Tamriel Infinium: Should Elder Scrolls Online increase its landscape difficulty?


In so many ways, One Tamriel reinvented the Elder Scrolls Online experience by freeing players to pursue their own paths through the game. I myself enjoy hopping between zones and expansions without a greater concern that I won’t be in that level range or that I have to do things in a linear fashion.

Let’s be honest, however: One Tamriel hasn’t come without creating a few new problems. The biggest of these, I think, is the fact that it also made all landscape combat absolutely trivial. Aside from world bosses in each zone, there’s no challenge on the landscape that my character can’t handle with a simple battle rotation. Delves and public dungeons are a breeze to navigate, especially because mobs will stop chasing you after a while and wander away. It’s all a little too easy — and this is coming from an admitted carebear who hasn’t even started to run raids or veteran dungeons yet.

So here’s the question I want to chew on today: Should Elder Scrolls Online increase its landscape difficulty? And if so, how?

Please listen.

Now I recognize that this question may elicit a kneejerk reaction against it because we don’t like change. I’m almost never the one advocating for harder MMOs myself, as I’m in it for the story and social experiences. I hate hitting a wall of challenge that I can’t get past, especially when I need to for progress.

But the flip side of this is when things skew far too easy and you reach a pseudo-god mode. Which, to be fair, can be fun. I have been known to play some “story” difficulty settings on CRPGs, because I wasn’t that interested in slogging through combat to get to the next narrative beat.

It feels wrong in MMOs to have landscape content this weak, however. It just does. I barely have to pay attention for quest objectives because there’s very little danger of ever dying. I don’t feel like my character’s really grown in power so much as the game’s neutered the landscape.

That brings me back to the question of the day. Should the difficulty be tweaked up? While I don’t think that Zenimax should just ratchet everything up once you hit the level cap or a certain challenge level, but I do like another idea that I’ve seen floating around the internet: Offering players the option to toggle higher landscape difficulty for better quest rewards.

Another MMO that I play regularly, Lord of the Rings Online, is currently experimenting with a landscape difficulty toggle. And while it works — by temporarily nerfing characters, mostly — that studio hasn’t really stepped up to offer better rewards for taking on this increased challenge, which is its failing.

But consider how such a toggle might work in Elder Scrolls Online! Players, once they feel that they’ve mastered landscape questing to the point where there is no challenge, can flip a switch to one or two higher levels of difficulties. How that difficulty increase would work with One Tamriel’s tech, I can’t exactly tell you, but let’s just assume that there’d be an optional “hard” and “brutal” mode for questing.

Now, every quest, delve, and journey across the landscape bears a greater danger, requiring players to apply better tactics and pay more attention. In return for taking on a more difficult mode, the game also activates better rewards from quests.

We should really go somewhere specific.

Of course, it’d be ridiculous to suggest that the devs go back through every quest to create new loot tables, so I have a more streamlined suggestion. Why not simply award a special token — say, one per hard mode quest and three per brutal mode quests — alongside of normal rewards? Then these tokens can be spent at a shop to buy improved gear or house furnishings or whatnot. It may even be a way to offer an alternative route to raid-tier gear.

It’s just an idea, but personally I would find it really intriguing. I hit level 50 after a zone and a half of questing, which left the entire rest of ever-expanding Tamriel as a pool for future missions. If those missions offered better rewards, then it would increase my motivation and enjoyment for doing them (I mean, I’m going to do them anyway because of story, but even more).

What do you think? Is Elder Scrolls Online’s landscape difficulty tuned too low or just right? Would an optional difficulty increase with commiserate rewards revive your interest in questing?

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online! Justin Olivetti and Ben Griggs will be your guides here in Tamriel Infinium as we explore together the world created by ZeniMax and Bethesda in one of the biggest MMOs in the genre. We welcome questions and topic ideas!
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