fear not, fellow MMO newbs, for I will lay out my biggest concerns and explain how Elder Scrolls Online is not some big scary MMO, but in fact, it’s just another TES game. By the end of this piece, I hope to have allayed your fears as well.
One of my biggest issues with MMOs is the lack of depth in character creation. Like many of you, I am used to a highly detailed character creation system which allows me to tweak anything to my heart’s desire. This is just what I’ve come to expect to in single-player Elder Scrolls games. In my opinion, the great depth and breadth of their character creation is one of the elements that truly sets Elder Scrolls apart from the pack. I have spent up to an hour creating each of my
six seven Skyrim characters – not to mention the countless characters I’ve created for Oblivion. So, you can understand my fear that ESO’s character creation system would be similar to “just another MMO.”
If I may quote Dave Adams, he of Dienforce fame, “There is no single body slider, but a list of body sliders”. He went on to describe how you could tweak shoulder width, chest width, hip width, etc. On the show, Evarwyn mentioned that at the start of the demo, he created his traditional strong male hero character. He talked about just how detailed the character creation was and how he “didn’t feel held back.” In fact, the amount of customization was so much for Evarwyn, that ended up skipping a lot of it purely because of the incredible options at his disposal.
Now that is something I want to hear! ZeniMax has truly listened to their fans, knowing full well that a large chunk of their audience is comprised of people like me who have never played an MMO. They understand the importance of character creation and have spent enormous effort giving us, the single-player Elder Scrolls fans, the options and variety we deserve. And with that, I strike character creation off my list.
One of the reasons I love Skyrim is the incredibly minimalistic and unobtrusive UI. In fact, part of my day job involves analyzing and testing UX/UI components so I’d like to say I have good instincts on knowing what works and what doesn’t. And so, you can imagine why I’d crave a UI skin akin to that found in traditional Elder Scrolls games.
Ah, gotta love the clean screen
In Skyrim, the only thing you see on your screen is your compass – which can be toggled on/off. Your magicka, health, and stamina bars only show up when you’re in combat and fade away when they’re not needed. This is intelligent UI design and you’re seeing more and more games following this dynamic, unobtrusive UI system. It looks clean, gorgeous, and does not distract you from the game.
This is also one of the biggest reasons that discouraged me from games like Lord of the Rings Online. I actually tried playing the game, but hated the UI.
I swear, there’s a game under there somewhere
Is this the case with Elder Scrolls Online? Once again, my fears have been assuaged. According to Evarwyn, the UI is “extremely lean, clean, simple, and intuitive”. He cited that other MMOs out there have extremely obtrusive UI, leaving a small “portal” in which to view your game (see above screen). However, in ESO, the UI gives you exactly the info you need, when you need it. In fact, it’s so similar to Skyrim that the UI shows up in combat, and then fades away when not needed. You can fully tweak it as well, adding/removing elements to suit your preference. The same can be said for the hotbar which can be toggled on/off. You can even open the inventory and continue playing, allowing for extremely fluid gameplay. This unobtrusive, minimal UI makes the game feel “more cinematic” than other MMOs.
Upon learning this news, I felt so incredibly happy. Gone are the days of looking around elements on the screen in order to view my game. ZeniMax’s approach to the UI follows that of the character customization – by listening to their fans. Time to strike UI off my list.
I feel that with each iteration of the single player Elder Scrolls games, the skills system gets more streamlined while providing the player with more customization and options. This is a good thing! Giving the player more choices on how to build his character is always the right design choice. I absolutely love leveling up in Skyrim because it means I get to pick a perk. Each skill in Skyrim has its own extensive tree wherein I can place my perk point and truly build my unique character. Would this sense of identity be lost in Elder Scrolls Online?
Absolutely not. If anything, ESO takes the skills system and evolves it even further, providing more depth and options than ever before. Upon gaining a level in ESO, you choose to increase either magicka, health, or stamina – just like Skyrim. However, simply by pressing the R key, you are taken to a new menu displaying your class skill, weapon skill, and armor skill. Still not enough? Ok, what if I told you that those three categories can be broken down even further? For example, Joe was playing as a Dragonknight. When he leveled, he went into his class category and leveled his Dragonfire ability.
As for weapons and armor, they level up the more you use them. Using your one-handed sword often? Ding! It levels up. Getting wailed on in your light armor? Ding! It levels up. And remember, not only do they level up, but you can further evolve these in your skills menu.
What about those hotbar skills? As long as the skills are on your hotbar, they will level with you the more you use them. Keep in mind, too, that these hotbar abilities – like your class, weapon, and armor skills – can be further refined and evolved.
Talk about customization! To me, this means that no two characters in ESO will be the same. My character will truly be my character and not some slightly different variation of your character – just like in any other Elder Scrolls game.
One of the pillars of Elder Scrolls is the absolute unadulterated freedom you experience. Sure, there are amazing quests, but if you play like me, you choose to largely ignore them. You all know my play style. In fact, many of you have dubbed it the “Shank play style” consisting of aimlessly wandering for the sake of exploring. This sense of freedom is central to all the Elder Scrolls games. You are given the ability to go and do whatever you want, whenever you want, and however you want. Will Elder Scrolls Online be more restrictive?
Not in the slightest! In fact, the ESOTR hosts asked Nick Konkle about this very thing. Nick explained that, in their smaller 20 minute playable demo, many people would simply run in one direction to see how far they got. And at the end of this session, they were still running and exploring.
You might be saying, “Well yeah Shank, it was only a 20 minute demo”. Fair enough. During his 2 hour playthrough, Evarwyn created his character and was given a quest. He purposely did not engage in the quest, instead opting to wander about and “pick in a direction and run”. Eventually, he came across an encampment and was given a different quest. Upon completing it, he went back to his old tactic – pick a direction and just keep walking. At the end of his playthrough, he did manage to complete quests, but not because he was told by a quest giver to complete them, nor because he was locked in and forced to complete a certain quest. He felt that he could have “abandoned any quest, picked up a new quest, and go in a different direction” seamlessly.
Similarly, Dave wanted to catch up with Lou to go do some questing. In his way stood a lake, and in order to cross it, he had to traverse an island. On that island, he found the corpse of a dead pirate and – like any true Elder Scrolls player – looted the corpse. And lo! Upon looting the body, up popped a brand new quest! Who says exploring doesn’t pay off in ESO?
While questing with each other, Dave and Lou purposely chose different paths of the same quest. Dave chose to kill an NPC, whereas Lou spared her. You might wonder if there was phasing going on in the background, but from their first hand reports, phasing was “nonexistent”. Both of them continued the quest together – despite making completely different choices along the way. They were able to have fun and romp around Tamriel.
With all this fantastic news, my fears on questing mechanics lay abated.
. . .
And so, fellow MMO newbs and single-player Elder Scrolls fans, there is nothing to fear. Believe me when I say, this game is a true Elder Scrolls game. You may remember, I was one of the biggest critics of Elder Scrolls Online when it was first announced. I denounced the game claiming all sense of exploration, customization, and personality would be lost. I was afraid that my journey, my exploration, my character would be distilled in an MMO title.
I am here to tell you that my fears have been erased, and I hope yours have as well. Elder Scrolls Online is a true Elder Scrolls game. It feels and plays like the single-player Elder Scrolls titles that you and I love. What could be better than that?
Shadow hide you.
Images courtesy of Elder Scrolls Online