Final Fantasy XIV clocking the most hours, so that's the perspective I'll be coming from.
This being an MMORPG it's a slow burn experience, so you'll be seeing a lot more time compression in this article than you're used to from SAG. Ray and I played this beta for about three days, which for an MMO is actually not far in at all.
We begin of course by logging in, which comes after the lengthy installation and setup that precedes most any MMORPG. I'm greeted by a short placeholder video that consists of text on a slideshow that tells me that my character is some poor schmoe who gets taken to an underground ritual site and carved up, and then wakes up without a soul in Oblivion, which as far as I know is hell. Then we get to see what our soulless protagonist looks like.
(Click the screenshots to view the 1024x786 resolution originals.)
There are nine races available, three for each of the three factions: the Daggerfall Covenant, the Aldmeri Dominion, and the Ebonheart Pact. However I can't tell too much about what the strengths, weaknesses, or special abilities each race has from here other than what's on the general description so it's a bit of a shot in the dark and I couldn't decide what I wanted to pick at first. There are four classes you can roll as - Dragon Knight, Sorcerer, Nightblade, and Templar, which reads to me like "magic melee, mage, thief/rogue, and healer warrior".
A GOOD 20 MINUTES OR SO LATER.
A ghostly character called the Prophet gives me direction as some random prisoner breaks me out of my cell, and I proceed to join what looks like a huge prison break. With no idea what's going on I run in the direction of everyone else and eventually get to choose a weapon from various weapon types. Surprisingly I didn't go for the giant two hander this time and picked dual axes.
Another thing I've noticed is how minimalistic the interface is - this is completely new to me as other MMORPGs I've played or seen usually had interfaces ranging from busy to overcrowded.
|World of Warcraft (PC)|
|Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC)|
I proceed to the next area, where generic fleeing prisoner names are replaced with goofy fleeing player names heralding the end of the tutorial tunnel.
Leveling up gets me an attribute point which I can spend on one of the three "bars" here, and a skill point. Skills are handled differently from what I'm used to - there are skill categories specific to weapon types and armor types as well as categories inherent to the class I selected. It seems I can pretty much use most any weapon type or armor type I want with any class, which sounds like a lot of awesome character-building to me.
I'm used to having a lot more slots on screen, but this limitation adds an interesting dynamic to the game where you have to choose your skills (and consequently your build) wisely, since you can't just fill the screen with buttons.
I exit and find myself in an eastern-looking port city on an island zone at night and decide to meet up with Ray.
We didn't do a whole lot in the beginning and mostly explored the town, looted boxes, and attacked not-so-defenseless mudcrabs. I am also introduced to zone chat, which is constantly full of whining and boasts a general lack of maturity. Unfortunately this is very familiar territory with regards to MMORPGS.
Not that I ever needed an excuse to ransack a house in an RPG, but the incentive is much appreciated.
LOTS OF RANSACKING AND AIMLESS WANDERING LATER...
I'll be honest, my initial misgivings and awkwardness have been mostly forgotten and I'm having a blast. I like how wide and open this zone is and how we're encouraged to look around and explore, even by quest giving NPCs who are apparently too lazy to give us more quests. Granted we're stuck on the same zone which is a giant island, but there is a lot of things to find and see within this one zone.
We spend a good several hours in this island engaging in various activities such as doing quests, failing at doing quests, wearing disguises, failing at wearing disguises, and all the exploration and fighting in between. We don't really feel the hours pass as we're moving more on our own pace rather than any pace dictated by the game.
BUT HOURS PASS NONETHELESS...
Eventually, Ray and I run out of quests and things to do on the island so we decided it was time to do the last quest and leave. Interestingly, some of the quests we did contributed to the final one, which was a nice touch. Completing this got us on a boat off the island and onto the next area.
I generally skirt the edges of the island beating up crabs and wolves and trying in vain to search for treasure on a treasure map I found, completely disregarding the reason I'm really here, while Ray is probably off somewhere else being a proper hero and fighting actual enemies. Probably.
COUNTLESS DEAD CRABS/WOLVES LATER AND NOT A SINGLE TREASURE LATER...
This results in a surprising phenomenon - you actually want to help random people you see fighting because you have nothing to lose by doing so. One may think this is a silly notion, but because of shared loot and looting rights and the mechanics in place to enforce them in other games, often people just ignore each other because they see it as wasting time with no reward. Some of the detractors of WoW and its peers argue that MMORPGs are devolving into solo experiences, and this issue is one example of that, one that this game is doing a fine job of bypassing so far.
I haven't mentioned bugs much because betas exist to fix such things, but out of the ones we've encountered this was the first to truly stop our adventure cold. Thus, we decided to make characters belonging to another faction.
SOME TIME AND EXHAUSTIVE CHARACTER CREATION LATER.
We blow through the same prison from the first time and jump into the pillar of light with Prophet in tow once again.
We didn't spend as long of a time here though, because it got late and I couldn't stay awake.
I don't know how much of an effect this is going to have, but the orcs join the Daggerfall Covenant as a result of me making the right choice in their eyes so that works for me. We get a ticket off the island to go report the news to the bigwigs at Daggerfall, hilariously on a ship full of the same pirates I recently pissed off. That had to be a really awkward naval voyage...
AN UNREASONABLY LONG TIME LATER...
We decided, this far in, that we might as well try the third faction, the Aldmeri Dominion. Thus, we did the requisite 10-20 minutes or so in character creation followed by running through that hell jail a third time and got on with it.
Or we can turn to more pressing concerns, like jumping off things or testing if the wildlife is fireproof.
It's worth mentioning at this point too that the game is fully voice acted. Even the most random bystander has voice acting. It's nuts.
COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF FISH ELF SLAUGHTER AND HEROIC RESCUING LATER...
I looked around and saw that the sun had come up so I figured it was time to call it a night.
Regardless, with the beta coming to a close, I decided to spend more time looking around than doing quests.
MEANWHILE, IN THE ALDMERI DOMINION...
The game had been pretty easy so far but here at the end, at around level 9ish, difficulty started to creep in and I was actually dying to things other than bosses, so that was a good thing. It'll be interesting to see how the rest of the game shapes up, and if you'll be forced to rely on allies to get anywhere good. There hasn't been any pvp either since we didn't get to level 10 where it unlocks, so I'm not sure how that's going to work here.
So, as a guy new to Elder Scrolls but used to MMORPGS, what do I think? Personally I enjoyed the game and want to see more of it, and this beta has gone a long way towards dispelling my misgivings about it.
Coming from the aforementioned big MMORPGs, it definitely plays and feels differently. If you're going into this game from a competing MMO, you should be prepared for some changes, and perhaps even the loss of some conveniences such as with the UI issues I mentioned. You're not categorized into tank/dps/healer type class roles here and are instead given skill categories to mix and match. The combat system feels a lot more like a hack and slash game rather than a WoW-like with cooldowns and skill rotations and whatnot. Things like cosmetic enhancements are nowhere to be seen at this time too, which I know is unacceptable for some. There are no instanced dungeons yet - they are instead open, shared zones, which could have a problem with crowding.
However, if you are able to look past that and enjoy the game for what it is, there is plenty to love here. I feel this game is good at what it's trying to be, which is not a World of Warcraft clone. That's why we end up not really needing a huge UI or instanced dungeons or super-linear road map quest chains, because this feels more like a cooperative hack and slash game in an open world than a big structured MMORPG. I enjoy the pace of the battles and the fact that characters classes don't follow tank/healer/dps templates. I definitely love how deep and detailed the world is, not just from NPC dialogue, but from all the exploration you can do and the little things you find here and there. Hell, I see other players in this game as possible allies and fellow adventurers, not strangers, obstacles, or enemies, and that's huge.
So yeah, if you're open to something different, by all means try this game. Even though we don't know how the late game will be, I can at least say with certainty that what I played was damned good fun. If you're coming from something like WoW you should be prepared to check some things at the door. Step inside though, and you may just find plenty to love in return.