Elder Scrolls Online: Exploration Rewarded
I’ve gone back to visit some old MMOs, the ones I really loved but needed a break from for whatever reason. The three titles I’m referring to are: The Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World. Each of these I played a LOT (with SWTOR being the one I played the most). This is part 3 of the series and I’m moving into Elder Scrolls Online.
I’ve always been a rabid fan of the Elder Scrolls series, all the way back to Arena. I spent entirely too much time on Daggerfall but finally ‘completed’ my first game when Oblivion came out (I played Morrowind but never got far into the story for whatever reason). Skyrim sucked a lot of time from me so when ESO came out, skeptical as I was that an MMO could do it justice, I tentatively gave it a shot through the open beta.
I was not disappointed.
The open beta was magical. It really felt open to me (I know some people disagreed, especially with the tiered ‘tutorial’ approach of Coldharbour > Island concept). I started a character, ran out into the world and mined some ore. From there, I ran back and made myself some decent armor and weapons. I then began tinkering around with some quests. The interface comes from Skyrim so it felt immediately familiar.
When the game came out, they made some last minute changes (I played 2 weeks before release). They made it so when you finished Coldharbour, you ended up in your faction’s starting city. You could then go back to the island and do the tutorial stuff. It didn’t fit the story for me and I felt like they should’ve stuck to their initial deployment of new characters.
Still, it didn’t impact the game too dramatically. Once you went back and dove in, the game progressed as it should’ve. The bigger change, and I can only substantiate this having leveled up two characters, came from mob XP. They seriously nerfed it. Grinding was fruitless so if you were a little behind, you couldn’t run out and kill stuff.
The only ways to level were thus: questing, world bosses, delves, exploration and anchors. If you did EVERYTHING in every zone, you’d be able to keep up with the leveling of each area. I couldn’t do the world bosses alone and didn’t do the dungeons but took care of everything else. As a result, I ran the game 2 to 3 levels behind throughout my first play through (ending the main story at 47th level and having to grind up to 50 through the next VR zone).
My first character was a Sword & Shield Dragon Knight. This made it pretty easy to survive encounters I might not have had any business attempting. There were frustrating moments (fights with bosses could be more challenging than necessary) but ultimately, it was a good experience climbing the ranks from 1 to 50.
I’m a story person and this one delivered big time. I started in the Daggerfall Covenant and throughout, you meet various people who show up time and again to help you with quests. I worked with them all the way through to the climactic battle. The results meant a lot more because many of those guys you grew with. They became better just as you were and this is true of all 3 factions.
The main story is a private journey with some pretty amazing voice actors and great heroes. It’s an epic tale and definitely one of the high points of the game. By the time you finish everything, you’ve had a real impact on the world of Tamriel, so much so you are pretty much a legend. And unlike other games, you genuinely feel like it.
System wise, the game works great. Combat is intense and feels dynamic. It is action oriented, meaning you can dodge attacks and motion is rewarded. I would argue it feels a bit ‘console’ since they only allow you to slot a specific number of powers. Considering how many powers you eventually get, it’s hard to decide which is best but ultimately, you’re going to feel pretty powerful regardless of class.
That’s something else nice: you could be a Dragon Knight wielding a destruction staff while wearing light armor or you can carry a two handed sword as a Sorcerer. The choices are yours. Templars act as healers and can be either paladin types with full plate or go for a restore staff and light armor. The choices are yours and however you want to play, you can. You get plenty of skill points to make the character that fits you so they really opened it up.
Crafting has meaning in this game. You build your own stuff and it actually works. You don’t have to rely on drops as much this way and my favorite part is you can craft set pieces providing you have enough traits to do so. You get traits by researching them (breaking down existing items with the desired trait). These take time (at the beginning, a couple of hours but it gets up into real world days). Once you have them, you can build stuff that provides some fantastic bonuses.
Your mount is upgradable. You can enhance your steed’s carrying capacity (add inventory slots), speed, or endurance. You can do one every 20 hours, meaning it’ll take a while to fully upgrade your horse. I personally don’t ride around on my mount very often because there’s so much to find in the world, I tend to just walk, collecting crafting materials, finding lore items or fighting the occasional mob.
So why did I stop? I clearly loved ESO a lot. There were a number of factors. First, I can’t remember what game came along that nabbed me but I’d already finished the main story of ESO and faced the long grind of Veteran Ranks (a convention they’re doing away with at the end of May). The way it works is when you finish all the quests in a faction, you can then move to another fact as a Veteran and start playing through their overall story.
I didn’t have it in me to start that way and I would’ve rather done it with a brand new character, something I hadn’t played before. So I put ESO away for a while and turned my attentions elsewhere. I came back because a friend picked up the game and started playing on the Aldmeri Dominion. I hadn’t been through their story yet so I made a sorceress. Please note: it was a while between my play times and they made a LOT of changes!
Where my Dragon Knight struggled at 3 levels behind every zone, my sorceress was two to three levels BEYOND the zone I found myself in. Furthermore, bosses that gave me trouble with the sword & shield fell without much effort against my destruction magic. I tore it up and when I neared 50th level in record time, I wondered 2 things: 1) Did they really change the game this much? And 2) Was the Sorcerer truly that much more bad ass?
Of course, I knew the game better and I understood where to spend my points. As I dove in, I maximized my early skill points and really turned her into a demon of destruction. I tore through the mobs and I think she might’ve died two or three times (in a dungeon with my buddy I believe). I also knew to research early on so she had set gear by the time she hit level 20.
That play through really kicked ass and when she finished the main story, she was nearly VR2! Huge difference from my poor Dragon Knight having to grab 3 more levels just to be on par. What happened this time? End game still didn’t appeal to me, especially alone. And my friend who came back ended up having his account terminated thanks to the vendor he bought the game from (Zenimax decided it was not legal or something).
Even though the game had gone free to play, I shrugged it off for a while again and needed some incentive to come back. And they found it too.
When they released the thieves guild, I very nearly stumbled over myself to go back. It was one of the big things the game was missing when I played through the first time. Any devout Elder Scrolls fan knows there’s a guild for thieves, warriors, mages and assassins. This was a fully realized expansion where you would go through a story quest, several side quests and hang out in a new zone.
I dove back in with my wood elf thief on the Ebonheart Pact and had an absolute blast. It’s one of the best expansions I’ve ever played for an MMO and by far the most rewarding. I got to the point where I was playing without even thinking about the time spent (dangerous) and really drown some hours on it. I had that old experience: just one more event, one more quest, one more person to talk to.
On the horizon, we’ve got the Dark Brotherhood, the assassin’s guild. I’m looking forward to that as well and will very likely still be playing my Wood Elf through the Ebonheart pact quests to finish up their storyline. This most recent return to ESO has not terminated and I’m still deeply involved. Paying my rogue has been awesome. She’s a little assassin wielding 2 daggers and taking anything not nailed down.
The larceny system is great. You have refuges where you can sell your stolen goods and get your bounty taken care of. There are passive skills to assist you with your thieving and you definitely feel the bite of the law. It’s a little cheesy that the guards can’t be killed when they come after you but beyond that small element, the game rewards you by making you feel like you’re a wanted criminal.
I think ESO is one of my favorite MMOs. I like Star Wars for the story better, The Secret World for customization more but ESO sincerely falls perfectly between the two. You’ve got great story, character choice and a huge world to explore. No game rewards travel as much. I recommend it highly for the console or the PC (I have it on both). You won’t regret your time spent in the online world of Tamriel. It’s a great place to visit.
Author of several books, composer of several CDs. Please check out the rest of the site for some of my work.