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.