If you’ve been following the Tamriel Infinium column at least since my own arrival at Massively OP, you may have noticed my propensity for lists. Perhaps it’s an easy way for me to break the narrative apart into smaller, loosely coupled segments, or perhaps it’s just how my mind operates.Elder Scrolls Online, particularly now that it’s taken home another GOTY award from our site. I’m going to set aside my critical eye (for now) and revel in some of the best aspects of what has become my favorite MMO – in list form!
I will occasionally peruse the ESO subreddit and am constantly amused at the number of people who start a thread to the effect of “I’m level 50, now what do I do?” I’ve even snarkily replied to them; once, I informed a poster that he’d completed the game and there was nothing more he could hope to accomplish – a sarcastic reply that was thoroughly and rightfully downvoted to oblivion.
I guess it’s just difficult for me to understand the powerlevel mindset in a game with such careful and interesting storytelling as ESO. The Elder Scrolls franchise has always been about the story, at the very least your story, an element that’s carried over into the MMO version. Among the wider themes of spiritual and political struggles throughout the land of Tamriel are numerous smaller stories filled with nobles and townsfolk, each making their own contributions to the larger direction of history – you among them. It’s probably my very favorite thing about the game, so a failure to appreciate it is impossible for me to wrap my mind around.
While this is closely tied to the story, I think that the characters themselves deserve a special mention. ESO has the benefit of an existing world, with a history that has already been hinted at via the lore books of earlier single-player titles. These breadcrumbs from devs of games past leave us wanting to know more about the events and characters referenced within. Some of these (the Tribunal, the leaders of the factions) make appearances that flesh out what we already knew of them in greater (and lifelike) detail. Other characters were invented specifically for ESO (Naryu, Razum-dar, Abnur Tharn, Lyris) but are so likable that they have spawned dedicated and sincere followings within the playerbase.
The content cadence
One big problem that MMOs of the past faced was the slow release of new content, at that time usually referred to as merely patches and expansion packs. Even the most casual of player would burn through the new content in a matter of weeks, leaving weeks or even months of repeating quests and or/dungeons until the next new thing came along. Many times, players would simply stop playing after finishing the new content and not return to the game until the next major release.
In my estimation, ESO has addressed this eternal MMO problem by releasing four moderately sized updates every single year. This quarterly cadence is frequent enough to keep players in the game throughout the course of the year, yet it allows enough time for the anticipation of the next stage to build. In other words, we get a lot of new content without feeling buried by it.
The crafting bag (inventory)
I know, I know. The crafting bag is accessible only for ESO Plus subscribers, which makes it a prime complaint about the game. But it’s so good that it deserves mention as one of my favorite features.
Personally, I loathe inventory management in MMOs. The last time I decided to get back into LOTRO, for example, I took one look at my full bag and immediately logged back out without taking a single quest. I don’t want to spend my in-game time shuffling items around or searching out the nearest banking location. ESO’s infinite craft materials bag in conjunction with (purchasable) portable bankers and merchants has all but eliminated one of the most annoying foibles of the genre.
Now, if only it weren’t locked behind the subscription…
Who doesn’t love a continent thick with every type of biome imaginable? From the swamps of Black Marsh and snowy Wrothgar to the volcanic ash of Vvardenfell, the beauty of this land cannot be overstated. The longer the game is active, the more regions are added to the game – and the more landscape is available for exploration. Iconic locations from the single-player games are realized in fantastic detail. Red Mountain, Riften, and Imperial City (if you don’t mind a little PvP) are all there for players to enjoy and experience in a time period that was only previously rumored in whispers and tomes. Towns come to life with NPCs chatting about some mysterious hero’s latest exploits. Exploring the countryside of Tamriel can be a real treat, with some curious locations providing more questions than answers.
Some MMO players complain about overly complicated character creation options and prefer to jump right into the action of the open world.
I am not one of those people.
I’ve never met a character creation screen that I’d consider “too complicated.” The more sliders, the better, as far as I’m concerned. I want my MMO characters to feel unique, and the Elder Scrolls Online provides many, many options for both character creation and customization that work towards that end. Costumes and crafting styles, mostly all dyeable, along with personalities, adornments, hairstyles, and body markings provide an almost limitless number of unique looks and styles. You’ll be hard-pressed to find your twin in Tamriel!
In a game as large as ESO’s, you’ll find all types of players. Fortunately, much of my experience with the ESO community has been very positive. Admittedly, the game became much more enjoyable when I found a guild of like-minded people. But even outside of the guild, in-game players and content creators have all been very positive and supportive influences. They understand that different players enjoy themselves in different ways. They appreciate the work that goes into the game and generally seem to reject the “rush to cap” mentality that bypasses so much of the impressive content. Many have been extremely helpful, available to run dungeons for undaunted pledges or to craft training gear for newer players.
For a while, I think ESO suffered from being a mouse-driven game, which made simultaneous interaction with your character and the chatbox a challenge. But the rise of Discord and other out-of-band communication methods has once again injected the social aspect into ESO.