Saturday, 21 February 2015

Smelling The Flowers: TESO

I'm still playing TESO. It's a slightly strange experience. Similarities with Vanguard continue to abound, mostly in the look and feel, rather than the gameplay or the content. As Lani mentioned in the comments to a previous post the orc island, Betnikh, shares distinct similarities with the orc starting areas on Telon, although not nearly as much as the previous desert areas did with Qalia.

It's all there in the architecture, the textures and, particularly, the color palette. The music and the ambient sounds also throw some weight behind the associations. And the rain. Always the rain.

I logged in the other evening and the first thing I read in zone chat was someone asking plaintively "Do we always have to fight at night?" Weather and light conditions do seem to play a significant role in Tamriel. I'm not sure what the day/night cycle is, exactly, but I believe it was still night-time when I logged out over two hours later.

The next day, when I logged back in, I found myself in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. I spent the best part of half an hour trying to take screenshots. If there's a more effective way to waste fifteen minutes than trying to hit a key at the exact moment a flash of light appears in a video game I don't want to know about it.

Catch the lightning!
In the end I fired up FRAPS, took a couple of minutes of video footage and pulled the frames out of that. And they still looked terrible. I guess you had to be there. It was a darn good storm! I'd give the oscar for Best Weather Effects in an MMO to FFXIV but these run it close.

Other than trying to photograph lightning I've mostly been questing. Ye gods, but there are a lot of quests here! Kaozz at ECTMMO mentions the exceptionally high quest density in Allods but I can't believe they have more than TESO. I can barely walk five paces without acquiring a new goal in life.

Several people have made representations for the quality of the storyline in TESO but so far it all seems rather generic. Most of the quests seem unoriginal. There's a surfeit of events of earth-shattering importance, especially given the single-figure level range. Also the degree of trust shown in and responsibility given to complete strangers is terrifying. No wonder society is on the verge of collapse.

The writing continues to be, on the whole, rather flat. The voice acting remains, by and large, uninspired. There are exceptions.

Wait, let me guess. Under "Profession" in your passport it says "Loveable Rogue", right?
The lengthy sequence with Captain Kaleen and her crew is quite intriguing. It introduces several moderately memorable characters, some of them even voiced by actors who seem to be awake, and I am beginning to experience something of the "moral dilemma" aspect of the gameplay that I've read about.

Without giving too many spoilers, there are decision points where my character can't, as I as his player would like him to do, tack carefully around the fixed positions of various NPCs and stay on the right side of all of them. Choices have to be made and with those choices, perhaps, enemies.

This is all rather well done. By the time I had to make the choices I felt that I knew enough about the individuals making demands on me, and about the situation, to take a meaningful decision. More importantly,  I had a reasonably clear grasp on how my character felt about several of the NPCs, what his emotional reactions would be and where his loyalties might lie. When it came to the moment there really was no decision to make - I knew he could only act one way and would have to deal with whatever consequences arose.

All of that may be good game design but it's a very poor fit for me as a player. I don't enjoy making difficult decisions in games. I play MMOs in part to get away from having to think about such things, to enter into an environment where any choices I make don't really matter all that much. I'm not especially keen on having my moral compass re-calibrated in the guise of entertainment.

Are you sure this is the best way to get bloodstains out of leather?
As a rule, when I play MMOs, I like to play affable characters who get along well with everyone. If I can avoid bad faction I will go out of my way to do so. Even if the game clearly intends me to pick sides, if I can find a fence to sit on, I'll climb up there and get comfortable. I foresee difficulties for my long-term engagement with an entire game designed around moral choices.

I imagine one solution would be just to go out and kill stuff. While questing is ubiquitous I'm not sure that it's essential. I get the feeling I might progress just as easily by gathering mats, crafting my own gear and killing random monsters, bandits, zombies, cultists and animals for gear drops, gold and xp. It might even be faster.

It's certainly as enjoyable. I haven't played an MMO for a while where random slaughter was so satisfying. Loot is decent and sticking to mobs around or just under my level results in a TTK of around 3-5 seconds. It also completely removes any need to learn how to fight using blocks, dodges or most of the keyboard shortcuts. Three or four swings of my fiery greatsword (well, it was fiery until the enchantment got used up. Must do something about that) and the job's done.

Speaking of the control system and the combat; it's not too bad. I prefer it to NWN's version and possibly to DCUO's as well, both of which are similar. Holding down LMB for a big hit is very simple and straightforward and the fights themselves tend towards the slow and stately, which gives me plenty of time to look at my UI, remember which key I need to press for a particular spell, look at my keyboard, locate it, press it and get back to mouse-clicking, all  before very much has happened.

Come to think of it, that looks more like something you'd find in Halgarad than Martok.
So, combat works, the world is inviting, there's lots going on and all in all I'm having a good time in Tamriel. So why don't I play TESO more? I played a lot more ArcheAge, for example, when that was fresh, even if I did come to a sudden and unexpected dead halt there after just a few weeks.

For some reason I can't yet quite put my finger on I find TESO quite tiring. An hour there feels like three or four hours in other MMOs. After a short session I often feel both satisfied and satiated. It can be several days before I feel ready to go again.

I can't quite figure it out. An hour of TESO is less intense than a single five-minute Dragonball match in GW2 and I sometimes do half a dozen of those back to back. It's not difficult to understand or to play. There are no timers running down or scores mounting up. I have no plan, no agenda, my time is my own and mostly I just potter around. It should be relaxing, it is enjoyable, and yet when I log out I metaphorically wipe my forehead as if I'd just had some kind of a virtual work-out.

If I had to give an explanation I think I'd lay it on the questing and particularly on all that having to make up my mind about stuff. It does feel like playing a single-player RPG sometimes, with the sheer quantity of story-driven, directed content being thrown at me. I probably need to get off that train or at least take a few more station stops.

Overall, though, I'm pleased with how things are going, exhaustion aside. I like the pace and I like the place. My loose goal is to hit level 10 this weekend (dinged 9 last night) so as to be eligible for some three-faction PvP. I hear they have moveable siege engines. I want to see those!


7 comments:

  1. I am actually saving TESO for the PS4. I find that playing games with a controller is more comfortable and actually more efficient. Of course, that only works in solo style MMO land (looking at you TSW, etc.) Still, glad to know there is plenty of this waiting for me at launch.

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    1. Yes, buying a PS4 is my fallback plan if EQNext a) ever actually exists and b) has unplayable PC controls. Of course I'd have to buy a TV too...

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    2. ugh... a TV... deal breaker for me. Already did my "TV" era way back when. I don't think watching "Sherlock" and "Parts Unknown" -- and nothing else -- on my computer screen, after original airings, counts. heh

      -- 7rlsy

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  2. I agree there's something about it that requires more concentration to play, so it was a bit draining. You can't really "skip the quest text" and play on auto pilot. (At least I couldn't.) Also I found a lot of the quests pretty depressing, too. People's loved ones were dying all over the place as I recall.

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    1. I'd heard that it was bleak. Can hardly be worse than TSW though...

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    2. I found that having to read the quest text got me more immersed in the game.
      I agree the story lines can be pretty dark, however I think this is very much linked to the setting and the overarching story that is being told.

      I think this is reflected in the 16 rating the game launched with, which again shares a resemblance to TSW in that area.

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  3. You know I've been thinking about this post since you put it up, because it's so true - there is something fatiguing about ESO. And it's not a bad thing - it just requires a little more attention while you're playing even the PvE portion then most mmos. From the reactive combat to the at times intense quests - there just aren't the brain candy hooks that so many FTP MMOs offer. Is that a bad thing? No because I believe ESO gives a lot in the form of atmosphere and character customization. Lots of room for improvement in horizontal growth, but it is a really good MMO with almost an old school feel. This may actually put it behind the curve a little as games like FF XIV,GW2, and WoW are like the shopping malls of mmo's with something to do or see no matter what your gaming tastes are. Those titles have effectively combined several genres of games under one umbrella title. I think money wise this is the future of MMO's - one brand with several games within. ESO is currently lacking the casual touch that these other titles offer, and yet it's still a great game. Hopefully they can be successful without ruining the current amazing world atmosphere that the game offers.

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