Returning to Elder Scrolls Online

I’ve been dabbling in The Elder Scrolls Online again. Last time I played it for any length of time was in the two months after it launched, April 2014. It’s one of the better MMORPGs if you didn’t know, undoubtedly in the Top Five. (Obligatory warning that it does not in any way resemble the single-player Elder Scrolls games.) Visually, I would probably rank it second behind Black Desert Online for the best-looking MMORPG out there.

I abandoned my stubborn insistence on trying to get back into my level 42 Ebonheart Templar, which has been my biggest barrier to re-entry since Tamriel Unlimited. At some point my skills were reset and I had no clue how to re-spend them, and for about a year now I’ve had some 90 skill points sitting there unspent. I also felt like the Templar was getting fairly meh the way I was playing it before I left (with a two-hander). I couldn’t get back into it.

So I started a new Daggerfall Covenent Nightblade.

The game looks and feels very much like it did when I left it in 2014, so if you’re one of those people who said the open beta sucked but now think it’s an awesome game, I really don’t understand you. Granted there are a lot of positive incremental changes, but the core game is still the same to me. Jumping is the same, combat and animations are the same, exploration is the same, gathering and crafting is the same, weapon skills are the same, questing is the same, lockpicking is the same, inventory is the same.

But there are definitely positive changes.

If you were turned off by the introductory tutorial, you can completely skip it now (at the expense of some continuity issues later). Even if you do play through it, it’s considerably shorter.

Somewhere along the line, they finally added the nameplate settings that should have been there on launch day. So you can now display vendor names and friendly player names and all that like a regular MMORPG. It looks weird, though. :) I usually play without nameplates.

I’m not sure if this is what I think it is, but I ran across something called a “Guild Vendor” or something like that. Apparently guilds can setup vendors to sell all their goods, which functions much like the auction house that was missing at launch. In the old days you had to join a guild to have access to auction house-like functionality (so-called trade guilds), but now it looks like maybe you don’t?

Pickpocketing and stealing is in the game now, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s amusing and it’s surprisingly lucrative at least at low levels. But it’s quite a lot of effort to gain experience in the Legerdemain skill line (sneaky-type skills), and it’s a lot of work to avoid the guards.

Of course, there are a lot more addons available now than there were at launch. Maybe this is one reason people have grown to like ESO over time. You can add back that missing minimap, or change the inventory layout back to a grid, or whatever. (I find I don’t miss the minimap, and I actually prefer the inventory list–I have long wished somebody would “disrupt” the standard inventory grid interface in RPGs.)

One other thing I’ve noticed is that the game seems significantly easier than it used to be. I remember having quite a tough time leveling in the 1-10 range back in open beta and after launch, at least in the Ebonheart Pact zones. Now I just mow through everything in my path while barely getting scratched. I don’t know if that’s a side effect of One Tamriel or if it’s been that way for a while.

I know there were a lot of complaints about grouping early on, but I can’t comment on any changes there. I haven’t felt any compulsion to interact with anyone in ESO.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the way I play ESO. I really like wandering around gathering resources and then making gear to wear. It’s one of the only MMORPGs I can think of where you can actually make useful gear while you’re leveling up. (In most MMORPGs, crafting is largely pointless until the endgame, which makes crafting progression a boring chore.) I also like finding hidden chests out and about in the wilderness.

On the negative side, I’m remembering that some (many?) of the quests are pretty grim. Somebody’s wife or husband or son or mother or father died, somebody’s got a restless spirit, somebody’s souls are being desecrated, somebody’s about to kill the king, somebody’s getting tortured, things like that. There aren’t many “kill ten rats” quests, it’s more like “kill ten vengeful spirits before they steal everyone’s souls and plunge the world into darkness.” The unrelenting assault of woe and misery from the NPCs wears me down after a while. Here’s one example, from The Legacy of Baelborne Rock:

“…Baelborne’s pay.” Lost love, lost baby, lost life. You get to see the tragedy played out in flashbacks, too!

Another negative thing is that you won’t be gaining any levels unless you do the quests. If you get tired of dealing with the morose NPCs and want to wander around doing your own thing for a while, you can totally do that, but eventually you will have to come back to the quests if you want to level up.

If you decide to play ESO, you might want to go to your Social options and disable Duel Requests. I found out the hard way how easy it is to accept a duel without even realizing it. I think I had the “accept” button the same as my “move forward” button and suddenly out of the blue I was PvPing some guy in the middle of a city. It was weird because I had just pickpocketed somebody and at first I thought players could attack you for doing thievery!

One interesting side effect of One Tamriel is that they feed you the Main Story quests one after the other, regardless of your level. I went through the instances I had previously done at levels 20 or 25 at levels 8 and 9. I remembered them being pretty hard, too. This time, they were among the more challenging things I have done, but still a cakewalk compared to when I played them on my Ebonheart Pact Templar.

I haven’t decided what or how to buy anything yet. I can’t decide whether it’s better to subscribe or buy DLC. I know I won’t play it more than a month or two, so two months of subscription would be cheaper than all the DLC. But then again, if I get the DLC, I could come back to it anytime, sort of like a lifetime subscription.

UPDATE: That quest I referenced above was only the halfway point. It gets even more grim.

Most Played Games In 2016

It took a little more effort to calculate my most-played games in 2016, because I changed PCs in the middle of the year. But the results are now in, and the number one positions were just what I guessed they would be.

(This data was gathered on December 24, 2016. I’ve pretty much only played Morrowind since then, although I played a couple hours of Elder Scrolls Online as well.)

Most Played MMORPGs of 2016

  1. Black Desert Online – 221 hours
  2. World of Warcraft – 163 hours
  3. Rift – 67 hours
  4. Final Fantasy XIV – 42 hours
  5. Lord of the Rings Online – 22 hours
  6. Guild Wars 2 – 12 hours
  7. Blade and Soul – 2 hours
  8. Mortal Online – 2 hours
  9. Star Wars: The Old Republic – 2 hours
  10. WildStar – 2 hours
  11. The Secret World – 1 hour
  12. Elder Scrolls Online – 1 hour

I was initially very surprised that I played so much World of Warcraft. But then I remembered the time before Legion, when I ran around participating in all those Legion Invasions leveling up my alts, and it made more sense.

Riders of Icarus and The Division should also be in there, at about an hour or less each.

Top 10 Most Played Other Games of 2016

  1. Dark Souls III – 339 hours
  2. ARK: Survival Evolved – 209 hours
  3. Morrowind – 40 hours
  4. Dark Souls – 39 hours
  5. Civilization VI – 30 hours
  6. Far Cry Primal – 26 hours
  7. Fallout: New Vegas – 24 hours
  8. Dark Souls II – 23 hours
  9. DOOM – 20 hours
  10. 7 Days To Die – 13 hours

Not too surprising. I played a lot of ARK at the beginning of the year, and a lot of Dark Souls in the Spring and Summer.

I’m not going to do another chart of which games I played in which month, because frankly I can’t remember how I did it last year. :)

P. S. I use ManicTime to gather these statistics.

UPDATE: Played from Dec 25 – Dec 31:

  1. Morrowind – 17 hours
  2. Elder Scrolls Online – 17 hours

That would move ESO from 12th to 6th on the Most Played MMORPGs of 2016 list.

The Prestigious Endgame Viable Awards 2016

It occurred to me that the end of the year is approaching, and it’s time to do one of those year-end posts that bloggers love to do. Unfortunately I kind of hate doing them. It’s a lot of work. You have to actually look things up and think and count and multiply and divide and things like that. That goes against my normal principal of blogging by “just typing words into a text editor.”

Here are the 2015 awards. This year I’m going to award Biggest Disappointment of the Year, MMORPG of the Year, MMORPG Expansion of the Year, Game of the Year. In another post I’ll also be revealing my Most-Played MMORPG, and Most-Played Game.

2016 Contenders

As I defined it last year, my selections are based on the best game that I bought and played in 2016 which was also released in 2016. I also consider Early Access releases, to punish developers for releasing their game too early. You can have money, or you can have an award, but not both. :) Anyway since I only buy a handful of new games every year, the pool from which I can pick is often very small. Based on my extensive research of Steam emails, these are the 2016 released games that I’ve bought and played:

Battlefield 1
Black Desert Online
Blade and Soul
Civilization VI
DarkMaus
Dark Souls III + Ashes of Ariandel
Devil Daggers*
DOOM
Far Cry Primal
Riders of Icarus

* I can’t find out if there was an Early Access version available before 2016. Steam does an admirable job of “hiding” that games were released in Early Access before they were actually released.

Note: I could conceivably add The Division, but I only played an hour of open beta, so I’m discounting it. Same for Overwatch. Neither would have won anything anyway.

And these are the MMORPG expansions I’ve played this year:

Rift, Starfall Prophecy
World of Warcraft, Legion

These are some games I bought and played in 2016 but were disqualified from contention:

Bastion (Released Aug 16, 2011)
Black Mesa (Early Access Release May 5, 2015)
Immune (Early Access Release March 25, 2015)
Miasmata (Released Nov 28, 2012)
NEO Scavenger (Early Access Release Dec 15, 2014)
Novus Inceptio (Early Access Release Oct 5, 2015)
Salt (Early Access Release Aug 22, 2014)
SOMA (Released Sep 22, 2015)

On to the awards!

Game of the Year: Dark Souls III

I mean, come on. Not even a contest. Other games on the above list are play-once-and-forget-about-it games (yes, even Civ 6, in which I have not even completed a full game, and kind of wish I’d waited for a sale), whereas I could replay Dark Souls III an infinite number of times and not get tired of it. I’ve played it through at least six times already.

MMORPG of the Year: Black Desert Online

Riders of Icarus barely rates a mention. It was between Blade and Soul and Black Desert, and to me the easy winner is Black Desert Online. I had a lot more fun with BDO. I’m not sure I even made it out of the tutorial area with Blade and Soul.

MMORPG Expansion of the Year: Legion

This was a tough one because I played both Legion and Starfall Prophecy for roughly the same amount of time: Less than a month. Both expansions are basically more of the same in their respective MMORPGs. It’s a toss-up, but I gave the edge to Legion. Legion had less bugs and an impressive array of cut scenes, while Rift had more friction with some frustratingly difficult gameplay.

Biggest Disappointment Of The Year: Far Cry Primal

I was really hoping that Far Cry Primal would have more survival elements. I was hoping it would be the first AAA survival game that wasn’t just a rushed-out-the-door indie train wreck. But it wasn’t a survival game. It was a Far Cry game, set in prehistoric times. It was fun, and they have a good formula, but it was essentially “more of the same.” (I have the same expectations for Conan Exiles now: That it will be the first AAA survival game.)

LotRO, DDO, Turbine, Standing Stone Games

Did I get all the keywords in there?

Random LotRO image from my hard drive

I’m sure you’ve heard that LotRO and DDO will be leaving Turbine for a studio called Standing Stone Games. The fate of Asheron’s Call is uncertain, but I tend to agree with Wilhelm that we won’t be seeing it much longer, which is a major bummer to me personally since it was the first MMORPG to make a real impact on me, and I think its character development system (skill-based) has yet to be matched. And while I haven’t played it since the 1990s (except for like twice), it’s always been nice to know it’s there.

I have no idea what events led to this news, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Turbine had been planning to dump LotRO and DDO entirely. But instead, the group of folks who would have been fired approached Turbine to work out a deal to take over ownership of the games to keep them running. At least that’s how my fanciful imagination likes to think of how it went down. If it’s true, then kudos to Standing Stone for taking that chance.

With this news I think it’s much less likely that LotRO will shut down anytime soon (I believe somewhere in the FAQ it was confirmed that the Tolkien license had been renewed beyond 2017), but I imagine that updates will now come more slowly than ever, as I expect less developers will be working on it. I could also imagine them adding some extra incentives to get people to pay more money, in the form of cash shop gimmicks or whatnot. Turbine might have been able to operate LotRO at or near a loss, but this new studio certainly won’t be able to.

Personally I’m happy to hear this news, since the alternative probably would have been to simply shut down the two titles.

P.S. LotRO remains the only game for which I regret not buying a lifetime subscription.

P.P.S. I don’t care a whit about DDO. Not that it’s a bad game or anything, it’s just way far down on the list of games I would turn to if I was bored. D&D rules have never translated to computer games very well.

P.P.P.S. It’s confirmed. Asheron’s Call will end January 31st, 2017. Ah, well. I’m tempted to stream it every day from now until then.

Morrowinding

I was sick a lot last week, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the world of Bethesda games lately. First it was New Vegas, but I got a little burned out on it so I turned to Morrowind and now I’m totally into that.

Morrowind is enormous. I thought Oblivion and Skyrim were pretty big, but Morrowind seems to dwarf them. (Admittedly part of that could be because the movement speed is so slow it just feels bigger.)

The story seems quite a bit more complex, too. I can’t even remember Skyrim’s story except it was something like “kill that dragon.” And Oblivion was something like “kill those demons.” (I might be misremembering them.) Morrowind seems a lot more grandioise and interesting in scope.

I solved the problems I was having with the graphics settings. Apparently you have to run the game as Administrator to actually save your settings from session to session. I still can only run it in 1280×960 though, one of those old timey resolutions that used to be so high you could only dream of running a game that detailed. (I once had a roughly 100-pound 19″ monitor which could run graphics at 1280×960.)

I also discovered that the unofficial Morrowind Code Patch (MCP) which I thought I’d installed in the beginning wasn’t installed. I downloaded it in the Nexus mod manager thingy and clicked “install” and thought that was all I had to do. But nope, you have to actually run the MCP setup program so it will then patch the Morrowind executable. Whoops. (Also the Nexus mod manager installed it in the wrong place.) Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any harm in installing it after I’ve started. My saved games are still working.

I got curious about the first two Elder Scrolls games, too. I didn’t see them on Steam or GOG (the only two places I even know about to look for non-EA games anymore), so I wondered if they were gone forever. But it turns out you can just download Arena and Daggerfall from the Elder Scrolls site for free. The first one is about the size of a floppy disk, and the second one is about the size of a CDROM. So adorable! I haven’t tried to run them yet since it involves a DOS Emulator and I’m a bit skeptical about it actually working on my PC.

Anyway Morrowind is a cool game, even if the graphics are dated. The real meat of the game is in the NPC interactions and story anyway. And it’s really interesting to see how little their core formula has changed from Morrowind to Oblivion to Skyrim. They have a laser-focused vision for the world of Tamriel in that series. And I have always loved the flexibility of the character progression system in Elder Scrolls. (I’m playing a Witchhunter this time, something I’ve never done before.)

Not Much To Get Excited About

I sort of lost interest in Rift when I got to level 68. Xarth Mire is not very pleasant to run around in, what with the lack of safe roads, the rather high mob density, and the frog tongues that constantly pull you to them no matter how much you want to run away from them.

But mainly I drifted away from Rift because I started playing Fallout: New Vegas. I played it for about 8 hours last year, then put it away when Fallout 4 came out. Recently I installed New Vegas again and my old saved games magically appeared, so I was able to pick it up right where I left off. It’s quite good. I dare say it’s as good or better than Fallout 4, at least in terms of story.

I also started playing, believe it or not, Morrowind. I’ve never played it before but I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m having some difficulty getting the Steam version to run consistently at a decent resolution though.

It seems like there isn’t very much news happening in the gaming world right now, or at least nothing that’s interesting to me. Free-to-play EVE is mildly interesting, but even free I don’t see very many newbies sticking around in that game. New ArcheAge servers aren’t appealing for the same reason that the old servers aren’t appealing: You can’t maintain land without Patron status. (At least I assume that’s still a condition.) One of the few games I was looking forward to was Conan Exiles but the recent trailer made that game look a bit like garbage.

I can’t find anything else to comment on. Scanning through the last week of Massively OP news items gives me a profoundly crotchety feeling of “who cares about any of this.”

Xarth and The Post-NaNo Blues

Last night I welcomed on old friend back into my life: The post-NaNoWriMo blues. I’ve written about this before. Here’s me from December 2011:

“The act of creation is so thrilling and stimulating and awesome that when it’s over, there’s nothing left inside but a black empty void of nothingness. For me, it generally manifests as a fervent desire to stare at the walls and feel useless all day.”

I remember writing much more colorful language about it, though. Ah, here it is, from 2012:

“That’s pretty much what writing a novel is like. You never “finish” per se, because there is always an infinite number of things you can do to improve it. In order to move on, you have to make a conscious decision to abandon it. I imagine it’s something like having a baby, except that instead of nature performing the normal birthing process, you have to do it yourself by tearing the child from your flesh, leaving behind a massive, bloody cavity of organs, meat, and bone fragments. Hrm. Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Anyway. This time the blues isn’t so much because I’m “finished” as much as from knowing that I’m not finished, and it’ll probably never be finished, and even if I do finish it, it’ll never be edited, and it’ll never be sold, and it’ll never be published, and I’ll never make any money from it, and I’ll never be able to quit my day job, and I’ll probably die before I get to retire just like my father did. You know, the usual.

So I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. Then I played some Rift. I had this one quest where I had to escort dragon whelplings across practically the entire Xarth Mire zone and it felt like it took about ten years to get through that. But in the end I got some new shoulder pads so I guess it was worth it?

2016-12-01_182758

By the way I’m firmly into level 68 mob territory now, and I’m still level 67, even with Patron status. My Harbinger/Chloro build is holding up, though. Hotfix #4 even buffed the Harbinger a little bit, so I’m doing about 5k more dps. I also remembered to enable that one ability that uses charge to increase your damage, you know, that ability that looks like a blue electrified sword, which I’ve bound to Shift-Y. Right? It makes that sizzling sound when you activate it? I’m sure everyone knows the one I’m talking about.

To end on sort of a high note, I wrote another 1000 words on my novel before bed, and completely out of the blue, I figured out what the story arc for the novel should be. So the day after NaNoWriMo ended, I figured out what to write for my NaNoWriMo novel! But on the negative side, it means scrapping a lot of what I wrote last month. Oh well. They say you have to write a million words before you can be good at writing, so I’ll tack another 50,000 words onto my total.