This post first appeared on my Medium publication, Tikh Tokh.
Disclaimer: I’m an older gamer whose main interests are crafting, exploration, lore, game design and aesthetics. If you want to know if ESO has the best dungeons or the most exciting PVP, you’ve come to the wrong place.
“God, the characters are ugly.”
“Help! The camera is awful!”
“Bloody hell, how do you move around in this game?”
But then there came a moment when I saw my first ‘mansion’…
…and the graphics whore in me kicked in. Jaw agape, I wandered through this empty mansion and was transported back to my favourite game of all time – Vagrant Story. Created by Square Enix, Vagrant Story was probably the most beautiful game ever developed for the first PlayStation console, and the graphics had the same effect on me.
But this article isn’t about Vagrant Story, it’s about ESO, and the reason I bring the comparison up so early in the piece is because this was the moment when all my other first impressions faded into insignificance. I still hated the appearance of my character [and all the npcs]. I still found moving around difficult, and battling excruciatingly hit or miss, but…the beauty of the ‘world’ had me hooked.
The following is a watery vista just to the north of Balmora:
The next is a close-up view of the texture of a wall in Balmora. The dark shapes are shadows from a tree:
Before playing ESO, I honestly thought Final Fantasy XIV [FFXIV] was the most beautiful MMORPG currently available. I still think FFXIV is beautiful in that distinctly Asian, manga-esque way, but I no longer think it’s the best out there. ESO is.
The grass and bushes in ESO are thicker, richer, more real looking. The textures are a million times better, and the abundance of fauna, both large and small, make the environment feel alive. Plus the whole landscape is full of things to find, but more on that later. Time now for some negatives.
I began this article by saying that ESO characters are ugly. I stand by that. Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that my aesthetic may not appeal to everyone. I have played Western MMOs [WoW, GW2 and a couple of forgettables], but the bulk of my playing time has been on Japanese or Korean MMOs. Bear that in mind as you look at the following screenshots. The first is of a Dark Elf male and a Nord female:
I love character customisation, but I found it next to impossible to create attractive characters in ESO. The faces shown above are two of the most attractive ones, but I don’t think either is that attractive.
The two characters above are from Asian MMOs. The character on the left is from my brief foray into Blade and Soul. Loved the aesthetic of the characters, hated the game. The character on the right is from FFXIV. Both are gorgeous, and as a female player I make no apology for prefering them to the ESO offering.
I’m not impressed with the ESO body aesthetic either:
To me, the legs in ESO look too short for the bodies, but that could just be me. The monotony of the faces, however, is not my imagination. It is possible to create some differences between races, but within races, all the faces come out looking almost identical. As for the Cat and Lizard races…rolls eyes. Really? Stick an unmodified cat head on a human body and that’s it? Instant Cat race? The less said about those two races the better.
And now to the camera and movement settings in ESO. Having the camera locked to the head of the character may work in first person shooters, but for those of us who prefer a 3rd person perspective — i.e. seeing our characters from behind as they move about — the camera is nauseating, literally. You can’t just point to some ‘object’ with the mouse and look at it. You have to move the character until the cross hairs at head level pan over the object you want to check out.
The camera setting also means that the character has to be pointed at and looking at any enemy it needs to fight. Getting that ‘head camera angle’ just right in 3rd person view is tricky, very tricky. Again, I imagine that the camera setting would make fighting in PVP easier as you wouldn’t have to worry about lining up the crosshair, it would just be ‘there’. Pity I don’t do PVP.
You can change the key bindings for actions and weapon skills, but after much effort I finally gave up and learned to use the default setup, more or less. These settings include:
- left mouse button for ‘Attack’ [with your weapon]
- right mouse button for block, and
- left & right mouse buttons together to interrupt
Actual weapon skills are handled by the number keys, 1–5. This means you can only ever have five of the total available weapon skills active at the one time. [I haven’t reached the level at which I get weapon swap which will effectively give me another 5 weapon skills to work with and I’m ignoring Ultimates for now].
Do I enjoy the battling? Not particularly, but I’m now able to hold my own. In time I may actually become reasonably proficient at fighting. -sigh-
Still on the subject of fighting, I have to say that the solo ‘dungeons’ [delves?] are fast becoming my favourite parts of the game. Most of these instanced, solo events are part of a quest chain and occur underground, or in some dungeon-like area.
This is the map of the Vassir-Didanat Mine dungeon:
These instanced dungeons can be completed on your own or by casually joining other players who are in the same place at the same time. No need to join a party, just tag along helping each other as needed. Great fun.
Returning to the camera settings, another problem is that you can’t just sweep the mouse over the environment when you’re looking for something. This can make gathering tricky as collectables aren’t marked in any way. You have to get up close and personal, and touch the object with the crosshair before you can see its label.
In the following screenshot, the object circled in red is a maple log:
If you love gathering and crafting, you will eventually learn to recognize the appearance of collectables from a distance, but as you can see from the above screenshot, collectables don’t exactly leap out of the environment at you. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, each rune, flower, or lump of wood I discover feels like an achievement.
This sense of accomplishment is in stark contrast to FFXIV where gathering is ‘easy’ but horribly boring. Sadly, crafting in ESO is the exact reverse. You rock up to a crafting station, choose the item you want to craft and hit a button. If you have the required materials, the item is crafted without any further input from the crafter. Boring….
By contrast, crafting in FFXIV is a mini-game and actually requires both strategy and skill.
In an attempt to make crafting in ESO a little more substantial, higher levels require ‘traits’ that must be researched. Researching a trait involves the destruction of an ‘item’ [weapon, gear, whatever] in order to learn the trait it contains. Researching a trait takes 6 hours and again, requires no further input from the crafter.
There are other bits and pieces involved in crafting, but at this point I haven’t discovered anything in ESO that makes my heart go pitter pat. I’m still at a very low level though so I’ll reserve my final judgement until I learn more.
Before I finish this preliminary overview of ESO, there are two further positives I really have to point out. Despite the fact that my character is only level 12, the quest lines have already given me a mount and a room at the inn which I can furnish as I wish.
None of the MMOs I’ve played have ever been this generous to a newbie player. It’s almost as if ESO believes players should be enjoying themselves right from the beginning instead of having to level up for weeks before being rewarded with something ‘nice’. I’m not saying ESO is perfect, far from it, but I will say that I’ve never enjoyed these low levels in an MMO before. That has to mean something. Oh, and it’s free to play. That means something too.