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The Elder Scrolls Online Review Part 2 – Combat, Crafting, PvP and Trading

by Wessel Minnie (Sillicur)  Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2014 8:44:00 AM

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Today I bring you part two of my three part review, featuring an in depth look at combat and movement, character progression, crafting, gathering and trading as well as Player versus Player (PvP) in the province of Cyrodiil. For those of you who might have missed part one of my review, I highly recommend reading that first.

Combat and Movement – A failed balancing act

The combat in TESO is by far the worst aspect of the game, failing to deliver a fun experience as it tries to be both simplistic in nature with the amount of skills involved and complex in the execution of said skills and resource management. Throw in the standard latency involved in any MMO and you get a hot mess of a system that is one of the worst I have experienced in recent times.    

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There are three resource bars involved which almost each class will consistently have to look out for namely mana, health and stamina. Every class has some skills that use mana, even my tank oriented Dragonknight has to make use of it to deliver some brutal Fire Claw attacks or activate Dragon Armor, so skill points have to be spent in mana even for a tank oriented character, but more on that in the Character Progression section of the review.

Stamina is used for three things, namely dodging by tapping left, right, forward and backward twice, the character will roll out of the way to dodge an incoming attack, whilst blocking by holding up your shield or weapon also drains stamina. Lastly, weapon specific skills use stamina as a resource. This is where the first problem comes in, as stamina management becomes overly complex, creating a sense of resource starvation. An easy way to fix this is to take the stamina requirement of dodging away, so that only blocking and skills will use this resource.

You only have 5 active skills and one ultimate skill active during a battle, making only 6 skills total. At level 15, you will acquire the weapon swapping ability, so your second weapon will have its own skill bar, making 12 total skills during combat.  

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What makes the combat so terrible for me is not the minimalistic amount of active skills or the resource starvation I experienced, but the actual feel of combat coupled with latency.

My character felt as if he was floating about the world and even though the combat is of a much slower pace than most recent MMO’s, my character still felt weightless. That coupled with a clunky movement makes the experience dull and annoying.

Blocking, albeit a nice idea in theory, just does not work with the standard MMO latency, as holding up my weapon or shield to block only registers a while later. For example, even though I hold my right mouse button, raising my shield before the enemy swings his sword or winds up an attack, his attacks still hit without being blocked. This is all because of latency, yet it is still an infuriating experience for anyone not sitting right next to the server.

Enemies that wind up an attack for a long time just feels out of place as well. A character holds up his sword far above his head, his hand glowing with power as he winds up his attack, which feels unrealistic. Yes, the reason I bring up unrealistic is because the game tries to be realistic in the way swordfighting works with blocking and dodging but fails to see just how silly the wind up attacks really look. When you do manage a successful block, you are treated with an enemy that is dazed, so you have a free shot. Pressing and holding left mouse button powers up your own big bad attack, delivering fatal damage to your would be foe.  

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The wealth of different enemies does not do much in terms of combat. Every foe has basic attacks, a power attack that “can” be blocked and a skill or two that can be interrupted by holding right mouse button and then pressing left mouse button. These skills can also be dodged and are telegraphed with a red shape on the ground to indicate where they will hit. Even though the combat is very similar to that of Skyrim, latency is such a big issue that I can not see the combat system changing for the better any time soon, as it will have to be completely reworked to become a fun experience for anyone with more than 100ms latency.

Pros:

  • The limited amounts of skills do combat ability bloat very effectively.

Cons:

  • A system where resource starvation is an everyday problem.           
  • Blocking and dodging is ineffective because of latency, creating an infuriating experience.           
  • Character movement in and out of combat feels slow and clunky.    

Character Progression – Play the way you want too

One of my favorite things about the Elder Scrolls series is that character skill customization and progression has almost limitless possibilities. Through a relatively complex system, TESO delivers a character progression experience that lets the player play the way they want too, the only limiting factor being class choice.  

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Every class can use every type of weapon and armor, with three sets of class skills separating them. For the Dragonknight I had the Ardent Flame tree which delivered heavy damage, Draconic Power, which was tank orientated skills and Earthen Heart skills which gave self healing and tanking skills.

With each level you acquire one point that can be spent on mana, health or stamina and one skill point that can be used to unlock an ability. Abilities after a certain amount of usage can also be morphed to add effects to them, costing a skill point. For example, my Dragon Spike ability could be morphed to either return damage on hit or increase armor by an additional 20% for the first 3 seconds of activation.

Skill points can be used not only to unlock class abilities, but weapon abilities, armor passive and active abilities for the three armor classes (light, medium and heavy) as well as Mages or Fighter’s guild abilities and much, much more.

This means that I could play as a Dragonknight with light armor that uses a staff to cast spells, a hard hitting damage dealer with a two-handed sword or a tank in heavy armor using sword and shield. The possibilities and skill adaptation to playstyle is almost endless.  

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With such a great system, skill points feel a bit too few and far between while just leveling. Therefore, the developers have added additional skill points when completing important main quests and a Skyshard system.

Skyshards are littered throughout the world in various locations, from dungeons to Cyrodiil (which has 45 Skyshards) where the large scale PvP takes place. When you have found three Skyshards, they transform into a skillpoint, so finding more than a few extra along the way becomes almost a necessity.

Even though the Skyshard system is a great way for players to gain extra skill points, finding all of them in a zone becomes a massive chore and when choosing not to go look for the last few, I felt as if I was doing my character a disfavor and falling behind in power compared to players who do. Yet another problem is it forces PvP onto players who do not want to PvP or just dislike the large scale PvP in the game, as 45 Skyshards translate into 15 skill points, which is quite a lot, especially considering skill points are used in both gathering and crafting as well.

Pros:

  • Intricate system in which you can play your character the way you want too

Cons:

  • The Skyshard system feels like one big grind in order to get your character to his maximum potential.  

Crafting, Gathering and Trading – A complex affair

Crafting in TESO is far from easy and the game does not really explain it well, creating a complex affair that although intriguing becomes one big grind and gives the players too many options, as unlike most MMOs on the market, you can gather any material and every character has the full range of crafting professions available.  

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There are 6 crafting professions in TESO, namely Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Clothing, Enchanting, Provisioning and Woodworking. The easiest of which is Provisioning simply because general questing and looting will give you all the materials needed to start leveling it up without the need to farm materials.

All the crafting professions work a bit differently, though woodworking, clothing and blacksmithing are close to the same. As an example, here is how Blacksmithing works with a look at the four sliders you have to move through:

  • Slot – This determines what the item is, such as a one-handed sword or heavy armor.
  • Material – You put in iron, steel or a wealth of other materials. Each material has a range from 1 to 10 for example and the more materials you use in a specific tier, the higher the level of the item will be.
  • Racial Style – This determines how the item will look. Item appearance also changes with level, so crafting higher level items of the same racial style will have different visual effects.
  • Trait – This is the stat you wish to put on your item. There are a large amount of stats to choose from, ranging from increasing armor or magic resistance or the effect of item enchantment.

If you have the requirement materials in your bank (TESO lets you craft with materials from your bank) or in your inventory you will be able to craft a shiny new piece of armor, a potion, a Trotter Pie or even a great two-handed sword with the various professions. Most professions also let you deconstruct items found in the world for materials used in crafting, though most of the materials will have to be mined or plucked from the open world via gathering.  

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There is no skill required to gather, everyone can gather anything, but players attempting to hoard materials for every profession will quickly find themselves short on inventory space. One of the biggest problems both gathering and crafting I have experienced was that they also require skill points to unlock very useful passive abilities, like seeing a glow surrounding a crafting material in the open world to allowing higher level items to be crafted. This reliance on skill points for everything further forces a Skyshard grind that can become terribly boring.

So what if you do not want to spend countless hours running around gathering materials? Well, normally I would say go to the Auction House (AH), yet TESO does not have one, which is just shameful.

Thankfully, a player can be in 5 player created guilds at the same time, so players have taken it upon themselves to create trade guilds to combat the lack of an AH. Within these guilds players can post items up for sale in a measly system that is hard to use, with a tedious way to search items a lot of hard work from the whole guild just to really get the process started, which is just a horrendous way of going about player trading.

Pros:

  • Having all professions at once means never having to create another character just so you can have more professions.
  • Items made from professions useful throughout the whole leveling process.

Cons:

  • Gathering is one very big grind if you want to make use of more than one profession.
  • Lack of an AH is completely unacceptable in this day and age of MMO’s

Mini and public group dungeons – A fun distraction

Scattered throughout each zone in TESO, there is a wide variety of small dungeons scaled in difficulty for 1-2 players as well as one public dungeon that is scaled for 2-4 players in total. These dungeons, albeit rather small, create a fun distraction from the general questing.  

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I found mini dungeons to be very easy, as I could solo them without any troubles, though some  of the boss fights could prove difficult to a lower skilled player. They mostly have one quest sending the player on their path and include one Skyshard, so there is added incentive to go there. Unfortunately, most of these dungeons in a specific area are so small that they only take around 5, maybe 10 minutes to clear, sending the player back to general questing afterwards.

Public Dungeons are significantly more difficult than the mini dungeons encountered throughout the area. The theme of the singular public dungeon correlates with the area it is found in, with a quest relating to the dungeon, at the very least one Skyshard and a group challenge in the form of a boss encounter.

These boss encounters are triggered by actions from the players, such as killing all the skeletons in a crypt and deliver a much bigger challenge where most of the time I needed at least 2 other players in order to slay the boss. When the boss is slain, the challenge is completed and players that damaged the boss will be awarded with an all important skill point..  

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Sometimes during a mini dungeon you will find a puzzle. These puzzles are not extremely difficult, but they did make me stop and think for a few minutes from time to time, which was a breath of fresh air during the standard MMO leveling grind. The puzzles reward players with a chest or some great level appropriate loot, which is all the more incentive to try and figure them out.

Both the mini dungeons and public dungeons are open to all players, so at any given time there could be 10 or more players running around these little crypts, which makes it feel a bit overcrowded. Added to that is the problem of players camping boss spawns to farm loot, so even though they are meant as a fun little dungeon romp, it quickly became a tedious process waiting for the boss or monsters to respawn, which is a letdown seeing as the of these small dungeons was actually really good.

Pros:

  • Mini and public group dungeons serve as a short vacation from the standard questing.          
  • Puzzles are rewarding and not as easy as one would expect in a MMO.

Cons:

  • Players camping spawns within these small dungeons ruin the experience.

PvP in Cyrodiil – The crowning achievement of TESO

The central province of Tamriel called Cyrodiil is the place in TESO where all the PvP takes place and it is in my opinion by far the best part of the game, the crowning achievement of an otherwise average MMO.  

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The three factions fight for control over the Elder Scrolls in an all out alliance war, where large scale PvP battles and sieges are the name of the game. The idea of Cyrodiil is quite simple; there are 18 Keeps, the 6 inner ones being contested on a daily basis.

There are a wealth of other points, for example lumber mills, mines or farms to control or take over, which add benefits to the factions holding them. During my time in Cyrodiil, which is around 10 hours and counting, I experienced some of the most epic large scale battles of my gaming career, and surprisingly the game handled large scale battles exceptionally well, as I did not experience large drops in my frame rate.

Swords clash, balls of fire rain destruction from catapults while trebuchets fire projectiles into walls of keeps, all while players try to defend or capture a point slaying their enemy in great numbers. All these actions reward Alliance Points (AP) as currency, which can be used to buy a variety of gear as well as items to help your allies such as siege weapons and aid stations so that players can spawn closer to battle.

Being involved in kills reward more AP than taking over a strategic point. This is done to stop Keep swapping between alliances and gives players more incentive to fight, though getting players to stop fighting in a large pile somewhere on the map and rather going for strategic points became difficult during a few hours of play.  

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Cyrodiil is home to many of the exact same features found in regular zones, such as dungeons, quest hubs and a plethora of Skyshards to collect. The quests are not story driven such as in the open world, as they come in a repeatable form and are highly rewarding to players who manage to complete them, killing 20 enemy players as an example gave me a large chunk of alliance points and a lot more experience that I would receive during a standard quest chain outside of Cyrodiil. These quests also add strategic objectives and steers even the most unreliable or new player in the right direction, which is a great way of teaching players how to behave in the zone.

Within the frantic large scale battles, the ability to block does not really come into play all that much, as blocking would only stop one blow anyway, so with three players around you it is pretty pointless. When first joining the alliance war at level 10, which is the minimum level of entry, I could not fathom how PvP could be fun with the combat system in place, but it actually works out really well, delivering a fun and engaging experience as I charged into battle, slashing about and dying horribly to an onslaught of foes. The PvP is not without one large flaw, namely scaling. Players are supposed to be on relatively equal footing within Cyrodiil, as they are being scaled up to level 50 for the battles. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as a level 40 players can destroy a level 30 player in a few blows for example, so the game does not create even close to an equal playing field.

Pros:

  • Glorious large scale PvP battles and sieges without lag.           
  • A wealth of objectives with great rewards.

Cons:

  • Bad scaling of characters makes PvP on lower levels deadly.    

Closing Thoughts

TESO has disappointed me with a combat system that tries to do too much and only achieves to frustrate because of latency issues common in every single MMO and an unnecessary blocking system which fails to impress. Combat and movement is the most important part of any MMO for me and therefore it is very unfortunate that this is the one aspect where TESO truly falls flat on its face.

A complex character progression and crafting system that rely too heavily on farming Skyshards is still passable as decent systems, though both have their flaws. The saving grace for TESO is the glorious large scale PvP battles that work so well and are so much fun to play that I might just continue my way to level 50 just by doing PvP.

After just over 60 hours of gameplay, I can not help but feel as if TESO is one massive grind covered in a few complex systems, with the exception of PvP. In my final part of the review I will take a look at veteran dungeons and the first adventure zone aimed at endgame players that has yet to be released. After experiencing everything except endgame content, I feel confident in given TESO outside of endgame a provisional review score.

Score: 7/10

You can purchase TESO through kalahari.com: for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC 60 day game card, or download it for PC from GamersGate here

Read more about TESO:

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd  



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