If I had to guess which MMORPG was most popular right now based just on my Twitter feed (discounting WoW of course), I would guess that ESO is probably a strong contender.
I used to love ESO. I played for about two months when it launched. I enjoyed it a lot. It was such a fresh take on the genre. It has fantastic graphics, sound, and music. It’s clearly a high quality game, well worth the purchase price.
But now? I just can’t find a hook to keep me playing more than short spurts now and then.
Toward the end of my two-month run I started to notice a problem, and I simply can’t unsee it now: Everything is basically the same, all the time. Every quest is basically the same. Every zone is basically the same. Every city is basically the same. Every NPC is basically the same. Every fight is basically the same.
Your character basically never changes from the beginning up until the point you decide to leave the game or re-roll a new alt. It least that’s how it feels to me.
My highest-level character from launch, a Templar, just turned level 47. I’ve been trying to level him to 50 in a desperate hope that some new “thing” will happen to make me want to keep playing. Sometimes new features and content open up in an MMORPG’s endgame that make it worthwhile for me to continue progressing a level-capped character* (RIFT and FFXIV are both examples of this). But I’m not terribly optimistic about it here.
There’s just something missing. I don’t feel any connection with my characters or the game world. (It’s not unusual for me to feel no connection with my characters in an MMORPG, though. FFXIV is the only MMORPG I can think of where I feel a real bond with my character, as I would a character in a book.) As I’ll note below, this world of Tamriel is definitely not a place I would want to live, and maybe that’s my core problem right there.
Here are some other things that consistently bug me about the game:
- A lot of light and medium armor looks like body paint. The effect is enhanced because most of the textures in the game look like oil paintings, so when it’s painted onto a player model, it literally looks like body paint.
- I don’t care for the floaty jumping animations.
- There is a small “hitch” or “pause” every time you land a blow in combat, as if your weapon gets snagged on your enemy’s clothing or something. It *feels* like a graphics glitch, or a lag spike, but I imagine since it’s still there four years later, it must be intentional or an unavoidable side-effect of their combat engine. Unfortunately it breaks up the smooth flow of combat for me, and makes me think something is wrong all the time.
- There is something about the running animations that looks mechanical and out-of-place in an otherwise fantastic graphical world. Every race and class has the exact same running animation, too. Even males and females have essentially the same loop. Sub-standard character animations really bug me because you have to watch them every single moment that you are playing the game.
- The Imperial horse (the only mount I have seen in the game so far) is not animated very well, and your character seated on the horse looks very awkward and fake and doesn’t even appear to fit correctly. (The sound of the hooves also sounds very mechanical.)
- I felt this deeply at the end of my initial two-month run: A lot of the quests are just plain depressing. Almost everyone in Tamriel has a loved one who’s been killed, maimed, eaten, lost, sacrificed, tortured, captured, or otherwise had bad things happen to them. It’s just an unrelenting hellish misery for these poor folks and anyone they ever cared about. Why do they even live there? I can’t even imagine enjoying life there.
- Story aside, most quests have the exact same structure. Talk to NPC, listen to tale of woe, ask an excessive amount of questions that are only there to make things brain-dead simple for players who aren’t paying attention, then go kill some mobs or click on some items. I know, I know, every MMORPG is like that, but for some reason I can really see behind the curtain in ESO. It’s really disappointing because I love questing in MMORPGs and all of these quests seem really bland. Not *bad* mind you, just … painfully average. Even the voice acting seems flat. I don’t hear very much *character* in the voices, which is what I love about voice acting.
- Doing anything *but* the quests is usually a complete waste of time, in terms of gaining experience points. So you just have to put your head down and slog your way through them. (I know, there are dungeons, but I ruled them out after the very first one I tried. It’s GW2-style chaos. And I am not a fan of zerg PvP.)
- I know this one is just me, but I hate that there are always other players around doing the same quests that I’m doing. There’s never any alone time in ESO. Stupid mega server! :)
- There is very little sense of progression in combat skills as your character advances in level. Combat at level 1 is essentially the same as at level 47, which is a major bummer for me. You never seem to get any new tools that give you different ways to kill mobs faster/better/easier. (One Tamriel did not help with this.) Mostly it seems all you get are passive boosts that have no obvious effect.
- It is very possible, and indeed even *likely*, that you will build your character “wrong.” (This is more obvious than ever since they added the “skill advisor.") This would not bother me so much if I really enjoyed the process of building characters (as I did in RIFT, where the same possibility existed), but because of the above problems, I feel punished for getting it wrong the first time.
And one other thing: I just don’t see how the game has changed much at all since it launched. All of the issues I just described were there at launch, and they’re still here now. The only thing that seems new or different about the game now is that there are a lot more addons and a lot more DLC zones that add more quests. With the exception of One Tamriel scaling all the zones to the same level, there is no change in the basic structure of the gameplay at all.
* Most MMORPGs tailor their endgame content for groups, not solo players, so in most cases reaching the level cap is reaching the “game over” screen.
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