Monthly Archives: April 2014

Elder Scrolls Online – Skill Choices

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Skill Choices

Following on from my earlier post on my initial impressions of Elder Scrolls Online, I wanted to take the time to really look into the Skill Choices in the game, as I feel they are something that deserves discussing a bit.

This is going to be a bit of a show-and-tell article, so open up the handy skill calculator by Esohead here in another window/tab.

For the moment, choose Sorcerer (the class I am most familiar with) and Breton.

If you were anything like me, you would initially look through all those skill options in each of the tabs and feel slightly overwhelmed or excited for the possibilities.  It does look like there are quite a lot.  However, the more I have been considering these options, the more restrictive the system seems.  Let me explain why.

Keep in mind that the Elder Scrolls Online combat system only allows you to have 5 Active Abilities and one Ultimate Ability (hotkey here is R) equipped per weapon set (mas of 2 weapons).  The button on the left that is shown below is the slot for potions.

ESO skill bar

ESO skill bar

 Class Skills
There are three lines of class skills for each of the four class types.  In Sorcerer you have:
* Daedric Summoning
* Dark Magic
* Storm Calling

Each of the three skill types have 5 active abilities, 1 Ultimate ability and 4 passive abilities.  These, plus your weapon skills are the main skills you will likely use.

All the active and passive skills require you to have a certain level in the class.  You will need to spend skill points in gaining passive effects, and like the active effects and Ultimate ability, unlocking these requires you to have certain skill within the field, which means that you have to be using the skills that unlocked earlier.  If you look at Dark Magic, for example, you need to have 20 skill levels in Dark Magic in order to unlock the skill ‘Rune Prison’ and 42 for ‘Daedric Mines’.

In short, this means that you have to pretty much use a ton of your skillpoints to gain levels in a skill merely to get the skills you actually want to use.

But I digress.

If you look at the different skills for Sorcerer, you will notice that the three have very specific types of gameplay involved with them.  Daedric summoning skills are all about summons (naturally), Storm Calling is about damage and shielding, and Dark Magic is about damage and crowd control.  Having a different mix of them depending on the situation would give you a good range of skills, however when you consider that these are ALL the skills for mage class that are available, I came to realize that in fact 15 skills plus 3 ultimate skills was really not a great deal to choose from if you like making alts.  If you level up a character once, the chances are that you will already be familiar with all the skills of that class already.  Nothing new is there.

Ah, I am sure you are thinking of all the other skills that are on the list that I haven’t touched upon yet.  So lets look at each of these.

WeaponsESO - Staff

There are 6 different weapon set types, 4 of them use stamina and the 2 staffs use magic.  While each of these weapon sets do have some interesting and useful skills, it should be noted that certain classes will of course find some weapons more useful than others.  A sorcerer, for example will primarily use a staff, though I can see that there might be call to have a melee weapon as backup.. though in truth, I would think that having more mage skills would be of better use than splitting them to have a melee set as well.

However, be that as it may, you can only equip two weapon sets at a time, and so ultimately you will only ever be using one or two different weapon types, and so putting skills in more is likely a waste of time.

This gives you an additional 10 active skills, as weapons do not have ultimate abilities.  These skills do, however work well with your class skills if you choose your weapon logically.

Armour
Armour only offers 1 normal ability plus passives.  Useful, yes, but not that interesting for varied gameplay

World
The world skills are three skill-lines that you can gain for different gameplay.
*  Soul Magic – 1 active ability, 1 ultimate ability, 3 passive abilities
*  Vampire – 3 active abilities, 6 passive abilities
*  Werewolf – 3 active abilities, 8 passive abilities

Soul magic is likely to be fairly useful for filling soul gems, and if you are not a character with other stun abilities then that ultimate ability might be of use.

Vampire and Werewolf abilities are likely going to be more for rp purposes, or for people looking for a different sort of gameplay.  I know there was some rather heated comments on the beta forums in terms of pvp and vampires and werewolves, considering their weaknesses, but I honestly don’t know too much about them.

On the whole though, it seems like these skills are more for an add-on interest, rather than what the core abilities of your character are likely to be.

Guilds
There are three guilds that operate in ESO and each of them have their own abilities that could be useful for different styles of gameplay:
* The Mages Guild
* The Fighters Guild
* Undaunted

The thing that bothers me about them is this: Would you level up the full guild skills and use them all?  You only have 5 active skills you can have up at a time per weapon set.  Are these all viable as your main ones?  I have not got far enough along in the quests to get the higher skills, but looking at the descriptions, it doesn’t really seem that viable to me.  However in order to make what skills you do use as useful as possible, you need to spend a great deal of points getting all the passives.  That is a lot of skill points just for one or two skills in the case of the Fighters and Mages guild.  Something to think about.

Also, the Fighters Guild skills are really only useful against Daedra and the undead, so it has limited use, while the Undaunted skills.. I don’t really understand at all well.  I will count them, but be aware they are limited in use and situation.

Alliance War
All the alliance war skills are mainly geared towards pvp, although you could argue that some of the passive skills could be useful outside of it.  While a lot of players are going to engage with the pvp in the game, not everyone will, and it is from the pve perspective that I write from.  I would say that they can be used, so that would add another 4 active abilities and 2 ultimate abilities to the list since they could be used in open world raids against anchors or something.

Racial
The racial skills are a bit of a sticking point for me, because unlike in other games, ESO has in fact made the race skills useful.  Too useful.  

Why do I say that?  Because it means that whatever race you are going to choose will impact on how well you play different classes.  I have listed the areas of bonus for each race below to illustrate.  You can see the details of each on the Skill Calculator

Breton  Light armour, Magic, Spell resistance
Orc  Heavy armour, health, sprinting
Redguard  Shields, stamina
High Elf  Destruction staff, magic
Wood Elf  Archery, poison resistance, stamina, stealth
Khajiit  Medium armour, health, stealth, crit
Argonian  Restoration, healing, swim speed, health, poison/disease resistance
Dark Elf  Duel wield, magic and stamina, fire resistance, fire spells
Nord  Two handed weapons, health, armour, cold resistance
Imperial  Shields, health, stamina, melee weapons

As you can see, each race choice has pretty strong racial traits. These traits are such that if you want to really play a strong character, then you really should be playing one of the races that supplement that class. It wouldn’t be very good being a wood elf if you planned to be a staff-wielding sorcerer. I mean, it can be done, but it would further limit your choices, and I expect at top level, players are going to be needing those extra passives.

The way I see it, with the choices in ESO being so slim, players are going to be quickly finding that there are several ‘best builds’ and those builds are going to require racial choices as well as the other skill choices.  Useful race choices sounds great on paper, but it also means that we will be seeing a lot of high level sorcerers being Bretons and High elves, and not much else.

Craft
Craft skills are all passive skills, and so have no bearing really on your skillset, other than to eat at the number of skill points you have to work with.

Decisions, Decisions

So, now you have had a look at the skills, what does it boil down to?

You have 5 active skills and 1 ultimate skill per weapon set, and you get to choose out of the skills offered.  But how many are there to choose from?

Class skills – 15 active + 3 ultimate
Weapon skills – 10 active
Armor – 1 active
World – 4 active + 1 ultimate
Guilds – 14 active + 2 ultimate
Alliance War – 4 active + 2 ultimate

total = 48 active + 8 ultimate
Out of all these skills, I would personally cross off the Alliance War skills, and almost all of the Guild skills.  This leaves us with:

total = 30 active + 4 ultimate

All of these skills are split up neatly into roughly 5 main sections.  Three class skills, and two weapon set skills, and most of the skills in these you will have to learn in order to get the skills you actually want to use.

This means that you actually have very few skills you will choose to utilize once you are levelled further, and by that point you will know the skills you have learned very well.  Well enough to be bored of them.

Where is the choice and interest in re-rolling compared to other games?  Even World of Warcraft, known for its increasingly simple skill trees, it offers more choice in gameplay skills and choices than this does, partially because there are more classes.  When you look at games like Rift, this skill offering in ESO is like the dried up bones in a parched desert plain.

Now, I do think there is some difference in gameplay and effectiveness depending on what passives you collect, however my main gripe about the skills is just how samey the gameplay is going to get when playing the same class.  Skills are going to get boring, and fast because you end up using the same ones all the time, and with only 5+1 skills to use, it also limits what you are using each time you fight.

I understand that ESO limited it to 5 in order to try and simplify the gameplay, possibly trying to make it easier for non-mmo players to learn, but for people who are used to playing mmos, especially those who like making several alts, this basic skill palette is going to get dull very, very quickly.

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Elder Scrolls Online initial impressions

ESO banner   Initial Impressions

So the time has come for Elder Scrolls Online to finally be released.  After all the massive beta events and hype, it is here, and people are diving into the world that it offers.

So, what are my initial impressions of it?

Good Points

 Bad Points

1. The world is beautiful
2. Crafting is simple to understand
3. Combat tells are also simple to see
4. Controls are standard mmo and easily changed
5. Quests are fairly well written, if linear
1. Skill choices are limited
2. No small guild functionality
3. Low level combat is difficult to survive
4. Game mechanics split friends/groups up
5. Voiceovers need work

It goes without saying that the game is still buggy. There have also been some rather lengthy maintenance downs in the North America mega-server that I am guessing that many of the people that paid for early access are not going to be happy about.  But no game release is without bugs etc, so I wanted to focus on a couple of the issues I feel that really let the game down in its core and could be improved upon.

This isn’t so much a review as it is a note of things that need to be worked on that bothered me personally.

Being sociable in the game
There are several mechanics in the game that actually limit the ability of players to engage with each other in the game.

Guild size
As an mmo, it is important for a game developer to encourage players to band together, however ESO has overstepped this by only encouraging large guilds to exist. Small guilds, of less than 10 active members have no guild functionality at all except guild chat, as getting access to a guild bank requires 10.  Furthermore you need 50 separate people to be active in your guild to unlock the guild trading post, the only type of trading post/auction house in the game.

Guild functionality unlock requirements

Guild functionality unlock requirements

This topic was hotly debated on the beta forums, however what I can say is that while some people didn’t understand the need for small guilds, the fact is that small guilds do exist and are wanted/needed in other games, just as they are in ESO.  Sometimes you just want a guild with some close friends and family.

The difference between other games and this one is that ESO has given small guilds no functionality, and no way to achieve any functionality.  Many players do not wish to join massive guilds, especially not at first, and ESO has given them no real choice because of this lack of function.  Many players, like myself, would rather avoid large guilds than join them because there are no other options, but this also means that for these players gameplay will be hampered because they cannot trade.

Agreeing or not with the need for small guilds, this is but one of the ways that ESO has not lived up to its potential in getting people to play together.

Alliances
There are three alliances in the game, and except for those that pre-purchased (or upgraded their account), these Alliances are pre-determined by what race you choose.  This means that friends playing different races have a 1/3 chance of not being able to group up to do content.

This is of course seen in other games, namely World of Warcraft, however I would point out that WoW only has two factions, which halves the playerbase, not splitting it into 1/3 as ESO has, and lets be honest here, ESO doesn’t exactly have a scratch on the number of players WoW still has today.

The outcome of this is that friends are split up between different ends of the world if they choose a different alliance.  I feel a better way might have been to have the option of starting out neutral, and if the player wanted to go into pvp, then an alliance could be chosen, and for those that do not wish to pvp, then the option of staying a powerful, but neutral party or faction should have been an option.  This would have allowed a greater amount of freedom for players starting out, and less barriers.

Instances
As many of you know, the game is instanced in terms of its quest content.  This is in many ways a good thing as it helps show you actually making a difference, however it does happen right from the start of the game, so even if your character is the same race as your friends, you can be trapped in another instance of an area, or town, if you have done more/less of the quests there than they have.   Want to play with your friends? Make sure you don’t do quests without them.

Starting Areas

Oh, you wanted to start in a starting area after escaping Coldharbour?  Well.. yeah, that might be a bit of an issue.  It didn’t used to be, but it is now, despite massive backlash against the change during beta.

You see the issue came up during beta where it came to light that players were finding it slow to level initially and they felt that the starter islands made the game feel cut-off from the open world since you had to complete the quests to leave.  So during one of the last betas ESO decided to skip putting people on that island entirely and put them in the main town that you would have gone to after the island instead.  There is only one quest (easily missed in some cases) that will lead you back to an npc that will take you to that island and the quests there.  However without knowing about it beforehand, new players will assume that the starting area is in fact the place where they exited Coldharbor to.

Is it better?  I don’t think so.  The whole start now seems more muddled, and if you don’t take a ship back to the earlier island, then you can also miss out on extra levelling content.

This of course could be because I played the game both before and after the changes, so a player new to the game may well find it no issue at all.

Low level combat

That of course brings me onto low level combat.  Despite the changes that ESO made at the tail-end of the betas, it is my opinion that the balance for low level character strength is fairly far off being enticing.

In general you want a game to drag players in, not only by the story, but also the combat.  Players have to feel that, especially early on, they are powerful, and getting more powerful as time went on.  They need to feel that they are able to tackle the things they come up against with a growing ease, especially if their character level exceeds that of the mob they are up against.

Unfortunately this isn’t my experience of the game thus far.

Two scamps, same level as me.. and I am dead, over and over again.

Two scamps, same level as me.. and I am dead, over and over again.

I am still fairly early in the levels, only level 8, however it is during these early levels that many players will make up their mind about a game, and if things are too difficult, then they will merely walk away.  Rift understood this after looking at their metrics, and completely changed their starter areas to take into consideration the fact they were losing so many players early on, and their starting areas were in no way even nearly as difficult as ESO has been.

The issue with ESO is that it is prohibitively difficult to defeat either more than one mob, or a named mob with certain character classes (I cannot speak for them all, but the ones I have tried have this issue) if you are alone.  While ESO is an MMO, all general quest content should be able to be done solo, but as things stand this is either not the case, or really seriously difficult.  I have had to close the game a couple of times now out of frustration or rage because I just couldn’t kill two mobs on my own, or a named mob that was guarding a quest item I needed.  I am not an inexperienced player by any stretch of the imagination either, but I honestly cannot say that I have ever had this much difficulty in killing two mobs in an MMO before.  Ever.

In my opinion, a great deal of balancing needs to be focused on in ESO’s early game, because if players are struggling this early in the game just to survive, I cannot see them playing for a long time, and ESO needs subscriptions.

Skill choices

On the surface, it looks like you have a ton of choices to pick from in ESO, especially since you can only equip 6 skills per weapon set.  However, the more I have looked into it, the more limited the skill choices seem.  Even more so than in World of Warcraft.

However this, I can feel, is likely to be a lengthy topic, so I will do a separate post on it.
Elder Scrolls Online – Skill Choices

Voiceovers

This could be a temporary thing, but at this late stage, I think we are going to be stuck with it.  Basically there are two issues I have come across:
1. Well known character actors are used a lot, rather than having many different voice actors
2. There are instances of voice acting being patched by a different actor during quests/conversation

Voice actors, especially well-known voice actors are easy to spot in games, because so much of the atmosphere and game immersion can be got through the voice acting.  So, when ESO got both famous actors like Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) and John Cleese (Monty Python), and famous voice actors like Crispin Freeman (Hellsing) it is so very, very easy to pick out when those actors appear as they have extremely distinctive voices.

This is all well-and-good, except that there appears to be a distinct lack of variety in other voice actors. Crispin Freeman is used so often, especially in Daggerfall, that you would go from quest to quest and most of the npcs you speak with have that same voice actor.

The other issue I found was when the Prophet (voiced by Michael Gambon) got taken over by another voice actor for one quest. It was really noticeable and killed the immersion. But I hope this was merely a bug (and it was reported) and so shall hopefully be fixed.

 

As with many of these Bad Points, I have some hope that over time they will be remedied. It seemed very much like the dev team ran out of time to bug fix the game from all the feedback they got, so hopefully over the next month or two, these fixes will be put in place. Whether players will stay on that long to see them is another matter.  I cannot say that my initial impression of the game has been that positive, but only time will tell.  Whether I pay for any additional subscription time has yet to be seen.