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The Good and the Bad Musings on the Elder Scrolls: Online Press summit Part II

November 14, 2012

 

 

 

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on the information released at the ESO press summit. The reason for this is that I felt like that I had not managed to address all the aspects I wanted to in yesterday’s post but had already written a post that was twice as long as my usual ones. Anyway I’d like to add to the topics of yesterday’s post the topics of:

 

–          World and Story (Quests and immersion)

–          Endgame and PVP and PVE content in general

 

In general I wanted to talk about these topics as they are a big cornerstone of any MMO and because Zenimax had some rather interesting and questionable according to me in these departments.

 

 

 

World and Story

 

 

Just to clarify a bit, when I write story in the heading it only touches a little on the overall choice of setting in the ES timeline and what we can expect from it. Story in this case is far more focused on the way the story is told and how the questing system seems to work.

 

According to this interview from June 2012 ESO works with quests, but instead of doing a so called “hub and spoke” design like in WoW, ESO opts for something they call “points of interest” (POI). A system that encourages you to wander around the world and explore. Rewards for these exploration might be “chests”, “bosses”, “unique events” or “books”. The way the POI system is enhanced is with the compass system we can find in for instance Skyrim, where it shows you points of interest on your radar or minimap. While I like the general idea of rewarding exploration a lot, there are some problems I have with some of the ideas implemented with it. For instance I am very glad we can at the moment turn the compass off, but I do hope that the visual cues to you going and exploring are also in the game. A lot of the time I played Skyrim in the beginning my eyes were literally glued to the compass, because it was the easiest way to find POI’s to go to. I hope that this effect of the compass is taken seriously and that the visual cues for the POI are actually also in the game to an extent that the compass becomes a short cut, but not mandatory in order to find the POIs. This could achieved by making sure that one can see divergent paths when looking at the screen or showing interesting objects like towers, ruins, caves etc. from afar but hten the player has to find a way to get to them.That said I do not mind hidden POIs either, but also make sure they are hidden from the compass as well because otherwise they would not really be hidden would they? The option to toggle the compass on and off does suggest though that Zenimax is willing to make sure the compass is not a mandatory instrument in exploring the world and for that I am glad, I do hope they do keep monitoring the effect of the compass though on the whole exploration front.

 

Another thing that struck me in the info released was that even though we have 9 playable races in 3 factions we also have only three starting areas. This already set my alarm clocks ringing and brought back unpleasant memories of the very railroaded levelling experience of SWTOR. It would in my opinion be the death of a game that literally has put exploration on its forefront when it comes to levelling, to force you to jump through the same hoops when you want to level an alt. Now from what I understood though the starting area lasts for only 4 levels, but can be played longer if you wish, and after that you are more or less free to explore the world. There is a path Zenimax studio has laid out for you that you can take but it sounded like they were open to the player taking his own path as well. As much as I would like to see more starting areas I think it is more paramount that the rest of the questing experience is as free as possible and not directed by the developer. For that I think I could suffer having to go through the same starting area several times; it would be optimal though to have several of them. Immersion wise I am not sure either how it is explained that Dunmer and Argonians start off in Skyrim, for Nords it of course is completely valid but would it not make more sense to design and add an area into Morrowind and Black Marsh (which apparently are higher level zones) that acts as the Dunmer and Argonian starting areas? It would definitely give each of the races a further unique appeal (as well as the factions). Because nothing is more depressing than if you want to be part of the Ebonheart pact but you really abhor the starting area in Skyrm (I know that’s what kept me from making a Nightelf for a very long time in WoW; at least I, back in the day, 4 other starting areas to choose from, that allowed me to play on the Alliance side without getting a miserable experience right at the start).

 

My biggest fear when it comes to questing is the whole fixation that MMOs have with personal story. And yes ESO seems to have one too, on top of that one seemingly ripped off from AoC, which involves you stealing back your soul from Molag Bal and Mannimarco. Sometimes I think developers live in this dimensional hole that filters what kind of feedback they get from the real world. Correct me if I am wrong but did not SWTOR, the most expensive MMO made to date, fail to a large part because of its emphasis on personal story? Even the definition of labelling your player avatar as the hero or “Chosen One” is very problematic as the title says there can only be one of them. Yet there are god knows how many of them running around. To me that is completely running my gameplay as it requires so much suspension of disbelief. If one would want to make a Multiplayer game with a story for the character, that labels it as the hero then for gods’ sake make a single player RPG with co-op mode not an MMO! The explanation given to this decision of story is kind of sneakily given as “it ties well with our death system”. The implicit premise here being it is requiring suspension of disbelief to have a game without permanent death and because suspension of disbelief is bad the absence of permanent death must be explained in a way that does not require suspension of disbelief. Yet to be honest if you ever make an MMO with any kind of PVE endgame content and such are not solely focussed on PVP then it is logical and we gamers are used to not having a permanent death system; suspension of disbelief does not really matter there, other factors are more important. As such it seems to me a bad trade off to give the player a personal story in order to avoid the suspension of disbelief concerning the death system, if the personal story causes an even greater suspension of disbelief.

 

It was also hinted at that what players chose to do in quests have permanent effects on the world around them. How does this tie in with the fact that there are other players opposite choices? Do you just stick all choice A people instance and all choice B people in one and prohibit them from interacting? Seems like a bad solution to me, yet the alternative is having paradoxes in the game which is just as bad. It was even said that people will hail you differently in parts of the world for doing different things. An example given was that NPCs recognise you as the killer of a big bad werewolf. And the developers went on to say they realise lots of people have killed said werewolf, but they did not regard it as a problem. Well sorry to burst your bubble but it is not a problem if and only if the game world does not acknowledge your feat in a way visible to others. If the game merely acknowledges it being an anonymous band of heroes doing the feat, then everybody can feel a part of the deed without clashing with each other. But if the game says heroes A to Z did this then suddenly everybody is going: “But wait a minute you can only kill him ones! And hero Å, Ä and Ö also killed him what about them?”. To me these kind of acknowledgements are good to have in a game but they should be vague and nonspecific. An NPC Soldier in a warzone might congratulate you on your valour on the battlefield after a quest; because he can say the line to others as well because it is plausible for others to have been valorous as well, being valorous is after all not a unique trait only possible in one person. But hero of Tamriel is!

 

Now to the things that I do like with questing in ESO is what they call multiple quest bestowers. Meaning that one and the same quest can be activated in different ways. You could find its POI, or an NPC might direct you to the POI or an artefact like a book might tell you about it. This makes sure that while the quests system seems largely exploration based, there will be opportunities for all of us who are not keen on exploration (I mean not everyone can be a Livingstone right?) get an easy avenue for their quest as well that is accessible to them.

 

I also hope that the exploratory factor in the questing process makes sure the player base is patient and non-spoonfed; after all exploration requires time and effort; fostering a more friendly game experience. The addition of being able to teleport instantly to your friends seems to undermine this somewhat. Just as teleporting to dungeons was a bad idea so is teleporting to party members. A lot of the social aspect of any party or dungeon after all happens when everybody is travelling to the meeting spot; before whatever you wanted to do together happens. It is like mingling and makes sure there can be some banter even in the dungeon. I don’t know how developers think people will just magically communicate in dungeons, above the required tactics and such. The only way in my opinion to achieve that is to make sure they have actually had some time to socialise before the group activity.

 

Other nice things present on the ESO world are nods to previous ES players in the form of Mannimarco the first necromancer, the Tribunal in Morrowind and the various guilds found in the other guilds and I think these elements will help the game to feel like it is an elder scrolls game as well, apart from how combat is handled and such, because it is a nod to the players who played the previous games. Just like the statues of the Sons of Lothar and featuring Rend Blackhand where nods to previous Warcraft title players in WoW.

 

 

 

Endgame and PVP and PVE content

 

 

This section will be a little shorter as not that much is known about these parts of the game. We do know however that there are adventure zones that have a single player, group and heroic group mode in the game and that at the moment PVP is limited to the big battle for the imperial throne and that there are no plans for “instanced battlefields”, but that arena style combat has not been completely taken of the board. It was also hinted at that endgame activities could if so chosen by the player contain maxing all your class’ skills.

 

The only worries I find here is that, if the battle for Cyrodiil does not feature a variable map with more objectives other than attacking and defending, the PVP battle might become stale over time. I do however like how emphasis was based on the fact that PVP is available from the beginning (level 10) and such was not entirely and endgame activity and I strongly agree with there not being a distinction between PVE and PVP gear. Yet the fact that you can enter PVP at level 10 and get “buffed” up to level 50 does not make up for the problems SWTOR faced with a similar system were PVP quickly became a question of how many low-level players are on my team and depending on the number all the higher level players would leave. I do not think the solution is to give all the classes their max level abilities like in GW2 as that would invalidate levelling above level 10. So another solution has to be looked into. Which that would be I do not know, but it is important to realise what kind of problems the choice of allowing everybody to compete in the same bracket brings with it. Especially when it comes to people at max level having better gear and abilities than the “buffed” players leading to a frustrating experience. Normal brackets of 10 levels would be a better option in my opinion. Buff everybody in the bracket to its max level and you will have a far more levelled playfield and make sure “twinking” is not as viable an option. The ability to become Emperor is on paper a great carrot, but because it is awarded to the player with the highest score I fear the battle for Cyrodiil will turn into a mindless zerg for the most points as every individual wants to become Emperor and teamwork be damned. I also wonder how with no cross faction communication one could draw on the benefit of three alliances, where 2 combine forces against one? Without communication across factions this would also be very sporadic and more or less non-existent.

 

My worries for the PVE content are the facts that it falls into the fact of saying the same encounter with new mechanics is new content. It is not that is artificial content! Especially if I am forced to go through easy and medium in order to get to hard, where I would like to be. That only leads to a frustrating grind before I can do the content I want to do and one should not implement different difficulty settings into MMOs other than as self-sufficient paths of their own with their own loot tables, so as to not invalidate the other paths or forcing them onto players. So I really hope ESO rethinks or at least tweaks this idea, their proposed system has not worked in the past and will not as far as I can see work now either.

 

It is however nice to see that completionists have a lot to do at endgame in the form of building their perfect character by maxing out all the class’(es’) skills or collecting all the books into their own personal library. This I think when it comes to endgame content is a very good move by Zenimax and with the class system intact it does not completely destroy alting as it did with TSW.

 

Ok that where all of my thoughts on those subjects! Now all we can do is wait for more information and hopefully some answers to some of our worries.

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