Tamriel Infinium: Four reasons Elder Scrolls Online's Homestead tops other MMO housing
Traditionally, in this Tamriel Infinium column, I have been extremely critical of The Elder Scrolls Online, and I promise you, I'm sure I'll lob criticism at the game in the future too. But I also like to give proper praise to video game developers when they do something extremely right, and that’s the case with Homestead.
My first MMO experience with housing was probably very similar to every other old-school MMO gamer's experience with housing: Ultima Online. But I didn’t really play UO for a very long time, only a month or so. My first real experience was in Star Wars Galaxies. Unfortunately, that game is shut down now, so I can’t show you just how powerful and creatively flexible that housing was. Since then, I’ve experienced housing in a number of different MMOs. I’ve seen EverQuest II, Lord of the Rings Online, WildStar, and of course, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Although some of these housing systems have elements that I really like, I don’t think any of them reach the level that ESO reaches. And to help illustrate what I mean, I’ve compiled a list of four reasons that Homestead is better than those other MMO housing systems.
Instanced, but in-world
Bree and I livestreamed some of the houses and how parts of the system worked yesterday (assuming the upload goes well, you should be able to see the whole thing a bit later today on YoutTube), and the number one thing that impressed us about the overall mechanics of the homes in Homestead was the instances themselves. It wasn’t the fact that they were instanced or that they had gorgeous aesthetics like pools or rippling streams -- although it’s true that they had those things. Each of these instances felt as if it were still in the world, despite actually being in its own phase.
For example, the Gardner House, which is one of my favorites, sits in the middle of Wayrest. When you step out of the house into the yard, you are literally in Wayrest, but still in your instance that you can decorate the way you wish. Of course, there is a giant wall between you and the town, but you can see all the surrounding houses, and if a member of your group is in Wayrest, you can see her on the map, as we tested on the stream. And the reverse happens, too. In Wayrest proper, you can point to the Gardner House and show people what the house looks like.
For me, it’s a level of immersion that you don’t see in other instanced houses. Although many of the houses in EverQuest II sit in cities, most are little more than a door on some building. SWTOR and WildStar have great instanced houses, but you cannot really point to a map and say, "This is where my house is." And non-instanced houses like in UO or SWG litter the landscape, plus there was no (legal) way you could get a house in one of the major cities.
I say that terrain alignment is a feature that ESO housing has over other games, but it’s more what terrain alignment represents, which is two-fold. First, it means that novice designers don’t have to get everything perfectly right in order to make a decently designed house. Second, it can be turned off, which means that it gives freedom to those who want to just go all out with decorating.
I saw some amazing things created in SWG. Some of the designers in that game were true artists. They would mix together items that shouldn’t belong together and create absolutely unbelievable set pieces. But if you were a novice, it was daunting. That’s why many houses in that game ended up just being bags of stuff floating in the middle of the room. However, the basic idea that you can align items with the terrain makes for quick set ups, say, if you want to have company over for dinner. And items like plates and food will align with a placed table instead of the floor if you want to go that route.
Games like WildStar have systems where you can place anything practically anywhere, so the idea of placing a chair on the ceiling isn’t really a new idea, but it does demonstrate the flexibility I mean. We have already seen people build houses inside other houses, but honestly, the creative flexibility doesn’t end there with Homestead. The design tools make the possibilities endless, and I’m excited to see what other people build.
This seems like a small thing: When I have a candle on a table, I would like to be able to light it and blow it out. Simple, right? I appreciate how difficult it is to design lights that turn on or chairs that you can sit in. But it’s these seemingly simple touches take a good housing system and make it great. During the livestream yesterday, Bree gave ESO praise for taking Homestead seriously, rather than just slapping in half-baked housing in to shut housing nuts up. It’s refreshing to see a triple-A game take a housing system seriously instead of attempting to make it into a half-assed alternate achievement system.
Movable pre-set furniture
Some housing systems have preset markers or hooks for your furniture; others have specific items that appear in very specific places when you buy them from a game system. I am all for cutting down the time and skill that it takes to make a serviceable home for your character. But some games like World of Warcraft or SWTOR, like to take nearly all control away from the player. And this house that’s supposed to be a personal hideaway for the player. But if my hideaway begins to look like every other hideaway, then it’s not very personal.
ESO gives options. There is a pre-set furniture layout for every house that you can buy with Crowns, which again is great for the novice or lazy or time-constrained player. But ESO goes to the next level by adding those housing items to your collections. This means that you can pick them up are place them however you want or even add to the pre-set furniture.
All right, that’s enough from me, it’s your turn. Have you had a chance to jump into ESO to mess around with Homestead? What do you think? Does it outshine other housing systems? It’s at the top of the list of best housing systems for me; where would you rank it?
Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online. Larry Everett will be your guide here in Tamriel Infinium every other week as you explore together the land created by ZeniMax and Bethesda. If you have any burning questions, send them his way via email or via Twitter.