Good article at Rock, Paper, Shotgun on Elder Scrolls Online beta hands on, along with my comments.

First, I greatly enjoyed the John Walker article and suggest others read it. Rather than excerpt from it, just follow the link.

What follows below are my comments regarding the Rock, Paper, Shotgun preview of the Elder Scrolls Online. I figure that if one can post the same comments online at Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I can post them to the blog with a link to the original article. Also, this is a blog that covers the gaming industry and I am a journalist (though admittedly not a full-time pro anymore). Still, I will limit myself to what I consider responding to the original article and the comments that followed.

Oh, and gain, please do read the original Rock, Paper, Shotgun hands-on piece. It is a fun bit of writing. Then read all of the comments, some of which touch on points also covered here.

For background, I also tried the beta for a few hours, so feel able to respond fairly to the hands-on experience of the author of the article.

On the positive side, the graphics at times make WoW look like Pong. The character creation options are also the most detailed I have ever seen in an RPG. I love them! I want them in other RPGs (to include Skyrim).

However, what I don’t like about MMOs became clear as I trudged through it: It is just another MMO. And, basically, I am not that fond of MMOs.

It could be a re-skinned WoW.

It has the same stuff I see in WoW with lots of low-lever players all running around the same quest-givers or quest stops. It has the same endlessly respawning wildlife to slaughter. While the quests are not as obviously “go get X number of Y”, they might as well be so. It was more effort to do a basic quest in Skyrim, which was not known for being a deep game.

I did one quest to spring a guy from a prison. I fought lots of the same enemies who respawned. There were always OTHER PEOPLE running both forward and back as they were doing the same quest. It was like a subway terminal of players and grunt-level enemies.

It didn’t feel like an adventure involving ME, it felt like, well, an MMO.

The enemies respawned in the same spots and it didn’t even try to create the illusion of “this is real”. Two NPCs repeated the same dialog back and forth every few seconds, regular as clockwork. It was as static as WoW.

And, the number of crates, boxes, chests, urns, and other containers was almost at RPG parody level. The opening dungeon seemed more like Molag Bal’s warehouse than a prison and torture chamber.

I never felt in danger (unless slaughterfish ate me when I tried to leave). I kept using the same starting-level bow. Enemies were shot once, or a few times, or occasionally a few more times. I could block attacks, but never bothered to do so. I just clicked the mouse and once in a while could use my first bow power-up.

However, the big problem is that they missed the key ingredient of an Elder Scrolls game experience: the sandbox. Once you leave the opening dungeon, you end up on this port island. It is fairly small. When I tried to leave it, I got eaten by slaughterfish.

It is likely some part of the main quest tells me how to get off this rock. However, I want to play the game like the other two Elder Scrolls games where I purposely blew off the main quest. I wanted the freedom to head off in any direction and just keep going.

I didn’t care what “The Prophet” wanted to tell me (just like I didn’t care what a freshly dead Emperor or the Jarl of Whiterun wanted me to do before). I was out of the opening dungeon and now ready to head off for parts unknown!

Even WoW, dated and as boring as I found it to be, allowed me to head out in a direction and just keep going right off the bat.

I also think the game is kind of rough for a having a release date so close. Enemies would die and clip into barrels, so I had a hilarious barrel with two legs sticking out of it. I had containers that wouldn’t open when it looked like they should do so. I never could figure out how to get the fishing to work. I didn’t know if I was doing it wrong or if it just wasn’t working right.

As much as I like the two Elder Scrolls games I had played, this ended up not engaging me.

But then, I am radically opposed to the notion of buying a game and then making monthly installment payments to keep playing it. I can’t wrap my head around the notion of $180 a year to be able to keep playing a game I supposedly ‘bought’.

I give it six months before it goes free-to-play.

I will look forward to the mod in development of a modern graphics Morrowind rebuild. I admit I didn’t get past the dated graphics when I tried to play it after getting it at a Steam sale. Long-time fans of the series think it is the best game and I do need to give it a play-through someday. I just want it to look pretty when I do so.

Anyhow, it is disappointing. Maybe they will get scathing beta feedback and pull it back for an overhaul. However, with pre-orders already underway, that isn’t likely.

However, I don’t want to come off as too hard on Bethesda itself. If this game fails to sustain itself, i think the problem is as much the model as anything else.

I think it safe to say that just about any modern subscription-based MMO is going to fail. The only one I can think of that has maybe bucked the trend is Eve Online (EO), which is also cheaper (a year for $99 on special).

Even WoW is heading to a subscription level roughly half of its peak. It rides on momentum. Some people have years of their life and thousands in cash invested in the game. That makes it hard to walk away.

What is a mystery to me is why game companies keep trying to roll the dice on subscription-based MMOs. None of them (other than EO) have pulled it off in recent memory.

At this time, I don’t believe even Blizzard will be able to recreate the success of WoW with any other successor. The model is dead for new subscription-based MMOs (that are not already WoW).

So, while Bethesda may have muffed it – it wouldn’t matter if it had been someone else. Nobody else has pulled it off either. Not Bioware. Not Garriott. Nobody. Not with Star Wars. Not with Tolkien. Not with Conan. Not with any IP. Not with any genre.

Well, again, except for maybe Eve Online and space-faring science fiction. It looks to be holding its own with about a half-million subscribers and growing. It has a niche market sewn up, so anyone who isn’t into WoW Tolkien-Lite fantasy can go sci-fi. I am willing to bet that there is minuscule overlap between the two game’s subscribers.

The real question is when are studios/publishers/investors/industry/whatever going to learn THIS MARKET MODEL IS DEAD already!

So, for me (and likely lots of others) the plan is to wait for the inevitable free-to-play version. In the end, I like the Elder Scrolls universe and might enjoy game if it ain’t costing me $14.99 a month. I might even consider buying it ONCE if I can still play it long-term (like the  Guild Wars series).

Once more, go read the original article to see what I am commenting on.


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One Response to “Good article at Rock, Paper, Shotgun on Elder Scrolls Online beta hands on, along with my comments.”

  1. Bernie Says:

    You have said what I have often said. MMO’s have become a niche genre. No longer are MMO’s for mainstream. They are made for a niche audience. And I also don’t understand why companies will spend millions for a niche game. Then again if they spent a few million more maybe they could actually make a good game worth playing instead of “just another MMO”. Who knows.

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