For this weekend’s thread, I pulled Samantha Nelson out of The Elder Scrolls Online to chat about her time with the game so far. Sam will have a review soon—when you’re reviewing a game that takes the already massive world of Skyrim and Oblivion and blows it up into an online game with hundreds of thousands of players, it takes some time. As usual, let us know what you’ll be playing this weekend down in the comments.
Matt Gerardi: What are you playing this weekend?
Samantha Nelson: I’m going to be devoting most of my weekend to leveling up in Elder Scrolls Online so I can write my review.
MG: How long have you been playing it?
SN: I got access to the game on Sunday, but it took most of the night to download. Then there was server maintenance on Tuesday morning, so while it’s been a few days, I haven’t sunk in that many hours yet.
MG: Do you have any first impressions you want to share?
SN: It’s a weird beast—definitely a hybrid between both typical massively multiplayer and Elder Scrolls sensibilities. It’s absolutely overwhelming how much detail there is. There are books everywhere that are filled with lore or just amusing little stories. There are all sorts of weird random quests in addition to the big plot-based ones. It’s also managed to produce the most customizable characters I’ve ever seen in an MMO. You’re really not limited in the same way I usually see, like what gear you can use for your class, and there’s lots of ways to get extra skill points and level up your abilities so that your character is shaped by your play style.
MG: What makes the character customization different in this one?
SN: Every MMO does things a bit differently, but World Of Warcraft is sort of the industry standard. There, you pick a character class, and they have specific weapons and armor they can and can’t use. So, for example, all your Rogues will be wearing leather and using daggers, but a Warrior will be in plate, the heaviest armor in the game, and using a sword and shield or a big weapon like a two-handed sword. In Elder Scrolls Online, if I want my Templar, which is a sort of holy warrior paladin, to wear light armor and sneak around and shoot people with a bow, I can do that, and if I want her to carry a mace and a shield, I can do that too. It’s just a matter of equipping the weapon and practicing with it to get good. Your skill in using the various armors and weapons and even spells improves the more you use them, which is satisfying for me. It means there are little moments of progress along the way instead of just improving when you level up or get a new piece of gear. Also, how have you never played an MMO?
MG: You know, I just never really was interested in any of them. Part of it is probably me exercising some self-control and knowing that I’m the kind of person who would get really, really into playing one if I started.
SN: Yeah, I hear that excuse from plenty of friends. It’s a weird drug, MMOs. When you’re playing one, you want everyone you know to be doing it, too. I’ve definitely gotten super-addicted before, but I know people who’ve dedicated far more time to other non-MMO games. The fact that it doesn’t have an endpoint—and that the most successful MMOs are always coming out with new content—makes it more dangerous, and I think this one has the potential to be particularly devastating because it’s got so much stuff you can spend time looking for. I probably spent a good hour last night just pulling cooking ingredients out of random barrels and crates. That itself is a funny twist on the MMO tradition where you have professions based on gathering resources. Here, instead of having ranks in that profession, the question is just “How much of an obsessive RPG player are you? Are you going to search every building for something that you can grab?”
MG: And that’s kind of a holdover from the regular Elder Scrolls games, like Skyrim, where every barrel is filled with cheese and apples and stuff. Is there more detail in this world than you typically see in MMOs?
SN: I’d say so. The setting and people just seem more dynamic here. It really rewards exploration. The amount of voice acting is also impressive. Again, I think that’s bringing a lot of Elder Scrolls sensibilities to bear. I feel like this is a game that’s going to be kind of divisive, with some people approaching it as an MMO and just rushing through and talking to people to pick up quests, while other players are taking their time. But that’s a good thing because it allows people to get what they want out of the game. I honestly wish I felt less rushed by having to turn around a review.
MG: It certainly sounds like it’s carrying over a lot of the elements that people love about Skyrim. How does the MMO part play into it?
SN: That’s the part where there are also tons of other people running around doing the same exact thing as you. I know some people don’t like that because it takes away from the whole “being the one and only chosen one” or whatever, but that’s always been one of my favorite parts of MMOs. There’s this spontaneous camaraderie that comes from someone running by and healing you or engaging the same monster you’re fighting to make it a little easier. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I’ll often follow people around if it looks like they’re on the same quest as me in hopes they’ll lead me where I want to go. Yes, there are plenty of douchebags and spammers in the chat channel, but you can also use it to ask questions or get help. I really enjoy that.
MG: Here’s one question I really wanted to ask. They’re currently charging a monthly fee to play this game, which isn’t weird in and of itself. World Of Warcraft still does, for the most part. But I’ve watched some videos of the game, and I noticed some things about it that seemed like they would easily be translated into something you would pay for once the game was free-to-play. For example, after you reach a certain level, when you die you can use an item to be revived on the spot. Otherwise, you’d be brought back to life elsewhere and have to find your body. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to see them charging for those items in the future. Do you get that feeling at all playing the game? That they’ve built some of it in anticipation of its transition into free-to-play?
SN: I honestly hadn’t thought about that before, but that does make a lot of sense. I think everyone still wants to make the monthly subscription work. Most big MMOs start that way and go “freemium”—free with the option to pay for certain items—after launch. Subscriptions are like gym memberships. They’re great for whoever’s selling them because lots of people will continue paying you even if they’re not actually using your product because they forget to cancel or keep thinking they’ll go back. But I think the soul gems—those are the reviving objects you’re talking about—are a perfect thing you could make people pay for in a free-to-play format. Things that make your game a little easier or save time or anything like vanity pets are great things to charge real money for. I guess that has to be a consideration for anyone putting in as much time and resources as it takes to launch a new MMO these days—how to keep it profitable long after launch.
MG: Any last thoughts on the game while we wait for your review?
SN: I just wanted to say how much I loved playing with the character design generator. There are little bars to change the size of your gut and posterior along with just about everything else. It’s delightful. And that’s not even considering the big decisions, like: Is your Argonian, a lizard-person, going to have horns or a scaly Mohawk-looking thing?
Also, I just love the feel of diving into a new MMO because there are so many people around, and so, more than any other game experience, it’s like being dropped into another world. You can do research beforehand, but I just like the feel of seeing someone on a horse and wondering where you can get a horse, and how much the horse costs, and if you have to be a specific level to get a horse, and why that person has a demon following them around, and what that means. When I go back to areas after spending a lot more time in an MMO, they always feel less overwhelming, but nothing beats those first few hours of having no idea what’s going on.