Returning to Elder Scrolls Online

1158 wc

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.

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