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12:36pm on Friday, 20th September, 2019:

Elder Game


I finished playing Elder Scrolls Online yesterday. It's pretty much the same as the Elder Scrolls offline.

I say "finished", but there's still a lot more I could have done. I reached the level cap and completed the main storyline, but the, er, elder game seems to be about collecting CPs or something (I think they're "Champion Points", but they're never explained).

ESO is good at not explaining things — superlative, in fact. Great, I can morph some ability! What does that mean? How do I do it? I rose several levels before I discovered that what I thought was an indication symbol to show something could be morphed was actually a clickable button to perform the morphing. I never did find out what the mundas stones that were mentioned by loading screens did, or how to use inspiration points, or what exactly a delve was, or how to buy goods from other players (I think you may have to be in their guild), or how to start a guild. If I hadn't played the single-player Elder Scrolls games, I wouldn't have known how to do a heavy attack or how to play the lock-picking mini-game (at which I unexpectedly excel), either.

I could have looked all this up, of course, but there wasn't any point. The thing is, ESO has dynamic difficulty adjustment. As you level up, skill up and gear up, all your opponents are made commensurately tougher, wherever they are and however you encounter them. The same monster is no easier and no harder to kill for my level 6 alt than it is for my level 50 main. Every fight is the same, so much so that I rapidly lost interest in them. Quests follow the same routine: skip through John Cleese's dialogue; go to where the marker says to go, killing anything in the way; click on or kill whatever is at the marker; pick up the meaningless loot.

There are daily rewards you get for logging in. These add crazy bonuses to experience point gain or to health or to researching whatever craft you accidentally learned first. Their main purpose seems to be to fill up your inventory so you have to buy more space, as you can't bank half of it. I was loathe to throw away 50 purple poisons, but to use them would have overridden my weapon enchantments; I therefore kept them around just in case a later quest needed them (not that one did).

In common with many other MMOs, the street layout of of settlements in ESO is a mess. They're invariably hard to navigate and have walls positioned exactly where you want there not to be a wall. I never got the hang of the way that the ziggurats in Vivec City were organised when I played Oblivion, and carried that confusion through to ESO. Zone geography is non-obvious, too: on several occasions, I clicked on a character to accept a quest and found myself transported by cart or boat to gawd-knows-where, with no understanding of how to get back. I was given important-looking quests to go to places I had no idea how to reach (but, hey, it was safe to leave them until I found out, because a level 10 quest is a level 40 quest if you leave it until level 40 to complete it). This happened with the main storyline: I knew I had to go to a particular island, but hadn't a clue how to reach it. When I tried what I thought was the right ship, I wound up in some kind of common quest zone (which was actuallyquite fun) with no means of escape except clicking on the main map to teleport back to civilisation. I was eventually restored to the main storyline by being mugged. I wound up wearing a full set of trainee gear at level 40.

Bethesda games are all about the story, so it shouldn't be surprising that the stories behind the quests are pretty good. They're not as good as in The Secret World, but the decisions you have to make do occasionally have consequences. There are lots of them, too; my guess is that most of the people who like the game like it for the quests, or possibly for the fiction. Assuming that dynamic difficulty adjustment doesn't play a role in PvP, those who like to pay to win could enjoy that experience, too.

I suppose they may also like it for the people, but I only ever spoke to one other player and got a reply so I wouldn't know. The come-join-our-guild messages I saw invariably referred to features I knew nothing about, or did know something about but didn't like (such as an active Discord channel). The let's-do-an-instance messages were all written using the kind of shorthand code that says if you have to ask what the letters mean, you don't know the instance so we don't want you in our group.

Overall, the game wasn't actually bad, just disappointing. It has lots of content but the dynamic difficulty adjustment takes away all sense of achievement, much the same as it does in the single-player Elder Scrolls games. Still, I knew that when I started to play, so can't complain. I do think I got my money's worth from it, and I'll keep it around for a while in case I fancy a single-player RPG experience in the nearish future.

Oh, here's my main character, the usual female paladin.

It's a pity I never got to use all those skill points I invested in healing stats, but I finished with more of them than I knew what to do with so didn't exactly waste them.

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Copyright © 2019 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).