Monday, March 17, 2014

Jumping Into The Elder Scrolls Online Beta

I didn't plan on trying to get into one of the Elder Scrolls Online beta weekends, but when Raptr sent me an email offering to let me in, I couldn't resist.  So on Friday I spent my 10 rewards points, received a beta key, created an account and started the 22 GB download.  On Saturday, after I finished fiddling with my planetary interaction colonies in EVE Online, I logged in and created a character.

The character creator in ESO is pretty nice, with a lot of customization along with 4 classes, 3 factions (which weren't explained) and 9 playable races, including three different flavors of humans and three more flavors of elves.  The body sliders worked great.  I'd say the same about the facial sliders, but I wasn't able to zoom in on my face when creating my character.  I slid some of the sliders in about the same positions I have for other games, and the results weren't too bad.  The only thing I would really want is some sort of label for each setting like Star Wars: The Old Republic has.  Switching between looks is a pain.

For those who are worried about hair length when creating a character, I created a female character with long hair to test whether clipping is an issue.  I found that my character's hair would clip through a shield when the shield is carried on her back.  For those who find that irritating, the character customization screen does offer a lot of short hairstyles that will avoid that problem.

Now, I have to say that Saturday was very frustrating.  First, I discovered very quickly that the game makes me nauseous.  Within 5 minutes of entering the game world, my stomach felt queasy and I had a bad headache.  I think the problem is the camera.  When the tracking camera in EVE was first introduced I had issues similar to what I experienced in ESO.  But in EVE, I worked around the issue by training myself to look away when coming out of the warp tunnel.  In ESO, I had to stare at the screen.  I probably missed some important things, like skills, that popped up in the tutorial.  Imagine wandering around World of Warcraft with only auto-attack.  Yeah, it was that bad.  After 4 1/2 hours of struggle through 2 play sessions I gave up, deleted my character, and told myself I was through with the game.

However, I woke up Sunday feeling well and decided I hadn't given the game a fair chance.  So I popped a couple of aspirin, logged back in and created a templar.  And within minutes of entering the game world my stomach felt queasy, but at least I didn't have a headache.  I managed to get up to level 6 before I finally stopped for the beta.  Here are a few thoughts.

First, the user interface.  To say I freaked out when I saw it is an understatement.  Where's my health bar?  Where's my mana bar?  Where are my hot key bars?  I'm one of those people who uses the mouse to click on my abilities in the hot key bars.  Part of the reason that I didn't know I didn't have any skills selected on Saturday was that there is no permanent UI display of skills on the screen.  I found that out on Sunday with my new character.

Running through the tutorial
The above screenshot shows the UI outside of combat.  Not much, is it?  Health, magika, and stamina bars only display on screen during combat when at less that 100%.  The screen warns when health is low by pulsing read around the edges.

Attacking something consists of either left-clicking the mouse or pressing 1-5 or R to trigger a skill.  Right-clicking blocks incoming attacks.  I literally took hours trying to master that.  I would say I'm barely passable now, although I do like to shield bash.  I didn't really get the system until I found a shield and was able to go sword and board.  If I ever play again, that's the way I'll play.  Everything else is just too weird.  There is a quick key for using potions, but I mis-type too often and used up all my potions.  That's one of the reasons I use a mouse to click on abilities instead of using keys.  What that meant was no healing or getting more magika during a fight for me.  Ugh!

I've only spent one disastrous hour in Skyrim, so I didn't realize that ESO does not have class restrictions on the types of armor and weapons a character can use.  The screenshot above shows my templar dual-wielding swords while wearing robes.  I was able to wear heavy armor on my nightblade, which I image should really wear medium armor.  The classes appear to really come into play for the abilities a player can use. A player can only have 6 abilities on the hotbar, so the characters probably get more unique the higher up in levels.  Either that or the game will see flavor of the month fits like seen in most games.

Another thing I discovered is that exploring helps.  For instance, when I got out of the tutorial, I had robes and iron pants on while others still had on their starting gear.  That's right, those urns, crates and chests actually have valuable things in them.  Exploring doesn't just mean rummaging though containers, either.  I discovered that the "mystery" heavy armor for sale from a vendor was better than any of the quest rewards I had received.  Not bad for 270 gold.

For those who like gathering (and really, who doesn't), no special equipment is needed.  That includes fishing poles.  Well, bait is required for fishing, but for any other gathering task just go up to the node, press "E", and get bacon.  For fishing, not only do you need bait, but successfully landing the fish requires pressing "E" just as the sinker starts going under water.  Bait is acquired by, among other things, killing rabbits and collecting insects.

Final appearance
Just as a character is not limited to the types of resources it can gather, characters can craft any type of item as well.  In addition to making a few pieces of heavy armor, I made a potion and an enchantment.  I could have made lighter armor but didn't feel the need.  Also, the option exists to deconstruct gear, but I didn't try using that feature.  I will say that the items I made at level 6 were upgrades over what I had gathered through questing.  Indeed, I hadn't even picked up any shoulder pieces or boots, so making those helped a lot.

I also think, at least at the low levels I played at, that the armor actually looks good.  In the screenshot above, the dagger and shield are quest rewards, the chest piece was purchased from a vendor, the leggings were a drop, and the boots, wrists and shoulders were crafted.  Not a bad look.

I should say something about the use of phasing in ESO.  Usually in a game you finish a quest and the mobs spawn back 5 minutes later.  I finished one quest and I didn't have to worry about getting back out of the area because after killing the necromancer all of the bad guy's minions dropped where they usually spawned.  Not bad, although I hear that causes problems for people who want to group up and do things together.

Overall, if the game didn't make me feel sick I would consider purchasing Elder Scrolls Online.  Even with the bad effects I managed to get to level 6 without too much pain.  But once I spent most of my Saturday going dealing with ESO, I really wanted to write a fair post about the game.  Would I go through this just for fun?  Probably not.  But that doesn't mean I recommend not getting the game.  Just that a $60 price tag is too much for a game I probably wouldn't want to play for more than an hour at a time, if I wanted to put myself though this feeling again.


  1. So pleased to hear you're a hot-key clicker. So am I and always have been. Indeed up until about 2007 or so I tended to think of people who mainly used the keyboard as some kind of borderline cheats or exploiters.

    I hate those fixed cursor UIs. I've used them in DCUO and Neverwinter and I can manage them well enough but they're hard to enjoy. That's by far the main reason I haven't even bothered to beta ESO.

  2. Re. the UI not showing health bars or action bars. There's a setting for that which you probably would have seen if you had taken maybe 10-20 seconds to look through the interface options. Automatic (which is the default), always show or always hide.

    1. Oh, I did look. And the only bars I was able to turn on was a little one over my head, not the three big bars that appear about 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the screen. I played that way for 15-20 minutes before I realized that little bar didn't help. That was the only option in the interface I could find. If I have to spend more than the 5 minutes I spent searching for an option, I just give up trying to find it.