Monthly Archives: May 2014

ESO – 8 weeks in

ESO banner

 

I felt it was prudent to insert an update to the game, because while some of my initial impressions were given, they were indeed only the very initial impressions.  I have played it for a goodly long time now, and while some things may well have retained in their issues, others have cropped up that supersede them massively.

I would stipulate before I start this, that there are things about the game that I really do like.  No matter the criticisms voiced in this post, note that I am indeed still playing it, and still subscribing.

Quests
While the initial impressions in beta had been that the quest stories were lacking in depth and choice, I have in fact come to realize that this wasn’t actually the problem.  The quests themselves are fun and interesting, and the lack of choice/consequences in them is not the fault of the game, but of the genre.  It is fairly difficult, if not near impossible to create any mmo with choice-based quests that have game changing consequences, because of its very nature.

quest01

The main thing I have against the quests right now are the rewards.  You are, as a hero, sent off to do massive tasks.  You put your life at risk for each one.  You fight zombies, you fight vampires, you fight man-eating plants, you save innocent lives, and not-so-innocent lives.  You bring order into chaos and hopefully make the world a better place.  What do you get for all your hard work?  Insultingly little.  Having completed a massive set of quests that literally saved the entire population of a map from being turned into rabid spawn of evil, the queen gives me an axe I cannot use, 454 gold and a skill point. To give you some perspective, good horse costs 42,000 gold, and even with selling the axe, it did not cover my repair costs.

The rewards really kick you in the nuts because while the rewards are based in the mmo structure, they do not at all fit in with the depth of storytelling the game actually offers.  Even for the most kind-hearted, selfless of characters, there is a limit to which a person might continue to do these tasks.  I found myself at the end of the last map wanting to have nothing more to do with the queen in question, because if we put the economical and financial matters alongside the effort and danger that was put in, the reality is that the rewards are about as insulting as you can get.

If ESO want to just be an mmo, then the quest text really has little bearing on the reward, but ESO have tried really hard with their writing and storytelling to make the story matter to you.  To draw you in.  And yet the quest rewards, or rather the eventual reward is never really there.  A person might put up with paltry rewards to tide them over for an even greater reward when they are done.. you know, a castle somewhere, perhaps some land to settle down on or something.  But there is nothing in the quest text or indeed the game that gives this carrot, and in my opinion there really needs to be.  Unlike the guards and commanders you save on a regular basis, you do not get a regular income and gear to use.  You have to supply and repair your own as a mercenary would, and a mercenary would not work for the paltry rewards we are being given for the tasks completed.

Voice Overs
The other thing does let the quests down overall is the stunning lack of variety in voice overs as I mentioned previously.  You are constantly aware of the same voice actors, and that breaks immersion.  That, at least, has not changed since my initial blogs, unfortunately.  I was doing a quest earlier in which the npc that was helping me had the same voice actor as the enemy that kept talking to us, which was fairly disconcerting and confusing, and that is only one of many such situations.

Aesthetics
I have to also point out that I do still like the aesthetics of the game.  It looks and feels like an elder scrolls game in many respects.  The landscapes are varied and some of them are quite beautiful.  I do like a game where you can go and commit mass-slaughter in a pretty and detailed environment.  Open world dungeons are a bit samey (only so many models of caves and mines and they recycle a lot), but overall I have not been disappointed with the aesthetics of the game.

scenery01

Character gear customization
What I have been disappointed in is the character gear customization.  In many of the more recent MMOs you have a wealth of ways to customize how your character looks during gameplay, with different gear types, wardrobe transmogrification, weapon skins as well as dyes.  ESO has none of this, although I hear they are working on adding dye ‘tints’ in a future update sometime.

What ESO offers you, other than randomly found bits of gear, is craftable gear.  Let’s say we look at cloth gear.  A crafter can create gear based on their skill.  The higher the skill, the higher level of clothing you can create, (Rank 1 – level 1-14 gear is with Jute, Rank 2 – level 16-24 gear is with flax etc).  The only difference between how one bit of cloth gear looks to the next is the Rank of the gear and what racial style it is made of.  Oh, and the colour will change a little within the rank, but not much, as seen below.

Character level differences in relation to gear lookOn the surface, this actually might not seem too bad since there are 9 racial motifs you can potentially learn early in the game  But since you have to find or buy these, and early on, and they are rare to find (and getting rarer since this last update) and they are expensive to purchase, especially for low level characters, many people will not have a full set to work with, usually only one or two.

I have found that levelling is fairly slow, and so you are stuck with the same looking gear for quite a long time.  There is no further customization you can make to your gear, or a way to make it look like anything different as you can in other games.  While the eventual addition of the armour ‘tints’ may help this, it also means that the tiny bit of change to your gear you do currently get when levelling is pretty much pointless.  You also cannot make an item look like a previous design you liked when you try to make higher level items.  I found this particularly annoying, since I found an armour look that I liked, but as I levelled, I had to either use the seriously poor level armour for its look, or scrap it and use one that would keep me alive.

All this contributes to the fact that you are stuck with an unvaried armour selection for much of the game early on, and what armour you do have is actually fairly poorly rendered, especially considering other mmos on the market (see image below).

clothing02

Please zoom in

Overall, I would say that the current character gear customization options are sadly lacking in ESO, and for many people being able to customize their character in an rpg is pretty important.  If you zoom into the image above, you can also see the rendering and textures on the ESO elf are pretty poor, and indeed, the strip of cloth on the upper body looks like it was drawn on by an angry child, rather than crafted by an tailor.  Don’t even ask me what is going on with his shoulders, I have no idea.

So if you are considering purchasing ESO, be aware that if character customization is what you live for, ESO really doesn’t deliver that well on it.

Crafting
This neatly brings me onto crafting.  Overall, I feel that the crafting has been thought out fairly well.  It is relatively simple to understand and they have managed to make crafted armour and weapons actually USEFUL, which so few games ever do. This is a major plus point for the crafting in ESO, who have gone out of their way to make crafting a fairly important part of the world here.  It does have its downsides though, and most of those downsides are not with the crafting mechanics themselves, but with the gathering and storage of the crafting materials, as well as the research.

Research
I will mention the research first because actually the system for it I don’t really have an issue with.  In order to make the gear you create more useful, you have to learn traits (such as crit increase, added armour value etc).  To learn traits you have to research weapons and armour you find that have the same traits.  So far, so good.  It is logical.  However in order to make crafting have a longer-shelf life (and to encourage players to keep logging in regularly) you can only research 1 item (two or three if you have taken the skill later in the game) at a time, and the more traits for a certain piece of armour you have already learned, no matter what ones, the longer these research times take.  Initially learning a trait can take six hours, but if you are trying to research the last trait of that armour/weapon type it can take over 32 DAYS, and even crafting buffs only reduce this a little.

This time release system is something we see in a lot of games to encourage people to come back regularly, and it does ensure that players cannot max out clothing/woodworking/smithing quickly.  But the research times for the latter stages are just beyond ridiculous, and not at all logical from the standpoint of reality within the game.  You should likely get better at researching items the more you do it, so the times should decrease instead of increase.  But also why would researching a trait at the start of your career take 2 hours, but to do so later on take a whole month for the same trait?  This is merely a mechanic put in the game to delay players consuming content, and while I don’t have too much of an issue with that principle, I do have an issue with it going against logic, and being poorly executed with such long wait times.

Resource storage
The other main problem I have with the crafting system is the fact that, especially with some crafts like provisioning, but also to a lesser extent to the others, the amount of resources you need to keep for crafting FAR exceeds what you can have on your account if you take several crafts across your characters.  The sheer variety of different materials you gather and accumulate is staggering.

To illustrate let me tell you that I have put all my coin towards getting bank and bag upgrades, knowing from beta that bag space was an issue.  I love crafting, and so I have been trying to level different crafts on different characters.  However before I had even moved from the first region, I had filled 100 bank spaces and four characters  (70-90 bag spaces on each) with mainly crafting materials and there were more that could not fit in.

Why did I have so many?  Here are some of the reasons.
Clothing, Blacksmithing and Woodworking all need their own core resources such as ingots, wood, leather and cloth, and you will generally have some unrefined and refined items of each.  When deconstructing items of these crafts you will get upgrade items sometimes, like Hemming and Embroidery for clothing, and different ones for the other crafts.  Add to that that you will also get stones and gems related to all 9 racial traits (you need them to craft the specific trait) as well as 16 trait gems.  Add onto that 18 herbs for alchemy as well as specific water for making potions, about 27 runes (if not more) for runecrafting, as well as hopefully a full set of intricate gear in your bag for gaining the greatest amount of crafting experience from deconstructing, and frankly, you are out of space.  This doesn’t even begin to look at provisioning, which on its own will take up over 100 different bank slots for the different crafting items you can need to save up for the different recipes.

Keep in mind that these figures are only for the first maps, up to around level 15.  As you go to further maps, you get higher grade materials, and this only adds to your bank/bag space woes.  Nor have I taken into consideration here the fact that you need to keep all weapons and armour to deconstruct to gain your skill in that field, so you are constantly having to go back to town to do that, then dump more of the gems etc into the bank.

As you can hopefully see, while ESO has made a decided effort in the crafting area, making it as useful and balanced for in-game usage as possible, the actual art of crafting is let down significantly by the constant struggle for bag space.  This is no small amount of time either.  As someone who is trying to level all crafts (except provisioning for bag space reasons, and I recently gave up enchanting for the same reason), at least 1/3 of my time in game is spent shuffling materials between my bank, different characters, deconstructing, putting deconstructed materials in bank etc etc.  I have had to create many characters merely as bag mules, whose only purpose is to hold items for me.  While out questing, I can maybe only do around two quest hubs on a map before I have to return to town and start the bag shuffling all over again.  This impacts massively on the enjoyment of the game because it is frustrating having to stop gameplay merely to shuffle bag space, and taking ages to do so.

Guild sharing
I wanted to note down here an update on the status of the guild storage.  It is as it was when I first started the game.  You still need 50 members to use a guild store, and 10 members to use a guild bank.  The UI for the guild store is, to be frank, rubbish.  It has no search function, only very vague headlines that actually don’t correlate to what you want to find sometimes (drinks are not crafting materials!).  You have to use addons to search, and even then, it takes ages for them to catalogue all the items in the guild store merely to allow you to search at all.

Why do I mention it to do with crafting?  Well the guild bank itself could have been used to share crafting materials between close friends.  However, that sort of thing is based around trust because one false move and a player could clear out the guild bank of all its resources.  It is far easier to find 4 or 5 friends that you trust, than 10.  Most guild banks that I have seen only have food, beverage or some random bits of provisioning materials in them for this reason.  If ESO reduced the guild bank requirements I could see it helping a good way with the crafting bag space issue, but so far, they have not.  Alas.

Resource gathering
I do like the resource gathering in the game.  It is varied and the different skills you can learn will make it less onerous.  There are many times when I like to merely go out to gather resources, maybe do a quest or two on the way.  However gathering has become far more difficult in these times, and that brings me onto the next topic I wanted to discuss.  Bots.

Bots in game
When I first started in ESO in beta and then starting the game properly, there were bots, sure, but really the only way they impacted on the game for me was in the zone chat, random advert guild invites and goldselling mails.  However in the 8 weeks or so since I started playing the game, the bots have not only got more prolific, but also seriously invasive to ordinary gameplay.

There are four types of bot behaviour that I have noted:

  • Resource Bots – gather crafting materials
  • Quest Bots – do non-combat quests for gold
  • Action Bots – kill mobs for loot
  • Goldseller Bots – contact players with advertising

The resource bots in particular have been utilizing an exploit in the game that allows them to move from one place to another super fast and without agroing mobs.  This is not merely a ‘run as fast as a horse’ run, but more akin to a teleport that players can see.  This means that these bots can check many resource spots, gather the resource and be gone before anyone can get to them.

Oh, you were wanting resources in this area?  Too bad.  You won’t be able to get to the node on time to harvest it, nor will you be able to report the player because they teleport away too quickly to catch them unless you camp the spot yourself and wait for them to come back.

Quest bots are short term characters, made to do quests in the world that requires no killing.  You see them in main towns mostly, such as in the video below.  Both the quest bots and resource bots are generally found to still only be wearing the rags that were given from the start of the game. These quest bots are being created with such frequency as to be astounding.  I watched a place for a while today that had new quest bots coming in roughly one every 30-60 seconds.  If this goes on for a few hours, the gold from those quests alone is worth a massive amount for the bot controller.

Both these and the resource bots are likely the ones sending the goldselling mails, as it makes sense to have short term characters sending mails before they are deleted to make new ones.

Action bots on the other hand use programs to go a route around a place, killing mobs for loot.  You can see one such program in action here.  I found it on youtube, top listed when I searched for ‘ESO bot’ which goes to show just how accessible bot programs are.

These bot programs are not only being used by goldsellers, but also by some regular players who would rather leave a program running to farm gold and items for them as well as experience while they are asleep or at work.

The question really is, what is ESO doing about these bots?  Back in April, ESO released a message that included the mention of the bots here, but in recent patches, no mention has been made about the bots and goldsellers.  Even in this last patch v1.1.2 there is absolutely no mention of bots, despite them being more visible and detrimental to gameplay as ever.  While it did seem initially that bots had been cut down after this patch, I have still noticed many of them still in game.  I reported about 35 questing bots earlier today in about a 20 minute period before I got bored.  They were being created far too fast for me to even report them all, and frankly it was mostly pointless doing that, since it doesn’t tackle the core of the problem of their creation.

Considering the previous comments by ESO about the massive amount of customer service complaints about bots, I think it is safe to say that they are doing something, however that something does seem to be taking a goodly-long time in getting to the game, or actually eradicating the problem.

Merely deleting in-game bots doesn’t really work since they just create more and return in a few hours, if not less.  Considering the thousands of bots being used in the game, I can say that if they are trying to manually delete each bot account then I can’t see it being that effective.  The teleporting bots are in high level zones now, because they can target unguarded resource nodes and move between them without getting attacked.  This means that they can get a ready source of income almost instantly upon character creation, which also means that the goldsellers can create more and more game accounts because it is still financially viable for them to do so.

What I hope that ESO are doing is tackling the core of the problem, and that is the bot exploits and the programs that allow afk movement and action.  This is a far more complex task, and will take longer. However the game has been out now for 8-9 weeks including the pre-launch and the problems with bot behaviour has only gotten worse.  Massively so.  So many players are having their gameplay damaged by these bots, not only the economy, but the actual questing and resource gathering for crafting that I can see them having to take fairly drastic steps to stop this.  In truth, it has taken them far too long to deal with the problem as it is.

If they find that they cannot stop the bots properly, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that they, in a desperate move, either start monitoring players computers for programs that work alongside ESO to stop bot programs, or potentially them at least temporarily disabling addons and such.  One of the reasons that Arenanet got over their bot influx for Guild Wars 2 was the fact that they allow no addons etc, so that made it far easier to tell what was a bot and what was not (I believe).

Either way, I think they need to do something, and do something fast because players good-will is wearing very thin.  ESO got people to renew their subscription automatically on purchase, and based on the newness of the game most will have left that in-place, but I can see that reason wearing very thin by the time that second month sub comes up for renewal.

Conclusions
To sum up, the game has its benefits, but until ESO get their act together to deal with the rather major issue of bots players are going to get irritated far more than they gain enjoyment.  For a free-to-play game, this is not as much of a problem, since players can set the game down for a month or so and pick it back up later at no extra cost when things have hopefully been improved, but for a subscription based game, getting a player to re-sub after having left is a far greater hurdle, especially when other games don’t ask that, and offer more in areas ESO are weak in, such as character customization.

Still, my subscription is still running, and despite not knowing sometimes why I am still playing, the fact is that I AM still playing the game, and usually for some time most days.  I am enjoying the quests and combat a bit more than I did in the past, as it is easier to survive the higher level you get because of increased options.

I have still not managed to get any of my characters to veteran level yet, and I don’t know how that will affect my enjoyment of the game, since it is questing and exploring I enjoy the most in the game, and I think that changes then, but we shall see.  For now I am, despite the many frustrations in the game, enjoying it well enough.  I may not subscribe to it long term as I have with games in the past, but for now it is a good diversion.

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