Elder Scrolls Online: Floating heads make the best enemies

I swear, wherever I go in Elder Scrolls Online, I feel like I’m on the set of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. The environmental artists in this game don’t get enough credit for how amazing they make this world look. I’d gladly use these visuals for most every other fantasy MMO if I could, just transplant in their quests, classes, and features.

Anyway, more gradual questing through Elsweyr. I think I’ve done most of the side quests that I’ve found (apart from dailies) and am focusing more on the main quest line that involves dragons and necromancy and more dragons and more necromancy. If only there was a floating, talking head to round things out…

Whew! That makes a bingo for me!

At this point, I want to be done with Elsweyr, not because the land is unenjoyable, but because I want the sense of progression and progress. You can’t quite get that until you can check off an expansion or region, and I know that there is so much else that’s out there in the world.

My Warden is nearing level 30 — levels are coming quite slowly now, especially since I don’t play as often. I probably should be popping experience potions more. I kind of forget all of the pots I have in my bag, but let me tell you, those daily rewards really fill you up. “Here,” they say, “have another 50 poison potions. Wait, did I say 50? I meant 100.”

Speaking of daily rewards, February’s been a profitable month for that calendar. Usually you have to log in for 21 days to get the One Big Reward (lots of gold, a costume, a pet), but in February, it’s three decent rewards, one per week. I think there’s a hat, then tattoos, and then a pet. That’s pretty nice. With update 25, they’re going to make us re-download the client (so sorry for the data capped folks) but give us a nice torchbug pet as a present.

One of my favorite quests that I ran last week involved navigating a not-too-tricky labyrinth that was dotted with tons of traps but few enemies. I liked how showy the traps were and how you could avoid them if you paid close attention to the environment. Sometimes I triggered the flame traps just to have fun running through them all. Whee! It’s like a very hot sprinkler!

So far I haven’t pre-ordered Greymoor yet. Probably won’t buy it for a while, at least not with all of the other zones that have to be explored. I do want to see the icy lands of Skyrim by the year’s end, however.

Elder Scrolls Online makes me laugh, and that goes a long way

I’m setting the world on fire, one cart at a time. Viva la revolucion!

I know that last week I started in on Elder Scrolls Online’s combat system, and more specifically, why I am so unsatisfied with it. It’s not horrible, but I feel fairly safe in saying that the general consensus among players is that it could be so much better.

However, we gamers are always evaluating the merits of a game as a series of trade-offs. It’s bad over here, but it’s really good over there, so does that balance it out or tip the scales in the game’s favor? I can put up with some measure of disappointment if other aspects of an MMO exceed expectations. And I think that’s the case with ESO; it’s never going to be my mainline game, but it’s a very, very good game because its world, its stories, and its humor make up for having to slog through dull combat encounters.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve resumed my journeys through Elsewyr and haven’t been disappointed by a quest yet. I keep forgetting that John Cleese is in this game no matter how many times I encounter his character Cadwell, and I’m always filled with glee when he gets a minute or two of screen time.

There’s also something about the pace of this game that sits right with me. Unlike most other MMOs I play, I’m not scrambling to do a dozen or so smaller tasks in the same questing zone. Instead, I get the luxury of starting a quest and playing it all the way through its twists and turns. Elsweyr has a lot of good ones, ones that aren’t “let’s fight dragons and save the world entire!”

Probably my favorite quest bestowal — ever — came when I was running through a town and this NPC crashed through a second-story window and onto the cobblestones below. He snapped up, briefly introduced himself, and invited me to join him on a treasure hunt. I was hooked on that questline from then on, which had undertones of Indiana Jones without getting blatant about it.

Another absolutely hilarious questline involved helping a clueless but rather upbeat Nord ambassador try to charm the locals with various gifts and efforts. All of them go spectacularly bad, although the one where he gave the Khajiit a bunch of cat skins had me laughing out loud for more than one reason.

So yeah… good times. I find that logging in to do one full quest a night hits the spot for me, and while that’s not exactly racing through this expansion, I’m not in any particular rush to be anywhere else. Might as well enjoy what I purchased, yes?

Elder Scrolls Online: Why is this combat so unsatisfying?

With LOTRO on pause until mid-February (due to no content releases/unlocks), my attention and time has turned back to Elder Scrolls Online as a main MMO game of choice. It’s been a good decision, all in all, due to the rise in excitement over the upcoming expansion and my general desire to want to return. I’m continuing to make my way through Elsweyr with my Warden, generally enjoying the quests and sights as much as anything else.

But one thing I’m not enjoying, one thing I’ve never really enjoyed in this game, is its combat. I know that ESO’s combat is a common criticism, although I haven’t read up much on it. Instead, I’ve tried to formulate in my own head why fighting in this game seems so… unsatisfying.

I suppose I can point to a limited skill bar and rather dull weapon choices for starters, but I don’t think that’s it. It’s not even the action combat angle, although I think that this is much more dull than tab-targeting combat in MMORPGs. It’s certainly not the time-to-kill; I can jump into a small pack of mobs, throw on ice armor, throw down some AOEs, and hack everyone down with my trusty bear in about 20 seconds or less. That’s pretty decent. So it’s not that combat is lengthy, it’s just unfulfilling.

What makes the combat experience fulfilling, then? There are a lot of factors that devs have to get just right — to fine-tune — but perhaps the greatest among these and the least talked about is feedback. No, not “players whining on the forums,” but the audio and visual feedback from combat actions.

Early MMOs had rather lousy feedback. What you would see and hear visually would almost always be disconnected to what was actually happening in the combat log; it was more of a vague visual representation than an accurate reflection of reality. It always felt loose and encouraged you to look at the log more than the visuals.

ESO is better than this, but there are some of the same problems at play here. It feels loose… that’s the only way I can put it. Hits and attacks don’t have strong audio sounds to go with them. Enemies don’t react to most individual blows. And the health meter of both the player and the enemy is downright weird: It grows shorter from the outsides to the middle in a loose way that doesn’t seem to register what’s happening at that very microsecond but rather just in general. I’m used to MMO health bars depleting in more definitive and noticeable ways.

The end result is smacking bad guys around doesn’t have that feedback that draws me in. I don’t slam a mace against a head, hear a crack, and see a chunk of life instantly disappear. I’m just spamming a few special abilities and a lot of mouse clicks while moving to reposition to avoid attacks or aim certain cone abilities just so.

As we look ahead to a year of vikings and vampires, I hope that ZeniMax looks for ways to improve the combat feedback in ESO to make it much more satisfying to all of us.

Battle Bards Episode 153: Elder Scrolls Online Summerset

Gryphons, Elves, and gobs and gobs of singing people — that’s Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset for ya! The Battle Bards return to Tamriel to rate and review the second expansion soundtrack from ESO. Aside from practically non-stop choral contributions, the Bards quite enjoy this trip to a high fantasy land full of wonder and power.

Episode 153 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Even Paradise Has Shadows,”  “Here Be Wonders,” and “Interlude”)
  • “From the Abysses Below and Beyond”
  • “Past Defines Future”
  • “Gryphons Soar in the Sun”
  • “Dusk Song of the High Elves”
  • “Sun-Blessed Alinor”
  • “Masque of Reveries”
  • “Three Hearts Afire”
  • Which one did we like most?
  • Listener notes: Castegere and Bhagpuss
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Gears of War 5, “Outer Wilds” from Outer Wilds, and “The Wind Sings of a Journey” from Legend of Mana
  • Outro (feat. “The Lullaby of Praxis”)
  • Stinger:

Elder Scrolls Online: Dragons are just overdressed lizards

Elder Scrolls Online is one of those games, I’m finding, that never strongly compels me to log into it, yet when I do, I’m often satisfied with the experience that ensues. I have to kick myself a little to get into gear and play it, knowing that once I do, it’ll be worth my while.

There’s certainly plenty left for me to explore and do, since I’m still just in the early stages of Elsweyr. There are dragons and necromancy and more dragons and cat-people and necromancy. This expansion knows the beats that it wants to hit, and it hits them very often. I’m not that thrilled (or awed) at the dragons here, even though they are animated and voiced rather well. It’s just that I’ve seen them too many times in fantasy games, you know? I don’t even hate dragons the way I do elves; I’m just tired of how they’re all samey and uninteresting.

I feel as though my character concept is finally starting to gel after a lot of experimentation. I know that I’m going to be sticking with heavy armor and a weapon-and-shield set up, so it’s nice to start bending my skill points and gear collecting to that aim. I like the added protection and don’t feel as though I need a lot of magick after winging a few early spells in a fight. There’s something relaxing in the simple art of swinging away until something is dead. Thwack, thwack, thwack.

So if dragons don’t thrill me, what does about Elsweyr? As I’ve said before, the African-inspired landscape is really cool to explore and photograph. The warm, bright lighting helps from making this place seem desolate, which is a real danger when you get into craggy canyons and go for a while between seeing trees.

In one quest, I met a cursed NPC who had the most meta explanation for why he never moves. Maybe that’s why all NPCs are nailed to one spot? That’s some sort of horror I don’t want to contemplate, right there.

I’ll be happy to see this expansion through, I think, but I need to be diligent in keeping up a regular habit of logging in. My new gaming system certainly helps in this regard, as it doesn’t let me neglect any one game on my list for too long. And at least I can remind myself that, unlike some other MMOs I play, ESO is a title that I haven’t rehashed to death. Everything in front of me is brand-new to me, and there’s enough to keep me going for well over a year even if this was my only game.

Elder Scrolls Online: Cat zombies and bear necessities

After some testing and evaluation, I decided that Elder Scrolls Online’s Necromancer wasn’t for me. A shame, I know, I usually like these kinds of classes, but I’m also looking for more of a pet class experience and wasn’t getting that here. That nudged me back to the Warden and her perma-bear, and I’ve been very happy with that decision. I have an acceptable combat rotation (a mix of ice spells, attacking bugs, and whacking away with my axe while the bear does his thing) and can continue on with her progress and stories.

I did, however, take her right over to Elsweyr and jump into that expansion. The first night I sped through all of the quests I had already done on the Necro, followed by slowing down to digest all of the subsequent missions. I’m not really that keen on the whole dragon angle, but that’s nothing new coming from me. However, I really do like the zone’s biome and the focus on Khajiit, who are an oddly endearing race.

There’s also a clear and present tie-in to the Necromancer with all of the necro antics of the place. So I wasn’t too surprised to see zombies and skeletons popping out of the woodwork, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the fact that they would be Khajiit zombies. For some reason, that made them actually quite unsettling. The broken neck look up there freaks me out in a way that decayed flesh does not.

Anyway, what I’ve really come to appreciate about ESO is that the flow of questing and exploration is really casual and flexible. I may be on my way to one objective and then see another quest over there and make a detour to pick it up, then choosing whether or not I want to finish the original or extend that detour. The thing is that you never know when these quests may be kicking off, say, a 14-part series. In any case, I kind of just do whatever I want during a play session without feeling pressured one way or the other, and that’s relaxing to me.

One memorable quest series had me aiding a disenfranchised thief who had been kicked out of Thief-town (that’s my name for it, anyway). We assembled a crack team of thieves that included a regular talking cat (that’s a thing in Elder Scrolls?) who was also very drunk and couldn’t control her magic well. I really wanted to see more of these characters, but after a mere two quests, that series was over and I had apparently Righted All Wrongs in Thief-town. That was quick. Certainly expected it to be more of an effort.

ESO: Necromancers make their own friends

Probably the single biggest obstacle for me getting more deeply invested into Elder Scrolls Online — more stuck to it, I should say — is what I see as its lackluster combat system and class skills that feed into it. I feel that there are too few weapon types (of which almost all are boring) and the class skills feel more spammy than fun. Not all, but many.

So I’ve been biding my time to the Elsweyr release this summer and the hope that the Necromancer promised. Since necros almost always signal “pet class” in MMOs — and an interesting, Halloween-themed one at that — I gravitate toward them. And with the additional stigma of ESO’s Necros, that you can’t use their magic in cities or else be swarmed by guards, this seemed to be an attractive prospect.

With some of my birthday money, I picked up Elseweyr a couple of weeks ago and got right to making a new character and exploring whether ESO’s Necro was a bone-raising hellion or a dead corpse walking. Once again I got frustrated with the ugly character creation settings and ended up hitting the “randomize” button until I got something palpable.

I actually like the setting that Elseweyr presents, as it’s more “African savanna” than “Sahara desert.” Definitely warm and bright and inviting, even with those pesky dragons flitting about. With the new zone guide, I was up and running on the main quest line. Figured I might as well go through this expansion while I’m here.

So far, there are the usual assortment of incredible settings and inviting questlines. I really enjoyed one in which I helped a hapless private investigator track down a missing daughter. The longer quest chains for even side quests in this game get a lot of respect from me, and once I’m on one of these chains, I ride them to the very end.

But what about the Necromancer? I’m only like level 5 as I write this, so I’m not coming at it from a great position of knowledge. What I can say is that I’m a little intrigued and a little worried. I mean, the expectation I have for a necromancer is to be able to order skeletons and other dead things about with impunity, kind of a minion master, but that’s not ESO’s vision. Most all skills have some element of undead theming, from tossing skulls to wearing bone armor, but the closest thing you have to a pet is a 16-second summon — and I don’t even have that yet. The Warden felt more like a true pet class than this, and that worries me. I don’t want to get disillusioned with it just yet.

I think it’s going to take more time to come to a verdict. The combat is very smooth and I do appreciate the choice of morphing skills into stamina-based, offering a different build if I’m so inclined. I’m either going with a one hander and shield or dual wielding, because I feel that the staff is the obvious (and thus, more boring) choice. I want her to get up and personal while she slings her dark magic.

If after a few weeks I’m not warming up more to this class, then I’ll probably go back to the Warden and its permanent pet and skills that, if I don’t love, I at least like and can work with. Plus, I have my Warden’s steed almost maxed out, which is something I haven’t even started doing with my Necro (pitiful sigh as I think about how great it would be to have account-wide unlocks in this department).

What do you think of the Necro so far? What build are you running?