Elder Scrolls Online: Just a scrub in Daggerfall

And lo, Syp went into an Elder Scrolls Online dungeon. Forsooth, he survived.

Actually, I had been avoiding dungeons at the start there. I usually do when getting into an MMO, because I’ve always got this mild fear that comes with not knowing how dungeon runs go in a specific game. You just don’t want to look foolish and get yelled at on your first run, you know?

But it was a silly fear, because at least while leveling, these dungeons are nothing but relatively stress-free grouping fun. It’s four people zerging really cool set pieces. I guess there’s a tank and a healer, but I haven’t really noticed anyone stepping up into those roles. I know that for me, I’m happy to lay down heals when I see people’s health bars sliding, and I’m also not too shy about jumping into a pack of mobs with my trusty shield and axe.

And by doing the daily random dungeon, I’m getting extra goodies, including at least one purple piece of gear. I like that.

As of late, I’ve been adventuring through Glenumbra and its main city of Daggerfall. It’s a very nice region — I’ve yet to meet a truly ugly ESO zone, although I’m sure there must be some — but the sheer scope of it and all of the quests, skyshards, and points of interest are keeping me occupied.

I do like starting a quest chain and staying focused on just that until I come to a conclusion. There have been some dull ones, like helping druids fight anti-druids so that they can keep their big ol’ tree. And there have been some fascinating ones that culminate with choices and strong narrative beats.

I also joined up with the Undaunted guild/faction (along with the fighter and mage guilds), which is I think a dungeon-focused group. All I know is that they had a hilarious initiation ceremony that culminated with a dorky song and that I got a really great skill from that guild’s line that helps with my AOE damage.

I certainly feel like I’m rocketing up in levels a lot faster than I did on my previous character. I’m careful to always have an experience and food buff going at all times (it helps that they’re like two-hour buffs that you get for free from the daily rewards), and just running a single dungeon usually gets me one or two levels just from that. I should hit 50 by some time in March, and I guess after that it’s progressing through champion points and figuring out that system.

But there’s never any feeling of rush. This is the kind of game experience that I like best in MMOs, when I can leisurely explore and complete a zone without feeling pressured to move on or hit some sort of milestone to be with others. And there’s a whole lot of content ahead that I own, with DLC that I’ll get around to buying sooner or later when I’ve exhausted the rest.

I probably will buy Blackwood when it launches, though, and not just to be with everyone else. I love the idea of having a companion character in addition to my bear pet, so that’ll become a priority this June.

Life as an Elder Scrolls Online lizard

While I had a great start to my new Warden over the past couple of weeks, I quickly developed “roller’s regret” (it’s a term that I just coined, you must pay me copyright fees to use) when it came to my race. I wasn’t really sold on the Redguard, as I felt like my character looked grumpy and recalcitrant. And since I didn’t want something that mimicked my actual life, I thought about trying something different.

Happily, that didn’t mean needing to scratch this character and reroll. It turns out that along the way somewhere, I had accrued three race change tokens that were sitting right there on my character selection page. A few clicks and adjustments later, and I had gone from Redgard to a spiky, scaly Argonian.

I never seriously thought about playing a lizard dude before, but let me tell you, I was well and fully converted just an hour into the experience. It felt different than a straight up human- or elf-like race without being so far out of relatable bounds as to be foreign. My character is more svelte and limber, and I like seeing her tail go woosh woosh as I’m fighting and dodging.

So now I have a race, a class, and a fresh field in front of me. After the tutorial zone of Bleakrock Isle, the game kicked me to a series of mini-zones that were perfect for getting my claws wet. Bal Foyen felt like a prologue area that I’m pretty sure I went through in a past life (or a past playthrough session). It went pretty quick and soon booted me across the continent to Stros M’kai.

Stros M’kai is a very small tropical desert island dominated by pirates that all seem like they hate being there, even though it’s flat-out gorgeous. It seems very restful and relaxing, with palm trees and crystal clear water, so I don’t know what their complaints were about. I really did appreciate the game giving me yet another small zone, however, because it’s perfect for really getting a handle on the basics and chalking up full completion without having to spend weeks there.

I loved doing the main quest, which involved recruiting members for a heist, but even some of the side quests were pretty memorable. One of my favorites was using a series of clues to go on a treasure hunt, and the island’s small size helped not make this an onerous chore.

Now it’s away from Stros M’kai and to yet another small isle: Betnikh. Or as my head calls it, Beatnik.

Charging into Elder Scrolls Online

You know that giddy, buzzing feeling you get when you find yourself super-into a game — either because you’re going into it for the first time and it’s so exciting or because it’s finally clicked for you? Friends, I think I’ve hit this moment with Elder Scrolls Online.

A return to ESO has long been in the works for me. I know I’ve wanted to, so every day for months now I’ve been faithfully logging on to get rewards. I think I got something like three crown crates, some outfits, a new mount, a couple of pets, a ton of gold, just from daily diligence. And all of that has paid off now that I’m back.

But I really wanted to come back the right way. Shelving WoW was a good start, but before I started playing ESO for real, I did a whole lot of homework. I watched all those videos I shared the other day and far more besides. I read a lot of beginner guides and filled in many gaps in my knowledge of how to actually play and enjoy this game. I figured out how to adjust settings to make it look and feel more like other MMOs.

I was ready.

As I discussed concerning my return to LOTRO, I had some evaluation to do with ESO. I bounced between picking up my old Warden, starting a new Necro, or starting a new Warden. I finally went with the latter, mostly because I look at my old Warden as the character that I played half-heartedly, made a lot of mistakes on, and wasn’t currently attached to. The idea of starting anew and playing this right, for once, was overpowering. Hours later, and I’m sure I made the right call.

The reason that I’m so very excited here is that ESO is a game that checks so many of my “MMO must haves” — story, housing, cosmetics, pets, level scaling, beautiful world, flexible class choice — that I’ve historically been frustrated that it never quite gelled. The combat was the big sticking point, which is why I paid a lot of attention how to videos that talked about fighting effectively.

It’s just been so, so good. I know I have a game full of interesting (scripted, voice acted) quests ahead of me, and I really don’t mind redoing some of them. For now, I’m going to focus on doing the main story questline and then work on zones one at a time until they’re fully completed.

I’m really pleased that so many things carried over to this new character. I have all of my mount, pet, and house unlocks that I got previously, and my old guild kept me around for some reason, so I don’t have to hunt for a new one. I did some bank transfers between toons to stock up on consumables, spirit shards, and gold, and I’m ready to go. More than ready.

Elder Scrolls Online University

I’m going to talk later this week about how I’ve been super getting back into Elder Scrolls Online recently, but I will say right now that a big part of that is because I sat down to do some actual homework to learn the ins and outs of this game. I discovered a trio of very helpful tips-n-tricks videos that taught me a lot of stuff that I never knew before about ESO, so I thought I’d share those with you today:

Elder Scrolls Online’s SHACK OF DEATH

Here’s a general MMO adventuring pro-tip: Sooner or later, you’re going to come across the dwelling of a cannibal and/or serial killer. When this happens, don’t be surprised. Take in the view of the almost comical piles of skeletons and bones, snap a few pictures if you must, and then carefully back away while resisting the urge to grab a souvenir. Hanging out there is just begging to get added to the “collection.” And trust me, no matter how bad you think your life is right now, it’s going to get a little bit worse when someone else is wearing your skin as a human suit.

And welcome back to another fun sojourn through Elder Scrolls Online, where even your winter wonderland is plagued by cultists, killers, madmen, vampires, and a lot of drunk vikings. One of my friends said that he’s felt let down by Greymoor, which is generally seen as “fine” but “not near the insanely popular heights of Skyrim.”

Me? I’m OK with it so far. I was never as enamored with Skyrim as it seems like most all gamers are, so I guess I’m seeing Greymoor as just another solid ESO zone. I’m still in the above-ground portion of it, working on side quests and doing a fair amount of antiquing on the side.

I was really delighted to see that my old friend Rigurt returned. His quest chain in Elsweyr was among the highlights, and I’m glad that the writers brought him back for another ambassadorial adventure. The guy is such a goofball mix of dense and enthusiastic that he reminds me of Park and Recreation’s Andy. He also gets some of the best lines of any quest dialogue.

Plus, this is the only quest I’ve played in ESO where I’m frantically chasing a fish that’s high on mushrooms.

As for my new bow-wielding lifestyle, it’s functional but still not that magical rotation that will suddenly transform ESO into a normal-feeling MMO combat system. I’m killing at a nice pace, but it’s not necessarily fun or snappy enough that I run out of my way to go fight. Actually, I’ve noticed that you really don’t kill as many mobs in ESO than in most MMOs. I can appreciate that, at least.

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.

ESO: Greymoor hors d’oeuvres

In the weeks leading up to Greymoor, my main priority in Elder Scrolls Online was just positioning my Warden to be ready to jump in the moment it went live. One thing that I could do in advance was the Greymoor prologue quest, which ESO handed out for free through the store (which is a smart marketing move, by the way).

The quest was rather more lengthy than I anticipated and involved tracking down a cult by hopping around the world with a Nord half-giant. There was a sewer crawl, a preview of the enormous underground realm that Greymoor will boast, and lots and lots of fighting. The only thing that disappointed me was the voice acting for the Nord king, who handled his lines in a really weird and stilted way. It really stuck out, since most of ESO’s voice acting is rather excellent.

Happily, Greymoor proper was hot on its trail. The expansion released last week, and I have to say that it was a gaming highlight for me. I kind of needed a pick-me-up, although a few bouts of insomnia meant that I was cutting gaming time on the next nights to make up that sleep. So I didn’t get in as much as I wanted to, but my pace is going to be pretty leisurely anyway.

I was never a huge Skyrim fan — I think I played it for a few days back when Elder Scrolls 5 launched — but I’m all for winter zones with mountains, conifers, and the northern lights. Plus, grouchy vikings. That’s always a plus. My current plan is to mostly concentrate on the main storyline and just save up all of the side quests for afterward — or when I need a break. So far, the story has a good flow as Titanborn and I investigate weird vampiric/cultist rituals in the far north.

I did take a break to start in on the expansion’s main feature addition, which is the antiquities system. It’s basically archaeology-slash-treasure hunting that spans every zone the game’s made to date. I really love the idea of that, of repurposing older zones as well as including newer ones, and the system itself is kind of fun.

It’s built around a couple of minigames and some landscape sleuthing, but so far nothing too frustrating. I think that setting the goal of doing two or three antiquities hunts at the start of a gaming session every night might be a good one in progressing me through these skill lines and in the acquisition of better fun stuff. I bought an apartment in the Solitude city tavern to decorate with whatever I find, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will pay off handsomely down the road.

Here’s something you don’t see every day in a fantasy MMO: a disabled NPC in a wheelchair. So sorry about my bear’s butt in your face, ma’am. He has no manners. You kind of look like you’re writing him up for this transgression, though.

I’m just happy that every session I have in ESO is pretty relaxed and calming. I have a bevy of options and can simply enjoy romping around the landscape and looking for new areas to unlock, or I can get into questing, or I can become an amateur archaeologist. The zone itself doesn’t look that terribly big, but ESO does a lot with smaller plots of land — and I keep reminding myself that there’s a whole underground realm here too.

Elder Scrolls Online: The Warden rides again

Out of all of the ways to be drawn back into an MMO, I wouldn’t have expected a trivia contest to do it.

So here’s the weird story. Every night I sit down and cycle through several MMOs to grab daily rewards for if and when I might come back to the game. When I did so in Elder Scrolls Online, I noticed that my guild (which is, of course, squid-themed) was four questions into a trivia contest. Well, I couldn’t let that go by, so I sat there and dominated the rest of the game (I may not be smart, but your boy can do trivia like no one else). We were laughing and chatting, and since I was sticking around, I also started questing.

Well, that led to actual play engagement — which led to actually wanting to play. Nightly. Regularly. So there you go — daily rewards don’t get me to play, but a silly guild trivia contest? That’s the ticket.

Anyway, it’s actually been really great to slide back into ESO. With the new(ish) zone guide feature, I’m able to see how many quests that are left in any given region, so I’ve been puttering around Northern Elsweyr working on finding the few that I overlooked and chomping through them.

I have to say that I’ve really come to appreciate ESO’s storytelling on many levels. Not only are these usually self-contained tales (rather than enormous, sprawling ones), but the voice acting, the scripting, the variety, and the resolutions offer me a lot more than I usually see in MMOs. And I actually *care* about the stories, which makes a difference. FFXIV might have great storytelling, but when you don’t really care about the world or the tale being told, then it doesn’t matter how well it’s packaged.

So really, the only obstacle to full enjoyment and engagement in ESO is and continues to be combat. I can keep wishing in vain for things like auto-attacks and more visceral blows, but there are things I can control. One thing was turning on damage numbers, which were off for some reason. I like seeing that feedback, especially for AOE attacks. Another thing is that I’m trying to build my Warden to being a 100% spellcaster, rather than a spellcaster/melee hybrid. I don’t like smacking things around in this game, but I am finding enjoyment in just throwing down AOE fields and DOTs. So I’m going to stick to that.

I think it’s a really good time to be getting back into this game, what with Greymoor coming out today. Even though I have just tons and tons of other zones and content to do, I pre-ordered the expansion because I knew it would kill me not to be adventuring there with everyone else in the summer. I’ve also done the prologue quests, which at least start to get the player in the mindset of heading to Skyrim to fight vampires.

I also can’t wait to try out the new Antiquities system. That seems like a really great way to repurpose zones and add non-combat activities into the game, and I’m down with that. I should also work more on my house, since I haven’t done much with that since I initially set it up.

Anyway, great to be back in Elder Scrolls Online, particularly this month!

Finishing up Elsweyr in Elder Scrolls Online

I’m doing a bit of personal facepalming here today, because I just now realized that I never actually finished writing a post sharing my accomplishment of finishing up the core Elsweyr expansion in Elder Scrolls Online. Oh, I had started a post and put pictures in it and everything, and then it got bumped off the front page of my drafts and drowned in a sea of forgetfulness.

Anyway, I finished it. Probably not the whole Elsweyr; I hear there’s another zone? I’m not quite up on ESO releases except to know that I’m way, way behind (which is the usual story). But I finished the main storyline and the sidequests to Northern Elsweyr, a feat that took me into some sort of bizarre alternate dimension where I had to fight two angry dragons in a long and boring boss battle.

Again, if ESO’s combat was practically anything but what it is now, I swear I’d make this game a mainstay in my household. The world building, the voice acting, the quest design, the housing — it’s all pretty great. But the combat is a canker sore in the middle of it all, robbing me of any enjoyment and replacing it with annoyance. I play despite the combat, not because of it.

Even though I felt that the story went off the rails of my comprehension toward the end there, it was suitably involving and nice in the eye candy department. I didn’t mind the land of the cat people at all, as they ended up being way more endearing than Morrowind’s dour elves.

I’m going to be stepping away from ESO for a while, in any case. There are other things that are interesting me more, but the siren call of the expansion might be what I need to come back some day. Not really for the vampires (ugh), but the northern climes of Skyrim are a big draw — and I’m hearing good things from testers right now.

Anyway, big applause for the world designers of Elsweyr. It’s probably my favorite desert region in an MMO, and that’s not praise that I dole out lightly. I guess it’s more savannah than pure desert, but it definitely has that Egyptian feel. Kind of expect Indiana Jones to run through on a cameo here and there.

Elder Scrolls Online: Floating heads make the best enemies

I swear, wherever I go in Elder Scrolls Online, I feel like I’m on the set of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. The environmental artists in this game don’t get enough credit for how amazing they make this world look. I’d gladly use these visuals for most every other fantasy MMO if I could, just transplant in their quests, classes, and features.

Anyway, more gradual questing through Elsweyr. I think I’ve done most of the side quests that I’ve found (apart from dailies) and am focusing more on the main quest line that involves dragons and necromancy and more dragons and more necromancy. If only there was a floating, talking head to round things out…

Whew! That makes a bingo for me!

At this point, I want to be done with Elsweyr, not because the land is unenjoyable, but because I want the sense of progression and progress. You can’t quite get that until you can check off an expansion or region, and I know that there is so much else that’s out there in the world.

My Warden is nearing level 30 — levels are coming quite slowly now, especially since I don’t play as often. I probably should be popping experience potions more. I kind of forget all of the pots I have in my bag, but let me tell you, those daily rewards really fill you up. “Here,” they say, “have another 50 poison potions. Wait, did I say 50? I meant 100.”

Speaking of daily rewards, February’s been a profitable month for that calendar. Usually you have to log in for 21 days to get the One Big Reward (lots of gold, a costume, a pet), but in February, it’s three decent rewards, one per week. I think there’s a hat, then tattoos, and then a pet. That’s pretty nice. With update 25, they’re going to make us re-download the client (so sorry for the data capped folks) but give us a nice torchbug pet as a present.

One of my favorite quests that I ran last week involved navigating a not-too-tricky labyrinth that was dotted with tons of traps but few enemies. I liked how showy the traps were and how you could avoid them if you paid close attention to the environment. Sometimes I triggered the flame traps just to have fun running through them all. Whee! It’s like a very hot sprinkler!

So far I haven’t pre-ordered Greymoor yet. Probably won’t buy it for a while, at least not with all of the other zones that have to be explored. I do want to see the icy lands of Skyrim by the year’s end, however.