Combat in Elder Scrolls Online: Good or Bad?

I was running some public dungeons with my guild in Elder Scrolls Online the other day, and we started talking about all the stuff we liked about the game. One guildie started gushing about the combat, about how fluid and active and engaging it is, and another responded with “Eh… it’s ok. I prefer tab targeting.” I was kind of torn about which side to take.

Personally, my all time favorite combat in any MMO was WildStar. It was an awesome mix of action and tab target where position mattered, and you were constantly ducking out of red telegraphs. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. Too bad WildStar’s developers decided that the best thing to do with their excellent combat was to push people into ultra-hardcore endgame raiding, leading to its ultimate demise. Two MMOs’ combat styles remind me a little of WildStar, and those are Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online. GW2 leans more toward the traditional, WoW-style tab target, whereas ESO leans more toward shooter-style action combat (which reflects the roots of each). GW2’s combat feels a lot better to me–I feel like I’m given better feedback when I’m doing something right, which makes me feel more like I know what I’m doing–but ESO has a lot more of the situational awareness/dodge-the-red-circles component, especially in dungeons (to a much more reasonable degree than WildStar).

Combat has, in my opinion, always been a weak point in The Elder Scrolls franchise. The main, numbered games’ combat boils down to “click to attack, click longer to attack harder.” ESO’s combat is a little more interesting, with five skill slots and an ultimate, times two swappable bars. Technically, that’s potentially more usable skills than WildStar or Guild Wars 2. So, while it feels watered down because you’re only seeing five skills at a time, if you think of it as having a ten slot bar with two different ultimate choices it’s not that different from other modern MMOs. That said, shooter/action camera has always felt unwieldy to me. I’d much rather my character only turn when I have the right mouse button down, and there are a lot of times where I’m left wondering if my fireball actually hit the things I was pointing at or if it fell just short.

I don’t hate ESO’s combat, but I don’t love it. I would rather it was a different style, but it’s not enough to overcome the things I do like about the game. It has incredible story, a great crafting system that is made even more useful by a pretty good housing system, and nice graphics. If ESO didn’t have any of that and was nothing but a bland murder hobo sim, I wouldn’t be playing it. But if the combat was absolutely painful to me, I wouldn’t stick around long enough for the things I do like.

So… I guess my position is firmly on the fence?

What are your thoughts on ESO’s combat? Do you love it, do you hate it, or do you just kind of put up with it?

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ESO: To Elsweyr!

The official announcement is finally here! We’re going to Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit! And we’re getting the necromancer class! I’m excited. This will be the first expansion to come to ESO while I’m playing seriously, and its theme appeals to me a lot more than either of the other two we’ve gotten.

We’ve had a bit of a hype buildup already, starting, unfortunately, with a datamine (I tried to avoid spoilers, but they were pretty widely talked about). The Loreseekers made a good point on their podcast (S3 E9 around 26:15), that Zenimax Online did a great job of recovering gracefully from what could have been a PR disaster for them, quickly taking back the reigns of the hype train (that’s a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). I’m struck by the contrast between them and ArenaNet, who, when their expansion info was leaked last year (basically because they weren’t releasing any info to hype the launch, so testers decided to take matters into their own hands), just stayed silent. They probably thought of it as refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the way ZOS handled it feels so much better as a player; quickly acknowledge that there was a leak, and tell us when official information is coming. I can see why some would feel like this is giving the leaker the attention he or she wants, but the longer leakers are the only source of information the more attention they’re going to get from other players. I’m not sure if ZOS actually moved up their timetable for announcement in response to this or not, but either way, they handled the situation expertly.

Necromancer has long been number two on my list of classes I’d love to see added to ESO, just behind Dwemer Engineer (which will probably never happen), and I know it’s been widely requested across the community as well. (Other classes on that list include bard and monk, if you were wondering) Marvel Heroes’ Squirrel Girl and Rocket Raccoon taught me to love summoner classes, and now that that’s gone, there’s nothing out there really filling that void right now. It seems like MMOs tend to hate summoner classes, though (probably due to performance concerns) so we’ll see if necro summoner actually ends up viable. From what I’ve seen from the stream, it looks like they’ll have access to a number of temporary pets that do a variety of things, similar to Diablo’s necromancer, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I’m interested to get more of the story, too. If anyone was going to get greedy and accidentally release dragons on the world, it would be Abnur Tharn. I’m hoping maybe this humbles him a little, but I’m not holding my breath. During the stream, they also really drove home the point that we’re not dragonborn, so we can’t actually kill dragons. I guess that way we have a reason to kill the same dragons repeatedly, maybe as dolmen bosses? We’ll see.

See you in the spring, and may your road lead you to warm sands.

Gaming Resolutions For 2019

It’s that time of year again where everyone is making their New Year’s Resolutions! Here are a few of mine, in the realm of gaming at least.

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I just can’t justify the cost of 4K.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way.

Play More Lord of the Rings Online
I love LotRO. Every time I log in I wish I was playing more often. Yet sometimes it’s hard to get myself to log in. I don’t know how to explain it. And it happened again with the Legendary server; I started off strong, logging in almost every day, and then I fizzled out in December. I want to find a way to motivate myself to log in every day again, and get to 50 before Moria hits. Maybe start work on an alt?
Also, there’s always that looming anxiety that LotRO might not be there much longer. While I feel more confident about LotRO’s future now than at the beginning of the year, with legendary servers bringing back a bunch of players, lately Daybreak has been killing everything it touches. It’s still unclear what exactly the relationship is between Standing Stone Games and Daybreak, but it’s enough to make me nervous.

Spend Some Time In Elder Scrolls Online’s Housing
I love housing systems, but I feel like I always put off actually doing anything in them. Logging into WildStar (may it rest in piece) to get screenshots before the shutdown reminded me of all the grand plans I had for my various houses, and how little I actually got done. I’m starting to get decently well established in ESO, and I have some ideas for a few houses that I’d like to start working on.

Play More Group Content
I’m pretty comfortable playing MMOs solo or duo with my wife. That’s great, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I’d like to start getting into dungeons more. After all, why play a massively multiplayer game, join a guild, etc. if you’re going to play alone? Ok, there are a lot of really good reasons, but the point is, I’d like to start doing dungeons (and possibly larger group content?) more often in ESO, LotRO, and whatever other MMOs the new year brings. I really enjoyed tanking some dungeons during ESO’s Undaunted event (despite the buggy/overloaded group finder), and I’ve had the itch to do some healing again as well.

Publish A Game
I tend to start a lot of game dev projects and not finish them, and lately I’ve been thinking about why. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve been hearing this advice for years now that you should “make the kind of game you’d like to play.” The problem is that the kind of game I like to play is large in scope, deep in complexity, and rich in story. That’s why I play so many MMOs and RPGs. But my first published game (created by, at most, me and two or three friends) just isn’t going to be any of those things. Maybe one of them at best. I think I need to lower my personal expectations to making a game that I wouldn’t pay more than five dollars for. That’s not settling, that’s walking before I run. I don’t need to be Pixel or Notch or ConcernedApe or any number of other developers whose first published game was a labor of love masterpiece.

MMO Living Conditions, Ranked Worst To Best

A while back, my wife and I got into this anime called Log Horizon that involves thousands players getting trapped in an MMO world. Not in a virtual reality way, but actually physically there, having to work out how to navigate the intricacies and politics of a world where former players are apparently immortal. Since then, we’ve often joked about what it would be like to wake up one day in the various games that we play. Here are a few of the games that I play or have played over the years, ranked based on how much I would or would not want to live in them.

Tamriel (Elder Scrolls Online)
This game has finally clicked with me and I’ve been enjoying playing it a lot lately, but there’s no way I’d want to live here. There’s a three-faction war on, yes, but that’s the least of our worries in this world. Crime is rampant, everyone is racist, and daedra are constantly causing terrible things to happen all over the place. At least two thirds of quest stories end depressingly, usually involving people ending up dead. And can you imagine living in Vulkhel Guard with dark anchors dropping from the sky every five minutes about a hundred yards from the city gate? Sure, adventurers love killing the daedra there for the experience, but what happens if they don’t show up one day?

The Star Wars Galaxy (Star Wars The Old Republic)
There are a lot of cool places to live in the Star Wars ‘verse, there’s a hyperdrive-equipped spaceship in every driveway, and the prospect of having force powers is tempting, but in the time of the old republic, you’ve got about a 50/50 shot of living in the not-so-bad Republic, or on a world dominated by the Sith, or, perhaps worse, some Hutt gang. And then there’s the whole thing with the Eternal Empire coming through and wiping everyone out with superweapons. Given the choice, I’ll pass on this one.

Gielinor (RuneScape)
Life in RuneScape is pretty simple. For the most part, catastrophically bad things tend to only happen when you go looking for trouble, and there’s no shortage of ways to earn gold for those willing to do a little menial labor. Even basic housing is pretty cheap! The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is because, quite frankly, it’s one of the least exciting MMOs I’ve ever played. It’s about as safe as real life because it feels a lot like real life, just with the occasional fireball thrown in.

Tyria (Guild Wars (2))
All things considered, life isn’t too bad in Tyria. Sure, there’s the threat of elder dragon attack, but cities (other than poor Lion’s Arch) seem relatively safe, and travel is fast and easy (and cheap!). Also, anything you need help with, from your livestock getting loose to a bandit raid to a mordrem invasion, you can pretty much just yell and adventurers will wander by and help you.

Nexus (WildStar)
Aside from the fact that this world is about to cease to exist, Nexus seems like a pretty cool place to live. Sure, there’s the constant threat of random faction violence, becoming a Strain mutant, and danger from all manor of weird alien life forms. I’m not saying it’s safer than any of the other worlds on this list. But there are hoverboards. And space ships. And giant plots of land in the sky that you can get for free! What more could you ask for?

Middle-Earth (Lord of the Rings Online)
Middle-Earth has its fair share of places that would be terrible to live (forget orcs, I can think of way too many places infested by giant spiders), but for every one of those, there’s a place like the Shire, or Bree-town, or Rivendell (which, while beautiful, is infested by elves, who are almost as bad as the spiders). Pretty much everywhere is beautiful, apart from Mordor and Angmar and maybe a few other places, and most of the free peoples are pretty friendly and helpful.

ESO’s Lack of Stickiness

I’ve owned The Elder Scrolls Online for about two years now. It’s a really great game; its business model is one of my personal favorites–buy-to-play with an optional subscription that actually feels both worth it and truly optional at the same time–its graphics are beautiful, and, while I still prefer tab target MMOs, the gameplay has really grown on me. I recently decided to pass on the Summerset expansion (there’s plenty of this game I haven’t seen, and jewelry crafting and a new magic skill line aren’t enough to entice me), but I’ve had the itch to play again anyway. So why is it that, every time I try to come back, I never seem to stick around for more than a few weeks?

Depressingness
The first reason is one that I talked about recently: the game is super depressing. In pretty much every quest line, someone ends up dead and everyone is sad. In most MMOs when you hear “My husband is missing! Please find him!” he’s probably just been taken captive by brigands or something. Sure, every once in a while they’re dead, but in ESO you hear a quest like that and you just want to say “Sorry, but he’s probably been fed to demons or something. It’s probably for the best that you just forget about him,” and keep walking. It sounds heartless, but if you pursue the quest, the guy’s wife or kid or someone will probably end up getting themselves killed in a mad quest for vengeance. It’s a world I very much don’t want to live in, which doesn’t make me want to spend my free time there.

Nobody To Play With
I don’t have many friends who play MMOs right now (I had a few for a while, but between Fortnite: BR and real life stressors, not so much anymore), but none of them are in ESO right now. This game’s group content looks really fun to me, but with no friends to play with and really bad luck finding guilds that don’t fall apart within months, I haven’t gotten to see much of it. Also, with level scaling, at what level are you even useful in dungeons?

Lack of an Auction House
I’d really like to mess with this game’s housing and furniture crafting, but unless I want to decorate a hotel room (or at best a one bedroom apartment), I need a decent amount of gold to buy a house. And it’s really hard to make gold when you can’t sell to other players without joining a trade guild that has a vendor in a good city. And to get into one of those guilds, you have to pay a monthly tax or get booted. Given that I’m already not very consistent in playing, I doubt I’d last very long in one of those. I’m sure there are some out there without a tax, but, as I said before, I’ve had a hard enough time finding guilds that last that just to PvE content, let alone ones rich enough to have a trader.

The Usual Suspects
Then, of course, there are the usual reasons why I don’t last in an MMO: Things like all of the classes (and different ways to play those clsases) look fun, and I can’t get one leveled before getting distracted by something shinier. Also demotivating is inventory management. This game throws a lot of crafting materials and deconstructible gear at you, and bigger bags get expensive after a while (see above rant about money). Logging into a character with a full inventory and no quick way to dig it out is a sure way to get me to log out and play something else. And, of course, there are so many other things to play.

One of these days I’m hoping this game will click with me. It’s certainly been clicking for a the last few days, so hopefully that means something. If anyone knows of a good guild (preferably with a trader), let me know! That would definitely go a long way toward making this game stick.

Why Are Games So Depressing Lately?

The other day I was feeling kind of down–nothing major, just normal stressful life stuff–so I thought I’d jump on a few MMOs to escape reality for a bit. First I got on LotRO. I’m in Mordor and, well, it’s not exactly a cheery place, so that didn’t last long. So I logged off of that and thought I’d try Guild Wars 2. The character I’ve been running through the story on is just starting Orr… land of zombies, ruins, and undead dragon corruption. Not much better. The Elder Scrolls Online offered me a quest that involved a daughter murdering her father because he betrayed and murdered his son. Diablo III… well, everything’s depressing in Diablo, isn’t it?

I’m not looking for Rainbow Puppy Fun Times Online, but why does everything have to be so dark? There are even some games, like Secret World or Path of Exile, that I avoid completely because, while the gameplay sounds fun, one look at a screenshot or video is enough to tell me that I won’t last long because of the setting. So why do games get so depressing? I know I’m not the only one who has gotten burnt out on a game because they went from a starting zone that was colorful and cheery to one that was Fifty Shades of Brown. I think the idea is for the location to create a sense of desperate struggle against evil, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire expansion has done a great job of telling a story of a desperate struggle in a place that is absolutely freaking beautiful. I used to log into Marvel Heroes at times like this. It was light and fun without involving much thought. But now that that’s gone I haven’t found anything else to fill that gap.

So what gives, game devs? Life is depressing enough as it is! Why do games have to bring me down too?

Do MMO Control Schemes Discourage Player Interaction?


It is widely agreed that MMO players are less social than they used to be. This is a very complicated issue, and people have suggested a lot of reasons. A common scapegoat is the advent of dungeon/raid finders, which disincentivize players from forming long term relationships in guilds and such. Some blame the casualization of the genre, with players pushing for systems that allow for fast and furious consumption of content, with no reason to slow down and talk to the other players around them. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that Internet culture has simply changed. It’s no longer novel to be talking to someone in another city, another state, or even another country while playing a video game like it was when I started playing MMOs in 2005. Of course, there are always those ever-present rose tinted glasses that players tend to wear when looking back on their early days in gaming.

Then a tweet from blogger (or, sadly, ex-blogger) Braxwolf, got me thinking:

My immediate reaction was that, while I think he’s correct in saying that this is a general trend in MMOs these days, I’ve had that same experience of people snubbing me in chat in Elder Scrolls Online more than in any other game I play. I think that this is, in part, due to the minimalistic UI that the Elder Scrolls series employs. It wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have nameplates above characters’ heads, and chat bubbles still don’t usually seem to work for me. It might also be that the players have hidden chat, either to increase immersion or block out whatever political flame war is going on at the moment. But for me, I think the biggest discouragement to interaction when playing ESO versus other MMOs is the control scheme, which is something I had never really thought about.

Back in 2005 and for many years thereafter, I played RuneScape extensively. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an oldschool style game that involves a lot of grinding out levels by clicking on stuff and watching while your character does some action repeatedly–chop a tree, harpoon for sharks, swing a sword, whatever–until the thing you were doing got used up/moved/died. I know that sounds terribly boring, and… well, quite honestly, it kind of was most of the time, but that’s what we did for fun back in my day and we liked it, dangit. But all of this waiting around while your character did stuff allowed for random conversations to pop up. Yes, the average age of the playerbase was probably barely in the teens at the time, so half the time you didn’t want to hear what was being said, but every so often you found someone really cool, added them to your friends list, and talked to them whenever you were bored with no one around. I made some of the best Internet friends this way, and I’m still really sad that I lost touch with some of them.

Later, games moved away from point-and-click controls to more WoW-style controls, and now we’re seeing more and more games (like ESO) with shooter-style action combat controls. In these games you can’t really type without bringing your gameplay to a grinding halt, or at best running the risk of autorunning off of a cliff. ESO takes this a step further, by enabling gamepad support. I’m not sure how many players use gamepads, but I know that if I was, there would have to be something really important to say to get me to put down my gamepad, reach over to my keyboard, type out my message, and then pick up my gamepad again. I’m certainly not going to hold a conversation going back and forth this way.

There are, of course, methods of interaction other than typing. Most notable is voice chat, which has become more accessible than ever with the advent of free platforms like Skype and Discord. But these communication methods are limited to persistent groups like guilds, not organically formed parties or random passersby, and they can be very finicky to set up. Honestly, I think it would be a huge turnoff to have voice chat enabled for just anyone, partly because I hate the sound of my own voice and want random Internet strangers to hear it as little as possible, but mainly because that would make the random obscenities and vitriol that so often crop up in zone chat all the more intrusive and draining.

I don’t really have a good solution for this problem. I don’t really want to go back to point-and-click games, but I think that modern controls schemes, along with all of the other factors mentioned at the opening of this post, have increasingly dragged down social interaction in MMOs. Is there a middle ground? A solution that wouldn’t just be annoying and inconvenient and simply push players away? Probably not. We’ll probably never be as social as we were back in the olden days, and that’s a reality that we’re just going to have to live with.