Online:PAX East 2013 Tamriel Beer Garden Event Report
This is an informal report of the Tamriel Beer Garden event that I (Daveh) attached in Boston at PAX East the night of 23 March 2013 and, more specifically, information on ESO gathered from watching the game, play testing, and chatting with the devs.
The Event Itself
A short description of the event itself to begin with: The Tamriel Beer Garden was held in The Castle Meeting Place which is a large single-room hall basically filled with 100s of eager Elder Scrolls fans and PAX attendees. All events in the hall were "paid" for using real Septims, 20 of which were given to everyone with an option to win or buy more.
- Food/Drink - Sausage on a bun and onion rings along with a good selection of Tamriel drinks.
- Gambling - Win or lose Septims on a roll of the dice.
- Mercantile - Purchase a selection of Tamriel gear (I missed this as I was hanging out in the game play area the entire time).
- Photo Booth - Take a picture with cosplayers.
- Game Play - Play the game for 20 minutes.
- A medieval type band.
In addition to these was a small VIP area for invited members of the Elder Scrolls and gaming community with a few ESO game play stations and a bunch of developers.
Elder Scrolls Online Impressions
I spent the majority of the 5 hours of the event in the VIP area watching people play the game, playing the game myself, and asking questions to anyone wearing a black Zenimax-Online shirt.
Caveat Lector (Reader Beware)
One should note that the following impressions are from only playing the game for 15 minutes, watching people play it for hours and from the various discussions with the developers themselves. The game is just about to begin its official "beta" period and the general feeling I got was that while much of the content and game engine was "done" there was a lot to be finished in terms of quality assurance and tweaking the game play. Features mentioned here may well be changed by the time the game is released.
The game play session was slightly limited in that we could only choose races from the Daggerfall covenant and so always started in Daggerfall. The available characters were one of 4 of the standard prototypes (warrior, mage, thief, cleric) and started at level 5. Character creation is pretty standard compared to prior ES games with a choice of first&last name and then appearance customization. The customization is pretty similar to most games these days and from using the "random" option I noticed there is a very wide range of possible appearances within a single race, seemingly much more so than in the single player ES games. No doubt this will be important in people wanting to create a unique and recognizable character.
From character creation we were thrown directly into the game without any tutorial or guide although the basic controls and game play should be familiar to anyone who has played a RPG/MMO in the past few years. Third person view was the default although first person view was available but not yet complete (no weapons shown when fighting). First impressions was that the game felt and looked similar to Skyrim and had that undefinable Elder Scrolls "feel". Character/NPC models are roughly on the same detail level, the architecture and scenery are gorgeous, and there are plenty of things to look at and explore. There are plenty of times I found myself just stopping and looking around at the scenery. Definitely better looking than I remember vanilla Skyrim being and I assume the computers being used were high-end with most graphical options enabled.
Combat is roughly similar to vanilla Skyrim with basic swing, block and power attack options. You have 5 hot buttons you can assign to a variety of spell and combat abilities. These abilities appear to have levels which advance as you use them but I didn't get to play enough to explore the skill/spell tree at all. Roughly from memory there are three classes of skills (Class, Weapon, Armour) with each class having 3-5 sub-types and each sub-type having 7 or so skills divided by level (or roughly 60-70 different skills/spells/abilities). Definitely fewer spells than found in the existing ES games but hopefully enough to make combat interesting.
The user interface is extremely simple and leaves almost the entire window to the 3D world display and only a few elements along the borders, some of which are hidden until needed like the HP/Mana/Stamina display which is only shown during fights.
Quests and NPC interaction are similar to that in Skyrim as well. Conversations zoom you in on the NPC with the background blurred but beware that being a MMO this doesn't pause the action around you. Dialogue is all voiced and in the same style as Skyrim with a few responses showing which ones you've already used. The few quests I tried were simple but integrated relatively seamlessly into the game. Objectives, whether NPCs, locations, items or doors were hi-lighted with a dim glow making it stand out but not too much. Quest objectives were marked on your map but without a compass like in Skyrim showing the exact direction to go.
Playing a new game for 15 minutes doesn't give you much chance for exploration but towards the end of my game play session I tried to run/swim as far away as I could. Within the region map just moving 5 minutes does move you a lot on the map. The feeling was very similar to Oblivion or Skyrim where the game area is relatively small in "real" units but is packed full of things to explore. Within just a few minutes of exploring I found a wayshrine, a burning hamlet, a haunted tower, and a collection of ships offshore. My very rough guess that each alliance area is at least a few times the size of Skyrim/Oblivion which, given the amount of time those games took to explore, should keep most people busy for a while.
On UESP and Lore
One comment that almost all the devs had was their use of the UESP as a regular lore and information source. I think all admins/editors here should be proud at the fantastic Elder Scrolls resource we've built!
The Devs Themselves
All of the devs I spoke to seemed equally excited and enthusiastic about the game as I was. The feeling I got was that they all are aware of the high quality of standard that Elder Scrolls fans have of their games and are doing whatever they can to live up to and exceed it.
A common theme when the question of release date was brought up was "when its ready". Since the game's beta period hasn't yet started they are waiting to see how much feedback and tweaks/fixes will be required to get the game in shape for release. While I'm sure most fans would like to play the game sooner I think everyone would rather ESO's release goes as well as possible.
A bunch of miscellaneous notes and game features observed:
- An interesting lockpick mini-game. Unsure exactly how it works as I didn't try it myself but looks like a good balance of fun and difficulty.
- After you reach level 50 you can experience the other two alliances by reaching level 50+ and 50++. Note that it sounds like these are separate from the low level alliance areas.
- Stealth appears to use stamina which was limited to around 1 minute of use. You regenerate stamina if you stand still.
- The environment appears to have plenty of things/loot to find your way into your inventory.
- Inventory system looks like Skyrim's with a simple character doll and an item list which can be filtered by various item types.
- The few loading screens encountered were very brief. Even starting the game from the desktop seemed quick by comparison of most games.
I was merely a little excited for Elder Scrolls Online before the event but now I absolutely can't wait to get into the game more! Hopefully this good first impression will last through long term play of the game. More questions and follow up on my experiences with the game can be found on our forums.
Other PAX Links
There are lots of write ups on other sites on people's ESO experience at PAX:
- Shadowmare's ESO Overview - A good/short summary of game play features.
- MMO Reporter Video - A great video interview with Brian Wheeler covering many aspects of the game.
- Tamriel Garden Pictures on Pinterest
- Tamriel Foundry Play Through
- MMORPG Impressions
- Polygon Preview Video
- NVidia PvP Interview
- Game Skinny Lead Gameplay Designer Interview
- TESO-RP ESO Write Up
- PAX Gameplay Tutorial Video
- ShoddyCast's PAX East Wrap-Up PodCast
- GameBreaker ESO Hands On