Why Elder Scrolls Online’s story telling is so darn good

The toughest nut for me to crack to truly enjoy Elder Scrolls Online has got to be its combat system (for me, at least). I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different things, mostly moving spells around or trying out different weapons, in the hopes that I’ll get a build that offers a smooth and enjoyable rotation.

After doing a little bit of research, I figured that it might be worth giving an archery-focused build a try — or StamBowWarden or whatever abbreviation the community likes to do with these things. To assist with this switch, one of my most excellent guild mates offered not only to make me a bow but an entire outfit (with enchants) to support the build. The end result is a character that feels and plays a lot more different then my old haphazard magicka one did — and I didn’t have to reroll. That’s a plus.

So far, it’s working really well for me. Fast kills, not too much key spamming, and extra XP thanks to the armor set. I also paid to respec for the first time, which I think was long overdue because I had so many wasted points spread out over everywhere. I’m working on rebuilding her and working up skill lines that I want her to use in the end. Again, good so far. We’ll see how it goes in the long run.

And I genuinely want there to BE a long run because everything else about Elder Scrolls Online is clicking hard with me these days — especially the stories. Man, I love these quests, to the point where I’m excited if I uncover another quest giver. This game really reminds me of The Secret World in that respect, with fewer but more detailed quests and quest givers. I think ESO has a lot more emphasis on dialogue and additional scripting than TSW did, but both place a premium of making even “side” quests full stories that don’t distract the player with scads of tasks but rather one mission, one story, one quest at a time.

Why are these quests so good? While some of the tales and characters are pretty memorable in their own right, there are enough mediocre ones to encourage exploration somewhere else for this answer. I think it’s because ESO really nailed quest flow in a way that most MMOs don’t. Most MMOs front-load you with a task — go here, do this, this is the flimsy pretext why — and then there’s very little narrative development, surprises, or resolution after that. You just Do The Thing.

In ESO, there are objectives and clickies and even kill requests, but almost all of it is in service to the story of the quest. There’s enough time and space to really sell the narrative, establish the characters, and let development happen. A lot of the side quests are much like short stories, where characters are introduced, you get to know the general situation, and you’re plunged into the meat of a crisis or a mystery.

I love seeing NPCs come and go, especially inside of the little dungeons that populate this land. They keep reminding me of what’s at stake and offer up more actions and dialogue to further my understanding. Every once in a while a quest might toss in a choice — usually at the conclusion — that is appreciated, and usually there’s a scripted epilogue that takes place if you stick around.

It’s really good stuff, and I’m excited to think that there’s so many of them in the game I’ve yet to experience. That’s why I so desperately want to take combat above “functional” to “fun,” just to extend my potential interest here.

3 thoughts on “Why Elder Scrolls Online’s story telling is so darn good

  1. Nimgimli (@pasmith) June 12, 2020 / 9:38 am

    I only recently started messing with Magicka builds and I find having to aim the staff can be kind of frustrating. I guess with magicka the thing to do is layer on the AOE DOTs and let things die. I still prefer stamina builds though. Slamming an enemy and knocking him on his butt never gets old. I wish there was an effective way to go magicka and use a melee weapon but with the ‘heavy attack returns resources” mechanic I don’t see how that would be possible.

    I love some of the characters that show up over and over. Like Stibbons and Lady I-Forget-Her-Name. Poor old Stibbons…

  2. Sylow June 12, 2020 / 11:00 am

    @Pasmith: It depends on which class you play and how you play it. For example my main character is a magicka templar. In dungeons and trials i play it as a healer. There things get a bit of an effort, especially when doing veteran content. But for about anything open world, i actually use a rather relaxed setup.

    As the spamable is puncturing sweeps, i actually go rather close to the enemy. (That ability almost feels like cheating. Good damage on the main target, some damage to other targets nearby, it slows the target and thanks to the passives you also get minor protection, reducing damage taken. )

    On my way to the target i hit it with vampire’s bane (damage over time, which also give me the major prophecy buff), then trigger elemental blockade and drop luminous shards on the location where i plan to fight. Thus the damage of these two abilities keep ticking. Then when i am in range of puncturing sweeps, i just keep hammering it in, with some light attacks in between.

    Other magicka setups are even more about stacking DoTs on the target, you are right there. But that’s not magicka specific. Most stamina setups also rely on a number of DoT abilities, often supported by a bow (due to the volley ability) and caltrops. (Though they by now are mostly used for the resist debuff. )

    That being said, magicka setups are currently still tied to the staff. Not so much for the resource regeneration. There are ways around that, but mostly since the damage of your light and heavy attacks also scale based on the corresponding attribute. So if you have all magicka and use a melee weapon, you loose a lot of damage.

    Also, a change to that was part of the experimental rework of light and heavy attacks. On the test server, the highest attribute determined the damage of those attacks. Which very much for the first time in the games history kind of supported the spellblade playstyle. Unfortunately the changes didn’t make it past the criticism of a certain part of the playerbase, so ZOE delayed it, to perhaps be implemented later.

    I still hope that they will do those changes, as i actually found it way more intuitive and logical, especially on the side of how to do damage and how to manage resources, than on the current system.

    Yes, the top-end players would have to re-learn their rotation. But i’ve seen our guilds top-end players go through several “nobody will play any more after this” and “these are massive nerfs, nobody will ever manage to do enough damage any more” patches. It usually took them one evening on the training dummies and they came out even stronger than before, so i don’t really worry.

    Mind you, even with that, the magicka oriented setup would still carry a staff on the off-bar, for resource management. But hey, that’s what tanks already generally do now. A one handed weapon and a shield on the main bar and a destruction staff on the off bar. That’s actually extremely useful, as you can actively recover both magicka and stamina that way, if the need arises. I personally would really appreciate to have that option also on my non-tank characters.

  3. TheRoyalFamily June 12, 2020 / 6:00 pm

    The quests are really good in this game. And long. But mostly good.
    Indeed, I’d say the quests in the Vvardenfall area in ESO are generally better than the quests in Morrowind.

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