Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Short stories, big experiences

As I may have mentioned before, short stories that present a cohesive, powerful narrative can hold more worth to me than long, meandering, so-called “epic” storylines in MMOs and other games. I suppose that’s because it’s how video games present themselves. RPGs and their offshoots rarely go through a single huge story in one go like a novel would but instead break it up with side quests and other various activities. It diverts attention from the overarching narrative and eventually weakens my interest in it.

In other words, if a main storyline takes me the better part of a month to get through and during that time I’m doing all of these side quests and taking breaks to play other games, I’m probably not going to track that storyline as well or care about it when it resolves.

Whereas short stories — shorter quest arcs — have a much better shot at being consumable in one or two sessions and retaining my interest. Plus, I think that developers and writers engage in far too much padding out of these “epics” in order to get as much content and time wasting as possible.

Anyway, this is just to say that I’ve been increasingly drawn to games that place a stronger emphasis on fewer quests that are told with more detail and involve more twists and turns. Secret World had that, and Elder Scrolls Online does in its own way. Some of these quests I’ve gone through in Morrowind have pulled off the accomplishment of being memorable and involving.

One example that I encountered the other day was when my kids were all hovering around the computer as I played on a Saturday afternoon. This seemingly normal fetch quest had me going around to retrieve memory stones in the area. That sounded boring until we saw that all of the stones triggered little scripted scenes showing a back story of this family that was currently isolated and fractured. Finding out how this came about to be and that the father was not a disinterested figure but was in fact making a significant sacrifice for his children was a pretty strong revelation.

My kids were just as swept up in this as we went along, and they were crushed when he died before getting to talk to his kids (they kept urging me to hurry up in case he died before the end and so I got blamed for going too slow). I suppose the fact that there is some resolution with the memory stones helped, but it definitely elicited a very emotional reaction in them and in me.

One Bio Break reader pointed out that often in ESO there’s little flavor post-scripts to these quests if you go back and get near or talk to the NPC. You can find out what happened next or what their thoughts were, and we experienced this as we chatted with the man’s children. That’s not something a lot of MMOs would do, especially in our era of “gather up and go go go” questing.

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