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Last weekend I logged on to Elder Scrolls where I participated in my first guild event, a skyshard run in the pvp zone of Cyrodill. Skyshards are glowing spheres that give you one third of a skill point once and once only. Some bloggers, (Nils, I’m looking at you), didn’t like skyshards. I don’t mind them. They’ve built them into the game so obviously the skill points take this into calculation. And anyway, you can get skill points from quests as well. Lorewise, I couldn’t really care less. They’re a good incentive to see the world, go exploring if you will.

 

And go exploring we did. Cyrodiil is big. Really big. Here’s a map of it.

 

 Cyrodiil-Skyshard-Locations-500x500

 

This is the PvP zone of Elder Scrolls with three factions competing to hold it. I zoned in for the first time to find my fellow guildies grouped around a summoning area. They were all sitting on horses. I didn’t have a horse. And then I had a terrible premonition. I typed in chat:

 

“Is not having a horse going to be a handicap on this run?”

They let me down politely. So I ran over to the nearest horse vendor and sank 17K on an ugly nag that looked as if it were destined for the knackers. I had been holding out for the most expensive option but events forced my hand. I rode back, (the horse animations in this game are quite cool), and we rode off. Everyone galloped off into the distance. Seems that you can level your horse in this game. Mine obviously wasn’t. I lent on the stamina button like an old man leaning on a street lamp on a windy day. Somehow we kept up. There were twenty of us in the group. I followed like a mad-man, learning my horsey skills on the way, space bar to jump, careful going downhill or you might dismount, avoid the water, stay clear of enemy PvP guards. I’m in Australia, I’m playing on the North American server, there were twenty of us and I had zero lag. Some of you might use this as an opportunity to pour scorn on the number of people playing Elder Scrolls, but it really ran well.

The other nice surprise was group fights. Being used to the multicolored acid-toned visual attack chaos of WoW, this was a pleasant surprise. It was easy to pick out enemy combatants due to the lack of visual wankiness from spells and abilities. We poured around Cyrodiil like a storming rush of crazed harpies on crack. Occasionally a player from another faction would be unfortunate enough to stumble across our path only to be vaporized in a fury of bolts, arrows and spells. Two hours in and with over 20 skyshards under my belt for the run, I pulled the pin. The group went on to collect over 40 shyshards overall for the night. 

Excellent guild event, check. Games works seamlessly with many players in the one location from thousands of miles away, check. Enough skill points to rub them under my armpits while singing Ave Maria, check. Loving this game, double check. No, make it a triple.

 

I backed the initial Pathfinder kickstarter. Got myself a signed book thingy and a poster. Yey me. I was a somewhat active participant on their forum. I had hope for this game. I had dreams. I had dreams, man!!

Dreams die. Sorry kids, that’s just the way it goes. This one died early, but there are a lot of people still hanging on to their dream. They don’t want to let go. They don’t want to be disappointed. Which means when they eventually do realise how terrible their dream has become, the backlash is going to be very nasty indeed. For me, I knew the game was up when Pathfinder announced their second kickstarter. The first kickstarter was to secure investors, the second kickstarter was to move the project forward quickly so that they weren’t constrained by investors’ small-mindedness. Which led me to believe that all the would-be investors had looked at their product and decided that it sucked so the only thing left was to secure more money out of their audience to get the game going.

This was when the forums took a turn for the weird, with Ryan Dancey, the smug-faced moron running the project, jumping down the throat of anyone who dared to question their creative genius. In the last two years things haven’t changed that much. Dancey is still being a prick to people, the game still looks fucking awful on the videos that have been released, and they’re still extorting money out of their future player-base.

Early enrollment costs a cool $100. Players who backed the second kickstarter, (us poor saps who backed the initial offering didn’t get jack squat), got to play in the alpha, ($1000 for all of you so desperate to get in and test their bugs for them), but after that you have to shell out more money. And now they’ve introduced premium items, in other words a high priced cash shop. Care to blow $50 on a base camp? That lasts for only five days? Or how about a cool $250 for a smallholding?

“… Smallholdings will have an upkeep cost. The Smallholding will consume a certain amount of bulk resources and crafting materials each month. If the Smallholding’s upkeep cost is not met, the Smallholding will be closed and despawned.”

“Any inventory in the Smallholding when it is removed from the game (through destruction or despawning) is lost”

“The deed to a Smallholding that is destroyed or despawned will return to its owner’s inventory and will have a 30 day cooldown before it can be redeployed.”

God, I almost want to pay to get in so I can go around burning these things down.

How much do you think their core playerbase has already shelved out on average, what with two kickstarters, alpha access, early enrollment, and now a premium cash shop? Has any game ever cost this much before it was even released? And more to the point, has any other business in the history of the world ever charged its future customers to set itself up in such a way?

But people are paying for it, for now. Which says two things really; people are stupid, and the MMO industry is in dire straits indeed.

Traveling around the lovely landscape of Elder Scrolls Online, one is struck by the bewildering assortment of lootable sacks, barrels, crates, large crates, heavy sacks, sacks which are not so heavy but not that light either, wardrobes, nightstands, desks, bags, backpacks, more barrels and crates, samsonite carry-on luggage, smart designer handbags, and some more barrels just to even everything out somewhat.

You may think it would be prudent to ignore all of this and you would be wrong. very wrong indeed. More wrong than getting involved in a land war in the Middle East. For while the vast majority of lootable items are along the lines of onions and corn mash, every so often there is a flash of blue and you discover a copy of Orc Racial Library as I did yesterday which was a big boon to my blacksmithing and very excitable let me tell you.

It’s not a very big chore to open all of these containers. It’s even quite relaxing in a ‘mouse in a maze finding a piece of cheese to keep going and not go insane’ kind of way. The problem lies in what to do with all these food ingredients. Do you leave them to rot or do you loot them and eventually succumb to the awful travails of having to level provisioning?

It all started well and good – I had a few low level recipes that I had found in a train station wastepaper basket, and finding the ingredients was fairly easy. But now I’m in the position where I need to allocate valuable skill points into provisioning in order to progress any further. This has me in a quandary. With my bank space overflowing with Orc Eyes and rabbit nut-sacks, I’m unable to use all the higher level recipes that are cluttering up my inventory space. The food and drink that you make has some nice buffs, but you can purchase similar goods from most inns and have the added bonus of gazing with mottled drool at the local comely wench’s lovely heaving bosom into the bargain.

And skill points are valuable. Right now I have a skill point that I got for completing a quest which involved listening to some god-awful story narrated by a boring fruit-bat with no heaving bosom. There are a bunch of different uses I could put it to as well. There’s a juicy bow skill I can take, a very good block attack buff with my sword and shield, a much needed heavy armor buff, and a very cool blacksmithing skill that lets me research two traits at the same time. Or I can stick it in second level recipes and be able to cook a troll sandwich.

I’ve just realised that this is a fine example of a meaningful choice. And that’s one reason why I’m still playing this game.

Today was a big day for me in Elder Scrolls Online; I joined a guild and I ran my first dungeon, in that order. First the guild. It’s been a bit of a lonely experience so far in game, but up until now I had resisted the many abject expressions of sheer desperation in general chat advertising for people to join a guild. Mostly because they had the dreaded word ‘social’ in high proximity as some sort of badge of honor. Obviously nothing is more prone to sending me running for the hills. But today I saw a one-off advert in general chat for a rogue guild, promising nothing but tough love and possible in-house assassination. So I decided, what the heck – what’s the worse that can happen?

(Editor – A lot, and most of it bad, that’s what. But if you must persist with this I can see no other option but to tell you I told you so in the very near future.)

I got an invite and they were friendly without being fawning. The guild bank is jammed full of goodies, and there’s over 150 members spread over the three factions. Then I was wandering through one of the main towns when a quest caught my eye to run the first instance in the game, Spindleclutch. It’s for levels 12-15 and I was sitting at level 17 so I figured I’d be okay. I found the entrance where a few people were milling about. Someone invited me to a group and then I was in.

The group sucked, but, let me finish, they sucked in a nice way. They didn’t know what they were doing, and I sure as hell didn’t know what I was doing, and we died a lot, and we eventually called in some help from my guild, (not having a healer was somewhat of an oversight.) And then we made it through only dying a few more times and I got some sick loots and everyone was very happy and shook hands at the end promising to meet up next time we’re online.

Simply delightful. Too delightful, in fact. This is the point in the narrative where everything usually goes to shit. It didn’t though. What a marvelous MMO experience. It was like old times in Burning Crusade.

I capped it off with stumbling on a crafting station out in the wilderness that enables you to craft dungeon sets if you have the mats and knowledge. I had some of them so I crafted my very first blue set piece in ESO – a sword from the Night’s Silence set. All in all a very productive day in Elder Scrolls.

I have been progressing very slowly on my Elder Scrolls Online character, but today I hit the giddy heights of level 15. This is worthy of a post as it means I now have the ability to swap between two weapons sets. My main is a sword and shield and my second set is a bow. So I can hit the bastards from a distance and then switch to my primary when they run at me trying to eat off my face.

I’m really liking the skills and talents and how they’re set up. The system is simple and intuitive and offers a crap-tonne of combinations. Once you have skills up to a certain level you are offered a choice to morph them into further abilities. However, you are limited to 5 abilities at any one time on each weapon set, which solves the problem of ability fatigue. This was a big issue in Age of Conan where there were so many abilities you never really understood what you were choosing and more importantly, whether or not you were choosing badly.

I also really like the way combat plays out in ESO. It’s nicely balanced between using your skills and just smashing your enemies on the face with your shield. Block works nicely, as does dodging and rolling away. I haven’t done any PvP yet, however, and I’m sure any weaknesses in the system will come to light very quickly when I make that plunge.

As for crafting, I’ve decided to concentrate on Blacksmithing. Crafting is the best I have ever seen in an MMO. You need iron to make items which you combine with a racial crafting item which you find in the world and also when you break items apart for their resources. On top of that you can research magical properties when you find a relevant item that has the attribute. This will consume the item and it also takes time; 6 to 12 hours being the range I have seen so far. I stuck a skill point into a very cool ability which gives me my own personal blacksmithing assistant. My assistant sends me items in the mail every couple of days, and so far I’ve picked up some powerful resources.

All of the stuff I craft is as good or better than what I’ve been finding in game at the same level. Which is great, as my Nightblade Assassin is now fully decked out in my gear. I have a rogue who wears heavy armor and uses a shield. Sound unlikely? That’s the great thing about ESO, you can do whatever sort of build you want. I’m dealing pretty good damage as I’m able to hold my own against mobs a few levels higher than me. It’s no cakewalk, but I think my build is okay. That said, I haven’t done any dungeon runs yet and there is a level 12-15 dungeon which I should have a look at. That will tell me how well I’m doing.

So overall very happy with how skills and crafting works in this game. The world itself, however, is one gigantic single player experience. I still have not spoken to anybody in game. And every zone I go to requires my help to make it a better place. Every single village and town has been taken over by bandits/slavers/wizards/demons/whatever, and I have to put things right. I’m a one-man army of saving the entire planet, and an MMO this does not make.

I’m still playing The Elder Scrolls and it’s like I’m at the bloody Alamo – I’m the last blogger standing as everyone else has buggered off to play Wildstar. Well stuff that. I’ve seen the shorts for it and its cartoony landscape makes WoW look like a Turner painting. And I paid my money for ESO so I’m going to stick with it for a little more time yet, (the good wife was with me when I purchased it and if I don’t give it a good run she’s going to put me on a bread and water video game diet).

But ESO, the music … what were they thinking? Why? Why? Why am I continually tortured by the sound of wailing and moody violins and some brain-dead choir mouthing empty platitudes of soaring fucking boredom? I can’t take it any more. I knew it was going to bad before I even started playing the game. You see, I got a CD of the music with my game purchase, and I stuck it on the car stereo and then recoiled in horror as the epic violin warbling erupted from the car speakers. Seriously, in the aftermath I came very close to collecting a gaggle of grandmothers who gave me very nasty looks indeed.

The music in ESO is shit. Shittingly shit to be precise and throw in an adverb that doesn’t exist. Why are they still putting music like this in our games? Why not some good deep house or electronica? Or fucking anything else. I’d go for opera at this stage. For those who haven’t had the displeasure, here’s a sample.

Play that in the background while you continue to read this post, if you dare. Now imagine having to listen to that while you’re running around attempting to kill ten floozies. It’s fucking annoying, that’s what it is. Oh, I know what you’re going to say – just turn the music off! But that’s not the point, I don’t want to turn the music off. I want to have some good music. Some original music. Not original as in some sorry prick wrote this shit, but original as in nobody else has done it before.

Please Camelot Unchained, please please please, some cool electronica. I would worship you forever. As long as my wife allows me to buy you.

The word is out that three rivs has passed away suddenly. It’s always shocking when someone young is taken. I don’t know the ins and outs of what happened, but I am very saddened by this news.

Rivs was a searcher and a seeker, and while I didn’t always agree with him, I respected his open mind and willingness to accept new ideas. He will be missed. I hope he’s playing the ultimate video game, wherever he is.

My first month in Elder Scrolls has been characterized by the fact that I haven’t been able to play very much at all. That said, in the last week I’ve logged on just about every day and I’ve had a couple of half-decent gaming sessions. That’s boosted me up to the giddy heights of level 8, but I’ve been taking things slow and pushing points into crafting slots which has inhibited somewhat my ability to smash bad things in the face. One thing has struck me, and the more I continue to play, the more it continues to amaze me:

This is an MMO with no player interaction. At all. Not one. I haven’t spoken to anybody and nobody has spoken to me. I see lots of players running around, and occasionally someone will jump in and give me a hand on something that I don’t need a hand on at all. I’ve cleared two island quest zones and player interaction is about as lively as Brazil’s streets in anticipation of the World Cup. I can think of a few reasons for this MMO’s startling lack of MMOness.

First of all the quests are pretty easy. I’m only taking one quest at a time and they’re always in the yellow zone, and I’ve never needed a hand. It hasn’t been a faceroll, it’s been about what I’d expect from a single player game. On one quest I died a couple of times at the same point, but then I figured out that the best strategy was to stun the mob and run away from it while doing a few charge attacks now and then. Got it on my third attempt.

The few times where quests might have been an issue, and I stress the ‘might have been’, the game has given me an in-game companion for the duration of the quest. They run along beside me, they attempt to kills things, and when I step back and let them bare the brunt of the attacks they soon fall to zero health whereupon they stagger around complaining of a headache until they get better. Also, if you do go along with somebody as I have done once with a friend from work, if you aren’t at exactly the same point on the old questing scale then you are not able to do anything together at all except for holding hands while you tiptoe through the tulips.

So quests, no reason to call in the cavalry. What about trading? Well … no, not really. I’m sitting on a few thousand gold already and all I’ve done is kill stuff and sell what they were carrying. All the decent items I find I melt down in order to get crafting points, but still, I’m swimming in gold at level eight for Chrissake. I remember in WoW when I got my first gold piece, it was a major event. Here the gold is falling out of my hip pockets as I walk down the street. I don’t even know if there is an auction house as I haven’t been bothered to check.

As for guilds, well, there’s always a few people advertising on general chat, but I can’t see the point. Why would I want to join a guild and spoil this perfectly good single player experience with having to actually talk to people? Eww! In short, the development team behind this game must have had some unique direction when designing this ‘MMO’. Because if this is an MMO then I’m going to have to suddenly start believing in man-made global warming.

I’ve just got wind of a new magazine called “Gamer Girls”. In an interview with the creator it becomes apparent that the salacious girls photographed in various semi-clad poses are possibly not serious gamers at all, but perhaps more of the type to play the latest version of Angry Birds on their phone while sitting in a lecture for their liberal arts degree.

Each to their own. It’s obviously trash, and also obviously going to make the publisher some short term cash. This is the beauty of capitalism and a free society – if you have an idea you can risk your money on it. The obvious beauty of this magazine is the all too predictable amount of indignant self-righteous outrage it has generated across the internets. Free publicity is a boon for any start-up, and this one has ticked all the boxes.

The outrage has flowed thick and fast. (Incidentally, this is the first time I have come across the Canadian online gamers site, and what a winner it is – I’m sure it’s going to provide me with many sources of abject stupidity into the future). The ‘article’ is so weak as to not generate even scorn, but the following comments are wonderful in the way they illuminate the very stupid. How about this little gem from commenter Niki Crawford:

“… As if that somehow negates the fact that this magazine is an embarassment to those of us who play video games. I am not basing my assessment off of the pictures alone, but the content as well. Which is weak to say the least. You are representing us in a bad light and we don’t like it …”

Where to start? The poor little dear just doesn’t get it, does she. This is the great trap with moral outrage and the ability to see offense in every dark corner; you’re prone to being taken for a sucker. If Gamer Girls magazine is representing anybody it would be girls with ample bosoms who will do just about anything to see themselves in a glossy magazine. But dumb little Niki honestly believes that she is being misrepresented. Hilariously, she would have less of a problem with the magazine if it had better content. This is insightful, as it underscores the fact that she believes that she is part of a special group, ie women who play video-games.

Not gamers, but women who play video-games. Because Niki and her cohorts would actually like nothing better than a magazine devoted to their cause. The reason that they are so very upset is that this publisher has twisted this idea around on them.

Some years ago the feminist bloc held protests outside crusty old city men’s clubs denouncing them as institutions of sexism and demanding the right to be admitted as a member. Of course now we have women’s clubs for just about anything you can imagine. In Australia there is even a Minister for Women, although the corresponding Minister for Men seems to have been forgotten about. So the goalposts of outraged sexism have had to be shifted. Now it is sexist if a game company makes strategic commercial decisions in order to give their product a chance in a highly competitive market environment. That embarrassment of an article protests the fact that images of women are not being used as game cover art. It ends with the question, ‘what are we going to do about it?’

Because they would like nothing more than to have the power to make these decisions. The sad thing is that they already do. It’s called designing your own game and marketing it the way you want. Taking a risk, like the guy who put out Gamer Girls. But these people don’t want to take a risk, they only want to censor those who have the balls to get out there and actually do something. The reason that the Left hate Capitalism so much is that it is a barometer for the truth of a situation. You can be as idealistic as you like, but idealism is nothing in the face of market forces, which is what people actually want.

Gamer Girls hurts them on every level. It sucks them into giving it free publicity, it traps them into believing that they are misrepresented, and it succeeds in spite of their lamentations. It is true brilliance, intended or otherwise.

Reports have been streaming in of a highly organised group of girth-challenged gamers who have a major problem with Blizzard’s approach to gaming and fatness. With more than 50% of the USA being overweight, the group are now clamoring for equal representation in the popular online game, World of Warcraft. The group’s spokesperson and figurehead, Eric McCallum, says that Blizzard’s attempts to marginalize them won’t be tolerated. Apparently, from what I’ve been able to garner from their fat-blog forum, which I’m not going to link to but you know you want to google it, they thought things were going well with the whole Panda expansion. I’m just going to quote from their site because seriously, I couldn’t make this shit up:

“… We thought we were going down a good road with the Pandas cause they’re fat and cuddly and all that, but now with the new expansion we’ve seen Blizzard pulling back and now its time to make a stand. We represent at least 50% of Blizzard’s US playerbase, at least!!, and they have to get with the program or we’re going to flex it for them to see! For a start, there isn’t one single fat statue in the whole of Azeroth. Think about that, not one overweight statue. That’s just symptomatic, man. Symptomatic of this whole conspiracy against fat people. If there was one major lore figure on Azeroth who was fat, then by rights there would be a statue to match this figure, and then we could figure on at least some representation …”

And it goes on and on and on and fucking on. I find it highly amusing that they reckon they have 50% of the US player-base. I would have thought that it would be much higher than that. So they’re asking for new classes, (apparently the monk was too ‘fit’), fat monsters and mobs and even a whole raid based around fatness. I kid you not, this shit is making the feminazis look downright reasonable. Soon they’ll be wanting a whole fat city. Christ knows what they think of the Undercity with its rather thin undead population.

Anyway, I’m wondering what’s next. Not enough Muslims in WoW?

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