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PAX East 2013 : Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online

March 25th, 2013 1:20pm EDT

Wildstar Online vs Elder Scrolls Online Last weekend, I went to my first ever PAX Convention, and let me just say – there was a lot to do. While the show floor was filled to the brink with awesome single player, multi-player and even arcade games, two MMOs in particular grabbed my attention right away.
Let me just start by saying I'm not really what you would call a 'hardcore' MMO Player. I played WoW on one character (Worgen Druid) which I got to level seventy before quitting. I attempted other MMOs from time to time, but I always seemed to lose interest quickly. Combat wasn't fascinating enough, crafting was repetitive and the social aspects of most current MMOs are really just... lacking.
That being said, PAX had two show-stopping MMOs on display, and playable – one you've probably heard of, and one you may not have. Which one got the edge up? I'll walk through a little compare and contrast and let you do the deciding.

Elder Scrolls Online

I think most gamers are familiar with ESO. It's the hotly anticipated Zenimax MMO that is a precursor to the much beloved Elder Scrolls games. People have been waiting for years for Bethesda to announce an MMO taking place in Tamriel, and now fans only have to wait a little longer.
I spent a good amount of time playing ESO, and I can confidently say that it's shaping up to be 'okay.'
Just 'okay?' Why not great? Why not legendary or fantastic?

The game looks like Elder Scrolls. The art is meticulously crafted to appear in every way like something you'd see during your play through of Morrowind, Skyrim or Oblivion. The characters models are well detailed, and every NPC has a voice actor (many of which were unfinished so, they sounded like Microsoft Sam.) Every NPC has something to say to you, even if it's only one or two lines, and it zooms right into their face ala the other Elder Scrolls games. The map is sufficiently large and covered in interesting locales (more on that later.)
During my play through I had the option to play as a member of the Daggerfall Covenant (one of the three available factions) – so I played as a Redguard Dragonknight. That's right folks, there are classes. There had to be some concessions made – the game just wouldn't be fun if everyone could run around doing everything like you can in Skyrim. So, there's that. Your class restricts what armor and weapons you can use, as well as the abilities you have access too. ESO will limit characters not only by experience but by class. You have a good deal of flexibility in this. Every time you level up, just like in previous games, you can put an attribute point into one of three disciplines – strength (health), mana and stamina. Also, each successive level grants you a skill point to distribute to one of your class' three skill trees. The skill trees grant you access to certain combat techniques, also a new addition to the game.

Combat works a little differently in the Elder Scrolls online, as well. While the battle system is active and real time (you click to auto attack) it feels a bit clunky for melee characters, such as the one I played. Right click swings your weapon while left click uses it to guard or lifts your shield, not unlike previous games. The game started me out with a sword and shield, but I quickly ditched that for a big two handed sword.
Combat initiation for ESO is standard fare; an enemy sees you and a little symbol pops up above their head. Any character can crouch to sneak, but it only seems to make any sort of difference when sneaking from behind. The geometry of the level offers decent cover, but the mobs I fought against had such a limited cone of sight, it didn't seem to matter too much. Since my attacks didn't seem to do any bonus damage when sneaking, it looked like attempting stealth might really only benefit rogues.
As a dragon knight, my first skill was in a slam move that knocked opponents to the ground, and my second point was in in a skill that shot out a Scorpion-esque fire-hook that pulled my enemies to me. Every character also has an interrupt attack, in the form of a shield bash or pommel strike that you can use at-will by clicking left then right mouse buttons.

PvE Combat was, again, fairly standard issue MMO Combat. It was fun enough, and it usually just meant that I would attack and attack and attack until the enemy started glowing red or yellow, which meant the enemy was charging up for an attack. A a yellow charge meant that you could interrupt them with a bash, and follow up with a 'power attack' (holding right click) to knock them over. A red charge meant you could stop the cast with a knockdown. Overall, this felt a lot like previous Elder Scrolls games, yet somehow less fluid. I don't want anyone to think that the experience was buggy or bad or marred in any way, but it certainly didn't inspire me, and it didn't feel like the 'breath of fresh air' that I was expecting from such a momentous game.

My quests brought me all over; from Dweomer ruins to a pirate infested city to a goblin encampment. All of these places felt very 'Elder Scrolley' and aside from the natural graphical concessions that are necessary in an MMO, these locales were familiar and filled with some old enemies I had seen once or twice before. When I talked with the developer and voiced my concerns that I was fighting dwarven spheres at level four (I didn't fight them in Skyrim or Morrowind until a much higher level), he assured me that enemy tiers and types were scattered across the land, so that you were never really fighting the same enemy across multiple zones. That put at least some of my fears to rest.
I don't think we need to spend any time going through the intricacies of the inventory system, or the quest log or the map (though marking your map is somehow slightly confusing) and it is safe to say, all these elements are working as designed and fit their purpose.
To conclude on the topic of ESO, I want to stress that the product I tested was, of course, an alpha and not necessarily indicative of the final product. And, there was a LOT I didn't test. The Zenimax team showcased PvP for the very first time, (by the way, any DAoC Fans will be familiar with the system) which was something I didn't even get a taste of, especially since I hardly left the starter zone. Overall, the package looks the part, but currently lacks the feel that made Elder Scrolls games so distinct. I do have high hopes and expectations for this game, and hopefully with a little fine tuning, Zenimax will prove my current evaluation terribly misplaced.
Elder Scrolls Online releases sometime in 2013.
Visit www.elderscrollsonline.com for more info and for a chance to enter the upcoming beta.

Wildstar Online

I spent significantly less time playing Wildstar. But the time I did spend playing it was absolutely awesome. I believe it would not be an understatement to say that Wildstar is the biggest reformer in MMOs since WoW. Features that are making their debut in Wildstar will be future standards for MMO excellence. And that's a very big deal, especially when the current market is so saturated with things that we have all seen and experienced ad nauseum.
While the Elder Scrolls has three factions each complete with three races, Wildstar only has two, each with four races. Instead of traditional fantasy, Wildstar is a sort of 'space western' – so fans of 'Firefly' or 'Outlaw Star' will quickly fall in love with the setting, while fans of games like 'Ratchet and Clank' will undoubtedly be enamored by the game's fun animations and quirky sense of humor.
For my twenty minute demo, I was instructed to play as a member of the 'Dominion' – Wildstar's preeminent and authoritarian'Galactic Empire' (seems to be a must-have for any sci-fi game these days.) Only three of the four races of each faction have been revealed – and I played the Draken, a race of dragon-like predators. I had a couple classes available to me, and I chose the Stalker; a tanky/dps oriented melee character.
After I picked my class, I was given the option to chose a path. The developer on hand told me that paths was Wildstar's attempt at further tailoring the game to individual play styles. Not only did the game give you quests and events based on races and classes but also by path. I had four to choose from – Scientist, Soldier, Explorer and Settler. I went with Soldier because it seemed to be the natural compliment to my Draken's class, which involved lots of killing. The other paths might have offered me other, different quests which I no longer have access too, but that just made me want to create another character to find out what, exactly, that path was all about.

The game plopped me into a barren wasteland set, where I was free to roam. Let me get this off of my chest; the biggest issue I had with the game was the movement. The 'a' and 'd' keys rotated your character rather than strafing left and right. Since your character feels like he/she has a certain weight to them (they have a running gait or gallop; they don't just glide across the land) I can see why the control layout was designed in this way. However, it doesn't mean I have to like it. There was also a handy little sprint button, which nearly doubles your movement speed.
My combat skills included a bunch of rapid attacks, a pounce attack and a hard hitting critical attack. Like ESO, there is no auto attack, so every attack skill must be measured and used to it's full potential. This makes you constantly have to keep an eye on cool-downs. Also, attack skills don't just 'go off' when you click the button. Instead, they sort of need to be 'primed' and then aimed before they use the skill. Anyone who has played League of Legends is familiar with this.

To go into further detail, your attacks (and the attacks of your enemy) are telegraphed. You can effectively see when and where attacks are coming from. For example, one of my attacks does damage in a semicircle from my character. When I prime that attack, a semicircle displays in front of me. I make my decision on where I want to attack from, fitting as many enemies into that 'telegraph' as I can before actually using the skill. It works in reverse as well. When an enemy primes an attack, I can see their telegraph. This gives me time to move out of the way or at least minimize damage by not staying in the area of effect for too long. While this might seem to be an 'easy' way to evade enemy attacks, telegraphs can be quite varied, from a single long rectangle to quickly appearing circles mimicking where a bunch of bombs might drop. This means that you have to be very measured with your movements, is standing In the way of the impending attack worth the damage? It's an executive decision you need to make, especially now that you see it coming.
The game includes quest markers and a way-point system not unlike Dead Space, where a compass appears momentarily over your head pointing to your prime quest destination, at the click of a button. I didn't experiment too much with inventory management or skills because, frankly, I was enjoying killing stuff way too much.
When I remarked that big feline predators were roaming across the map in packs and actually seemed to be 'hunting' grazing mobs, he told me that there was a sort of ecosystem implemented; certain mobs reacted to certain triggers across the map; grazing animals went where there was grass and water, and predatory animals stalked the grazing animals. It was all very cool. He also told me that areas can actually be over farmed, and that creatures didn't always just 'spawn' instead being dropped in from orbital crates, which you could actually see happening. It tied into the story of my race in particular, but I won't go into too many details here – but be rest assured, it is safe to say it was a unique and immersive way of coupling gameplay and story together.

In case you couldn't quite tell, I really enjoyed my time playing Wildstar. I hope we see more of this exciting game soon, because I really think it's going to be a treat for the MMO crowd who aren't looking for the same rehashes served up to us under different skins, over and over again.
Wildstar Online Releases sometime in 2013.
Visit www.wildstar-online.com for more info and for a chance to enter the upcoming beta.

I don't think there is any real winner or loser in this particular comparison; at least not until both are finished and released. While I undoubtedly enjoyed my time with Wildstar more than the time I spent with ESO, both MMOs are sure to please MMO crowds.
While I think the originality and innovation awards go to Wildstar and it's relatively unique mechanics, there is a great something to be said about the scope and vision that ESO brings to the table; animating a world which has so much rich lore and back story such as Tamriel is undoubtedly a daunting task. And while the Elder Scrolls Online has not yet lived up to my expectations ,there is still plenty of time for it to do so. On the flip side, however, Wildstar has to compete with the fame and name of the Elder Scrolls, and reputation is tied very closely to success. Wildstar's innovations, for all their value, simply might not be able to compete with the Bethesda stamp.
Only time will tell.

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Photo Credits: Zenimax, NCSoft

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