Sunday, February 17, 2013

Top 3 Reasons to be Interested (not "hyped")


As a sort of disclaimer to the recent assumptions people have made about me, I am not riding the proverbial "hype train." My last post alone should serve as sufficient evidence of this claim. I am a long-time MMO'er--my MMO days date back to World of Warcraft and Runescape, up to more recent titles like Star Wars The Old Republic, Rift, Tera Online, and Guild Wars 2 (just to name a few). In this post, I am merely pointing out some of the things about ESO that have struck a chord with me. Hate my reasons, but don't hate me because of them.

New legends are born in Tamriel every day. Scholars arise from the simple. Commoners ascend to nobility. And men who have never seen the battlefield or even drawn blood with a sword are forged into the mightiest of heroes. Where will your legacy begin? Will you arise to the hero’s call? When all is said and done, will your name be spoken in the same breath as the great legends of our time…of the heroes spoken about in the Tales of Tamriel?

Obviously, I’m not the first person to post a video on the top reasons why you should be interested in the Elder Scrolls Online. People have already told you their top 10, 20, or maybe even 30 reasons for why you should be. But today, I just want to focus on 3. While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons why ESO has given MMO gamers hope for something truly revolutionary, these are the 3 reasons that stood out to me as a longtime MMO’er, and they are the same reasons that distinguish it from any other game in the genre.

Immersion: 

Immersion is the one of the most powerful elements in any RPG. If a game truly delivers an immersive experience, the other aspects that are crucial to a game’s success will naturally fall into place. The graphics, the music, the mechanics… all of these are simply components to creating a game that will make players feel like they’re living in an ever-changing world, one where their decisions permanently leave their footprints in the sand.

True first-person point of view is a fabled element in The Elder Scrolls games, and it’s something I find lacking in any of the other big MMOs in the RPG genre. Sure, WoW lets you look through the floating point of view of a camera, but do you really feel like you’re the one living in the world when you change to this so-called “first-person” perspective. It’s hardly a secret that I’m a Guild Wars 2 fan boy, and as such, I will be making a lot of references to it.

Guild Wars 2 sits in the same boat as World of Warcraft in this category. The immersion is so lacking that it’s almost non-existent. But unlike WoW, where there’s at least an option to switch to the awkward, hovering camera view, Guild Wars 2 offers no method to see through the eyes of your character. On the other hand, from the perspective of the latest Elder Scrolls installment, Skyrim delivers an experience that feels so real that I shiver from the icy winds, flinch from enemy blows, salivate over delicious sweet rolls, and grin to the smell of the minty scent of a surrounding evergreen  forests. The fact is, TES games are so compelling in their realism that I no longer feel like the typical nerd that I am, banging away at my keyboard with greasy fingers covered in Cheetos (actually I hate Cheetos, but you get the picture I’m trying to paint). When you play Marrowind or Oblivion or Skyrim, you forget that you’re gaming at all, having been swept away into a world waiting to be conquered and explored. Do keep in mind that Zenimax has already gone back and forth on whether or not they will incorporate true first-person point of view into their game. Pre-alpha testers, like Jesse Cox, have posted content that would suggest that it was part of the game during the pre-alpha tests. We can only hope, and beg Zenimax on Twitter, that they don’t fail to put such a powerful feature into their game.

True first-person isn’t the only thing that contributes to an immersive gaming experience. A clean user-interface is equally important. How many of you actually enjoy having a bar consisting of dozens of skills that you don’t even use crammed into the precious free spaces of your monitor, blocking the view of your half-naked avatar. And don’t pretend that you’ve never played as a chick in game. Do you really expect me to believe that all the thong-wearing toons of Tera Online were made by females? Anyways, I’m getting off topic, but the fact remains… we don’t want a clunky UI taking away from our experience of the game. We want to see as much of the world as we can (not to mention checking out our toon's backside, and an obstructing UI hinders our ability to do that.

Having a minimalistic UI is also important from a PvP perspective. We’ve seen how combat in previous games using the "billion-skill method" are just as dependent upon build and macros as it is with the actual skill of playing the game. It’s not that such designs are poor; they are simply outdated. Guild Wars 2 tried deviating from this by eliminating unnecessary skills and trimming up the UI. But let’s face it… with a half-decent build, you can still occasionally faceroll and achieve victory--I know I have. With only 5 skills and one ultimate skill, player skirmishes in ESO will require skill and rely heavily on situational responsiveness to achieve victory. “What about my cooldowns?” you might ask. “How will I know when I can use a skill again if the UI is so minimalistic?” It’s true that ESO will not display your skills in the traditional bar we’ve seen in conventional MMOs, but it doesn’t pose a problem since these skills have no cooldowns. Keep in mind that this information is subject to change. For your convenience, I have posted a link to an ESO forum's website that discusses this in further detail. But with the assumption that the mechanics stay relatively true to the current system, combat will be something less like MMOs of the past, where a good faceroll will do the trick every once-in-a-while, and more immersive and skillful.


Open World PvP / Cyrodil:

Since PvP has been brought up in relation to the UI, it’s probably a good time that we transition into the next reason why ESO is so intriguing to me: the open world PvP, known as Cyrodil. Open world PvP leaves a sour taste in my mouth when I think about how other developers have handled it in the past. One of the major problems with open world PvP, aside from the meta, the bugs, the glitches, the monotony, the lack of balance, etc. is the scale.

Scale is something that has destroyed open world PvP for other games. Guild Wars 2 had so much potential for its WvW (World versus World), and likewise so did Warhammer Online with its RvR, or Realm vs. Realm. Scale is something that could have fixed a lot of the problems for both of these games. Since Guild Wars 2 is freshest in my mind, I will use it as a point of reference. The way WvW works in Guild Wars 2 is that the battlefield is composed of three parts that are separated by instancing, meaning they aren’t actually geographically connected. Spread throughout the map is a variety of keeps, supply camps, chokepoints, etc. The problem is, since players can easily Waypoint, or teleport for those of you unfamiliar with Guild Wars 2 terminology, it’s a very simple task for an unstoppable zerg to swoop across the multiple maps, or instances, and take out the keeps and towers, leaving the lower population servers mere scraps to fight for. In essence, the server with the most numbers, rather than the best strategy, wins. The grand scale of ESO’s battlegrounds will render this problem obsolete. “Just how grand is the open world PvP?” you might wonder. Well, if you take all the lands from all the factions for their 1-50 leveling zones, combine them, and then divide that total into half, you end up with the size of ESO’s PvP grounds. This is direct quote from Jesse Cox, who was a pre-alpha tester for ESO. If you want to check on the reliability of this information for yourself, by all means check out the link in the description.

With the scale dwarfing anything we’ve seen in other MMOs, not only will players be forced to invent new strategies to overcome geographical challenges, they will also have to work together to coordinate their attacks. A single zerg snowballing across the map as won’t be as effective as a server composed of well-organized players who know what they’re doing. Sure, the zerg would easily win in a match up, blood for blood, but it will lack the mobility to keep up with 10 or so teams back-capping anything the zerg might claim for its own. The only real problem I can see for a PvP zone so large is traveling. Nobody wants to spend 30 minutes running to their friends after getting killed in a battle, so hopefully the guys at Zenimax are clever enough to include Wayshrines, or locations for “teleporting,” that are convenient for players who want to jump into the fray, but not so convenient that they retract from the strategy involved with the mobility needed for controlling the map.

ESO’s PvP incorporates another feature that not only adds a deeper layer of realism, but it also rewards players that act smart instead of “zerg it up, bra” with all the frat boys who enjoyed hacking-and-slashing in Skyrim. When you destroy the walls to a keep you’re trying to take from another alliance, for example, the walls don’t rebuild themselves when you claim it… they remain broken until you repair them, making it easy for the enemy to reclaim their lands or for a secondary faction to reap the rewards of your victory. Starving out a keep is a more strategic option, making the zerg fest a less desirable means of conquering Cyrodil for one’s own.

Be Whoever You Were Born To Be:

The last topic I want to discuss today is one that applies to RP’ers sand PvP’ers alike. Obviously my first point, immersion, was geared more to RP’ers like myself, while the discussion of Cyrodil and the open world PvP was mostly for you bloodthirsty Argonian assassins waiting to slit my throat the moment my character charges onto the battlefield. But this next reason applies to us both, and is one of the main features that keep me up at night... dreaming of forging my own legend in Tamriel’s story books. I’m talking about one’s ability to play however they want. I must admit, I was saddened at first when I learned that ESO would include the conventional class system. I was hoping for something different, and revolutionary. Embarrassingly enough, I was reminded of my old friend, Runescape. While the game sucked immensely in some areas, there were others that I was quite fond of. For example, there are no classes in Runescape. You grab a weapon, and however you use it determines what skill you level. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an avid fan of the anime series Sword Art Online, so, if you’re familiar with the show (and if you’re not you need to go watch it right now, like right now even before you finish reading this post), then it should come with little surprise that immersion and freewill in a game are so important to me.

While ESO does have class restrictions, your ability to function as a conventional part of the holy trinity is not limited to what class you chose. What that basically means is that, while the holy trinity will be part of ESO, you are not restricted to fulfill a certain role based on your class alone. A warrior, for example, could serve as a healer, should he be traited to do so. This, however, doesn’t mean that certain classes won’t have certain advantages over others. Likewise, race will give similar, albeit miniscule advantages, to certain playstyles. In essences, you can be whatever you want and play however you want, but certain class / racial combinations will give slight benefits over others.

Overall, I’m happy with this idea. While I point out some of the flaws in Guild Wars 2, it’s still a great game. One of the mechanics that made the game so evolutionary was that any profession, or class, could fulfill any role. Guild Wars 2 made the focus on style over niche, making it possible to tank as a light armor class just as efficiently as a heavy armor class. I, for example, use my illusionist character, known as a Mesmer, to tank high level bosses in harder dungeons. While certain classes might have more natural ability to fulfill a certain role, thinking outside the box rewards you with an interesting, unique playstyle you don’t get in other MMOs. My hope is that ESO will take this to the next level. With the ability to wear any type of armor and wield any type of weapon regardless of class, characters are going to be composed of the most unique, unconventional builds we’ve ever imagined. Picture an assassin character who wields a massive warhammer, or a mage wearing full plate armor, a warrior armed with a staff…the possibilities are seemingly limitless. Needless to say, we will be seeing new arechtypes emerge that we have never seen before… in any game.

In Conclusion:

While we are still restricted by classes, I would venture to argue that this system will only fuel diversity within the game. ESO is acting as the forerunners, developing a new, revolutionary system that allows for characters to truly forge themselves in the furnaces of their will. As you venture throughout the lands, saving damsels, or kidnapping them if you prefer, remember that you forge your own destiny. ESO is handing its players a hammer and sending us to the anvil, bidding us to come and make what we will. Just keep that in mind when you venture across Tamriel... every legend you create is yours... and yours alone.

Sources


1. Tamriel Foundary: article in regards to combat
2. Jesse Cox's Pre-Alpha Review
3. ESO's developer team discusses the possibility of TRUE 1st person point of view

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