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The Longest and Most Boring Elder Scrolls Online Beta Review Ever

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The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online (Photo credit: Javier Domínguez Ferreiro)

You’re used to lots of screen shots and PVP review and a video of game play and all that. Didn’t do any of it. I was having too much fun playing. What I am going to give you is a playability review of Elder Scrolls Online (ESO), from my slightly different perspective.

See, I’m an old woman, by gamer standards (47 years old). I started tabletop gaming at 1st Edition D&D when it was the only edition, and I started video gaming at Pong. My first MMORPG was FFXI, then WoW, then LOTRO, then SWTOR, and I’ve been hanging around Neverwinter lately because it doesn’t demand a lot of me.

I am not the target demographic of the game, neither in age, nor gender. And yet, I am a hard core, gotta have it, gotta play it gaming geek. Especially role playing games. Especially online games.  I have played on nearly every console ever made, and moved to primarily computer gaming about a decade ago.

Age has caught up with me in a couple of ways. I have a couple of eye issues that mean 1) the text in my chat box is HUGE, and 2) I can’t play 1st person perspective because I literally get nauseous and dizzy. In addition to eye issues, my dexterity isn’t what it used to be and remembering to jump “home keys” between movement and combat is driving me crazy. I’ll get used to it soon enough, but in the meantime…

My computer, like me, is getting up in years. It’s around seven years old, bought at the time as a mid-range gaming laptop (laptop over desktop again because of age related issues. Sitting in a “regular” chair or even an ergonomic desk chair for any length of time aggravates several chronic pain issues I have.) 4 gigs of RAM. An ATI Mobility Radeon. I play the game on high but not ultra high settings, and the biggest issue isn’t graphics, but working memory.

So I got the beta invite for the first “stress test” earlier this month and rolled 8 characters, of which four got (at that time) beyond the starting area and one got to level 10. I have a serious alt-oholic problem. Hi, my name is Maureen and I like leveling alts. I came back for the next beta with bells on. And I’ll be there for the next one. And at launch.

Elder Scrolls Online controls reference sheet
Elder Scrolls Online controls reference sheet (Photo credit: Solarbird)

The minimal interface is totally awesome, but I do wish there were a persistent minimap option. I’m sure that will be fixed with an addon. There are just enough action buttons to keep things interesting and not so many that I have to think too hard when button mashing, so I can concentrate more on practicing dodges and blocks and interrupts, which frankly don’t come naturally to me. I play well enough to get my toon out of the big red circle, but that’s as mobile as I often get, which is one reason I’m not a stellar pvp player.

The crafting system is also pretty awesome, but I am seriously hoping there is an auction house coming, as the inventory/bank/crafting material issue looks like it can get out of hand seriously easily. I am a big ol’ crafting geek and I love that in this game crafting is the best way to get good gear. I hope eventually there is also a customizable costume crafting option (or at least a wealth of costumes) and dye packs for the racial sets. Sure, I love the design of the Altmer cloth sets, but what if blue is my favorite color? Or red?

Speaking of the market system in the game, my son Overthinker (who joined me this last beta weekend) informs me that the game does not let you email items between your own toons, and this is by design. I’m still processing that idea, and wondering if it will be a victim of unintended consequences in the end. He and I had difficulty using the in game trade function to swap items, so we had to email them back and forth to one another. Hopefully that bug will be fixed by launch.

One of the many reasons I want a viable auction house system in place is that I don’t want the chat channels cluttered up by the inevitable folks selling their wares. One thing I used to find fascinating about FFXI lo those many years ago is that you could set your character up on a street corner or simply wander around town, and mark items for sale in your inventory which prospective buyers could simply browse as they passed you, without necessarily having to interact. I don’t remember the details, but I liked the idea.

One of the things I like best about the game is that your choices in quests matter. Do you kill or negotiate with the pirate? Which person do you sacrifice to save the town? How are you going to break into the bad guy’s lair? If you make a particular choice, one line closes and another opens for you. Pretty cool.

Grouping was hella fun. My son and I rolled a couple of toons in the Aldmeri Dominion. I was an Altmer Sorceror, and Overthinker had a Khajiit Dragonknight. We leveled together from 5 to 9. We were almost at ten when the beta ended. It took us a moment to realize we were in different instances at first and needed to use the “travel to group member” function (in the group menu) to find each other, and hilarity ensued when we each traveled and ended up in each others’ instances, but we finally got it right.

The two of us together with my faithful little Clannfear minion were nearly invincible with at level and somewhat above level content. It was only when we ran into elites that we really needed to take advantage of the informal grouping that the open world and loot system encouraged.

What’s that informal grouping thing again? Another reason this old woman is glad for the way ESO is structured. I’m a psychotherapist in private practice. I work between forty and sixty hours a week. My gaming time isn’t what it used to be when I was able to farm for raids for hours a day in my WoW days (started at vanilla, walked away at Cataclysm). Not only that, it’s less predictable. Some days not only to all my therapy participants show up, they are all in crisis and my brain is wiped by the end of my work day. Other days, I have everyone cancel ahead of time, and still others, people don’t bother to call me to tell me they’re not coming.

So sometimes I find myself with an unexpected hour or two to get some gaming in (and I have a good enough wi-fi at work to pull it off), and it would be great to be able to just hop into a public dungeon, a “black anchor,” or some Cyrandil pvp to level, get gear, and maybe make a friend or two. I can’t commit to a 40 person raid, because my job is of the nature that “something might come up,” even when I’m at home on the evenings and weekends.

If you “tag” a mob, and someone helps you kill it, both of you get credit. See how easy that was? Oh, sure. If you’ve played other games that do this (like Neverwinter), you know that sometimes heavy duty DPS classes can steal your mobs if you’re a tank or healer, but overall, it’s a good deal for everyone.

I’ve been playing mostly Neverwinter for the better part of a year now, but quite frankly I haven’t been enamoured of it. It’s too linear, the microtransactions are nearly mandatory if you want your characters to have any playability, and I feel continually manipulated by the fact that the only way to get some truly awesome items is to essentially gamble on chests that require microtransactions to open.

So am I happy Elder Scrolls Online is going with a subscription model? You betcha. There are some hints that there may be some microtransactions, and I will be buying the Imperial edition for myself to get the cheaper horse, the Rings of Mara (which I will NOT be using with my son, because ewww, gross!) and the ability to reroll toons of any race into any alliance. I will also be preordering (as soon as one or more of those pesky insurance companies that owe me money pay up) to get an early start on the game, because frankly I’m addicted.

Fifteen bucks a month is a bargain. For a couple of months at the end of last year, I got roped into over eighty bucks in microtransactions a month in Neverwinter, even though I knew better, even though it embarrasses me to admit it. Cable costs more. Internet costs more. I spend more on books in any given month. I spend more on yarn in most months. Yeah, I like the subscription model.

And now, the beta issues I seriously hope ESO fixes before launch: While Overthinker and I were grouping, we ran across a number of bosses and minibosses that would refuse to spawn, essentially breaking the quest. I suspect it’s a problem with the instancing, and it’s a widespread enough problem that I’m sure the programmers at Bethesda are hard at work fixing it. But it’s huge. It will kill the game pretty quickly if people are paying a subscription fee and are running into multiple quests before level 10 that they can’t finish because they’re bugged.

Another issue is a rendering issue. Keep in mind I’m playing on a seven year old computer (and Overthinker is playing on a much newer but also much less powerful computer). In various zones, I would try to climb up stairs and walk through them instead. On at least one occasion, a gate to what was supposed to be an inaccessible area didn’t render for Overthinker, and he walked right in. I’ve had to use the /stuck command more than once to fix the problem.

There are some issues with regard to where to find items and how they are priced. In the Aldmeri Dominion I had a heck of a time finding Petty Soul Gems to fill with the souls of dead mobs (gruesome image, wasn’t it?) from levels five to ten. Also, your minimap may tell you the name of a merchant, but not what they sell.

Frankly, it gets old searching through the (nicely minimal) interface to find an NPC among all the fellow PCs, only to find out he or she doesn’t sell anything you need. Even a hint in the map that says something like “Talks with Hands (bag merchant)” would be better, instead of just the person’s name, or the name plus “merchant”. Merchant is too broad a category.

With regard to pricing, I was dead broke for the first five levels on three of four of my toons. Of course, part of that was a learning curve, and a lack of the auction house that (I hope) will come later. But part of it was because repairs, especially for heavy armor users, don’t appear to be taking that learning curve into account.

Also, gathering is a bit unbalanced. I both love and hate that I can’t necessarily easily see gathering nodes. It’s kind of like real life that way. And I like how alchemy node flowers look pretty close to their real world equivalents. But do you know how hard it can be to spot columbine in the underbrush? I don’t ever seem to hit enough alchemy nodes to do anything useful with my toons, and goddess knows I’ve tried. Copper also seems to be pretty hard to come by, while jute seems to be everywhere.

I didn’t get to pvp this time out because I mistakenly believed I had today in the beta as well, and spent the last day of beta leveling with my son instead. Friday and Saturday I worked about nine hours apiece, so a lot of beta time went down the rabbit hole. What I’ve read sounds good. I like pvp that incorporates tactics with siege machinery and other “large world” items. I often play healers and tanks, and I’m not quick enough on the trigger to be a truly great pvp player, so being able to use a siege machine to take out opponents appeals to me.

Is ESO the “WoW Killer” so many people have been waiting for? WoW killed itself for me when I got tired of grinding without ever being able to do something new. Another raid to suck up six hours of my life, three of those in bickering and measuring of genitals I don’t even possess? Yawn. Another quest line that didn’t have meaningful choices? Yawn again. The necessity of spending hours upon hours killing the same type of mob over and over again to prepare for the raid of the week? OMG, really? Blizzard, you know I have a life, right?

I think ESO has the potential to win people both from the Elder Scrolls fandom and from lovers of MMORPG. You can group or not as you choose, and there are a gazillion places for you to go. You can pvp, or craft, or fish (am I the only one who loves fishing and really hopes there are eventually awesome rewards for it?) or hang out in chat making puns and having philosophical arguments. You can spend a day gathering or questing or grouping. You can roleplay or you can mock roleplayers.

WoW is not likely to die any time soon. People who find it a decade after I did will still find it fresh and new, and that’s okay. But ESO is something new again. It has really worked to immerse you into a world where the interface is barely noticeable and the world itself fills your screen. I will almost certainly be giving up Neverwinter at launch and not looking back. I had already given up LOTRO, and my brief foray into SWTOR was almost wholly a disappointment. But my experience in the ESO beta tells me I’m going to like the game and the community a lot.

Overthinker and I have formed a guild, Perpetual Affinity (those who know me from WoW will know the significance of that name) on the Altmieri Dominion. I intend to mirror it in the other two alliances, if possible, probably under the names “Enduring Solidarity” and “Abiding Concord”. My toons are all under @odanu, and his are all under @overthinker. Next beta, or at launch, come look us up.

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