The Elder Scrolls Online is now a thing, a thing you can buy and play. Many people have wanted an online Skyrim or Oblivion, to the point that player-made mods have attempted the feat, to limited success (so far). Many more, though, see an online component as blasphemous to the series’ good name and are in an indignant uproar on the issue. In this Review in Progress (RIP), I’ll be taking you along with me as I explore, experiment and ultimately review TESO.

Updated (4/12/14): We wrap up this RIP with a look at crafting, classes and gear.

Updated (4/8/14): In this update I go to Cyrodiil and try out the PvP in ESO.

Updated (4/7/14): I have put up part two of this RIP, running down the good and the bad I have experienced so far.

Elder Scrolls Online

Budunmer and his pet…. something or other

My main for this RIP is Budunmer, a Dark Elf sorcerer, and as of the start of this article he is level seven and on the Orc island of Betnikh. I joined the Daggerfall Covenant over the Dark Elf’s default Ebonhart Pact for no particular reason other than because it was there. Rather than be a normal, staff-and-magic sorcerer, though, I opted to take advantage of the Dark Elf racial proficiency in dual wielding by going axe-and-sword on everything. That, plus my conjured Clanfear and magical attacks make me very dangerous, indeed. Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t restrict your use of weapons and armor by class, so I could have as easily been an archer sorcerer, or taken up a two-handed weapon and heavy armor. Without further ado, it is time to dive into the first part of our Elder Scrolls Online RIP

12:30 AM – Hopping back in on the island of Betnikh, my first goal is to visit this ‘vision totem’ I have been told to check out. I already did a few small vision quests earlier, so this should be somewhat familiar, right?

12:33 – Following a creeping ghost (who insists on stopping to scout the area around him for protracted periods of time) makes for one slow quest. This led to an exposition dump at the end of the journey, which I would complain more about if it didn’t happen right next to a soul shard that I could collect. It was my third, so I got a free skill point out of the deal.

12:40 – Spent the last few minutes wandering around and killing wolves before finding an enchanting essence rune. I already had a “potency” and “aspect” rune, so now this “essence” rune should mean that I can finally enchant something. Now to get back to town.

12:47 – Apparently my three runes – representing a large chunk of play time and my first crafting experience – amount to a “Trifling Glyph of Reduce Spell Harm,” which provides 30 spell resistance to jewelry, of which I have none. Wonderful.

12:51 – I am now hunting for the rest of the crafting tables in the scant hopes that I can craft anything at all.

12:54 – I was able to make a pair of shoulder pads, and then promptly destroyed them in an attempt to improve them. I think I am done crafting for tonight.

12:59 – While en route to my next quest, I’ve been waylaid repeatedly by gatherables. I may craft something tonight yet.

1:04 – I just entered a “Bloodthorn Lair,” which doesn’t even remotely sound like a pleasant place to be. It can be presumed to be so many things, and all of them bad.

1:06 – I love my Daedric Curse spell. It just kicks so much ass. I start a fight by casting it, and it usually ends the fight when it explodes a few seconds later.

1:12 – Quest completed and I’m off to rescue a fort from cultists. Always with the cultists on this island.

Elder Scrolls Online

Fear my Clanfear, if only because the name implies you should

1:14 – I arrive at the fort and am told to head back out to find an Orc chief. This game does a lot of that – sending you to someone just so they can send you on a quest. I wish they’d just cut out the middle-man run around.

1:15 – The quest I’m on is called “Carzog’s Demise.” I wonder how this one will play out.

1:19 – Apparently my assumption was off base: Carzog’s Demise is the name of a set of Alyied ruins, not a foreshadowing of the quest’s events. Who knew?

1:21 – For something like the fourth time, Crafty Lerisa, a pirate thief that I am associated with, has lifted a disguise for me to use in an infiltration quest. These are not my favorite quests and I usually end up fighting my way through anyway.

1:25 – A ton of sneaking later, and I’m safely in the inner sanctum. It’s a nice place, lit tastefully by GIANT FIRE JETS SHOOTING OUT OF THE WALLS.

Elder Scrolls Online

I think I’ll just stay over here, far away from the burning pain. You have fun, though

1:30 – I engage in an anti-climactic battle to defeat an undead invasion, in which I arrive mid-fight and still get credit when the baddie falls, before deciding that a soul-siphoning stone doesn’t deserve to exist. My old sailor friends have turned their back on me now, so I’m interested to see how this steers my story.

1:35 – The Orcs love me now, apparently, and they want to join the Daggerfall Covenant. I’m apparently to tell my old sailor friends to sail me to another land. Time to see how they react to my presence.

1:38 – They agree to sail me to my destination, but under protest. That means that the differences resulting from my actions so far seem to amount to little more than different dialog, and not actual story changes.

1:41 – I deliver the Orc’s application to join the Covenant and notice that I have leveled up. I increase my magic (for only the second time so far) and upgrade dual wielding flurry attack to hit faster.

1:47 – While looting houses in Daggerfall I find my first cooking recipe, one “Battalglir Grill”. Time to see if I can make it.

1:49 – Turns out I can make it, six times in fact. The resulting food gives me 66 stamina for 35 minutes. I’ll take it! Considering everything I had found in the wild so far amounted to no more than 6 stamina per, this is a treasure.

1:51 – We’re going to wrap this up here for tonight, as I stand in a fountain for no good reason.

Elder Scrolls Online

Ignore me, I’m just taking my weekly bath in the town fountain

Today I Have Learned about ESO:

I learned that there are some story decisions you get to make as you play, but so far they don’t add up to much. That may be my confusion, however: perhaps the Orcs don’t join the Covenant if I pissed them off by keeping the stone,

I also learned that some challenges can be rendered trivial by the presence of other players. I cruised through the Alylied ruin in disguise partially because any enemies that did block my path were engaging my undisguised fellow players, netting me safe passage. The boss fight of that mission was also a cake walk since when I arrived, a half dozen players were already pounding on him. I feel the game would be much harder without the other players around.

Lastly, crafting takes investment. Given their sparse and random nature, just getting the materials to craft is a hassle in and of itself (I pine for Guild Wars 2’s resource node mechanic where everyone can use every node, so you aren’t competing for mats), and getting recipes for cooking, brewing, enchanting and alchemy is equally random since you have to find them via random loot drops. If you don’t get lucky with drops or finding enchanting runes, crafting can be a bit of a bear.

That is all for now, folks. I will be continuing this Elder Scrolls Online RIP in the near future.

In this, the second part of our Elder Scrolls Online RIP, I am going to be looking at some of the things I have found that I do and do not like so far, run down in a quick manner.

DISLIKE: My biggest complaint so far is the input lag. At times, often during combat, I’ll get locked out of attacking, using my spells, and sometimes even moving while my foe continues to beat on me, only to have my character spasm when he gets the last few inputs I gave all in one shot. This has not gotten me killed yet – it has come damned close, though – but is very irritating.

DISLIKE: Another major complaint is the client seeming to pause/freeze, then refresh itself. It’s like the game crashes for a split second and then comes back, and it is really hard to accurately describe unless you’ve seen it. I play in windowed mode and the window disappears from my taskbar for a split second when this happens and then comes back. I also get general graphical freezes and lock ups every so often, despite the fact that I exceed the game’s requirements and have even cranked down video settings to see if the problems would stop (which they have not).

MEH: In what could be taken as either a positive or a negative, aside from when I am in town, I’m often not even aware that there are other players in the game with me. It’s not that I don’t see anyone else – I do, quite often – it’s that Elder Scrolls Online does its best to not distinctly represent who is and isn’t a real player. This doesn’t bother me since I solo a lot in MMOs anyway, but it does make me wonder what kind of community the game can hope to foster when it deliberately tries to obfuscate telling real players vs NPCs.

LIKE: I love many of the quests I have been on so far since returning from the beginner islands to Daggerfall and its surrounding territories. They are often long, story-driven and sometimes allow me to make decisions that steer the course of events. Remember last update, when I said that decisions didn’t make much of an impact on the game? I have since had to make several decisions that have altered the thread of a quest’s narrative, from deciding whether to keep a band of mercenaries together to answering quest-related questions in order to get help (and getting said questions wrong, leaving me to handle things on my own). I really like this system, and the more I play the more of it I come across.

LIKE: The graphics aren’t as attractive or detailed as those in Skyrim, but there are details that really bring the world to life, not the least of which are those that involve lights, from the shadows they cast to their reflections on shiny objects. I’m often numb to these kinds of things anymore but here they stand out from the often drab, earthy grey/green/brown color scheme of the rest of the game.

That is all I am going to go into on this update. Hang around AAGH for the continuation of this RIP in the next few days.

I hit level 10 recently, punching my ticket to Cyrodiil. Cyrodiil is Elder Scrolls Online’s answer to open world PvP, being largely akin to Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World mode in that it’s three factions competing over bases and outposts, using heavy weapons to lay siege to protected forts. Actually, now that I put it that way, it’s a lot like Planetside 2, as well. In any case, it was off to Cryodiil for Budunmer today, likely to certain death.

When first I arrived, I underwent a series of tutorials to learn how to use and repair siege weapons. I was also instructed that there were forward camps, but not exactly what they did or why I should want to build one. That strikes me as a problem, one that will have to be ironed out through experience.

I take on a mission to take a lumber mill, only to find it clear on the other side of the damned map. I opt to ignore it and instead focus on get to an Ebonhart Pact fort that my faction is attacking near the middle of the map. The fast travel system in Cyrodiil requires you to use special warp stones that will take you to major forts your faction owns. I wasn’t paying allot of attention though and warped to a fort halfway between my starting point and the fort I wanted, which led to me hoofing it overland the rest of the way.

Elder Scrolls Online

Once I arrived, I found a small contingent of allies inside the downed walls of the fort. I joined their movements and helped kill a number of random Ebonhart Pact NPC guards and a few real, actual players who apparently got lost and wandered blindly into our small zerg. We came under fire from the central building of the fort and some ballistas that the other faction had set up, cornering us in the small towers on the rim of the fort. Someone got jumper and yelled, “everybody charge in,” so we did. I got inside the fort and helped kill one guard before getting jumped by a couple players who had been holed up inside the heart of the fort and quickly slaughtered.

Once dead, I learned the value of forward camps – you can respawn there if you die. This is a good thing since getting ressed is apparently something that just doesn’t happen. You need a filled grand soul gem to do revive someone, and you cannot revive yourself. I laid unconscious for probably three minutes before ressing back at the base I spawned into Cyrodil at, where I took a wayshrine back to Daggerfall.

Today I have learned about ESO:

The PvP in ESO has potential but needs work. No one was grouping up, and the population numbers in the campaign (ESO’s term for battlegrounds) that I joined were pretty low in general. Whether that’s due to the game’s new-ness or a general flaw in the mode remains to be seen.

The two MMO PvP experiences that this most reminds me of, Lake Wintergrasp in World of WarCraft and World vs. World in Guild Wars 2, are both superior to this. Part of Wintergrasp’s charm was its periodic nature, how you got to contest it every few hours, whereas GW2’s World vs. World took advantage of that game’s knack for impromptu teamwork and built upon it. In relation to my prior comment on resurrecting players being rare in ESO, one of the things I liked in GW2 was that everyone could and would res you at the drop of a hat. If you fell in combat, often times you had a handful of other players risking life and limb to help you back up.

Another problem with PvP in Elder Scrolls Online is identifying enemies. Since the game doesn’t go out of its way to identify players from NPCs, it didn’t surprise me that this was a problem, but not being able to tell whether that player approaching your group from behind is friend or foe until he’s within striking distance needs fixing. Going back to the two similar PvP modes I mentioned before, WoW’s races are tied to their faction and stand out visually so it’s easy to see who to attack, and GW2 color codes the various factions. Compared to that, ESO is just too ambiguous with its friend/foe indentification.

That’s all for tonight. I’ll be back later to continue this Elder Scrolls Online RIP in the coming days.

This will probably be our last Elder Scrolls Online RIP post before the proper review, and in it we are going to delve in other classes and races, plus the crafting system. I have put my time in on both so let’s get started.

Let’s start with the other races and classes, and first off, I think I made a very sound decision on my first choice (a dual-wielding, medium-armor wearing Dark Elf sorcerer), especially for my soloing style. There’s nothing like having a few summoned beasts and magical curses between me and certain death. In my time with other weapon types on other classes, I found that I dislike two-handed weapons the most. For example, my Nord Templar was wrecked repeatedly while starting out partially because the weapons I had were far too slow for the amount of damage they did. He also had no armor at the time – I had just rolled him – so that hurt allot too. I eventually moved to a bow and arrow, which served me much better for his early levels until I could get him properly geared in heavy armor.  I rolled again with an Orc dragon knight, and while his abilities – like a fiery chain that drags enemies to me – where more fun to use than those of the Templar, I still died repeatedly.

That has become a regular theme, actually. As player populations have died down in leveling areas post-launch, enemies tend to overwhelm even Budunmer, my main. Even with two minions it’s easy to overdraw. I haven’t had another player quest alongside me in an area for days. The PvP mode greatly suffers for this, and in the past few times I’ve entered Cyrodiil I have not seen another soul. It’s simply too big of a map for the number of players who seem to be using it at any given time.

On to crafting. I’ve enjoyed some of the crafting now that I have gotten more of a handle on it but, ultimately, it’s not helping me much. The food crafting provide me with boosts I don’t even remotely notice while playing, and the armor and weapons I can craft are incredibly boring. For example, I have been wearing leather chest armor of my own making for a while now. I made it using the “Dunmer style” and obsidian, since that’s all my race knows how to make at the start of the game. I recently found a Redguard style manual, and could make some new leather armor in Redguard style with starmetal. I went back to Daggerfall and crafted a new chest piece, but when put it on I face palmed so hard I think I have a bruise. It was the exact same armor I was wearing, just with a small patch that was colored slightly differently. Really? That’s what that amounts to? Why should I bother, then? I suppose high level – like max level – gear might look more different, but this right here is just lazy.

Like I said, this is likely the final RIP post before the proper review, so look for that in the coming days on AAGH.