Hi everyone. So yesterday, on a bit of a whim I have to admit, I picked up a copy of Elder Scrolls Online. It came with a three-day head start so I’ve had an extra day as it were. The game officially launches today but I thought maybe you’d like some thoughts about kind of how I’m seeing the game around about eight hours in. As you know from my beta preview I wasn’t overly fond of Elder Scrolls Online, certainly what they were showing us in the beta preview, was, well, rubbish frankly. Now things have changed considerably with Elder Scrolls Online that has actually been released. For starters it appears that what we were playing in beta was basically nothing.

We weren’t playing the content, we weren’t playing really any of the actual game that they were intending to give us. Now that’s a both a positive and a negative in some respects. The positive there is that I’ve actually not played through any of the content already. Great! The negative here really is that the content obviously hasn’t really been well tested. They’ve stress tested the servers during the beta but the content itself hasn’t been tested and the major criticism that I’m going to level at this game is it’s an absolute grind.

I mean this is one of the most abusive games I think I’ve ever seen when it comes to time sinking. So to get to, I think I’m level nine now or nearly level nine. It took me nearly eight hours. I mean that is absolutely shocking. And I have to say that I think I spent a good six and a half hours not doing any fighting, just running backwards and forwards over large landscapes or going and talking to people but with very little combat.

Really the combat really just kicked in at about the 6-7 hour mark where I actually felt, OK, now I’m actually fighting things quite a bit and, you know. The way that the kind of quests are laid out, within these kind of miniature hubs I suppose you could call them, there’s just not enough mobs to actually fight and the mobs that you are fighting they’re kind of boring in the way that they’re kind of approaching things.

Everything here feels like the worst bits of Age of Conan, World of Warcraft and take any other MMOs Star Wars, The Old Republic and so on. They’ve not taken any of the best bits, they seem to have just taken the grindy time sinking bits and thrown it into a game. It’s not working very well. It’s quite remarkable that, I mean I love MMOs, you know,MMOs are probably one of my favourite things I love multi-player gaming and I certainly love massive multi-player gaming. So to see a game that really should have actually been tested with its player base to find out whether, you know, we were going to wear an eight-hour grind to get to level eight or nine, it’s just absolutely remarkable.

In the end I just gave up last night at about six, seven o’clock because I just couldn’t take any more. I was looking at the map and seeing where I had to go to next and thinking to myself… I’m going to have to spend five minutes walking there. Yuk, hideous. Absolutely hideous. Doesn’t help that a mount will cost you 17,000 gold and anyone who bought the Imperial edition nearly dropping what maybe £70-£80 gets a horse to start with and so, you know, screaming ahead of me as it were. But the whole way that Elder Scrolls Online seems to have been designed appears to be a six-month grind to max level. Presumably if you know the game well you’ll be able to do that a bit quicker. But certainly the way it seems to be laid out it’s designed to be a massive massive time sink so all of these things that allow you to say you could play this game for a month hit max cap, and never pay us any subscription money again I think the vast majority of players within the first month are probably only going to get to maybe level 35 to 40 and that’s if they’re hammering this game like crazy.

So far not been able to play a dungeon, they don’t start until like level 12, PDP doesn’t start until level 10 and one of the things I’ve noticed that was quite looming large I think with this game is there is no impressive set-pieces that I’ve encountered yet. You know how normally in a multi-player game, certainly an MMO you’ll encounter those kind of big hero moments where you go, yeah I really understand this game now.

I am a super awesome dude. I’m going to cut swathes through people etcetera, etcetera. None of that. I feel quite literally like the weakest of the weaklings running around, attempting to survive. Now that’s very much like an Elder Scrolls game but that’s not what we expect from massive multi-player games. The guys at Citadel I think they kind of said it best that a person has to feel heroic from level 1 but then gets to feel more heroic as things progress. And actually, I don’t really get that at the moment, certainly not with the way the story initially kind of starts off. You just don’t feel all that heroic. You feel more like a hapless idiot who’s inadvertently died and found himself a way back by luck. It doesn’t feel to me like there’s any overarching thing that drives me forward heroically at the moment. Now the story actually started to grab my attention a little bit. The voice acting is usually very good but occasionally utterly, utterly atrocious.

Like the person who’s reading the dialogue didn’t actually know how their character I suppose in the game was going to be, I don’t know, kind of interacting I suppose. There’s one quite memorable moment where a ship’s captain walks onto the ship and says in an almost monotone voice OK, you land lubbers let’s get this ship ready to sail. You know, hoist the rigging etcetera, but the problem is it’s done completely flat with no raise in voice, no shouting, no increase in pitch. How anybody on this ship who was manning the rigging etcetera would even have heard this captain is beyond me. It was practically a whisper. So unfortunately the voice acting is great for some of the characters like Michael Gambon absolutely excels as always. But some of the incidental characters, even characters that you’re going to encounter sort of quite a few times over the course of the first few hours, the acting just seems flat. Like they didn’t know how that acting or how that voice acting was going to be delivered within the game. So you know, narratively. And so it’s just led to quite flat dialogue in places.

It’s quite disappointing really for a game that obviously is priding itself on dialogue and story and driving that Elder Scrolls vibe forward. Now I don’t hate the game , completely. I just think there’s some really poor decisions that have been taken here by the developers. That ultimately are going to doom this thing to a free to play title within 18 months. There is no way people are going to accept such a massive time sink when there are so many free to play games out there which are actually really respective of players’ time and ultimately then being a free to play title more respective of the money a player hands over.

This thing looks like, well, basically a tip a player upside down, shake them for months and months and months, extract as much money as we humanly can out of them. Also coming onto the engine of this game. It’s actually based on the hero engine and I’m afraid it has all of the same issues the hero engine has always had. It’s a rubbish engine. It’s an old school way of approaching MMOs. It doesn’t allow for what I would class as dynamic combat. Combat that feels like it’s lived in and actually connecting with the world.

It also means that some of those classic issues that we have with the hero engine. For instance the ability to slide down slopes, thus not taking any damage when you fall off a very large drop, Yep, it’s there. It’s still classic hero engine and effectively it means that, you know, the peril of falling off a cliff is down to how you angle yourself down the cliff as you fall. Great. There’s a lot of stuff here that is quite well executed.

The graphics have improved considerably and those lower resolution textures I was grumbling about last time are not quite so apparent. Certainly not in the environments I’ve been in so far, but the game does lack that kind of beautiful pop. In any of the environments I’ve kind of gone through so far, dark and dank, dusty Sahara desert, lush jungle, it still feels really dull and lacks that kind of vibrancy. Now part of that is the Elder Scrolls Online well the Elder Scrolls world but it would’ve been nice just to have a little bit more vibrancy. I really hope that’s something that does open up in future environments. But, you know, I’m going to carry on playing the game. I will keep reporting back and we will bring you a full review but this is just a quick first impressions really of what we’ve been delivered for launch.

Not all rosy I’m afraid. Do be prepared to put in a lot of time on this game to not get very far initially. Let’s hope things speed up a little bit over the next few days..

As found on Youtube