Buy a copy of Skyrim. Open up the console and activate noclip mode (tcl – allows you to fly through obstacles), invisibility (tdetect) and disable friendly npc ai (tai in towns). Then load up a save and enter a dungeon you’ve already cleared, so all the chests have already been looted and half the mobs are dead (assuming you sneaked through it the first time).
Having spent today (watching someone else [let's play things safe with the NDA, after all no-one can deny that people on twitch have been streaming this game like mad NDA be damned]) play the ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) beta, this is an accurate analogy of the gameplay you can expect from this MMO.
This game is beyond disappointing. It feels like a Chinese copy of The Elder Scrolls games. Just like a Chinese knock-off Ipod, it looks fine from the outside. The graphics are impressive, the user interface has all the trappings of Skyrim down to the compass and lack of minimap, and the voice acting overly ostentatious (oh look gratuitous John Cleese and Jennifer Hale, boy am I sick of her voice. Butch Femshep is so inappropriate for a raggedy prisoner escapee). But spend a minute playing around with it and you’ll release the functionality is an engrish parody of what it’s aping.
First, let’s talk about ESO’s combat. It tries to keep Skyrim’s combat system of attack/power attack/block for what would you call auto attacks or weapon attacks in other MMOs. But it misses an important element of Skyrim’s combat: collision detection. YOU CAN RUN THROUGH MOBS. There’s no sensation that you’re actually fighting a living, breathing monster or engaging in a duel like in Skyrim, because while you’re busy showing off your fancy footwork, parrying attacks and lunging at them, you are constantly overcompensating and ghosting through their bodies. As a result combat feels floaty and lacks feedback.
ESO’s floaty combat – the result of lack of collision detection and the reactions of mobs to hits
ESO’s gorgeous graphics may actually be a disadvantage when it comes to showing up its gameplay flaws. In an uncanny valley-like effect, it makes its MMO systems feel completely out of place and game-y, breaking immersion. Unlike Skyrim where monster will aggro as you would expect in real life, when they can see you (in line of sight), mobs in TESO have very short aggro ranges. So your character happily ambles past fire elementals and skeletons at point blank ranges while they happily ignore you. The effect is jarring and breaks suspension of disbelief, and just makes you want to play a real Elder Scrolls game. Fans of first person shooters and past Elder Scrolls games will be completely put off the game by this. Likewise, whereas when Oblivion came out it was touted for its “Radiant AI” for friendly NPCs, where they would act as if living out virtual lives, in ESO towns are lifeless. Friendly NPCs simply stand around in various poses (e.g. playing a lyre). This is standard in cheap MMOs like Rift (although even WoW tries to give the illusion of vibrant cities with patrolling NPCs), but it’s a step back from what we expect in a game with hyperrealistic Skryim/Call of Duty-like graphics.
Then there’s the whole MMO aspect to it. There are other players all around you in ESO. Except no-one talks and no-one acknowledges your presence. Everyone is just like you, on a mission to complete the quest they have in front of them. And plenty of these missions are, like Skyrim, go into a dank dungeon, full of chests and monsters and reach the end. Except now these other players are running around looting the very same chests (which are NOT shared) and killing the very same monsters that make Skyrim dungeon diving fun. So ESO’s dungeon crawls or quests consist of you sprinting past a bunch of dead bodies and empty chests, making the game more of a running simulator than dungeons and dragons.
So in summary then: ESO clearly cost a lot of money to make, as evidenced by its visual fidelity, but at the same time not a lot of thought went into its design.
Now, long-time readers of my blog may know that I rag on about The Secret World and how bad it is, but I have now found a game that is monumentally worse than The Secret World. That is no small feat. And we know that The Secret World went sub-free, can be bought for a dime, and development support for it has almost ground to a halt. People will buy ESO because it’s shiny. But after that first month, who is going to stay for the gameplay? Who is going to stay around for floaty combat, empty dungeons and an empty world? My recommendation to prospective players: wait half a year, buy it on sale when ESO has gone B2P/F2P. Hey, if you had followed that advice for The Secret World and Defiance (two other recent big budget MMOs), you could have bought them for $15 and $10 respectively, no sub needed, rather than $60 up front.