Tamriel Infinium: Was Elder Scrolls Online’s One Tamriel actually a bad idea?

    
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Before you come into this column with boxing gloves on looking for the daft writer who dared to pose the above question, please hear me out because this is not a topic chosen lightly.

On paper, Elder Scrolls Online has so much of what I want in an MMORPG. It’s got a healthy population, fun classes, lots of skill choices, incredibly good storytelling, housing, a dependable content schedule, a flexible business model, cosmetics, and more. But in practice, I’ve had difficulty staying engaged with it over any serious period of time. I like the game and applaud its achievements, but as with so many others, I’m not exactly enthusiastic about it when I feel that I should be.

That creates a weird disconnect in my head, and I’ve been spending some time lately trying to pinpoint the exact problem so that I might come up with a solution for it. When I ask myself, “Why am I not more enthusiastic about logging into ESO tonight?” more often than not the answer is, “There’s nothing to do to really progress my character. I’ll just be spinning my wheels.”

You see, somewhere after I dinged level 50, my character stopped growing as an RPG character should. I got enough champion points to be able to wipe the floor with overland content, I locked in my combat rotation, I bought every skill and morph that I wanted, and I ran enough vet dungeons to deck my hero out in purples. And the thing was, I was only about four zones into the game at this point, leaving a huge amount of Tamriel in front of me to enjoy and experience.

Initially, I was thrilled at that. I love narrative in MMOs, and ESO does storytelling well with good voice acting, scripted events, and a few interesting twists and turns. I was all on fire to clear out every zone, finish every map, and go through every story.

But instead what’s happened is that I’ve found my motivation flagging as I play a map like an indifferent kid picking at his dinner plate. I’ll do it, and it won’t be bad, but the zest for the game that I had in those initial 50 levels has evaporated. It kind of feels like I’m playing a massively multiplayer adventure (MMA? Can I coin that?) game where the stats and progression were jettisoned a while back.

I started asking a question that apparently a whole lot of players ask, which is, “What do I do after 50? Where’s my motivation? My goals? My character progress?”

And, to be fair, there are answers to this, such as running trials and vet dungeons, seeking achievements, diving into crafting or housing, fighting in PvP, rolling alts, digging up treasures, or clearing out zones for the story and occasional fun reward. But if you want to feel like your character is advancing as it once did, there aren’t any good answers here. The CP system offers very incremental progress, but the carrots on that stick aren’t nearly as interesting or compelling as getting a new skill morph.

All of this has made me take a hard look at One Tamriel, a system that I once championed pretty hard as a great idea. I love the idea of choosing your zone path and always being able to group up with others to do pretty much any standard content. It certainly is a boon to alts looking for a different journey.

But I can’t pretend that One Tamriel arrived without any cost whatsoever, and I’m afraid that cost involves character progression and zone content. If the game does its weird contortions so that you can do the same stuff at level 1 as 50, what’s the real point of leveling after a while? Why go through the effort of gaining experience if it’s all a strange illusion of progress without any meaningful arrival?

It’s common knowledge that ESO’s landscape is trivially easy after a certain point, and that’s largely in part to One Tamriel keeping everything on such an even keel that (outside of world bosses) nothing’s actually going to challenge or reward you. I can’t help but conclude that something’s fundamentally broken when I can blitz through packs of mobs in public dungeons without fighting them and suffer no consequences.

Maybe I’m not seeing it yet, my motivation. Maybe there is a meaningful way that my character can “grow” so that I have additional incentive to jump into the latest zone adventure. But with One Tamriel hobbling the world over here and CPs redefining the word “negligible” over there, I am stuck in the middle with a heaping plate of apathy when I want to be excited.

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