ESO First Impressions

ESO seems like the trendy thing to be discussing lately on the Internets.  Will it fail?  Is it really an ESO game?  Will it fail?  And so on.  Unfortunately I appear to have a somewhat unpopular opinion based on the people I've interacted with, and that is that its a flawed but ultimately incredibly fun game that's worth the money I spent on it.

Most of the complaints I've heard are from other Elder Scrolls fans who think its too much like an MMO and not enough like Elder Scrolls.  I don't particularly feel that way myself, but I can understand the sentiment.  There are some things I like doing in Elder Scrolls games that I can't do in ESO, most of them involving the physics engine and random items - I've mentioned before my Skyrim character is a cheese-obsessed klepto.  I also (at this point) can't own a house wherein I lovingly and painstakingly arrange all the random crap I've picked up along the way.  I can't go through a dungeon and pick up every single rake and pile them at the entrance.  These things would require a level of interactivity that's not possible in a multiplayer experience as far as I can see.  At the very least elements like this would be prohibitively complicated to code in a multiplayer environment, so I can completely understand the designers not including them.  After all, there are other parts of the game to enjoy beyond rake-piles.

There's a lot of character customization possible, but admittedly it is not as much as single player Elder Scrolls games.  You only have 4 classes to choose from, but those classes have a staggering amount of variability because of the various weapon, armor, and class skill options.  Unlike other MMOs, you are not locked into a certain type of equipment based on your class - if you pick it up and you're high enough level you can use it.  So if you want to make a heavy armor-wearing sorcerer with a giant axe, you can.  Even within the same class there's several ways to make your character unique.  Its not the same as single player for sure, but I think Bethesda did a great job with the skill trees.  I will admit I miss being able to Frenzy a group of enemies until there's only one left for me to deal with, there are other things about combat I find very nearly as fun.  And that's a tactic that's not really possible in a multiplayer environment anyway.  Its not as though you can yell at people coming by to not attack because you're about to do something really cool.  Or you could, but I guarantee no one would heed your words.

On the topic of bugs, I have found a couple that are a little irritating.  The first has to do with grouping.  As far as I can tell the way ESO is built your character, while walking around the same world, might occupy a different "world state" than other characters based on what quests you were doing and how far into them you were.  This causes a big problem when you're grouped with someone who happens to be in a difference world state, as you will disappear from each others' sight whenever you enter an area in which you have temporal dissonance.  For people who always group and play the game together this isn't an issue, but not everybody does that.  This is really the only bug I hope they come up with a solution for soon, the others are minor annoyances.

I probably should say however that some of the things I consider to be minor annoyances others might consider to be game-breaking rage machines.  Probably the most irritating was the bug I came across when I got to the third zone in the Aldmeri Dominion and needed to complete a quest before I could fully access the starting town.  I wasn't able to finish it because there were too many people trying to finish it at once and so the final boss zone was having trouble resetting.  However, from this particular bug came one of the most hilarious trolls I have ever seen.

So the quest is called Unsafe Haven, and to finish it you need to stop some invading pirates and necromancers from doing a ritual to summon zombies all over the town.  I got through the sewers and into the keep and entered the place where the ritual was supposed to happen.  Nothing was there.  On my way to this area other players were yelling things like "DO NOT GO IN ROOM, DO NOT PULL MOBS" and "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET OUT OF THAT ROOM".  Very puzzling, until I got to the empty ritual area and found a bunch of players hiding out in front of this side room waiting for some NPCs to spawn.  Somehow word had gotten around that to complete the quest you had to wait for 3 specific NPCs to spawn in this room and then kill them.  Of course people are terrible at waiting, or didn't know what was going on, so someone would run into the room before the third NPC could spawn and rage flowed like a river of continuous invective.  I actually believed the nonsense about waiting outside the room for a hot minute but got bored quickly and logged out to do something else until the zone wasn't so crowded.  Some people waiting outside that room for hours.  Turns out the quest has nothing to do with that room at all - as an awesome Twitch streamer named Antpile pointed out - but only that the zone was having trouble resetting because of the traffic.  You can fix this by relogging over and over until you get an instance that isn't bugged, or if you're a sane person you can do what I did.  Which is something bloody else and come back later.  I came back at 6am because I like to get up early and game before work and finished the quest right away.  So all those people crouching outside that stupid room were actually inhibiting the zone from resetting by just being there.  Like I said, brilliant troll if that is indeed what it was.

The conclusion I came to from that experience was reinforced what I said at the beginning; even though ESO is a flawed game, I am enjoying it quite a bit.  I don't feel like I've wasted money and I plan to continue my subscription after my free time ends.  Because even though there are bugs that for a while make part of the game worth playing, there are hundreds of other things to do, other characters to explore, and areas to discover.  And hell, if I can't finish something because of a bug I have faith that the development team wants the game to succeed and will work to fix it.  Until they do I can always log off and do one of the zillion other activities vying for my free time.

All that being said however, I feel a little trepidatious about the future of ESO.   While I enjoy it greatly, its not blowing my mind in any capacity and I feel like in order for it to continually draw players back it needs to do that at least a little.  Yes, the NPC AI is much richer than any other MMOs I can name, the system itself is quite fun, and exploration in game feels very Elder Scrolls-y to me.  But my feeling is that being just "Elder Scrolls, but ONLINE" isn't enough.  Sure it'll keep the fans like me coming back - but not all of them as I know several Scrolls fans who don't like the game.  And Bethesda seems to me like a company that will do something on their own terms or not at all.  I don't think this game will ever be free to play, I think if its not successful Bethesda will pack it up and go back to single player games.  Or try again, but larger in scope.  Either of these things would be fine with me but it doesn't say great things about this particular game's future.
And of course there will be the ravening hordes wanting their money back.  My outlook is this - the developers will make the game they want to make and I will either enjoy it or I won't.  When I stop enjoying it, I'll stop playing it but I don't feel the time I have spent on any game is wasted.  Did I give up on KoTOR when I lost three hours of gameplay because my character got stuck in a wall?  No.  However, I don't really think that attitude is common to the masses.  So when (or if) ESO gets packed up and filed in the Vault of Forgotten MMOs there might be a bit of backlash for Bethesda.  I'm pretty sure they can handle it though - they kind of have the ultimate trump card.  They make Elder Scrolls games.

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