Why The Elder Scrolls Online May Not Be for Purists
I’ve been pretty quiet about The Elder Scrolls Online lately, even though Zenimax Online Studios gave the Quest Gaming Network the go-ahead to talk about our experiences in-game. That’s not because I don’t have a lot to say, but perhaps because I have TOO much to say, and it’s not something fans of this network want necessarily to hear.
But I’ve decided it’s time I speak my mind, air my concerns, and let you know what I like about the game as well. Because don’t get me wrong. I REALLY like this game. I will play the hell out of it once it launches. But I have reason to believe there will be scores of players that leave the game after their first “free” month is up. And truly, I only have one concern, but it’s a big one.
One of the things that has been praised about ESO as being one of its best aspects is the freedom. Once you complete your starter island experience, you enter Tamriel-proper and can go anywhere you want. You can set a course and walk from one province to another, free to explore every nook and cranny along the way. There are no gates or walls saying, “Return when you’re level 20” or anything like that. Players are rewarded for seeing as much of the map as possible. In fact, during the course of my exploration of Tamriel, I was able to level up two levels simply by exploring. I didn’t engage in any combat. I simply crouched into sneak and tried to uncover everything around me. That was awesome.
But that’s where the exploration awesomeness ended.
After completing the starter zone and advancing to Tamriel, I decided I really wanted to walk to Cyrodiil. I won’t give too much detail about my path, for one reason, because the game is still in beta and there are a few things I can’t go into, but also because I want to save the surprises for you. I looked at my map of Tamriel, plotted course, and began my journey.
Can’t Touch This (Because If You Do I’ll Die)
It started off great. I discovered some wayshrines, dungeons, villages, and more. I was finding so many new places to come back and explore later that it was mind boggling. Just on this fairly straight and narrow path, I was finding a plethora of content, and there was still all the rest of the High Rock province to check out. But then I noticed something.
I was dying a lot.
See, initially I wasn’t sticking to an in-game path. I was just walking towards my waypoint, across fields, through trees, and swerving around enemies when I found them, just so I wouldn’t have to waste time kicking their butts. But eventually I started becoming unable to avoid these groups of enemies, either because there were too many of them to dodge, or because they were simply too-high level for me to sneak by quietly.
And this is a problem.
Though I am able to go anywhere in this game, I can’t say I can go anywhere AND do anything, which is one of the hallmarks of an Elder Scrolls game. Because once I got deeper and deeper into High Rock, and eventually into Hammerfell, the enemies were so high-level that if I got anywhere near them, they could one-shot kill me – even before I ever knew they were there. I was getting killed over, and over, and over, all while trying to completely avoid combat.
Try As I Might, I Can’t Avoid the Danger
Let me paint you a picture for specificity’s sake. At the time my journey began in earnest I was level 8. I made my way deep into High Rock and eventually I began to notice the enemies I was encountering were level 13. Occasionally I could take them down in one-on-one encounters, but if another enemy jumped in I was doomed. Through sheer will I made it past this batch of enemies (ok, maybe I ran a lot), but eventually I started noticing that the enemies surrounding me were level 41. LEVEL FORTY-FREAKING-ONE. They became damn near impossible to pass unseen. I crouched and moved slowly, but inevitably, they would always discover me, and like I said, a lot of times it happened with an enemy behind me, so I never even saw them shoot that fireball that scorched my head right off.
Now let me stop here and address all the MMO vets out there. Yes, I realize this is normal MMO gameplay. I can’t just start playing World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic or RIFT and expect to walk into the heart of the map untouched, unscathed, and free to do whatever I want.
But that’s what Elder Scrolls fans are going to expect.
My fear with this game is that gamers coming to ESO as their very first MMO, or at least the first one they’ve really given a shot, will experience this artificial wall and get frustrated. I fear they’ll quit the game before they ever have to subscribe, and will never get to truly experience all the game has to offer. Additionally, I am also afraid that another segment of those fans WILL stick it out, but quit a few months later. They’ll stick with it – despite not being able to roam wherever they want and complete (all) the content in any order they chose – take their time, and make it to level 50, and they’ll have seen almost everything there was to see along the way, because that’s how they play. The slow and steady Elder Scrolls way. But… then what?
Daggerfall Is Beautiful…Will I Ever Return?
Are the explorers out there going to be content with the fact that the only real gameplay left for them is in Cyrodiil for PvP, adventure zones, master dungeons, or the higher-level sections of other provinces? What point will there be to ever return to the staggeringly beautiful Daggerfall area? Unless the Level 50+ content somehow makes the enemies in these areas scale up to their difficulty level, it seems pointless for anyone to ever return. What benefit could a level 50 character possibly have to return to the low-level shops of Daggerfall, or to explore the lush landscape for low-level chests and level 5 enemies? It may seem petty to make this a sticking point since there’s so much end-game content, but trust me… it will be an issue for non-MMO players and traditional Elder Scrolls fans.
To them, there is no such thing as “end game.” End-game is an MMO thing, not an Elder Scrolls thing. For them, the game reaches an end. They continue to explore, seek new vistas, new caves, new pathways, new NPCs… To them, THAT is end-game. There is always exploration.
What MMO gamers – and even some gamers who have played a lot of MMOs but play a lot of other games as well – don’t understand is that those who don’t play MMOs… DON’T LIKE MMOs. You can tell them all you want about how “single player games must adapt to MMO rules in order to work online.” “Developers can’t simply make Elder Scrolls VI and connect it to servers and call it good.”
Falling In love Is Hard for a Nightblade
Look, they’re not idiots, they get all that. But don’t be surprised if they don’t completely fall in love with a compromised version of their favorite IP.
You can tell them all you want about how there’s so much end-game content that it doesn’t matter that there’s no reason to return to Daggerfall. You can tell them to pace themselves and finish up all the content in the zones they’re in before moving on. But that’s not how they play Elder Scrolls games. They go where they want and do what they want, with of course, a few limitations here and there. Obviously, you can’t go fight Alduin right when you start Skyrim, but you CAN go visit every single town in the province without fear of encountering something along the way that completely prevents you from getting there.
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To wrap this up, please know that I personally will be playing the hell out of The Elder Scrolls Online. I love the combat, the stories, the “questing system”, the music, the character leveling, the sky shards, the dark anchors, and yes, even the level of freedom players are given. I understand and can accept the compromises that I have to make as an Elder Scrolls fan in order to play a living, breathing version of the game. Though I am disappointed I can’t just walk to Cyrodiil, or anywhere else I want in Tamriel, without the fear of getting smoked by an enemy 35 levels higher than me the whole time, I understand the MMO reasoning for this, and I will adapt. I will play my zones, exploring every square inch and enjoying every minute. I will level up to 50 and play adventure zones, return to dungeons I’ve already cleared, and will be a badass in PvP.
But don’t be surprised if a large portion of the initial player base doesn’t feel the same way as me and begins dropping off after that first month. After they see just how much MMO has crept into their Elder Scrolls, my fear is there won’t be enough reasons for them to return.
And I hope we’re all prepared for that.