Screenshots I took during my adventures in TESO this past weekend. Most of these are from the Stonefalls region, Ash Mountain, Ebonheart, etc.
Can’t emphasize enough how beautiful the areas are … Ash Mountain was incredible, despite being dark, smoky, and filled with lightning.
The Far Journey. Before ever arriving on the Isle of Refuge, you were on a ship called The Far Journey, with a Captain Varlos. This was an introduction of sorts to the very basic mechnics of the game. More than that, it was the set up for how you arrived on the Isle of Refuge, in the first place. Also, Captain Varlos would later take you to the cities of either Qeynos or Freeport. If you were a good-aligned charcter, you went to Qeynos, evil, Freeport, and if you were a neutral race, you could choose which. The voice acting was surprisingly good and, frankly, it was just a fun bit of fluff. It also made a heck of a lot more sense than simply popping up in the middle of nowhere for no rhyme or reason, the way new characters do now. Missed.
The Isle of Refuge. This was the very original starting island, even before it was changed to Queen’s Colony and Isle of the Overlord (which, incidentally, was when Captain Varlos and his Far Journey were replaced by a very boring bell.) The original island had interesting NPCs, a small crafting instance, and some very tough encounters. It encouraged players to socialize and required them to group in order to complete every quest and be eligible to leave the island. It was a different era of gaming and a very different type of gamer, back then, but I think more of us are still around than companies give credit for. Missed.
The racial starting villages. Well, these were removed, and in my opinion, it was for the worse. The reason they were removed was that, because of the removal of the previous 3 items above, there was really no lore or reason to maintain them as they were, and it was deemed that, along with the Islands, they would be removed, so as to force new players to start in one of the other 4 cities, and not in Qeynos or Freeport, at all. The villages still exist, but only as instances, since the cities themselves were revamped. I do enjoy the new quests, but I wish they could have allowed the quest line to work organically with the game — when you complete it, you then again have access to the original villages. All of the NPCs who were in the villages and who gave quests that expanded to the outlying burbs (Graystone Yard connected to Oakmyst, for example) have been displaced into the city proper and most of their original dialog changed or nonsensical as a result. It really just broke up the entire early charm of the game. Missed.
The citizenship quest. Originally, after you left the island, you landed in one of the starting villages, based on your race. You then encountered a number of NPCs who sent you on small chores. In order to progress beyond level 6, however, you had to complete a citizenship quest. This quest granted you official license to reside in Qeynos (or Freeport) and was an interesting bit of character background and lore, besides. It, combined with the Far Journey, the Isle of Refuge, and your class quest, really helped to fully flesh out your sense of character as being a real inhabitant of the city, rather than just another “toon” running around. Missed.
The class quests. When the game launched, you began as one of the four archetypes, then graduated at level 10 to your chosen Class, and then at level 20, your final Subclass. All of this was accompanied by an interesting chain of quests that had their base in your home city, Qeynos or Freeport. Long gone, now. Missed.
What’s TESO like? If you played Skyrim, you’ll immediately recognize the user interface. Fonts, menus, and inventory management, as well as general controls: it came as no surprise to me that The Elder Scrolls Online takes a good chunk of its mechanics and user interface from Skyrim. When you have a polished system that works, and can be used on PC or console with equal ease, it only makes sense to put your new MMO on the same framework.
The game extends combat options, by adding 5 standard hotbar slots, and one special hotbar slot. A “quick menu” allows players to slot favorite items, like potions, for instant use during combat, much like they could in Skyrim. I did not find the quick menu implementation in TESO, which uses a wheel to select the item of choice, to be very intuitive in the midst of hectic combat, but I can’t really fault it, either, because it wouldn’t be very practical to have the whole game pause while I take my dandy time to make my selection.
I can’t think of anything in TESO that I view as a serious negative. The closest thing to a flaw that I observed was that the world, at least up through level 5, is on rails. You move from hub to hub, and you take on the main story, and you take on some sidequests. Usually, the sidequests have to be completed to progress the main story — although I will say that the sidequests in TESO feel much more connected to the main storyline. This is the tried-and-true questing formula of all mainstream MMOs, and I cite it as a flaw only because it flies in the face of one of the hallmarks of The Elder Scrolls franchise: open world exploration. That being said, in the past two years I have come to realize that there is also a certain solidarity, a familiar comfort, in this method of gameplay, and I don’t know that I necessarily require it to be drastically different.
Quests are tracked in much the same way as they are in Skyrim. Your journal allows you to pin one quest, and you can choose which one is “active” — the rest appear as secondary. There is no mini-map. Let me repeat that for those not familiar with TES: there is no mini-map. Instead, objectives are marked by arrows on a compass at the top of the screen, these grow bigger and smaller depending on how near or far you are to the objective. It takes some getting used to, but it’s actually an organic system that gives the illusion of “stumbling upon” things. As you explore, any non-active quest will appear as an empty marker on the compass. Also, any NPC nearby who offers a quest will appear as an empty marker. Active quests appear solid gray. In this way, you can fluidly work on quests as you adventure and explore. It isn’t a perfect system; quests tend to pile up when you first reach a new area, making it hard to keep track of a storyline when you are juggling different objectives. For me, this meant working on one quest at a time from start to finish (but that might just be due to my own singular-focus needs.) You typically have one over-arching objective in any geographical area; in order to complete this, you usually have to complete several smaller subplots. Completing these sidequests might not be mandatory, but often the NPCs you help will play a part in the larger objective, to your benefit.
TESO is a gorgeous, gorgeous game. It’s undoubtedly the most beautiful MMO I’ve played to date, and it rivals many single-player games, as well. The visuals are as good as anything in Skyrim. In some cases, better. The opening scenes in Tamriel’s version of purgatory are covered in a wash of vibrant blues, oranges, purples, and silver. In the distance, what sound like giant warhorns bellow warnings. Smoke wafts by as you run from one objective to the next. Lightning crashes. It’s hard to emphasize just how beautful the environments are. Highly detailed, with amazing far-off vistas. The world feels alive and expansive, if not quite large enough. Areas are relatively small once you gain your bearings in them, although they seem large on first arrival.
On the subject of look and feel, I have to stop and make a note that I was particularly impressed by the audio engineering in TESO. Particularly while playing a sorcerer. Thunder claps sound loud and real. They are perhaps the most satisfying thunder claps I’ve ever heard in any game, and give me a thrill every time I cast the spell and watch is crack down on an enemy.
Your character earns skillpoints in much the same way you do in the single-player TES games. The more you use something or do something, the more skilled you become. The more skilled you become, the more you can hone that specific ability. For example, and class can wear any type of armor or use any type of weapon, so if you want to be a mage who wears medium armor and uses a bow, you can be, simply by making use of those items. You can also focus your skillpoints in any area you choose, so if you’d rather build out your weapon skills instead of your class skills, you can do that. You can pick and choose from various sets of class skills, as well. Essentially there are three disciplines for each class. By high level, you could conceivably have mastered them all, but the way you build out your character is entirely up to you.
If my time in the closed beta weekends was any indicator, this should be a solid AAA release with a lot to offer to fans of MMO genre as well as fans of TES PC games. It’s not out to break the mold and it’s not going to redefine anything in the genre, but it’s a lot of fun. If you enjoy a good, solid MMO with linear PVE, faction-based PVP in restricted areas, gorgeous scenery, interesting classes with unique ways to grow your character, you’ll be right at home.
Time is finite, much like money. Unlike money, you cannot generate more time, ever. A day only has 24 hours. Some of those hours are given to family, friends, or your dog, cat, chimp, parrot, or squirrel. Some of those hours are given over to work. Even if you’re single and unemployed or disabled, and so have more free time than most, chances are you find that somehow your day vanishes before you really get too deep into your favorite game.
What about money? Money, unless you are part of the group that has somehow fallen into a large inheritance or won the lottery, requires time to be generated. Money does not appear from thin air, unfortunately, and it definitely goes away just as fast, if not faster, than time. So in order to make more of it to support your habits, whatever those habits may be, most people have only one option: work more! Which means less time.
Above both of these sits somewhat of a new breed of animal: distraction. Distraction isn’t a new animal unto itself; people have been distracting themselves for … ever. Books, movies, music, parties, gatherings, even pornography in days before the Internet, yes, they all existed and they each took their slice of the pie. Now, however, we have a number of distractions that simply just didn’t exist a decade ago. Smart phones. On demand. DVR. HD. Netflix. Streaming. YouTube. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. Wikipedia. Devices.
Along with some of that fun stuff comes additional strains on the average gamer’s wallet. Your cable, with DVR, HD, and on demand services, is going to cost you way, way more than it did ten years ago. Your phone bill is astronomically more than it was ten years ago. Then, in order to enjoy what it is that you actually pay so much for, you’re going to need a nice new big shiny HD TV, a tablet device, and a gaming system – plus a subscription to Hulu, Vudu, or Netflix. Maybe some purchases from any number of the online vendor services offered through any number of devices, not the least of which being the App store, PlayStation Store, Origin, Steam. If you’re out and about using your wonderful devices on the go, heck, add a few seven dollar coffees.
The gamer’s life has never been easy — but it’s gotten damn expensive as we all move well into adulthood! And our leisure time has never seemed more sacred.
I struggled to complete the content in Sentinel’s Fate, barely covered half of Odus in Destiny of Velious, scraped through the Withered Lands, plodded through Eidolon Jungle, and skipped Obol and Cobalt Scar entirely in Chains of Eternity. For someone who religiously and fervently completed every last bit of content up through the release of Sentinel’s Fate, this was a clear signal to me that something was wrong. Was it the methodical and never-ending chains of kill quests? The age of the game wearing me down, or the loss of excitement for new content, in general?
I don’t have an answer to any of that, but I chalk it up to a feeling of “I didn’t get all of this completed, and now I’m so far behind that I will never catch up, and all of this content is useless to me now since I know everyone at the cap is in the newest content.” So when TOV was announced I made a quiet decision that I would log in every day for at least an hour, and do all of the quests, then, after gearing up, I would tackle the dungeons. It sounds like a chore, and frankly, it might have felt like one. Might have, except that I have found the storyline in Tears of Veeshan to be the most interesting storyline since the Shadow Odyssey.
It might be because many of the dragons hold fond memories for me of years long gone, now. Darathar is there, taking me back to 2005. Harla Dar and Lord Vyemm, 2006. References to the Ring of Scale and all of the various dragons in Kunark’s Veeshan’s Peak. All of these are strong ties for me to some of the best years of my virtual life in EQ2.
EQ2 has a long and complicated web of dragon lore, at this point, and all of it is brought together, in some form, in Tears of Veeshan. You once again travel to the Ethernere, to a mirror image of what would be Barren Sky zone from 2006′ Kingdom of Sky expansion. Like the Eidolon Jungle and Obol Plains, this zone is geographically the same as its Norrathian counterpart, but the details and landscape have been drastically altered, so that for the most part, the land is unrecognizable except for in a few spots. The sky and color scheme are similar to what was in Obol Plains – lots of deep blues, rich purples, and lush greens. Everything is hyper-saturated.
Dead dragons (or ARE they?) and drakota abound, and each has their own motives, even in the afterlife. While some, like Harla Dar and Wuoshi, seem happy to help you along for the betterment of the universe – even if it means they assume you will die doing it – others have less altruistic motivations, and at least one is downright set on your elimination. Also making appearances are some famous dead Droag, like Ireatan and Vuulan, from the Sanctum of the Scaleborn. Like their dragon counterparts, most of them have seen the light, but some of them still want you dead.
A major focus of this expansion was placed on revamping the way stats work in the game, as well, which inevitably resulted in a change in the stats of gear – and what will appear to be a fairly drastic one, at that. I was a little bit shocked to find that my warlock hit points had gone up to over 100,000, from somewhere previously in the vicinity of 30-40k last I checked. All of the quested gear is Legendary. I am OK with this, because honestly at this point it should be pretty magnificent stuff. It looks pretty spiffy, too.
On the topic of gear, dungeons now have a “gear score” so to say. When you enter a dungeon instance, it will tell you what the score requirement is, and what your comparable score is; this is rather useful as it finally gives a point of measurement by which players can select groupmates. It also is a good indication of how hard any given zone will be. If you follow the main storyline, you will eventually be introduced to each of the dungeons, just like in Chains of Eternity.
I almost forgot that a new class was added to the game, as well. Wait, what? Yeah, I’m not really sure why this isn’t at the forefront of my mind, but chalk it up to the fact that the game already has so many other amazing and interesting classes and races that having another one is just icing on the cake. The Channeler class is a priest archetype, but maintains a customized magical construct (similar to the Beastlord’s warder) and wields a bow and arrow with offensive abilities that provide reactive healing. It’s a nifty idea, and quite frankly I am intrigued by my lowbie Channeler, though I have yet to put any extensive time into it.
While TOV is not anything new, EQ2 players should find it a satisfying experience, in general. At this point in the game’s lifespan, it’s probably a good thing that no one is trying to re-invent the wheel, because anyone who’s playing EQ2 already knows what they like, and what they want, and they are just fine with the status quo.