Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Elder Scrolls Online - Installation, Registration and Tutorial

If you're planning on playing TESO when it goes free to play in March I'd advise you to set aside plenty of prep time. I ordered the game from Amazon last weekend; it turned up on Thursday but I didn't open it right away. I planned on starting on Saturday morning so I'd be able to give it a run of several hours without interruption.

Fortunately I thought I'd get ahead of myself for once so I split the shrink-wrap on Friday night in order to get the thing installed in the background while I played GW2. The first surprise on opening the case was finding four DVDs inside. When did I last buy an MMO that came with that many installation discs? The Secret World and GW2 both come with just two.

The installation process itself went very smoothly. In between swapping discs I made a new email address (always best to use a unique email for each MMO) and went through the lengthy registration process. That took around an hour all told.

I was surprised and mildly miffed to find that you can't play TESO without entering full personal and payment details and agreeing to a monthly payment plan. Since the game comes with 30 days of game time this would have seemed heavy-handed even while the subscription was mandatory but now that the buy to play model has been announced and given a start date less than six weeks away it seems positively ludicrous.

It was sign up or don't play, though, so I grudgingly filled in my details, credit card and all, chose the monthly payment, confirmed all the necessary emails and then cancelled my subscription. Not getting me in the right frame of mind here, Zenimax.

Dressed in rags? Check? In an underground prison? Check.

At this point I looked at the installation footprint; it was 31GB. That seemed big to me. Naturally I expected some patching so I thought I'd best get on with things. Just as well. The first patch was 14GB. That took quite a while and when it was done the patch progress indicator read 2% complete. Hell's bells!

Fortunately, it must be tallying the number of files, rather than the size, because the remaining 98% didn't take as long as the first 2%. Also a lot of the patching presumably overwrote the original installation because instead of ending up with a 50GB plus install the final score was just over 36GB.

By then it was well gone midnight. The whole process had taken over five hours even with our pretty good cable broadband and its decent download speeds. Just as well I hadn't been planning on playing that night.

On Saturday morning I dithered around doing displacement activities before finally firing the thing up. It was apparent there was some subconscious resistance going on. I've never liked Elder Scrolls games much. I kept thinking I'd rather be playing GW2 or EQ2 - or even the Valliance pre-alpha.

In the end I got started only to be informed that as the account had never been logged in from this particular computer before I'd have to reply to a security email before they'd let me play. While I support that method of keeping my account secure it did seem just a tad paranoid, given that this particular account had never been logged in from any computer, ever. You would think the first log-in could be trusted to be valid, wouldn't you?

Pre-order bonuses. For a given value of "Pre"

That was the final bar I had to jump. Up came character creation and here the game seemed to be reading my mind: it presented me with a Khajiit, the cat race that I'd already decided on playing. Just as well. It took me three-quarters of an hour to go through all the sliders and options - imagine how long it would have taken if I'd been tempted by a race that actually has recognizable features to adjust.

I'd done a small amount of advance research, which led me to believe that the penalty for playing a cat-person would be having to pal up with *shudder* elves in the Aldmeiri Dominion faction. Well I dodged that bullet. My Khajiit Dragonknight is a proud if almost completely ignorant member of the Daggerfall Covenant.

How did I pull that trick off? Ah, that brings me to the second surprise I found when I opened the box. As well as the sheet with the registration key there was a slip of paper with another scratch panel. That sheet informed me I was entitled to an Explorer's Pack containing Bonus Treasure Maps, a Scuttler vanity pet and the right to "Play any race in any alliance".

I went to the account page and input the code before making a character and was thanked for having pre-ordered the game. Apparently Amazon UK are sitting on some very old stock. Still, lucky break for me - now I don't have to be dealing with Elves other than at the sharp end of my sword.

The one and only moment of entertainment in the entire dismal tutorial.

From there it was straight into a rather poor cinematic and on to a very annoying tutorial. Even with all my graphics auto-set to "High" by the game I was unimpressed with what I was seeing. It reminded me very much of Neverwinter, with lots of relatively undifferentiated, flat textures and everything blown up to 125% natural scale. That said, it's hard to tell how good the graphics might be when you're dumped in a virtually featureless cave.

The controls were also reminiscent of Neverwinter only even worse. I really loathe not being allowed free and full use of my mouse pointer. I'm perfectly capable of playing games that use that fixed center-screen reticule to aim, mouse to attack and keyboard strokes for everything else system but being able to use a control system and wanting to use it are two very different things.

Consequently, what with the numbingly familiar "you died and now you have no soul and you're trapped in a prison and the prison is in a cave and there's a jailbreak and you are THE ONE and come on come on COME ON!!!" opening and the horrible controls, within five minutes I was simultaneously on the verge of a panic attack and bored out of my mind.

So I logged out and went to do some dailies in GW2 instead. Then I made a coffee, came back an hour later, sat down and tried again. This time it went a lot better. The story was still absolutely terrible and the voice actors seemed to be on some kind of depressant drugs but eventually I made it through to the end of the Tutorial.

I'm making that sound better than it was. The whole affair was still quite horrible. John Cleese's celebrated turn as Cadwell was the sole bright spot. After the third time I was told to go find something I couldn't see on the map I cracked and googled for Add-Ons. I rarely use Add-Ons in any MMO and indeed I largely disapprove of their very existence but there are limits to my patience and it turns out that playing an MMO that launched in the second decade of the 21st Century without even a mini-map goes beyond them.

This! This is what I want to see first time I log in! Flowers! Grass! SHOPS!

Sadly there was no Add-On either to give me Keyboard Turning or to replace the reticule/mouse nonsense with real MMO hotbar combat. There was one that gave me control of the mouse pointer but that doesn't help much when there's nothing to point it at. At least I now have a mini-map.

Quite honestly, I'm surprised I got as far as I did. Had this been a completely F2P MMO and if I hadn't spent a few pounds on the box and invested so much time registering and installing it I doubt I'd have carried on.

Which would have been a shame, because once I finally emerged into the sunlit, cobbled streets of Daggerfall, everything began to improve in a hurry. I'll save my first impressions of what could be called actual gameplay for another time but suffice to say once I got out of that bloody hellhole of a tutorial I did finally begin to enjoy myself.

And there's the takeaway: all tutorials should be optional. It's in everyone's interest. Just imagine how positive I could have felt about the game if I'd been allowed to start in Daggerfall straight out of character creation. This entire post would have had a completely different tone.

If developers wonder why so many people buy their games, log in once, log out ten minutes later and are never seen again, well there's your reason - not just bad tutorials but mandatory bad tutorials. Stop it. Just. Stop.



20 comments:

  1. I made very strong comments during TESO beta testing that the whole Soul Prison tutorial zone be deleted and that we start immediately on land: the tutorial is preposterously bad. Unfortunately a: a lot of the (very expensive) voice talent get their first showing in the tutorial; and b: the tutorial is actually integral to the (otherwise quite good by MMO standards) story. But good god, that tutorial is terrible.

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    1. I shudder to recall all the times I've sent feedback, posted on forums and generally stamped and yelled about this kind of thing during betas. No-one ever listens.

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  2. Be happy you did not have to download the whole thing, it took me 4 days to install that game, I had tried earlier as well but only gotten errors upon errors, launcher not well LAUNCHING, launcher freezes up, not downloading etcetc and gave up.Now that I finally have gotten it installed, the game crashes every time I try to make a character, so I have to do it quick :P

    I do enjoy the questing and the controls inside the game though, and the sounds - weather - and the whole look of the game is very nice, in my opinion obviously. But there are too many errors and bugs, it STILL feel like a beta version of the game. I get crashes, the screen freezes etc so making it very a very annoying experience.

    To find the quest you just do as normal - click M and you will see the quest, to toggle through the quests you can click T i think it was, and the way point chances on the compass. Just in case you wondered. As for the tutorial, it wasn't that long, 10min tops, could be 5 minutes if you skipped the talking. But yes, it could be skippable for those who have already done it once. My bet is that I will play for this one sub, and perhaps check it out in a few months again. But it won't be my main MMO until they fix all these annoying things.

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    1. Oh and excuse my typos, I'm a bad typer :P

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    2. Sounds like I got off lightly! So far I haven't run into any bugs - fingers crossed. I'm amazed you got through the tutorial in 5-10 minutes - it took me over an hour, although some of that I was tabbed out finding and installing add-ons.

      I've now spent three or four hours exploring the actual world outside and it looks great. There's a real Vanguard vibe to the whole thing, which I expected from the screenshots I've seen but had no idea would also be present in the ambient sounds, music and even the neutral voice acting. I'm starting to feel quite at home.

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  3. This is why I hope ESO gets a free trial at some point. I'd like to give it a whirl, but I don't want to drop any money out of the gate in case I turn out to "enjoy" it as much as you do.

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    1. As should be evident when I post about the world outside the tutorial I am enjoying it. Mrs Bhagpuss looked over my shoulder just now, was immediately struck by the Vanguard vibe and suggested I might like to buy her a copy for her upcoming birthday. If she gets to grips with the controls then I suspect we might have a little run in Tamriel for a while.

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  4. I am actually probably going to wait until this is on the PS4 to try it. Gaming on a 60" tv with the comfort of a controller is growing on me. This was a fun read =)

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    1. I kinda sorta have EQNext pegged as the time I buy a PS4 and a TV (we don't actually own a TV any more). Of course with two of us I guess we'd need two of each? I have no idea how multiplayer works on consoles...

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  5. Any alt you may make can now skip the tutorial and start at level 3 in their Alliance's city. You only have to do it once.

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    1. Thank the lord for that at least! It's early days yet but I suspect there is indeed a chance that I might end up making another character or several and knowing I don't have to begin in that cave makes it all the more likely.

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  6. Your experience and feelings mirror my own from beta. There's a reason I could never get hyped for this game and don't really have any desire to play it even when it goes B2P.

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    1. I have to say that now I'm out of the tutorial I'm having a great time. I still don't like the controls much but I can use them well enough and the world is very appealing.

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  7. "Had this been a completely F2P MMO and if I hadn't spent a few pounds on the box and invested so much time registering and installing it I doubt I'd have carried on."

    I checked it out in open beta, reacted in a similar fashion to you, and DIDN'T carry on.

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    1. It gets a lot better once that tutorial is out of the way. It's flawed for sure but I am in no doubt I'm going to get my money's worth.

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  8. I wasn't fond of the controls at first but they grew on me. I bound many buttons on my mouse, which helped a lot. Not perfect but it made things bearable.

    The world is gorgeous once you get out of the cave. Also you can now skip the tutorial once you have gone through once.

    It's a neat game, when you get out in the world you can appreciate it more. I'll definitely be playing it again when the payment model changes. The combat isn't my favorite, but the world is just gorgeous and fun to explore. As a former VG player I'm sure you'll appreciate it.

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    1. The visual and audio similarities to Vanguard are hard to credit as coincidental. I get the feeling someone on the team really liked Vanguard!

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  9. I miss the days when MMOs would plop you in a city and say, "Go."

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  10. Good thing you didn't play in the beta when there were *THREE* tutorial zones.

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