Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Wrapping up Blackwood

It’s been a while since I went on an unintentional Elder Scrolls Online hiatus, and I guess I stopped right at the start of the big climax to Blackwood. The Waking Flame cult is heading toward the fortress where the good guys and the ambitions are preparing to make their stand, which means that it’s time to play One Girl Army again.

Admittedly, this set piece is full of terrific moments, from Oblivion portals popping in left and right to a demon that uppercut punched a guy off a ledge.

None is quite as impressive as this big red dude coming through the dimensions. You know how MMO raid bosses are always orders of magnitude larger the normal mobs? This guy is the epitome of that. As with most ESO main questlines, the ending was a long slog to a boss fight that effectively serves to say “Sorry, but the REAL boss is in the fall DLC. See you then!”

After the main Blackwood storyline, I turned my attention to tidying up some of the loose ends — skyshrines, delves, side quests — around the area. This is probably my least favorite part of doing zones, just because it’s a lot of busy work done for that feeling of completion rather than progression.

I am currently planning on playing High Isle this month, but I’m not exactly champing at the bit for it, either. ESO is fine and agreeable to play, but the current game and upcoming expansion don’t have a lot to dangle to excite me other than “more story.” And don’t get me wrong — I like more good stories, but I really would like to feel like my character has some strong chase goals in front of her. And I don’t know what ZeniMax could do right now to make that happen. More skill morphs? Different weapons? Jet packs?

I really wouldn’t complain if the studio took next year to work on a completely revamped combat system rather than another expansion, but I know that is a foolish wish. “Revamped combat” doesn’t get sales.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Snake-ka-bob!

Whenever you’re juggling three or more MMOs at a time, it’s impossible to maintain the same level of excitement and interest between them all. It’s just how it goes — one or two are going to have your heart, another one will be about moments, and the last will find itself becoming the unloved child of the bunch.

And the crazy thing is that those priorities can reshift on a weekly basis. I’ve just learned not to force it with MMOs. If I’m interested, I’m into it; if not, I’m not going to treat the game like homework.

This is all a lead-up to say that Elder Scrolls Online has, as of late, become that last-place game. I kinda want to play it and enjoy it when I do, but it’s lacking that compelling spark that pulls me in. I suspect a lot of this is due to going through Blackwood, which I’ve found to be a fairly bland expansion zone. It’s not terrible, but very little about it stands out, either.

I mean, the main storyline is nothing to write home about, but that’s almost always the case with the bigger ESO plotlines. I show up to play the little side story arcs that end up being a heck of a lot more memorable and creative. But even in Blackwood, there haven’t been as many winners in that category. So I slog through the swamp, dutifully checking off main story objectives, and hoping that it’ll all be done soon so I can move on.

I think there’s a lot of fatigue with MMOs on the whole trying to create and sustain these apocalyptic storylines. It’s always an arms race to establish a bigger threat than the last time, even though you know said threat will get taken down in the final quest or raid.

So maybe MMOs need to stop with this and realize that stakes can be compelling even if they don’t have “or else the world will explode” attached to them. I’ve heard that ZeniMax is indeed de-escalating somewhat for this coming June’s expansion, which is a good move. I may even be done with Blackwood by then.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: The vanity of the elves

With many of the side quests done in Blackwood, I turned my attention last week to the sorely neglected main storyline. I thought I was further along, but no, only 2 out of 7 steps done — and those are some mighty big steps.

Like many main storylines, it’s a bit of take-it-and-leave-it. Cults? Betrayals? We’ve been down this road before. But it’s got some nice Oblivion theming, what with four-armed demons popping out of portals.

I took a break from that to help out some old friends in “An Abundance of Stibbins.” Lady Clarisse and her manservant managed to bungle some sort of curse artifact that Multiplicitied Stibbins here.

Apparently the duplicates are being created by a sorcerer to undo the locks on his captivity, but fortunately for us, the Stibbins are all very loyal to Clarisse. So loyal, in fact, that I can use them like lemmings to navigate the next dungeon. Stand here, do this, die like a hero. Nice in concept, but kind of really buggy and annoying to complete. At least it was amusing!

Back to the main questline and into a doomvault… which spits us out into the Deadlands. Which, I’m guessing, is ESO’s version of lava hell. As a Secret World veteran, it’s child’s play to me, really. My favorite part was when my companion Bastion yelled in combat “Oblivion take you!” to a critter… who was already in Oblivion. Get with the times, Bast.

Deep, deep inside the vault we find a brother and sister just hanging out, doing art, journaling, and honing their unimaginable power. I think these two are what we came to collect. Them, not their art.

No, elves are not impossibly vain creatures. Why do you ask?

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Circus dreams and ghost stories

Another week of wacky Elder Scrolls Online adventures in Blackwood! I kicked it off with “The Face of Change” where a circus troupe is getting unfairly blamed (or so they say) for a series of recent disappearances. Considering that all of them are wearing masks, even in their off hours, I don’t think that they’re automatically cleared of suspicion.

It’s actually a little more complicated than simple disappearances. Apparently various people vanished, then reappeared acting strange, then died or vanished for good afterward. ESO has a knack for setting up intriguing quest narratives like this where you want to see them through to get the answers, so I was on board with this right away.

Not to get too spoilery about it, but this particular quest has a whole lot of bizarre twists and turns that include dreams, fantasies, a sympathetic antagonist, and small-town angst. Really good stuff, right up to the end choice.

Next up was a trip to the afterlife with “The Ghostwriter of Giovesse.” An aspiring romance novelist wanted my help investigating a doomed ghostly haunting of a nearby castle. What I first assumed was going to be a tragic love story that unfolded with successive discoveries, what I got was a lot more immediate — and intriguing. Without getting too spoiler heavy, a cross-realm romance blossomed in the middle of this and led to the creation of a very different sort of muse.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Hackey sack with lizards

I trust that I’m not alone in thinking that it’s a little unrealistic and unfair that characters in RPGs and MMOs can never pick up the giant piles of coins and gold that sometimes decorate setpieces. For example, when I started down into the Doomvault in Elder Scrolls Online, the stairs were literally coated in stacks of cash. But hey, it’s set dressing, not your retirement plan, so keep on going!

The Doomvault actually ended up being one of the longer delves I’ve done in the game, with multiple maps and some pretty nifty rooms. I’m really glad that ESO ranks highly in its environments and stories, because most days it doesn’t feel like I’m ever progressing my character. Quest after quest, I get a paltry amount of gold, a green item I don’t need, and an NPC’s eternal thanks. Champion points are the very definition of “tiny increments,” and skill points don’t mean much when you don’t have anything useful to spend them on.

I did have a blast running a Blackwood delve featuring the Blackfeather Court. The Court is a bunch of opinionated and vain crows run by a ghost crow, and I had to free them from enchanted mirrors that captivated them too much. For this, I was named Knight-Without-Feathers. I can live with that.

I also liked this short quest chain where some Argonians and Imperials had to put aside their differences to address a lethal threat in the area. After the completion turn-in, I got a laugh when I turned around to watch a lizard dude playing hackey sack with a ball while two Imperials watched on in approval. They’re friends now!

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Life isn’t a fairy tale

With every Elder Scrolls Online expansion I enter, it’s with the anticipation that the main storyline is going to come with a handful of recurring companions (not the companion system, mind you, but NPCs that keep showing up). I appreciate the narrative cohesiveness that comes with this, however, I started to feel dread when Blackwood instantly saddled me with Chipper the Wood Elf up here.

Oh, she has a name, but what’s the point? Forget the elf thing — ESO’s elves don’t bother me nearly as much as other MMO elves, mostly because they’re portrayed as people rather than infallible supermodels that snort nature and burp perfection — but rather that her persona is really out of whack for the storyline. She’s very bubbly, with the voice actor clearly refraining herself from adding “tee hee!” on the end of every line, but she’s also the lead investigator into a series of murders and conspiracies. It just doesn’t fit and I kind of want to find a cliff and see if my bear can nudge her off of it.

But hey, I’m having fun in Blackwood anyway. The zone — side quests and main storyline — haven’t fully clicked with me yet, so I’m more or less going through the motions, but I have hope that it’ll happen because it always does. Not really digging the swamp/bog biome, but at least it’s not annoying to navigate.

I guess there was a quest that caught my attention because it dealt with a kind of dark deity that promised retribution upon followers and foes alike for their insolence. It’s hard to explain, but Nocturne’s attitude is really unnerving. There’s not the usual benevolence of an ESO god, but rather a kind of sulky shrewdness to her. Different! And different is good.

We’ve also got ghost crows, but that’s just normal for this time of year. Always showing up, ordering you to plunder this tomb or that, feed them ghost worms, the usual.

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Venturing into the Blackwood in search of companionship

Cracking open a new zone in Elder Scrolls Online is at once thrilling as it is daunting. I always come at a new zone slower than I’d assume, given my enthusiasm to see the latest. Part of it is my natural inclination to slow down and really savor the fresh feeling as long as it lasts. But it’s also a little bit of feeling like a reset button was hit and now I gotta do a whole map all over again.

Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. It’s just in getting into the right head space for it.

With still a ton of base game zones and even two expansions — Elsweyr and Summerset — to do on this character, I leap-frogged all the way to last year’s Blackwood. Two reasons for this: One, I kind of want to see the latest thing while it still is the latest, and two, I really wanted to get my companions. Figured that was a quality-of-life upgrade for the rest of my adventures, so let’s get it done.

Turns out, “getting companions” ended up being a very simple task. No huge quest chain prologue, no prerequisites, just a single quest for each that ran about 20 minutes or so apiece. I had my choice of either a dark elf or a slightly dorky mage, so for right now, I’m going with the mage. I like his attitude.

The companion system is quite neat in how you can set up their build and skills and gear, although I was perhaps more excited to see that I could throw my account costumes on these characters. That felt like an unexpected bonus that gets some extra use out of these unlocks!

So now I’ve got a companion and a bear following me everywhere like it’s my own little party. I’m quite happy with how this is turning out.

Last week we also got the full reveal for this year’s theme and expansion. It’s a Breton adventure in the High Isle archipelago, which looks quite neat in and of itself. No new class, although we’re getting two more companions (yay) and a card game that can net some extra home furnishings (double yay). I really like the idea of a card game as another fun side activity, since that was something I warmed up to in FFXIV with Triple Triad.

None of this is “holy cow this changes EVERYTHING” huge, but it definitely feels substantial and exciting enough to keep me hooked on the game this year. Now, back to Blackwood!

Posted in Elder Scrolls Online

ESO: Plumming the secrets of Greymoor

While Elder Scrolls Online boasts a gloriously vivid and interesting-looking game world, it’s a fair complaint that the characters themselves are a little “off” and bland. This extends to their outfits, as a whole bunch of the game’s looks are slightly below average. Lots of loincloth flaps, though. Lots of those.

So I’ve placed a premium on getting my character to a good “feel.” For instance, out of all of my mounts — and I have maybe a dozen — by far and away I like my Morrowind bug mount the best. It doesn’t have an overly loud sound associated with it (as do some of the horses) and looks right moving at max speed. I also bought a new costume that is loincloth flap free and gives her a no-nonsense combat style.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been plugging away at finishing up Greymoor. In a previous post, I said that the zone was initially underwhelming in both tone and quests. Happily, it does get a whole lot better as one goes along. For starters, the underground realm that’s lurking right below Skyrim is a beautifully visualized cavernous space that isn’t too difficult or annoying to navigate (which must be said).

And the main storyline ramped up beautifully. Sure, in the end it was all werewolf-this and vampire-that, and I am more than done with these gothic tropes, but it managed to make it interesting even so. There was court intrigue, torture, a vast conspiracy, and a coming-of-age story that all made it worthwhile.

It may also be the first time that I found all of the skyshards in a zone on my own before having to resort to a “where’d I miss one?” guide. Maybe it goes to show that I really combed over as much of the region as possible to eke out all of the content before I had to move on.

Finally it was time, and I said farewell to Greymoor — and hello to the latest expansion, Blackwood. I figure I want to see the newest chapter while picking up a companion to help me with the rest of my adventures.

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ESO: The mighty music hunter

It’s personally amusing and interesting to track my own rising and falling interest in various MMOs. Depending on the week — or even day! — a title might be on the rise to the top of the Syp Must Play charts while others fall to lower ranks. And right now, Elder Scrolls Online is topping it out over everything else.

It is hitting the spot, as they say. Greymoor as an expansion is a lot bigger than I expected, and once I got to the underground realm, I fell in love with the visual design there. I’ve also been engaging a lot in veteran dungeons and archaeology, the first for gear and the second for various knick-knacks. I actually got me a cool throne from a purple-level dig which ended up being the first really big find for me. I love this system!

Another activity I pursued in the game last week was collecting all of the musical instruments scattered about the zone(s) to bring back to a bardic museum. Sure, I used a guide — who wouldn’t? — but it was still a cool little scavenger hunt that took me to all sorts of wild places.

The end result was, in my opinion, quite worth it. Not only did I get a concert from the NPC bards, but I was gifted a beautiful music box for my home that plays a little tune.

So yeah, I’m 100% gunning for ESO this month, I think. We got the teaser trailer for this year’s expansion focus — looks really neat, and at least isn’t desert-themed — and I can’t wait until the 27th when they do the full reveal. I also picked up Blackwood for $13 over the holiday break, so I think I’m going there next and putting Summerset off until later. I’d love to get a companion to go with my bear.

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Elder Scrolls Online: When an MMO makes me crave fondue

My adventures in Elder Scrolls Online’s Greymoor saw a definite uptick the moment we went to the massive underground realm. It’s by far more interesting than the rather bland snowy realm of Western Skyrim. It also helped that the first quest that I got to tackle was a rather intriguing mystery about missing miners.

And now, an important PSA about cheese:

Mmm. Cheese.

I guess “underground vampires” is a bit of a twist on normal gothic conventions, so I’m down with it. Some days I’m quite excited to play ESO, some I just don’t feel the urge. It’s fun enough but never quite has that “stickiness” that I’d like to see in an MMO.

I am certainly interested in hearing what ZeniMax has planned for 2022. We should be getting that roadmap soon, and I’m sure it’ll include another expansion that I’ll have to put in a long line with the others I haven’t finished yet. Rigurt help me if they announce a Bard class, though, because I really don’t want to reroll at this point — and that would make me reroll.

Meanwhile, a-spelunking I shall go!