Well, now that ZeniMax has lifted the NDA for The Elder Scrolls Online, I’m free to tell the world how I feel about the beta. If only I knew how I feel about the beta.
I was deeply excited for TESO, because Skyrim! Plus MMO! My two favorite gaming experiences, mashed together. It’s got to be like chocolate and peanut butter, right?
Well, sort of. Except not really.
The graphics are beautiful. I love active combat systems. The lack of traditional class boundaries, and the resulting freedom with which you can build your character, is refreshing and intriguing. Overall, this is a good MMO. But it’s also a bit… bland. Lacking in personality.
By necessity, it lacks the immersion of Skyrim because it lacks the interactivity. The NPC’s never accuse me of being a milk drinker or discuss their histories with arrows to the knee. I can read books, but I can’t take them with me. If I see a cool vase, I can’t pick it up and bring it home. In a massively multiplayer environment, this is all understandable. My issue isn’t that these things are missing, it’s that they haven’t been replaced with anything.
Skyrim always made my character feel alive. Here, my character isn’t really a character in the true sense of the word. There are no ways that I’ve encountered yet to develop her as more than just a means of killing things. I want cool, fun things to work on. A house I can customize and use to display my books and trophies of battle would be best. Lacking that, pets. Unusual mounts. Cool rewards for achievements. Titles. Personality.
Because without those things, I’m not invested. I’m not attached. And it also leaves a decided lack of things to do. So far the game promises questing, PVP, crafting, and then if you want, more questing. I’m sorry to say, I’m not finding this to be enough. I’m sure they’ll tack on something raidy, but even then. We’ve seen all this before. Maybe if I say it a third time, I can conjure it up Beetlejuice style: where’s the personality?
Maybe – almost certainly – my expectations were too high. But there’s a reason for that: they’ve invited my expectations to be high by placing themselves in direct, mutually exclusive competition with mature, feature-rich MMO’s. People always defend launch titles by reminding us that such-and-such game didn’t have a lot of features at launch either. Which would be a valid point, if it was 2004. But they’re not competing with the launch versions of other games; they’re competing with them now.
The subscription model has a lot going for it, and it’s not bad in and of itself. But in this market, I think it’s a poor business decision. At least, unless you’re going to offer a one-year subscription at an extremely deep discount to anyone who pre-orders, say, or some other means of making it negligible until you’ve had time to ramp up the game. Because there are a lot of people out there right now who’ve been playing MMO’s a long time, with a core group of friends and/or family, and the fact of playing with those people is more important than the game itself. So either the whole group will play something, or none of them will.
As an example, in my house gaming is a family activity, and there are four of us who play. Which means when you offer a game for the industry standard fifteen dollars a month, you’re not actually talking about fifteen dollars a month, you’re talking about sixty. The upshot of this is, we’re not budgeting for more than one sub game.
Currently we’re playing WoW. (Yeah yeah, I can hear your game snobbery from here.) I’ve been a WoW player on and off for eight years, and right now my subscription is active for one simple reason: there’s just a lot to do. Without even getting into the standard endgame PVE and PVP, I’ve got pet battles (you have no idea), collecting mounts, collecting achievements, my little farm, various activities around the Timeless Isle, leveling alts. My experience is varied and fun and doesn’t get boring. And soon, with the addition of garrisons in the next expansion, there will be even more to do.
So what is ESO offering me that can compete with all of that? Why should I spend my sixty dollars here instead? This is what I’m asking myself. If you’ve got the answer, by all means, enlighten me in the comments. I haven’t pre-ordered it yet. But I’m still rooting for it. I’m hoping the next beta event will knock my socks off.