ESO: Adventures in Ebonheart

Elder Scrolls Online occasionally uses creative scripting to kick off quests, and an example of this is in the city of Ebonheart. Upon entering it, this dark elf dude ran up to me all frantic for me to talk to him. I ignored him — I was on another quest at the time — and the game kept winging him at me in unexpected quarters. He was like a movie serial killer, if that killer was polite and a little more than insecure. So I kept ignoring him, because it amused me to see an elf grovel so.

So there’s a nearby Covenant invasion, and the only hope is to pull the Nords and Argonians together to help fight it off. But both sides aren’t speaking to the dark elves — no comment — and it’s up to me to be Diplomacy Police. Weeeohh weeeohh. Along the way, I stopped to admire a small player band belting out hits.

The Nords said they’d only join the Pact if I defeated three of their best — while completely smashed on mead. Me smashed, not them smashed. Other than a funky screen effect, I didn’t see any drawback to this. The head Nord guy said that there was a suspicious dark elf that came by not too long ago trying to bribe them to leave. Hmm…

The Argonians are having a rougher time of it, as some dark elf (HMM) is poisoning their precious Hist tree. I help fertilize it — not with my own bodily secretions, please understand — and then check out this elf that they caught. It turns out its a patsy, set up to take the fall instead of Rhavil, the guy who’s masterminding these disruptions.

After following Rhavil around, we discover that he’s working to pave the way for the Covenant. A quick fight later, and all is well — the townspeople have unified against a common threat. Yay me.

ESO: Halloween in May

Stonefalls questing this week started off with jumping into the Crow’s Wood public dungeon. I actually ended up loving this place, largely due to its “Halloweeny” vibe, with giant bats, dilapidated cottages, and a vibrant purple sky.

After making friends with the crow court, I dug down into the mystery of the place. A Dark Elf son had traveled here to find his missing father who, as it turned out, made a pact with the Crow Mother to stay with her in exchange for learning secret magic. He got the magic, tried to renege on the deal, and got trapped anyway. So the big choice here is to kill the Crow Mother and free him, convince him to uphold his deal, or kill them both. I made him stick to his word, because a promise is a promise.

Next up was a trip to the Emberflint Mine, where I helped a guy un-crystalize his Argonian companions. And kill a Daedra, because every quest in this game ends with “and kill a daedra.” For an encore, I cleared out the Emberflint delve, which was another charming mine filled with OSHA-disapproving lava.

It’s kind of uncommon to see two delves so close to each other, so I head to go check out Mephala’s Nest. It was a spacious underground ruin with enough bookshelves to make up a small town library. I love me ESO bookshelves, what with their chances for a random skill point. And despite the name of the delve, the boss mob was called Grizzled or somesuch.

It was finally time to venture into the city of Ebonheart and its plethora of quests. I started with “Night of the Soul,” in which the spiritual leader of the town was experiencing a faltering faith. In true MMO fashion, I was asked to go pray to the gods on his behalf. Such lazy NPCs, these are.

ESO: Dead bugs and crabs

When you’re heading to a particular destination in ESO that’s far enough away from a wayshrine, you’re gonna want to make that trip count so that you won’t have to come back later. So as I’m heading to an awkwardly placed quest marker behind a mountain, I made sure to detour and take out this world boss crab. No amazing rewards, but I did get a nominal shield upgrade. Plus, my new shield, she be spiky.

After that, I grabbed a dagger off a dead hunter for “The Fate of a Friend” and rode my bear halfway across the zone to turn it in. I think I snagged four additional wayshrines along the way, which definitely will help later on.

I doubled back to Devon’s Watch to work on some quests there, starting with “Through the Aftermath.” I love it when a quest actually gives me a choice, because sometimes these have consequences and narrative shifts depending on what you pick. In this case, I got to choose between enslaving ghosts to use as guards or setting them free. I’m a good guy; I set them free. Hope that was the right call. I followed this up with “Enslaved in Death” to help out a few more ghosts. I’m very popular in the afterlife!

Now if any quest *should* have choice involved, it’s “Giving for the Greater Good,” as it involves dishing out poisonous mushrooms to three NPCs who eat them and die to — somehow — transform their bodies into life-giving fertilizer for the land. I have to say, this quest does not work narratively. The sacrifice isn’t explained, the player has no choice (other than abandoning the quest) to avoid assisting three suicides, and the devs don’t even transform the landscape afterward to reflect the results of this so-called heroic sacrifice.

It’s a weird quest.

After that, I tackled a zone boss nearby, some big insect swarm dude. Happily, there was a mess of players on hand to handle it, so we wiped the floor with it in under a minute. No great loot, but I’m always glad to tick off another spot on the map.

ESO: Dungeons and Dunmer

It’s time to really dig into some of these Stonefall quests, so I’m going to try to knock them out while providing some commentary and screenshots on each. First up is “Suspicious Silence,” which has yet another “you do this, I can’t be bothered to risk my neck” NPCs asking me to infiltrate an enemy camp. What are those sneaky Covenant people up to?

Guess it was more dangerous for the NPC to stay behind, because he’s dead now. Aww. That’s what you get for being a coward. Anyway, the plans say that some legendary being named Ahknara is here, and that’s bad for some reason.

In “Venom of Ahknara,” the fort commander suspects that enemy assassins are already inside the walls and wants me to flush them out with blinding light flasks. This might be a tricky task to complete, except that — as with all ESO quests — there are huge white markers pointing me right to the stealthed killers. They didn’t see that coming!

The assassins did a bloody good job before they got stopped, even going so far as to chase some of the guards down into the dungeons below. This is a fortunate development, as the guards discover the bad guys are planning to tunnel up into the fort from below. So the quest shifts to becoming one of containment — and then chasing Ahknara herself out a trapdoor and into a hasty and not-that-satisfying boss battle. It’s almost insultingly quick, for fighting a legend, but at least the quest (and the chain) is complete.

After that, I doubled back to the town of Senie, which was suffering a bad case of Volcano at the moment. Dunno why anyone would want to build a town next to an active vent like this, but the end result is a lot of burned people and angry bugs. So through “Proving Trust” I aided the townsfolk a bit, while rounding up some mining bugs for “Percussive Ranching.”

I’ve noticed that several of the quest chains in this region have dealt with the history between the dark elves and the Argonians. I guess the Dark Elves up and enslaved the Argonians a while back, but that’s not any longer the case. The Argonians aren’t terribly happy about that event, but they oddly enough don’t seem as mad as they should be about it either. There’s some friction between the two races, but really, it’s all weird rather than out-and-out hostile.

Elder Scrolls Online: On to Stonefalls

With Glenumbra 100% completed (at least what I wanted to do with it), I was free to move on and start working on a different zone. There was no clear direction where I had to go, so I just pulled on a dangling quest thread that I had and moved over to Stonefalls. It’s a semi-volcanic zone that is part of the Morrowind province, so it shares a lot with the famous island.

Weirdly enough, as much as I tend to dislike “lava zones” in video games, ESO has always made its very pretty. The glowing, slowly moving magma is hypnotic, and I’ve found that it’s rarely a serious impediment to travel.

It’s certainly a chunky zone with a whole lot to do, so I anticipate being here for a while. That’s OK; I’m starting to fill in my champion points and trying to grab as much level 50 stamina gear for my build. If I log in every night and accomplish a couple somethings — a quest chain, a delve, exploring more of the map — then I feel like I’m making good progress.

And there’s that cheeky ESO humor that pops up every now and then that I love. One of the city quests had a dubious figure challenge me to swipe a bottle of wine away from a bartender. To do that, I had to figure out from the bar’s patrons what really got under this guy’s skin and then select one of those methods to pull him away from the bottle.

(As an aside, I really love it when MMO quests give you multiple paths to the same objective — it’s something that games do far, far too little of, in my opinion.)

I elected to get this one guy really drunk so that he’d start crooning loudly. Which he did, and with the voice acting, it’s pretty funny. I almost didn’t grab the bottle, I was mesmerized by how bad this was.

Elder Scrolls Online: I am the champion of the wor… of Glenumbra!

I really haven’t been in any hurry to move on from Glenumbra until I felt like I had gotten everything I wanted to out of this zone. Thanks to going through each and every storyline and getting in my daily dungeons — with an XP scroll running — I hit level 50 before I was even done with my character’s very first full-sized zone in this game! That seems a little weird to me, but never matter, at least I can get gear that I won’t be replacing every two minutes.

It also helps that Glenumbra is a largely pleasant place to adventure. I did all of the skyshards, delves, questlines, and the mini-world bosses (whatever they call those). I was kind of surprised that one of the champion mobs granted me a new costume, but hey, I ain’t complaining!

So it’s probably time to say farewell to Daggerfall and move on to wherever my questlog demands. I feel that I’m finally in a very good place in this game, with a solid build and a better understanding of how you milk all of the goodness out of a region.

It also means that I’m starting in on champion points, coincidentally right after they did a huge overhaul to the system. I think that right now it goes up to a ridiculous number, like in the 800s, so there’s going to be a lot of room for improvement. I’m finding that I’m getting CPs frequently in my adventures, and so I’m investing them wherever I think looks the most interesting without worrying about being slavish toward a build.

Blackwood is right around the corner, of course, and with it companions. I’m definitely planning on moving on to that expansion zone this summer, because I’m all about having a second pet (no offense, big bear). And, you know, hopefully the zone and its stories are engaging as well.

How Elder Scrolls Online and Guild Wars 2 share the same great feature

One of the absolute best design elements that went into Guild Wars 2 was in creating its maps and how players would interact with zones. Choosing to ditch the hub-quest model, GW2 elected to create zones with all sorts of icons to encourage exploration and interaction. Filling out a GW2 map is deeply satisfying by finishing up all of the hearts, points of interest, vistas, and the like. I appreciated that it allowed me to set my own course and follow my curiosity rather than a rigid path.

While Elder Scrolls Online isn’t exactly the same, the two MMOs share a lot of similarities in their zone designs. ESO also has quests, POIs, mini-dungeons, sky shards, and waystones all over the place, and the player is pretty free to meander in whatever fashion is thought best.

The newish (well, not so new now) zone finder screen is a big help in giving players checklists and starting points for all of the optional activities. If I want to spend the day sky shard hunting or making sure I’ve done every last quest line, this screen gives me a visual indicator as to my progress (and some clues as well).

My Glenumbra meanderings are about at an end. I really am setting no speed records for completing zones, but I’m having a very good time even so. One of the last things I did was to go back and wrap up dungeon delves, which I had neglected originally. Each of these are small public dungeons with a boss tucked somewhere inside, and it’s a nice solo option to jump into one and check off that tickbox without a huge time investment.

It just makes every zone that I haven’t done feel like it’s a gift box that I get to unwrap and enjoy a bit at a time. Hm. Maybe a better analogy is a box of chocolates, savoring one bite of content at a time. Whatever, it’s lunch, and I’m hungry.

And hey, I’m level 50! My very first in Elder Scrolls Online, so Champion Point grind, here I come!

Elder Scrolls Online and the length of gaming sessions

Nice doggy!

So here’s a weird thing I’ve been noticing about Elder Scrolls Online: It’s really an MMO that benefits more from extended play sessions than shorter ones. I mean, I can pop in for a half-hour and knock out a quest or visit an unexplored region, but I’m starting to figure out that the game is best played in good blocks of time. At least an hour, if not two.

It always takes 15 or 20 minutes to slip into the feel of ESO when I boot it up, for starters. I don’t know why that it, but I get this mental picture of wriggling and stretching into the game before I’m fully comfortable and off and running.

But the greater case to be made for longer play sessions is that ESO really emphasizes quest chains over isolated adventures. One quest usually leads to another… and another… and another until it finally comes to some sort of big conclusion. And while I’m doing that, chances are that I’ve found or been handed the start to another quest chain.

I do like this, mind you. As with Secret World, I appreciate focusing on a single storyline and following it through to its climax. There’s continuity, repeated use of characters, and a cohesive tale. That’s right down my alley.

And I’m often finding myself surprised or amused by the outcomes of quests, especially ones during which I’m given some sort of choice. There was one quest in Glenumbra where I was doing a quick dungeon dive to find some treasure for a very haughty lady. So I find the treasure, but the ghost guarding it says that I should take a cursed crown to her instead of the real thing so that the ghost is freed and this nasty woman’s spirit will be bound to this place instead.

Well, I had to see that play out, right? I’m sure everyone did. So I presented the cursed crown to her — only to have her long-suffering assistant pick it up instead. And so his spirit gets bound to the place and the ghost comes to possess his body — and the lady is none the wiser. It’s a really weird ending that left me scratching my head and wondering if this was good or bad or what.

But that’s Elder Scrolls Online for you: Sometimes it goes in a different direction than what you’d anticipate. Keeps me on my toes. I like that.

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.