Tamriel Infinium: How Elder Scrolls Online’s quests go above and beyond the MMO norm


There are some MMOs you play because of and some you play in spite of, if you catch my drift. These titles have great qualities and features that make them compelling to play even though you have to wade through some bafflingly bad systems at the same time. I always felt that The Secret World was like this, and so is Elder Scrolls Online.

Yes, the combat is janky and the overworld difficulty is so trivial as to not be a factor in adventuring. And I’d argue that after a certain point in the game, character development comes to a grinding halt. Yet I love playing ESO in spite of all of that because it absolutely nails questing in a way that’s more creative, engaging, and memorable than the MMO norm.

In a lot of MMOs, questing is a glorified task list with a flimsy story that nobody reads. There are efforts by many games to put more effort into a main storyline while leaving side quests as a vastly inferior sibling. But what we see in ESO is an approach that treats all quests, from the big story arcs to the small encounters, with a lot more care. Here are six ways that I think this game goes above and beyond with its questing.

They’re fully voice acted

I don’t know about you, but for me, if a quest giver is actually speaking the bestowal dialogue, then I’m much more likely to stick around to soak it all in. Plus, I like listening and reading at the same time to help with comprehension.

This MMO is packed full of really great voice actors — including some well-known celebs — putting a lot of personality spin into each mission. A funny line of dialogue that’s written becomes doubly so when performed well (such as in the case of a certain Nord ambassador or a particular flighty prophet). It’s usually so good that I stick around to do the follow-up dialogue options even after getting the quest bestowal notice!

The scripting is impressive

Without ever billing its world as “alive” or “living,” ZeniMax made Tamriel feel very much like those terms with its rather extensive scripting tech that it uses for quests. Quest givers will run up to you, fall out of windows, or wave and call for your attention when you draw near.

And that’s just the start! I love that there are many quests that see NPCs show up in the middle of missions, deliver more dialogue, take actions, and run alongside of you. I’m often getting swept up into the full experience of a quest because of the excellent hand-tailored scripting.

The game makes some effort at roleplaying

Despite the acronym, MMORPGs often lack a lot of actual roleplay in the developer-designed portion of the game. It’s why I do appreciate the times that ESO sprinkles in little RP elements into its back-and-forth conversations with quest NPCs. This may take the form of a snarky response, dialogue checks for certain social skills (such as intimidate or persuade), or moral decisions that the player can make at certain points during the mission.

Even though most of these options have little to do effect on the difficulty and progression of the quest, I appreciate getting them even so. I think they add a lot of flavor to the game world and allow for the player to have some sort of personal agency.

Quests often come with a great hook

Storytellers know that if you’re going to keep someone’s attention for the long haul, you have to hook them early on — if not at the very beginning. I can’t tell you how many times ESO grabbed me from the onset of a quest with a peculiar approach. Maybe it’s coming into a seemingly deserted village only to have one crazy person run up and babble about a ghost invasion. Or a traveling circus asking for your help. Or a wife who’s lost a husband on a drunken bender. Or a magical school that is taken over by cult terrorists and you have to Die Hard your way through it.

The writers of this game know a good hook or two, and each one that I encounter makes me sit up and say, “Yes, I am totally on board with this!”

Quests can end differently

Of course, SWTOR nearly monopolizes quests that conclude differently based on player choice, but that MMO isn’t the only one on the market that has this. In fact, I’d say that maybe one out of every five ESO quests give you a choice that impacts the conclusion of the story. This may be reflective of the player or character’s morals, or it might just be a judgment call.

In any case, players can pick how a quest concludes and then — this is the best part — watch a scripted scene of how it turns out. Seeing your choices have consequences in the lives of these NPCs is strangely impactful, and I love the little theater that this drama creates.

These stories are packed with humor and heart

I’ll never forget a questline in Morrowind about a dying dad who asks you to gather up recorded memories to show to his children. They had assumed that their father was an absentee deadbeat who stopped loving them a long time ago, an assumption that was overturned once the memories painted a completely different picture of a tragic past and a terrible decision.

And that was just one of many, many quests that impacted me with either a great dose of creativity, humor, heart, or a combination of the above. Being moved to tears or laughter by a game is a challenging feat for any developer, and ZeniMax quite often rises to this challenge.

So yes, I’ll play ESO in spite of its drawbacks because what it offers in the questing department is far greater.

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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