When I was first invited to the Elder Scrolls Beta last year I was excited to try something new. I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before (unless you count the time I purchased Morrowind in college but did not have a PC capable of running it) and I was curious. However after ten minutes into the first person gameplay and the stiff NPCs I logged off and uninstalled the game and did not give it a second thought.
Later I did learn that third person gameplay was an option (oops) however it was not until the announcement of ESO going buy-to-play that I decided to purchase a copy and give it a second try. So far I’ve been surprisingly charmed by the world of Tamriel and the gameplay mechanics that are a refreshing change for someone familiar with MMOs but not the Elder Scrolls franchise. However despite the many virtues there is still something missing in my play sessions and as such I have renewed my subscription to Final Fantasy XIV in order to supplement what is lacking.
Probably the biggest draw to the Elder Scrolls MMO for me is the immersive world of Tamriel. From the landscape itself to the people who inhabit it, ESO has submerged me into the people and places I’m surrounded by like few other MMOs have. Historically I’ve never been one to take screenshots, generally I forget about them but with the Elder Scrolls I’ve been filling my screenshot folder with pictures of torch-lit caverns, ethereal NPC spirits, and towering stone sculptures. The lighting in this game is brilliant, most of my outdoor photos are taken at dawn when the Michael Bay lens glare is at its best.
However I don’t think the only reason I am taking more screenshots is because the scenery is beautiful. That’s true of several other games I’ve played as well. The Elder Scrolls has encouraged me to really look at my surroundings more than other titles because the stock UI is so unobtrusive that I’m not caught up staring at the window instead of the landscape on the other side. In fact, the UI is so minimalistic that I have on several occasions taken my screenshots only later to realize I forgot to hide the UI, a mistake I would never make in a game crowded with action bars, mini maps, chat logs, and other forms of dashboard clutter.
Stories are the other reason why I’m so engrossed with ESO. I’ve never been able to keep up with game lore, even when I really want to engage with lore and read everything as I quest in order to capture it all. Twenty four hours later I’ve usually already forgotten the main theme of the zone. Thankfully, ESO remedies this by keeping a steady focus throughout the zones and by providing the occasional recap. Quest chains can be quite long but several times throughout an NPC will remind you what you’re doing and why. It may seem a little forced at times but I don’t care, I need the reminders!
It helps that the stories are also interesting enough to remember. At some point I’d like to write summaries of a few of these adventures but so far I’ve confronted a military leader from my own faction when he grew mad with grief over the death of his son and as a result nearly collapsed our own offensive strategy, I’ve wrestled with the moral dilemma of whether to help or hinder slaves who have released terrible spirits to enact revenge against their wicked masters, and I’ve investigated a mysterious cult which conveniently appeared with a cure after a deadly disease plagued the people of Deshaan. These are all details I remember because the stories were so compelling and well developed.
In addition to the world of ESO, the gameplay has also captured my attention. If you’ve played Skyrim (or possibly some of the other Elder Scrolls games) you may not be as impressed, but as someone new to the franchise this particular execution of action combat and class building is refreshing. Combat utilizes both the mouse and the keyboard with the mouse controlling basic offensive and defensive maneuvers while the keyboard controls swappable weapon sets that include abilities from class and weapon skill trees. This brings me to the most exciting aspect of ESO class building: the inexhaustible possibilities for character customization. ESO uses a single pool of skill points to improve your character’s class, weapon, armor, crafting, and other skill sets. The end result (at least in theory as a level 18 DragonKnight) is a myriad of choices with appropriate consequences. You can max out all of the crafting professions if you want, but it will probably hinder your combat. You could become a weapons master but at the expense of being unable to wear multiple armor types or use a greater range of class skills and so on.
And there is a whole lot more I could add to my list of why I like this game. I could talk about the crafting system, the voice acting, the in game menus, and the open world dungeons to name a few. But instead I’d like to point out what has been missing from my gameplay experience (not necessarily the game itself), and why I have renewed my subscription to Final Fantasy XIV. The short version? I’m missing out on the small group instanced dungeons. And that’s a big problem for me because I love dungeons, they are one of my favorite types of content in MMOs.
Despite having picked up a quest for the first instanced dungeon, I haven’t even attempted to find a group because I’m not sure if my build is any good. Ironically, the very skill tree system that I find so enjoyable while solo leveling is also the reason why I have not had the pleasure of experiencing ESO’s dungeons. It is one thing for me to play around with different weapons and skills with little concern for effectiveness while I’m out in the world questing. If I’m not crafting a viable build the only person affected is me, no big deal. If corpse running were in the Olympics I’d be a serious competitor. However once I step into a dungeon and I’m given a specific role there are certain expectations and I have no way of knowing whether I will be able to meet them or not until it is too late to make corrections.
In a game like this with so many options but little in-game direction for how to craft a tanking or healing build, I will shy away from group content until I feel more certain. Sure, I could go online and look up the “correct” builds and eventually I probably will but for now I don’t want to lose the opportunity to be playful and experiment with class concepts so unless I find a guild or a group of people who won’t mind a few mistakes due to a potentially weaker build I will continue to avoid instanced dungeons and strictly solo as a bow wielding, plate wearing, fire breathing Argonian.
Instead, I renewed my subscription to FFXIV. It is classic MMO combat, class building, and group content and I’m okay with that. These are the systems that attracted me to the genre in the first place. Even though I’ve never progressed very far in the game and I’m still learning the specific dungeons I can nevertheless be confident that when I queue as a tank I will have the correct abilities and gear because they are given to me in a neat, satisfyingly predictable package. Familiarity is a comforting thing when braving new territory, it is secure. I need that from time to time. So while I’m exploring new prospects in ESO (and really enjoying it!) I will also take a step into Eorzea here and there to run some dungeons in a familiar setting and hopefully make some progress there as well.