Elder Scrolls

Meanwhile, in Tyria… A Burro further muses on what the hell he actually wants from a game and does it resemble the moon on a stick.

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Over the years I’ve used this blog to try and work out what the hell I want from a game. I’ve ranted about systems that I hate, raved about those I love. I’ve condemned mechanics I can’t wrangle, commended those I can. I’ve groaned about ideas I hate, gushed over those I don’t. Ultimately I’ve been guilty of being an armchair dev and backseat world builder, teetering atop my own rickety soapbox whilst I fill the air with the sound of my own ill-informed droning and whining about ‘the perfect game for me’.

I see no reason for this to change, do you?

Good. Buckle up as I once more bellow impotently into the void and try in vain to describe just what the bloody hell I want from a game.
First off though, you may ask why am I covering this old ground again? I mean, wasn’t all that waffling on about world building in 2014 enough? Didn’t all the musing in 2015 lead me to some form of Nirvana? Well, in a word, no. In more than a word; no because a) nothing has changed, b) I still haven’t found what I’m after, c) I’m not even sure I know what I’m after, d) even if I do I don’t know if it exists or can exist.

I’m not sure anyone can help me with the first two of those but at least I can try and make sense of what I’m actually looking for in a game, even if the result is to confirm to me that it doesn’t actually exist and won’t until extremely clever computers exist. Still, I won’t know until I try so here goes.

A Manageable Illusion…
I always thought I was looking for open, but given that I had totally open in Second Life and hugely open in Elite Dangerous and I have left them as both left me bored trying to make my own entertainment I am pretty sure I don’t really want an open world.

Equally I’m not all that enthralled by closed worlds. The list of games I have never finished is staggering and shows me that although I like the initial thrill of a new game I get bored and stop playing. From single player games like BioShock to MMOs like LOTRO & Guild Wars 2 I simply never complete the story arcs and never feel bad about it, after all I can always find out what happens from Wikipedia and YouTube. From this I am pretty sure I’m not after some huge storyline that takes me all over a grand world.

So maybe I’m looking for a small but highly detailed world, one that feels a bigger part of something alive and connected. A manageable illusion of vast openness. So far Guild Wars 2 has come closest with its limited Tyria play area although my recent brush with Elder Scrolls Online has shown me another version of this in Tamriel. Both worlds feel similar to the worlds I drew as a kid hooked on playing Tunnels and Trolls. Both are manageable slices of a much larger world, worlds in which I think I can have an effect.

Big fish, little fish…
There was a video released by Arenanet prior to GW2’s launch, part of its manifesto, that talked about your effect on the world. People in villages you saved would remember you, things you did would impact on the world, and ultimately you and your actions would matter. Unfortunately, like so many of their early claims, this never came to be. In the same way that choosing your story path at the start of the game makes no real difference to your path through the game, saving a village in Tyria has no effect on your character. At the same time I’m railroaded into following a career path I wouldn’t take in any game, that of ultimate hero and saviour of all. So on one hand I can save a village and never be remembered whilst on the other I somehow become the Pact Commander in charge of the greatest army ever assembled. I’m both a minnow and an orca when what I’d rather be is a basking shark, or a seal, or a gull, or a… well you get the picture. My brain simply can not resolve being the most important person alive and also the least, especially when I don’t want to be either.

In the game I want to play I want to choose my own path and I want it to have consequences. I want to be remembered for saving that village, dammit! If, and this is a big if, I want to fight in the army I want to choose how instead of being artificially (and through no more skill of my own than key clicking and wiki-reading) promoted to Commander in Bloody Chief.

Career Advice 101…
Something I have come to like better in ESO than GW2 is the fact you can be anything in the former. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Engineer class in GW2 but I’d rather like to play a mash-up of an engineer, a thief, and a Mesmer but I can’t. In real life I’m doing a job that combines lots of different skills and also holding down family & social lives that involve others. In all the time no one has said to me that I can only use a limited set of skills from one aspect of my life. Games have conditioned me to accept this limitation in their worlds and I’m rather sick of it.

The flip side to this is Elite Dangerous’ ‘do what you want’ ethos. Fancy being a trader? Fine! Want to try out being a pirate now? Also fine! Bounty Hunter? Miner? Assassin? All fine, do what you want! Except who the hell actually does that without consequence? Who joins the peace-keeping, law-enforcing Navy only to then be a trader for a week and then a bounty hunter and then a pirate and then back to the Navy?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily looking for a game I can be a pirate in as I enjoy playing the hero far too much, but rather I’m looking for a game where I can use all of the skills I want to use to follow the path I want to follow without artificial barriers blocking me.

Never a dull moment…
Do you know what raises a good games master above the crowed of OK ones? Adaptability. A good GM will see how an adventure is going and adapt to keep the energy flowing. A good GM will be able to see an opportunity to create a story out of thin air and run with it. An OK GM just sticks with a pre-planned path and never veers off. This is currently my biggest bugbear with GW2. Unless there is a Living World story out (and they are few and far between) there are no stories in the game. Sure there are dynamic events, although these have proved hard to maintain, update and add to so they offer just repeating loops of the same thing. Yes there are dungeons and fractals and puzzles throughout the world but again they are endlessly repeating fights.

What I’m looking for is story everywhere, not just in one area. After all, we know that [insert name of current Living World threat here] isn’t the only threat to Tyria but it’s the only one we can concentrate on and the only one we are allowed to participate in. Very much like the fact I’m forced to be the Pact Commander, I resent the fact I’m forced to deal with X dragon threat when what I want to be doing is helping the Seraph investigate a burnt out farm, or the Lionguard retake Claw Island, or the Priory recover Orrin artefacts, or the Nolan Village council find a lost cub in the catacombs. Anything and everything other than fight another bloody dragon. Or rather, than only be able to fight another bloody dragon.

Better together…
One aspect I really can’t fault Arenanet and Guild Wars 2 for, except for the fact they have ruined every other game for me going forward, is the focus on ensuring other players are not seen as the enemy but rather as friends who can help out. This has, so far, been my biggest stumbling block in ESO with its non-instanced nodes, shared XP for kills, and lack of ‘down levelling’. In GW2 I will tell people if I see a node, I look forward to people diving into a fight with me, and I never feel hugely over-powered if I’m in a lower level zone with lower-level friends. GW2 makes me want to play with people whereas all the other games I’ve played have either been single players games (Borderlands, BioShock) or MMOs that feel like they are (LOTRO, ESO). I can only really feel at home with a game that is as inclusive and other-player-friendly as GW2.

In concussion…
Previous posts in this ‘series’ have talked about how I wanted the world of GW2 to feel more alive with cities that have daily cycles, working shops, player housing, and an assortment of festivals and celebrations. I don’t think this post is really any different in that what I’m looking for is Guild Wars but alive and living. I want freedom to follow my own storylines in my own way and with my own character built in my own way but with other people.

I have a (pipe) dream that I log into GW2 and walk out of my house in Divinities Reach right into a night time parade for a celebration of the gods complete with dancing and singing and food. I move through the crowds and contact any guild mates who are online whilst at the same time checking the local newspaper. There is a report of a farm burnt out south of Shaemoor and the family have vanished so I suggest to the guildies who are on that we go and take a look, especially as the Seraph are offering a small reward for details. Three of us meet at the pub in Shaemoor and to the outside observer it is impossible to tell what class we are. We set off to the farm and start an evening of investigation, puzzling, jumping, and fighting that leads us back to a hidden bandit cell in the city and a fight that scales up as people jump into help. The next night we do it all again but this time heading out to the Shiverpeaks to uncover an ancient book that was thought lost and can teach one of us a key new skill, if only we can get past the Dredge army that have camped on top of the location ahead of an attack on a large Norn homestead.

Now that is a game I’d want to play more of for the sake of playing it rather than logging into to complete my dailies but I suspect I’m asking for the moon on a stick…

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Meanwhile, in Tamriel… It’s all about the Lore, baby!

Like most games worth their salt, Elder Scroll games have a rich and detailed history that is fun to immerse yourself in and I can’t recommend these sources highly enough – I’ll add more as I come across them.

If you know of any more, please drop them into the comments and I’ll update my watch list 🙂

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Meanwhile, in Tamriel… well it sure ain’t Tyria!

Update (23/03/16): Elde has posted her thoughts on this topic here: https://starshadow.me/2016/03/23/eso-vs-gw2/

In my last post I talked why I’ve drifted away from Guild Wars 2 and into Elder Scrolls Online and now in this post I want to talk about the new shiny responsible for turning my eye, the world of Tamriel, and how I currently feel about both GW2 and ESO.

First off I should say that I’m a creature of habit and as such when I bond with something I can find it hard to open up and move to something else. It was the same moving from Second Life to LOTRO and then LOTRO to GW2 and now GW2 to ESO. Each move is strangely emotional time full of conflicting feelings of loss, regret, and bitterness but also excitement, fun, wonder. I have found this move both the hardest and the easiest of them all.

It’s been hard because in the past I’ve generally left games at the end of my tether so I’m looking for something new, but in this case I was (indeed, am) not looking to leave GW2 as it is still a game I love and enjoy.

Conversely it’s been easy because of my mate Elda. She is an experienced ESO player and loves the world of Elder Scrolls as much as I love the world of Guild Wars. She has eased the transition from Tyria to Tamriel greatly and is proving to have no end (well, no visible end) to her patience with my questions and running off and jumping on things like a sugared up 9 year old.

The two biggest problems I have faced in moving from GW2 to ESO have been around the aesthetics and the lore. Putting it simply the look of the game is not entirely to my tastes and knowing nothing about the world made it hard to care about it.

With regards to the lore, I have found an easy and satisfying fix on YouTube by watching the lore videos of ShoddyCast who has done a brilliant job of making me fall in love with the world & lore of Elder Scrolls.

The other issue of the games look is a little harder to get over and in truth only time will help me with that, but at least it’s not a deal breaker (although it very nearly was in Coldharbour, the fugly starting area, as that was very nearly a ‘no sir, I don’t like it!’ quitting moment. Gods! Who sets their opening segment of the game in the ugliest part of the whole world?).

So, seeing as comparisons are inevitable, I guess I should look at which do I prefer? Well in truth both have aspects I find more attractive than the other. Let me explain by way of a list, the contents of which are entirely personal and subjective and presented in no particular order…

Graphics: Both worlds are lovely (the shithole of ESO’s Coldharbour aside) with ESO having better weather and atmospheric effects and GW2 having a more delicate feel. This is hard to quantify but ESO’s world looks and feels bigger and blockier than GW2, with Tyria feeling more attractive. This is even truer of the character models.

Characters: I can not say this enough – there is nothing ‘wrong’ with ESO’s models (and in fact I prefer a lot of their outfits as they have a nicer ‘real’ feel than GW2’s god-awful spike obsession) but I have yet to see an attractive ESO character. The faces are… well… just not attractive. GW2 is guilty of going the other ways in that you can’t make an ugly or old or scarred character, but it’s more than that and ESO characters all look far better with their faces covered up! Both GW2 & ESO have non-human characters but ESOs are basically a human torso with a cat or lizard head popped on top and it looks wrong, whereas GW2 got it right with the Char and the Kodan races. And give me a walking plant made up of overlapping leaves and flowers and bark, over a spoon-faced dark elf with piggy eyes and spindly limbs any day.

Races and Classes: Dead simple – I like GW2’s races better than ESO, hands down and no contest, but I like SO’s flexible class system better. Except for the Engineer. GW2 Engi beats all. GW2 Engi is fun and flames in equal measure. Nothing comes close to GW2 Engi.

Animations: ESO has a huge range of beautiful emote animations that far surpasses GW2’s pathetic efforts so it’s a huge shock to witness the bloody awful animations your character has for running and walking. My guy is part cat yet he runs like he has a broom handle up his arse! It’s only a small thing as ESO has tons of other great animations but it’s the one I have to look at the most and it makes sad inside every time.

UI: GW2 wins because it is lovely. ESO is awful until you use ‘add-ons’ and then it becomes OK.

Gameplay: Hmmm, this is a biggie. I love the concept of ESO allowing me to make a character I want to and play in a way I want to but I dislike its old quest system (icon over an NPC’s head, pick up quest from them, do quest for them, turn quest in to them). GW2’s dynamic questing system feels more fun but looking at how even GW2 is moving away from that in favour of larger ‘meta events’ maybe it’s just too hard to implement. Other than they both feel similar in gameplay term – explore, quest, level, complete a story.

Combat: So far I prefer GW2 but I strongly suspect this is because I understand it. ESO combat has been ok so far but I don’t have the first clue what I’m doing. In short, the jury is out.

Controls: I have to say GW2 wins for me but again this is because I am so new to ESO that I don’t really know my way around. I’m finding the ‘action camera’ style a little hard which is why I never used it in GW2. Again, jury is out. Again I suspect this will be a non-issue.

Mechanics: I’d say that GW2 does a damn good job of removing barriers at the cost of immersion whereas ESO adds immersion back in. Case in point is selling stuff. In GW2 I can sell anything in my bags on the trading post wherever I am. In ESO, as far as I can see, you have to be in a trading guild and that guild has to ‘bid’ for a place to plop down an in-world stall and only then can random folks buy from you by walking up to the stall and interacting with the NPC running the stall. That is both amazing and faffy and I have no idea if I’ll like it or not yet.

Crafting: ESO looks more like LOTRO then GW2 and that can only be a good thing. Crafting in GW2 is horrible turned up to 11. And it’s boring. And shit.

Lore: Both are fun. Both are derivative. I’m enjoying both. Draw 😉

Fun: Tricky one. GW2 feels more fun right now whereas ESO has a po-faced feel about that El assures me isn’t true. I think it’s down to it being, as Gkaruk calls it, a ‘grown up’ MMO. It feels like D&D and MERP did to me when I was a kid pen & papering it with my mates. It feels… old. I don’t mean that in a bad way. GW2 feels new and looks all shiny. ESO feels… chunkier and slower and more bedded in. GW2 still feels like it’s trying to find out who it is whereas ESO has the confidence of middle-age.

Anyway, I’ve waffled on enough. What it all boils down to is:

  • I like both. I’m going to keep playing both.
  • GW2 looks better and feels more easily accessible fun. Also Engi.
  • ESO feels like it has more depth to it.
  • As long as I have the mates I’ve made through the GGG Guild to play with I’ll be having fun 😀

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Meanwhile, in Tyria… well it sure ain’t Tamriel!

I’m not entirely sure how I got here. One minute I’m gloriously happy in Guild Wars 2 and then the next I’m exploring Elder Scrolls Online and I can feel the bonds to Tyria once again slipping away.

I will write more on my ESO experiences in my next post but right now I ‘blame’* Elda in part for her cool thief video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnfuzGShEXc) which made me nostalgic for one of my favourite games ever, Thief. Yet Elda’s temptations are not at the root of the issue.

For me, and I think for other people, Guild Wars 2 has stalled a little and now knowing there will be no more Living Story for months and months in favour of PvP and raid updates. Sure I have a lot to do in the world but little in the way of reason to do them right now as I’m mainly a story-driven player.

Now this has happened before, after all I dropped out from Nov 12 through to Feb 13 and then again from about June 14 to June 15, but I don’t want this to happen again to that extent, especially now I have friends there in a Guild I help run. No, I want to manage my time and my obsessive gameplay nature better and I want to live in more than one game at once.

To that end I’m going to try and do two or three nights in each world a week (with Tuesday totally off) so that I don’t leave Tyria, and my friends, again.

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* I don’t blame her at all but you know what I mean. She is the catalyst for a heap of fun 😀