Tamriel Infinium: Why I changed my mind about Elder Scrolls Online

When I took the trip to ZeniMax Online Studios to check out Morrowind a couple of months back, I was sitting at a table with other games press and a handful of ZOS developers, including Creative Director Rich Lambert and Lead PvP Designer Brian Wheeler. The conversation wasn’t exactly off the record, but it wasn’t really an interview setting either. We were just talking, mostly about our lives: how Brian had to leave soon because he might get in trouble with his girlfriend and how Rich spent many overnights at the same hotel that the press had been staying in because he was at the office late and had to be there again early the next day.

During the course of the conversation, we ended up talking about how the press had originally received the Elder Scrolls Online and how it received it since the console launch. It’s not a big secret that I said some pretty critical things about ESO shortly after its PC launch. Rich pointed out during the conversation, possibly not knowing the outlet I was from, that he was surprised at how the opinions had turned around, especially Massively’s. And when he said “Massively,” I don’t think he realized that it was specifically my opinion that had that changed, drastically, since I’ve been the site’s ESO columnist since before the game’s launch.

Look at that. Opinions can change, people can grow, time moves forward. Take that, internet, and quit putting me in a little bubble. So why did it change? And why should you maybe give ESO another chance?

A transition from linear storytelling

Just as in all Elder Scrolls games, there is a main storyline that leads you from one area to the next where you are some savior of the world, Nerevarine, Dragonborn, or whatever they are calling it this year. However, the difference between ESO at launch and every other TES game that I have ever played was I could not abandon that main quest and go do whatever else it was that I wanted to do.

As ESO was incubating, there were plenty of MMOs launching and other game titles being released where you were the sole hero of the story. Star Wars: The Old Republic and World of Warcraft had you leading the quest to save everything. Of course, SWTOR took it to the extreme, while WoW only had you become best buds with world-changers, but the point was the same: The world would have crumbled around you if you didn’t exist. These were highly successful MMOs, so it’s understandable if ZOS felt that emphasis should be placed on that primary storyline.

Your primary questlines, the faction story, and even many of the zone-wide storylines in ESO made your character out to be this great and wondrous hero of the ages. I don’t mind those stories, as a general rule, but unlike previous TES games, ESO gave the impression that there were few options.

Then the Justice System launched.

The Justice System gave players the option to pickpocket and outright murder nearly any NPC in the game. There were problems with this system, and it certainly didn’t give us everything that we were wanting, but it was clearly a huge change in focus. We stopped being forced into this one-dimensional ideal of what the one-true-hero was supposed to be. We could be a mass murderer! And the ensuing DLC releases (Orsinium, Thieves Guild, and Dark Brotherhood) all built on this idea that you could be something other than the good guy — you could be whatever you wanted.

Making all paths important

Many people believe that One Tamriel dumbed down quests and made everything far too easy. In many respects, that’s true, and there are some convincing arguments about how One Tamriel was actually bad for the game. I’m not going to disagree with any of those specific points right now. But given the new focus of the game and the emphasis placed on player choice, I think One Tamriel had to happen.

The epic storylines in ESO are great. The voice acting actually surprised me in many places, not to mention Michael Gambon (Dumbledore himself!) giving voice to your guide through the main questline, the Prophet. So when I say that those quests needed to be taken down a notch, I don’t mean that the quality should’ve been stifled in any way. But in order for the game to feel like an Elder Scrolls game, players had to feel like there were other just as important things to do that could progress their characters.

My current character is probably the best example of the kind of progression that Elder Scrolls Online needed when the game launched. I practically have all of Tamriel now to tell my character’s story, so I wanted her to start as a thief — not a good one, perhaps — who then travels to Morrowind to discover her Dunmer roots. To perpetuate that tale, I started my brand-new character in Hew’s Bane (the Thieves Guild DLC), then hoofed my way toward Mournhold, doing the Deshaan questline along the way. When it came time for the quest to steer toward Shadowfen, I decided that there was no way my character would go there, so I marched toward Skyrim.

The best part was that it worked! It was a perfectly viable way to level up my skills. I didn’t feel as if I was compromising the character, and I felt that I was steering the narrative, not some committee of developers.

How about you?

I don’t think all the problems with ESO are fixed, and many of the remaining issues that I have with the game are unique to me. I still have major issues with the Champion Point system, for instance. But when Rich Lambert said that he was surprised by the shift in Massively’s and then Massively OP’s opinion regarding the game, I suspect it was really me. My opinion of the game shifted from one of great disdain to one of great praise and admiration, and I think that helped lead our team and readers to praise it during the past awards season.

I’m interested in your opinion. Has your opinion of ESO changed since its launch? What sort of changes could the developers make that would entice you to play it more? Also are there any other MMORPGs that have changed for the better as they aged or has there been one that shifted your opinion of it drastically since its launch? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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.
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53 Comments on "Tamriel Infinium: Why I changed my mind about Elder Scrolls Online"

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I also returned after Morrorwind and everything turned out very enjoyable and immersive compared to the starting days.

However, there are at least 3 points I’m beginning to notice that bug me.

1. The Quests are RARELY well written / profound in order to enjoy and only FEW synchronizations are convincing (goosebumps).
2. There are no children NPCs in this game, which makes everything just weird.
3. The Item Shop. You’re kind of forced to pay for the subscription in order to get around 10 DLC’s. lol. If you buy the DLC’s single-handedly you’d pay like 2 years of subscription money without getting its benefits. There’s no way to get shop items by simply playing (except events, if you’re lucky), which is a huge flaw considering the amount of naturally obtainable Mounts/Looks/Pets being artificially scarce.

I don’t really like it. The shop is necessary but I hate the fact they’re nearly impossible to get without paying. But who cares


Are you kidding?! ESO did a complete 180 from the time I started in Beta to the time I returned three months ago. And Morrowind coming in June? Yeah… I’m good for now.

For me personally One Tamriel was a crucial turning point. I come from EQ where exploration was a huge piece and before One Tamriel this wasn’t possible in ESO and severely limited and restricted my gameplay. so I left.

But now? This game speaks to me. Can’t wait for Morrowind.

Blood Ravens Gaming

My opinion of ESO has changed drastically in the last 2 months! I recently came back to the game due to some friends (previous guildies) wanting to get back into it again because of Morrowind. My one stipulation was… if the performance was still bad I wasn’t staying. Well, we now have a 130+ guild with Trial and PvP groups forming LOL. Needless to say the performance (even in Cyrodiil) has been improved. The rest of the fixes I will wait and see if they get remedied.

One Tamriel is nice. My only real complaint about it is the main faction cities should have been off limits to other factions. I really do not like the fact that we are waging serious war for control of Imperial City and the throne, yet we are welcome in ALL the cities and towns of the other factions!!! I understand it was easier to release all the content, but from a lore/immersion perspective it makes no sense.

All in all I am very pleased with my re-entry into the world of Nirn and look forward to Morrowind, Wardens and especially battlegrounds!

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As a lover and vocal defender of the game (formerly Chuki792, & Chukii) since I played the Beta, I saw the potential of the game and was sure Zeni could pull it off!
I found it atmospheric and very slick. I wasn’t concerned about the fact it wasn’t as open world as Skyrim, since well, I had Skyrim for that!
That said I did understand people’s consternation, even if I didn’t agree with it.

Now, I’m not blowing my own trumpet here… I also feverishly defended SWTOR!


I feel the real ESO community is on Elder Scrolls Online Reddit. More mature conversation than I find on the official forums.

I think some people take the game too seriously and think any change is some type of major nerf to one part of the game or the other. I simply play until its not fun anymore … and right now I have no fear of that happening anytime soon.

Alex Malone

Can’t really comment about ESO specifically – I always found the combat too simplistic and it killed my enjoyment very quickly, and as far as I’m aware that’s never changed.

But, regarding MMOs that get better over time, I’ve yet to play one. I tend to find that within each major release, things get better as they fix bugs and add more content, but inevitably they release an expansion which makes the game worse overall.

Main reason for that is that as numbers dwindle, for some reason devs feel the need to dumb things down to attract…..who? I don’t know why they do it, but every single expansion for an MMO that I’ve played has ended up dumbing down combat mechanics, dumbing down the content and reducing group content. I’ve never understood that as it reduces the lifespan of your game instantly. Are there really gamers out there who are too dumb to play MMOs at release and get attracted back when things get easier?


I think that has more to do with the fact that the mmo market is so full now.

15 years ago, there was half a dozen popular mmos, and they were still finding their footing with brutal leveling and gearing and combat.

Then Wow broke the mold and made it more accessible for the masses and took a huge share of the market, since then a lot of studios tried to emulate the wow formula and with modern technology it’s easier than ever for any Tom, Dick or Harry to build an mmo, further crowding the market.

Aside from the hard core players who stuck to one mmo, either from nostalgia or brand loyalty, most modern gamers have short attention spans.

People who grew up with wow and everquest and the oroginals are in their 30+, have jobs and families and group finders and easier more solo content appeals to them when they only have a limited time to play.

I don’t raid anymore cause I can’t stay up as late as I used to because I have work the next day, and my weekends are more full with my SO. That’s anecdotal, sure. But I believe it’s true.

Gamers also seem more inclined now to instant gratification, who spend hours a day for weeks to get that shiney when I can pay 5 bucks, and while people gripe about lockboxes and cash shops, they are obviously pulling in enough money to justify them.

Each new expansion probably IS dumbing down the content. Take wow for instance. The max level is now 110, players habe to slog through vanilla and 5 expansions to get to the current stuff most people are playing, if they can’t get through that content fast to get to the “real” game, they are more likely to quit early and try another game or go back to others.

Unfortunately, the golden age of mmos is over.

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I’ve always admired ESO, but still greatly appreciated the changes they’ve made. It’s been my favorite MMO since its launch, and it has done much to cement that position with all the improvements.

The one thing I wanted to comment on that Larry mentioned, and is very true for how I react to an MMO, is how well it allows you to bring your own imagination and story into the game, and how well it is accommodated. As Larry said, these changes, especially including One Tamriel, really make ESO shine in that respect.

Yes, it has drawbacks, but for a player like me it’s definitely for the best. If they could provide some information/guidance that let you maintain linearity *within* regional stories, so you won’t meet someone who greets you like a long lost comrade even though you haven’t actually met them yet, then it’ll add a final layer of polish to the provided flexibility.

I’ve been pulled in to a bunch of single player games recently, e.g. Horizon Zero Dawn, Persona 5, and especially Mass Effect: Andromeda (which I’m liking way more than the often negative reception it’s received from others), but as those wind down in the next couple months I’ll very much be looking forward to ESO Morrowind picking up the slack.


If you can pull out its strengths which are of interest to you, ESO becomes an amazing game to play as long as you don’t overplay it.

Long story short: Pre-ordered, It Sucked. Tried to get it to work for me for over 3 years more times than i can count, update 12 saved it for me as my interest as an explorer was triggered.

I love to gather, i love to explore, like to craft, and when i find a zone i really like atmosphere wise I’ll do the story arc and side quests within.

If you don’t overplay this one it stays great, if you play it too much it can get pretty stale fast. Currently most of my time is in MEA, with some BDO and ESO and yea, ESO seems to always keep me engaged.

Daniel Miller

Honestly it is a great game for storytelling.. The world itself does get repetitive, and to limited with skills you can equip and use at once.

My biggest issue with it though is crafting. While i can buy the crafting shops style in the shop, find in open world,, or buy from a ah, I can’t use those styles on most end game year. This really undervalues and is frustrating, why add modifs to a cash shop i cant use on my gear sets.

Hence i kept a sub for many months, got 15k crowns, then they add an expansion, lol crowns no good. Noremely I only buy dlc with crowns. If they fixed the issue i mentioned, I logged in more, crafted more and their be no need for their lock boxes.

Anthony Clark

Love ESO. It has grown so since launch.