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Monthly Archives: March 2014

The final beta stress test weekend for The Elder Scrolls Online has been and gone. It brought a new version of the game that addressed issues (or at least perceived issues) from the last two – the tutorial has been streamlined and is skippable for any alts you may make, and the starter islands after the tutorial are now optional. NPCs now have collision detection, which makes the combat feel a bit more physical, and some of the bastard hard solo content has been tuned to be less frustrating to the average player. Unfortunately, the build still fell short of the level of polish that Rift, or even GW2, had at this stage. There were still some quests that were difficult to advance due to bugged-out or no-show NPCs. The UI would still get stuck in conversation mode and have to be reloaded to get back to the serious business of adventuring, and I saw a couple of keeps in Cyrodiil with invisible sections of wall (not sections that had been destroyed by siege engines – these walls were there, just completely transparent). None of the bugs were game-breaking, in that they could be worked around if the player has the will to, but you don’t really want to see that sort of bug when you’re about to go live and it creates a bad impression for players who haven’t made up their mind about the game yet.

I find this sort of thing because I DO like this game and I am willing to work around problems, but it annoys me when I have to do that and I fear that the game will suffer because a lack of polish drives too many players away. Zenimax have done the hard stuff really well – mass battles in Cyrodiil run incredibly smoothly compared to ones in DAoC (slideshow city) or GW2 (where culling was used to save performance, at the cost of people dying to invisible zergs). The landscapes are varied and full of points of interest, the quests are well-written, the voice acting is at least as good as SWTOR’s and possibly even a smidgen better, and then they go and screw it up because some sodding harpy won’t spawn for ages. I can forgive ESO a lot – I just wish I didn’t have to.

As an aside – if anyone asks why I like the game enough to put up with a few rough spots, THIS is why…

Back when I played Dark Age of Camelot, which of the three realms you chose to play on mattered. Albion, Hibernia and Midgard each had their own races, their own classes, and their own zones with a distinct aesthetic. Midgard had a Norse look with lots of snow and hardy, shaggy-bearded locals (and that was just the women). Hibernia was very… green and full of elven hippy crystal homoeopathy shit apart from the crude round huts that the Celts lived in. And Albion had knights and castles and OMG KNIGHTS AND CASTLES! enough to please any American who ever went to a RenFaire 🙂 The realm you chose mattered – there were no server transfers and rerolling meant spending months levelling up all over again – and each of the three realms seemed to develop its own character and attract its own set of players. The saying went that “powergamers went to Midgard, kiddies went to Albion and hippies went to Hibernia”, or at least that was the way we phrased it in Hibernia. The Albs and Mids might have had their own views, but… pfft, damn foreigners, who cares what they think :p

Now we’ve got The Elder Scrolls Online, which also has a three faction set-up with their own homelands. This time the classes are common to all three, and it’s possible (if you pre-order) to play any race in any faction – however, I suspect the vast majority of characters will be in their “home” faction anyway, with just enough foreigners for flavour. The zones are different, however, so will they attract different sets of players? Or will the races available define the character of each faction?

Daggerfall Covenant has two of the three human races plus orcs, and their first major zone has the most ‘European’ terrain… they might be heir to Albion’s status as being the most “default fantasy land” which went a long way to explaining why the Albs had the highest population.

Ebonheart Pact get the Nords (go Skyrim!) and a double helping of fugly with the argonians (AKA the lizardmen) and the dark elves. Tamriel’s dark elves are not the most aesthetically pleasing of that ilk, and terrain-wise EP lands feel like a bait-and-switch because you get just a taste of a Skyrim starter island before getting dumped in a dark, swampy place full of weird overgrown mushrooms. EP probably will be the new Midgard, with a population that is 80% or more Ragnar Lothbrok wannabes. Because Skyrim, and also Vikings.

Aldmeri Dominion don’t get any humans, but arguably get three “pretty” races with two non-fugly flavours of elf plus the Spanish cat people, err, Khajiit (as an aside – every time I hear a khajiit NPC speak in game, all that goes through my mind is “Pray for mercy from Puss in Boots!”) Their starting land is probably the best choice for a vacation spot of the three as well. What with the elves and the lush homeland, I would be ready to call the Aldmeri as the new Hibbies, except that in DAoC Hibernia was the least populated of the three realms, whereas at least last weekend the AD had the population advantage in every PvP campaign as far as I could see.

For what it’s worth, the guild I’m hooking up with have settled on Ebonheart Pact, and faction wasn’t a deal-breaker for me so I’m happy to go with the flow. It should give me a chance to let out my inner Norseman, and Midgard was the one realm I didn’t really play seriously in DAoC. Looks like I’ll be mostly killing elves out on the battlefield, and that suits me just fine.

As an aside – I got to go out to Cyrodiil last beta weekend, and I had an absolute blast that was both reminiscent of my favourite DAoC memories and included some fun new twists. I took part in both keep assaults and keep defences, twanging away with a bow and setting up a siege engine as well as sallying (or sneaking past the besiegers in through) a postern gate. There was a milegate fight like I haven’t had since the glory days of DAoC, when after a rout we rallied at a choke point and tried to stand off the pursuing enemy force. One brutal, close-quarters fight later we had lost but the general consensus in chat was “That’s awesome, let’s do it again!” When the gamers on the LOSING side say that, there’s something very right with the game. Best of all, though, was a hilarious skirmish between about a dozen of us crouching stealthed in the long grass and a similar enemy force. Every so often one of us would spot one of them, pop up to attack, making nearby enemies pop up to hit THEM, which would get more people to pitch in… then after a few deaths everyone would be back down creeping around and looking for the next victim. Good times, and I’ll be back for more.