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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Love It and Loathe It - ESO Phasing

4 comments
I've been continuing my adventures through the world of Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls Online recently (and spending far too much time in the PvP game - I really must get back to levelling properly). I've hit level 20 (yeah, like I said, far too much time in the PvP battles of Cyrodiil) and joined a great guild (Stout 'n' Sturdy, my old LoTRO kin), and I'm still having fun with the game.

There is no doubt that the PvE part which makes up the bulk of the game is a themepark experience through and through, but Zenimax have tried hard to make the world appear to be dynamic, and changes you make on the world during questing are seemingly permanent. It's a fantastic feeling to rescue a village from daedra attacks as it burns to the ground, and every time you visit after that the village remains rescued, the fires doused, and the villagers remembering your heroism. It's such a nice change to be able to fix the lighthouse that slavers had sabotaged and then see it shining every subsequent time you visit.

Let's save this village!
For a world which is built on lore (even if much of it is pretty generic) it's a small, but high impact change to the feeling of adventuring through a world rather than a game zone. The Old Repuublic did a bit of this, but it was all tied into small instances, shut off from the rest of the world. It really is the most dynamic feeling themepark world I'd played through in a long time.

I LOVE it!

Yet, I also LOATHE it.

All of the great benefits of the dynamic world only work if you are playing solo through the game. If you never group up you might never realise the huge problems Zenimax's solution to the dynamic world problem brings. And I like to group. I have a regular group of real life friends I play the PvE levelling game with, and a great guild to assist as well. The vast majority of the time I am adventuring through Cyrodiil it is with at least one other player, and often more.

The problems arise because of the technology Zenimax has used to deliver the dynamic feeling to the game world. The open world isn't really open at all, but is a series of pocket instances or phases. There is no zone line into these phases, and if you were soloing alone you might never realise they are there. They are a little like the zero load-time instances in the The Old Republic, but without a big green gate to pass through. But they are there, and they cause all sorts of issues when trying to group.

The easiest way to explain is by example. I have already rescued the village from the daedra and put the fires out, and the villagers are back working in the fields and rebuilding their homes. My group mate, let's call him Kaelkardian (because that's his name), hasn't done that quest yet. As we approach the village Kael just disappears into thin air, with no warning. I can no longer see him, interact with him (other than via chat), or help him in his quest. He has entered a different phase to myself. In my phase the village is already rescued, in his he has to fight off the daedra and put out the fires. I won't see him again until either we both leave the immediate area of the village or until he finishes the quest to the same stage as myself.

It's a hugely frustrating system to deal with when you are trying to adventure with someone else or help someone on their quests. The only way to avoid it is to purely play solo, or to ensure you are all on the same stage of every quest at all times. I want to be able to play the game with my friends, it is an MMO after all.

Zenimax are aware of the issue, and need to try and find some way of fixing it. They could go the Guild Wars 2 route, with their dynamic events, but that means change is never lasting. Eventually the village in the example above will be attacked and burnt down again, and the villagers won't remember my prior help. If my friend isn't in the right place at the right time he might never see that quest. I'd prefer to see them try a different solution to the problem.

Things might be looking up - Zenimax are going to address the phasing issues
Unfortunately I cannot see a way of doing it without somehow levering in a mechanic that will feel clumsy and out of place. A button to click to move into your group mates phase for example, would certainly do the job, but take away from the feeling of a dynamic world.

Perhaps a system like LoTRO uses to allow players to replay instances, via the use of Reflecting Pools. A telling of past tales or a revisit to past memories for example.

There's little we as players can do about the issue right now. It's a trade off in the search for more dynamic theme park worlds that we will have to learn to live with for a while yet and work around. At the moment the trade off seems worth it to me, but as I continue to level I can see myself becoming more frustrated with the system.

Still, at least there is always another keep to besiege in Cyrodiil.

4 comments:

  1. This phasing issue was one of the major reasons I didn't buy into ESO on launch. During beta, I thought it was really neat that the world changed permanently... until I returned to that are with a friend and discovered I could be no help to him at all in finishing that quest. It divided me from my friends, which is the opposite of what an MMO should be doing, in my opinion.

    For me, that's a huge flaw that I can't overlook. I'm interested in seeing what they're going to do to address this, but feel that this system's flaws should have already been handled before launch. Like you, I'm not sure what they can do -- I hope that the developers will surprise us and work their developer magic here!

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    Replies
    1. Well, we are still managing to find things to do together at the moment, but it does mean I can't help friends on some quests I've already done. It does need to be addressed though, and it's a shame because the game does a lot of other things right.

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    2. The phasing during beta was very bad, you couldn't see your group most of the time. They did do some improvements already and now your group members don't always vanish. You can right click a group member and travel to them which should put you in the same instance as them.

      I think that has worked when on different parts of the quest but I cant be 100% certain. I have a char I solo mostly and group up to do dungeons etc with but I also have an alt that I only play with a friend, or at least I only quest with them, if you stay on the same parts of the quest then your right there is no problem at all. It has always been a bugbear for me in MMOs where you dont group as I find it makes the game much more enjoyable in a group.

      It is probably impossible to have a system that lets you help a friend on a quest and no break your immersion (you cant help rebuild a town if you have already built it) but I would like to see some sort of "mentor" system similar to EQ2 or STO, where you right click the group leader and "match" their instance, that way yes you go back to seeing the burning building but thats through choice and so you can therefor help a friend.

      I am really enjoying the game though a lot more than I feel I should even with the solo play. I dont have as much time as I did in the past and so being able to solo does actually help and I'm enjoying the story/quests some are very entertaining. I do prefer being grouped though as I have had some good laughs while questing but I have found we tend to level faster and things do die very easily!

      With the introduction of these adventure zones I guess I hope it will help allow people to do more group content together thats not just dungeons. Its a shame that it is vet level but still its more of what I want to see in the game.

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    3. Good points Radi. The game has improved massively since beta, that's for sure. I'd like to see a Craglorn type zone for lower level groups too. One thing we always have fun doing as a group is heading to Cyrodiil and doing some of the PvE quests in the PvP zone, which isn't instanced at all.

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