Tamriel Infinium: Our 2017 report card for Elder Scrolls Online

    
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All in all, 2017 has been a fabulous year for the Elder Scrolls Online, and although I have been light on talking about the game recently, I have jumped in regularly to explore Vvardenfell and Clockwork City. This year ESO saw its first expansion and dare I say its greatest addition to the game: Morrowind. But that shouldn’t diminish the other great stories in the Horns of the Reach and Clockwork City DLCs. Also, ESO introduced one of the best player housing systems I’ve ever seen with Homestead earlier this year. I really don’t know how ESO is going to top 2017.

Let’s pull apart the accomplishments of ESO this year into my standard for grading MMORPGs: The Bartle Taxonomy. MMORPGs are wonderful because of the breadth of different activities that players can participate in. They draw together many different kinds of players, and Bartle’s Taxonomy breaks these players into four different categories: Socializers, Achievers, Killers, and Explorers.

Most people will be a blend of two or more of these categories. I’m going to measure the merits of the game based each category individually using a scale you’ll often find in American schools: A, B, C, D, and F.

Socializers: A

I think there is one major thing that tips the scale of for socializers in Elder Scrolls Online, and of course, that is Homestead. I like WildStar player housing, I think Star Wars: The Old Republic housing is serviceable, RIFT‘s Dimensions is probably the best in the industry, and World of Warcraft‘s garrisons are trying to be forgotten. I would place ESO‘s housing on par with if not slightly better than WildStar’s housing. It’s less interactive than WildStar‘s housing, but it’s a side and social feature. Where WildStar mechanics make it almost a necessary part of the game, Elder Scrolls Online Homestead is completely optional and are made to fit the player’s style versus trying to shoehorn it into some kind of arbitrary objective.

There are some things that are missing on the social side of ESO, but not many. They have made group finder a bit better and the autoscaling zones make things interesting for casual groups. But instancing is still an issue in earlier levels. And guild communication tools could use some work. But none of these are terrible, they just could be better. The most irksome part for socializers will be the cashshop because many of the best fashions are tied to the shop, and there is no way to trade these fashions with other players.

Achievers: B+

I know I simplify the desires of achievers by suggesting it’s just filling up bars. But there is great satisfaction when filling up bars and getting the rewards for filling those bars up. Many of the times, achievers like to have things just so they can say they have those things. I get that.

Although there are a lot of bars to fill in ESO, it’s not the bars that are the most important part of the game for achievers. The dye system is likely the most important. It’s probably more important than the actual achievement tracker because the dye system allows you to show off your achievements outwardly. I believe that it is an interesting way to show off the new and old achievements. It allows you to have the armor look you want, but at the same time you can show off that you’ve achieved some difficult goal.

On top of the actual achievements, ESO is full of different challenges and odd, hidden achievements for achievers to hunt for. It’s possible that I just haven’t noticed or found them, but I believe that ESO has slowed down its achievements this year or perhaps the only ones that I noticed are gained via normal gameplay, which is not exactly what achievements are about. Because of this, I didn’t quite give it an A, but it’s solid, regardless.

Killers: B

I have never liked the word “Killers” to describe the people in this group because I have always believed that their motivation was beyond killing other characters. They are in it for the competition, and just as importantly, they like to know where their skill level is when compared to other players. And this is the important part when we look at the new things that ESO offers.

Let’s talk about Battlegrounds. I am very glad that these instanced PvP arenas exist, but unlike other games where there seems to be a concerted effort made to get the arena’s meticulously correct and unique, Battlegrounds are a checklist of required basics. I’ve said this before in my mid-term report, and nothing has actually changed since then.

The other thing that seems to be dragging PvP down for the Killer is balance. Of course, PvPers are going constantly complain about how everything is unbalanced how one class is better than another. And this is likely true with ESO, not because the developers aren’t trying to keep things balanced, but there are just too many possibilities in ESO. Classes aren’t built by just the class you choose at the beginning, but by the class, the weapon, race, and questlines during PvE. There is just too much to keep in check.

Explorers: C+

While every other category in this game has gained traction since the mid-term report card, exploration has gone down a tick. I will give ESO points for giving us an all-new zone to explore. It’s really a great looking island full of beautiful landscapes to screenshot, but it’s not expansive. And to top it off, the place you really want to get to, the giant volcano in the middle of the island (Red Mountain), is completely cut off.

While the above isn’t terrible, the additional DLC that focuses on instanced content like Clockwork City and Horns of the Reach stifles exploration that much more. Although some might be surprised at how expansive Clockwork City actually is given how contained it was in Elder Scrolls III, it still wasn’t that explorer friendly since it was really geared toward the questlines and not much more.

I don’t think that ESO and its DLC and expansions are terrible for explorers; I just think they are barely above average, and that’s mostly because the POIs and landscapes are beautiful.

Cliff’s notes

Let me close this out by saying that I think ESO is amazing, and using this way of judging misses some important parts like storytelling, which I think ESO excels at when compared to the average MMORPG. You run into surprisingly deep characters throughout the game, and the lore is complicated and intriguing.

Your opinion is just as important as mine. How would you grade ESO? Let me see your report card 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 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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JoeCreoterra
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JoeCreoterra

I don’t mean to be rude in the least… but a C+ in exploration? In one of the games that currently should be near the top for that category. I’d love to hear which games are B -> A+ rated for exploration.

This part of the article really makes the author seems as if they spent a few hours maximum playing, or have a bone to pick with the game.

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touchofkiel

Exploration is the only reason I played the game in the first place. But the level scaling completely killed it for me – I had a viable build, playing precisely the way I wanted to – something other MMOs simply do not allow – and after the big update, even solo dungeon trash can kill me if I’m not careful. Mid-bosses wipe me, and bosses feel downright impossible. World bosses? Pretty much impossible in the ghost town that is the older zones. On top of all that, just about everything is 3x as tedious to kill.

So it was a pretty big disappointment when I installed, because the exploration in this game is what really drew me in. Even in the old level-gated days, it never felt like I was being strung along a given questing path.

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nomadmorlock9

Wow. One of the biggest complaints currently is all content is too easy since the scaling. You must be extremely low level to have a challenge with normal world content and I would question your statement about your build being viable. I don’t think your comment represents the game at this point well at all. I don’t see how you could even have an unviable build for regular world content.

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touchofkiel

In all fairness, I’m only level 35-ish. I have a bow-based NB. Prior to the update, the content was too easy – I was following the leveling path, more or less, and I was never overleveled for any of the content. Now I’m just a glass cannon… a weak cannon, at that.

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Gibby Grant

Judging from what I see from other MMO’s on the market, ESO is still the main one that grabs my attention. I consider BDO the main contender for ESO, but BDO sounds like a crazy grind fest based on the reviews of my guild mates who left for BDO and came back recently. But ESO still has some work to do if it wants to be(remain?) the top dog. Some general QoL enhancements would definitely help…ESO should incorporate the functionality provided by the top ~10 add-ons into the base game, because they really improve the game (e.g. default inventory management tools are almost non-existent, default guild trader functionality and market tools are woefully inadequate, etc.). These lack of add-ons especially undermine the console ESO experience (thankfully I’m on PC, but still that really sucks for console). Then there are money-grab aspects that I don’t think are cool…like by default it takes ~60 real world days(!?) to fully upgrade your mount’s speed (for each character you create), because ESO restricts you to one mount upgrade a day. Mount speed is really helpful for getting around, especially in PvP…so Zenimax has stuck mount upgrades in the cash store and for about $60 in crowns you can fully upgrade your mount speed if you don’t want to wait 2 months. Oh and by the way…for each character you create it takes 180 days(!!) to fully upgrade all aspects of your mount (speed, stamina, inventory) if you don’t use the cash shop.

I agree with your critique on the exploration. While ESO’s Tamriel is a beautiful world, it’s a bummer how many times I’ve found myself bumping into invisible barriers while exploring it. Would be nice if they revisited all of Tamriel and allowed one to navigate most of it, so for example going from one zone to the next it would be awesome to cross anywhere on the zone borders rather than be funneled into these comparatively narrow inter-zone roads & paths.

cambruin
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cambruin

I seem to join the sentiment of most: C+ for exploration? That sounds very unfair. Then again, A for socializers is very generous.

I really like the community in the game, but that 5-guild thing only serves merchants I feel, it leaves common folk in guilds having 75+ or so online at all times, without anything ever being said in chat. I also really dislike the megaserver thing as a RPer, they should really introduce an RP toggle and create a dedicated RP-layer.

But the exploration? Come on, there’s lorebooks and treasure chests to find, there’s the eye-thing on the map, there’s no clear path to follow, … This C really is far too harsh :)

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Jdawg Playsgames

Do not agree with the exploration part I find it to be probably the best I have seen in quite awhile.

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Wanda Clamshuckr

I don’t think that ESO and its DLC and expansions are terrible for explorers; I just think they are barely above average, and that’s mostly because the POIs and landscapes are beautiful

using this way of judging misses some important parts like storytelling, which I think ESO excels at when compared to the average MMORPG. You run into surprisingly deep characters throughout the game, and the lore is complicated and intriguing.

Generally, you only find the lore by exploring the nooks and crannies of ESO.
..which you gave a C+

Have to disagree with your Explorer score, as in your previous report card. You can quest yourself around the new areas, like in all the areas of Tamriel, and will only see 60% of what the game has to offer. You need to get off the beaten track and find the hidden goodies (delves, lore, NPC’s) to fill in the rest.

Besides. The DLC’s and expansion aren’t massed together zones like what you normally traipse about, as per the entirety of the Ebonheart Pact, or the Daggerfall Covenant. They are additions to the whole, which only adds to areas to explore. Saying they take away from exploration, or diminish it, is absurd.

I’m an explorer. ESO does not disappoint in that regard.

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Knox Harrington

I don’t know what I’d grade it, but the Warden has been the single most disappointing addition to this game in my opinion. They really dropped the ball on it. I came back to the game just for the Warden. When I saw the trailer and the dude was whirling up a frosty storm around him while his pet bear went off and fucked shit up, I got hyped but they never delivered on that hype. Wardens are the weakest everything in the game. Weakest tanks, weakest DPS, weakest healers, weakest support.

Everyone assumed the new class would be super overpowered because maybe they’ve got memories of when other games added new classes, like the Death Knight in WoW, but ZoS went in the opposite direction perhaps as a knee jerk reaction to people’s foreshadowed cynicism. And how I really want to play my Warden, I can’t because the class skill lines are not flexible. If a skill line is meant to be a tank, you can’t really change that, even with the ability morphs.

I wanted to be a Nord wielding a big 2hand axe, charging into battle and augmenting my damage output with some frost magic. While I did manage to make a build that could do this, it was severely lacking in performance within a group setting, where you’re expected to be a dual-wielding Khajit or something if you want to fill a DPS spot. This is another problem area for the game. There is a stark contrast between build variety and what’s actually viable. Sure, you can build your character any which way you want, but if you want to tackle the game’s challenging content, you’re going to be funneled into a very narrow way of building your character.

So for me, what ends up happening is that I come back to the game once a year when they put out a DLC that interests me, but then once I’m done with the super casual content where race/class/build choices don’t matter, I put the game back on the shelf. And it’s sad because I really want to play the game; I just want to play it in a way that I enjoy instead of embracing a cookie cutter build just to reach the required damage output for group content. Hybrid builds flat out suck. You have to go either full stamina or full magicka. It’s really limiting. At this point, I’d rather they had just made Elder Scrolls 6 instead of an MMO because there’s no way they could give us the full flexibility of the ES series in an MMO setting without balance being even worse than what it is. Oh well.

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Sashaa

I would add a bit of nuance.

I wanted to be a Nord wielding a big 2hand axe, charging into battle and augmenting my damage output with some frost magic.

From the start, your goals were unattainable, as it is well known that unfortunately, hybrid builds are not viable at endgame, except if you’re a tank, of course. ZOS should have revamped the game to answer your wishes, which was not a reasonable hope for such a dlc/chapter, and if it had been ZOS goal to do so, they would have heavily advertised it.

Also, your claim that Warden is the weakest of classes is not supported by most players experience. Actually, the warden is the second best heal and second best tank right now, with the range of support it brings.

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Knox Harrington

They must have buffed it since last I played because it was very weak when it first came out, and I don’t mean weak in the sense that solo/casual play was a chore because leveling for me was a breeze, but then again, leveling is a breeze in this game period no matter what you do.

As you said though, hybrid builds are not viable and this has more to do with the way ZoS has built this particular game. Hybrid builds have been more than viable in past ES games. I conquered the planes of Oblivion with my battle mage. I’ve longed enjoyed those sorts of classes in high fantasy games. And the way I built my Nord Warden… my Norden, if you will… was still effective for solo play mainly because I went full stamina.

I only had a couple magicka abilities from the frost skill line which gave me an AoE root, damage, and heal over time. But the impact these abilities have on performance is minor, even if I went full magicka because they are skills from a class line that was designed for tanking. I like the ability morph system. I just wish they would do more with it. But as I said in my original post, it would cause even more balancing problems.

They have taken steps to make hybrid builds more viable, like adding armor sets like Pelinal’s Aptitude, which makes your Weapon Damage and Spell Damage both become the highest of the two values. But say good bye to your resource regeneration capabilities compared to other options. Even tanks can’t really go full hybrid. They just augment their play with secondary abilities like I was doing with my character.

I think they could make hybrid builds more viable and it wouldn’t take an entire DLC to do it. I just think they don’t want to create extra work for themselves just to appeal to a small subset of the community who doesn’t want to give up the hybrid playstyle. Losing my business is what they’d probably call an acceptable loss, seeing as how every time I cancel my subscription, I tell them it’s because of the lack of hybrid options and it has yet to change. If more people do as I did, they might pay more attention to it.

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Sashaa

Well, we’re in agreement here, for the most part. I too would like to see ZOS work on hybrids but I’m just a bit more pessimistic than you are. I only differ about tanks, as long as I’ve been playing one being an hybrid has been part of the equation, and it still is now (maybe even more) that health tanks interest has decreased. I would not hold my breath for that kind of class balance though, unfortunately.

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John Schmitz

I’m amazed you can give only a C+ for Explorers, and still say “this way of judging misses some important parts like storytelling”. That’s a lot of what you find when exploring. Maybe this is a grade limited to just what was released in 2017, but even so I don’t see how you can justify such a low grade. I can’t ever finish everything in an area before the new area rolls out!

I would argue that there are too many walled off areas, or cliffs that force you to search for the one and only way to a given objective. But I’d still give it an A-.

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Sashaa

I agree, I was surprised by the C+.

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Alex Willis

I agree. I really enjoy the exploration element of the game.

hurbster
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hurbster

Nice article. My favorite dlc is still Wrothgar because it was so open to exploration. In fact I found some quests in the middle of nowhere the other day, got a cheev for completing them and then got a new quest in Orsinium which then granted me 3 costumes. I sub (they had me at the craft bag, to be honest), so I generally have a look at the costumes on the shop with the crowns I get for subbing and get anything I fancy. You also get up to 3 crates free each season, got a few bits and bobs from those.

Was there enough in Morrowind to justify it being a chapter rather than a part of the sub system ? In my opinion, yes (just). I fired up ES3 when Morrowind drop just to compare and I think I forgot just how damn slow your movement speed was.

K38FishTacos
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K38FishTacos

Boots of Blinding Speed + resist magicka + Levitate