I had a lively discussion with a couple of readers concerning Elder Scrolls Online this week. Long story short, one of them was so convinced of ESO's merits as an MMO, that he offered to put his money where his mouth was. If I agreed to play the game to at least level 20, he'd buy a key for me.
Why not. MMOs are ever-evolving things, and I'm willing to keep an open mind. Like I said, I wasn't actively trying to dislike the game, it just seemed to happen that way.
Anyway, I fired the game up last night and began playing, as per our agreement. Now, I had made two primary points regarding my distaste for the game. The first being that contrary to the history of the Elder Scrolls franchise, in ESO you did not get to be selfish kid in his very own sandbox.
And true enough, every time I come across a dresser of drawers that has already been ransacked, or someone hovers by a chest waiting for me to fail the lockpick so they can swoop in and take it, I'm reminded that I'm competing in this world. That everywhere I go, I'm getting sloppy seconds... or sloppy four thousandths as the case may be (there are a lot of people in this game...also, ew).
Now, that's every MMO, and Wildstar, a game I've played extensively, preordered and anxiously awaiting, is no different. But ESO carries a pedigree with it, preconceived notions, which make it more difficult to separate it from what we're used to. Especially considering so much of the game's appearance (certainly the UI) screams Elder Scrolls. It would be like if they made, I dunno, a Metal Gear Solid MMO. You're used to sneaking around alone, so if you suddenly see fifty people in cardboard boxes creeping around the starting zone, you're going to feel strange about that.
So yeah, I'm not sure my opinion about this will change, but my dude is only level six or so, and I've got fourteen levels to go. Perhaps given enough time, my brain would stop comparing ESO to Skyrim and accept it as its own thing. Whether that's something it should have to do do is probably a topic for a whole other discussion.
The second point I made concerned combat, and that I didn't feel like it had enough impact. It didn't feel visceral. I heard from a lot of people that they improved this for launch. I watched some livestreams of the game, and I was not really convinced.
However, after a couple of hours playing, I have to admit, it does feel better than it did in beta. At least in third person view. I still find first-person view lacking. That's a shame, because not a lot of MMOs give you good options for playing in first-person... in fact I don't think I've played on in first-person since the original Everquest, which started you there by default.
Overall though, my opinion on the combat has changed from my initial impressions. It's not perfect, it isn't a combat renaissance, but it is noticibly improved.
Only six levels in, ESO has not magically morphed into a game that I feel is worth both an upfront cost and a monthly subscription. Frankly, I feel like the fact that they already have a store in place (currently you can only purchase a horse, and an upgrade to the collector's edition) screams preparation for inevitably going free to play. Even if they had charged the cost of the game, and done away with the subscription, a la Guild Wars 2, it would make the package as a whole more enticing.
If my outlook changes in my twenty levels, I'll let you know. If it takes more than twenty levels for an MMO to prove its worth, they're doing it wrong.