ESO: Shoving elves down wells

Really, whenever an MMO gives you the opportunity to shove an annoying elf — and, let’s be honest, they’re all annoying — down a well and then leave him to his doom, you take it. You don’t hesitate, you don’t mull over the moral ramifications, you just thank your lucky stars that you’ve been given such a golden opportunity and… shove.

Thank you, Elder Scrolls Online, for a truly cathartic moment.

In other ESO news, ZeniMax officially announced that the next expansion-slash-chapter will indeed be Elsweyr. I’m not up on Elder Scrolls history and lore, so you’ll excuse me if I don’t understand why that’s a Big Thing, but apparently it has a lot of folks excited.

And I’m excited too, although mostly for more content incoming. I mean, I’m pretty much still at the beginning of my feast on this game with the core game and two expansions piled on top of a table, but sure, add another chapter to the mix! Won’t bother me none.

The studio was far too excited for dragons and desert biomes, as if it invented them or something. Me? I just like the look of the expansion (of what we’ve seen), the name (which is so ’90s it hurts), and the fact that the Necromancer class is incoming. As much as I love my Warden, I have a famous soft spot for necros and know that I’ll have to play one. I applaud the decision by the team to have necros practice their dark arts on the down low, lest the long arm of justice reach out to deliver a blow. Man, that was a lyrical sentence.

Another part of the reveal stream that interested me is the shortly upcoming zone guide feature to help new or unfamiliar players (like myself) figure out where to go and what to do in any given place. I anticipate that being a very helpful feature indeed!

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The 2019 Syp ESO Tour

With my interest in FFXIV quickly waning across the month of December, I knew that I wanted to find another MMO to fill the alternate slot come the new year. Instead of going back to old favorites, I returned to a title that I had merely flirted with in the past and felt compelled to give it a stronger chance.

And so it was that shortly after Christmas, Sypsonic was born in Elder Scrolls Online. Mother died at childbirth, considering that she delivered a 120-pound fully grown adult, but such are the sacrifices of parenthood.

But seriously, I did want to give ESO another try — and a much more serious, in-depth one than before. On paper it has so many of the features that I’m always seeking in MMOs, but I felt disheartened that it didn’t click with me in the week or so that I put into it a year or so back.

Since I didn’t get very far last time, starting completely over made a lot more sense than it usually does when I’m returning to titles. I did go with a Warden again (because pet bear), but past that, I became determined to learn the systems and get into the flow of the game.

Maybe it was just the time spent this past year, maybe I’m a little older and wiser, but almost immediately I was sucked into ESO in a way that I most certainly was not last time. While I’m no fan of the action combat, almost everything else is perfect for a more relaxed questing experience. With the auto-scaling, I don’t have to worry about progressing in a certain order, but rather I kept following quests and picked up any new ones that I saw along the way to go back to later.

And the questing and storytelling is good — really, really good. Coming off of FFXIV, where there’s gobs of story but it’s told in a stiff and personally unrelatable way, ESO feels more down-to-earth and interesting. I absolutely love that the quests are long and involve a lot of stages with story developments and dialogue along the way rather than a huge info dump at the beginning and a “thank you, take these, don’t come back” reward at the end.

I do want to give praise to ESO for another small detail. Even though I deleted my old character to make a new one, the game still remembered and kept my house, all of the (three) decorations, my mounts, and my pets. I really didn’t expect any of that to carry over, but huzzah that it did. Made me feel like the game was welcoming me back, in a way.

It’s an exhilarating and stressful experience to be diving into a rather new MMO to you. The process of discovery can be really fun, but any veteran of the genre knows that there’s always all these things we will learn about playing more efficiently in the future. Those knowledge gaps are only filled in by time, experience, reading guides, and asking guildies lots of questions (fortunately, most people in MMOs love to sound smart about their game and don’t mind dispensing advice).

Well that’s an image that’ll haunt my dreams tonight. Projecto-Elves. And oh yeah, if I had any illusions that ESO would be elf-free, they got completely erased by the end of the first night. It’s like flippin’ elf nation around here, including a community of powerful mage elves who don’t mind enslaving “lesser” races and being even more arrogant than elves normally are. Suffice to say, any opportunity to kill, betray, belittle, or steal from an elf, I took it.

Speaking of the whole elf/slaves thing, I got embroiled in a quest line that started really innocuously. There was a couple of Argonian slaves who wanted freedom and to be together, and I thought, aw, I should help ’em out. But what I thought was going to be a one-and-done quest turned into this massive epic storyline involving one slave rising into power (and engaging in dubious moral machinations) and the other slave plotting an escape plan. Just quest after quest of all of this, sending me every which way, and let me tell you, I was hooked. It was like being part of a fantasy novella where I wanted to see how it all turned out and was constantly surprised that there was still another quest and another and another to it all.

Finally, it did come to an end, after assassinations, tough choices, stealth missions, and plenty of dead elves. I was nodding in happy approval, feeling like I might have found a solid mainstay for this year after all.

Battle Bards Episode 129: Elder Scrolls Online Morrowind

In today’s episode, the Battle Bards crew row their dinghy to the island of Vvardenfell, where there is a rumor of the legend of the return of Morrowind. Yes, it’s a tour through Elder Scrolls Online’s first expansion soundtrack. Will it be enough to reverse a few negative opinions of the base MMO’s score? (spoiler: yes indeedy!)

Episode 129 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Ascadian Idyll,” “Omens Prophecy,” and “Telvanni Towers”)
  • “Shadow of Baar Dau”
  • “A Land of War and Poetry”
  • “Grazelands Dawn”
  • “Currents of the Odai”
  • “Reverie of the Netchimen”
  • “Magnus Smiles on Suran”
  • “Azura’s Coast”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener notes: Deekay_zero
  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Crash Bandicoot, “Darkness Rises” from The Banner Saga 3, “Traps” from Turrican II
  • Outro (feat. “Vvardenfell Vista”)

6 MMOs that shaped my gaming in 2017

2017 was an interesting year for my MMO gaming career. It wasn’t really marked by any super-huge new releases; in fact, the year was pretty anemic for new MMOs, period. We’re still seeing lots in development, but only a handful of big budget, big studio projects, and most of those are for the future. Instead, this year was mostly about returning to old favorites and continuing on in my adventures.

I am really glad that I’ve been doing a monthly “gaming goals” article, because it helps me track what I was playing over the course of the year. This was the first year where I fully did that, and it is neat to look back at my aspirations vs. realities while also following the threads of my gaming life. So with that in mind, here are the six MMOs that dominated my gaming time this year:

1. World of Warcraft

This past spring, I felt the need for a break following a nearly two-year run in the game. I was feeling listless and in need of variety and direction, and I am glad I took the time off. But sandwiched around that break were my continuing journeys in Legion, my endless experimentation with alts, my progress as an Undead Warlock (the highest I’ve ever leveled one to date!), and some excitement over Battle for Azeroth and Classic. I’m ending this year mostly focusing on bringing my Gnome Hunter up to speed while giving equal time to other titles.

2. Dungeons and Dragons Online

DDO was really the surprise experience this year for me. When I went back to dabble a little bit in it, little did I know that the DDO bug would bite me hard once more. I should have remembered how much I was in love with this game back in the day, and it’s only grown since then. I’ve had some amazing quests so far with my Gnome Artificer, although I still haven’t really found a guild that’s very active or involved. Hoping to change that in the new year, and also to see the game’s expansions as I start to get up into the double digits.

3. Lord of the Rings Online

This was pretty much a steadfast experience, taking my Lore-master through the remainder of Gondor and then finally into Mordor with the fall’s expansion. While I did try out some alts (Minstrel, Hunter), most all of my time was given to the LM. Mordor proved to be a tough slog with only a handful of interesting and engaging moments, and my enthusiasm for playing started to sap away by the end of the year. Still, I’m excited about Northern Mirkwood for 2018, so there’s hope left!

4. Secret World Legends

I had to say farewell to The Secret World and my character of five years this spring, and while that definitely was a hard blow, at least Legends injected some new life into this faltering title. Taking a new character through the game and getting her back up to where I had left off pretty much consumed my attention for the remainder of 2017, and hopefully by the time the new year clicks over, I’ll be ready for season two.

5. Star Trek Online

I think I had about a two- or three-month run back in STO, doing some of the newer content while dusting off my carrier and fleshing out missions I hadn’t run yet. It was… fine, I guess, but definitely not as memorable as I was hoping nor as long-lasting as trips back to the game in the past.

6. Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 edges out FFXIV on this list by virtue of time, if nothing else. I put in about two months in this game vs. one in FFXIV, but both ultimately conveyed to me that I just wasn’t in the mindset to come back to either. There are so many things that I enjoy about GW2 but also so many things that really drive me nuts about this game that I can’t settle back into what used to be an MMO gaming mainstay for me.

Honorable mention: Elder Scrolls Online

Tossing this into this list because I should mention ESO for a few reasons. I really did want to get more into this game than I did, at one point vowing to make this my main summer title (which worked out as well as my plans usually do). But the allure of housing and the new expansion did get me to put in a few sessions, and it remains very, very high on my list of games to come back to soon.

ESO: How to kill an elf god

OK, I fully admit that I don’t have the first idea of what I’m doing in Elder Scrolls Online. My gear is a mish-mash of plate armor, ascots, cardigans, leather strips, and chafe-inducing thongs. Yes, thongs plural. If I’m given a task and a direction, I’ll just start making a beeline for it according to my compass, no matter what’s in the way. Let’s say that if I operated a motor vehicle like this, my car would be plowing through marshland and nursing home with impunity.

Am I playing right? There’s some sort of main questline about a god losing his powers, but I keep getting distracted by quest chains picked up along the way. Should I be spreading out my power usage for skill ups? I keep spamming my basic cliff diver animal summons in the hope of one day earning a bear. I assume that if I get a bear, I win the game and become the new raid boss. I think I’d make a great raid boss. I’m perfect with pointless speeches in the middle of looking pompous.

In a way, being so clueless is liberating. I’m just experiencing, not worrying about optimal leveling paths or looking for something different than what I’ve done before. And Elder Scrolls Online is, so far, a great game to just play tourist. It’s pretty, it’s amusing, and you can pretty much loot everything. Of course, most all of the loot is worthless, but if the price of chipped plates ever skyrockets, then I’m going to be a rich man.

One thing I do know is that this man right here must die. I’m not an idiot, I know that I just immigrated to an entire island of elves and that I’m going to have to pretend to be on their side once in a while before my master revenge plan is complete. But I have to draw the line when it comes to helping some sort of defective elf god restore his powers.

No. flipping. way. My theory? You take the head elf down and the full elf kingdom will fall. Elves will be sucked into the abyss and I will plunder their ill-gotten loot. Now how to kill him? That… I am working on. It might take some doing. I don’t care what people saying about this doofus being so incredibly powerful, we could probably dogpile him with a thousand noobs and chisel his health bar down to nothing. After that, my bear’s going to eat him as a pre-bedtime snack.

What I am genuinely enjoy the most are the quests and dialogue. I don’t know what it is, but ESO has very engaging quest lines. The characters, their conversations with you, and their scripting pops. It’s not as belabored as FFXIV or as stilted as SWTOR, just enough to have some fun, make its point, and keep the story moving. I was pretty surprised how many of these quests featured scripting and mid-quest conversations. Even little epilogue vignettes!

The mind-controlling spiders who wanted victims to dance was decidedly odd and interesting, particularly when the questgiver turned out to be an incredibly snobby Breton rich lady with little regard for her servants’ well-being. Maybe I can recruit her in my war against elves.

It’s even pretty funny at times. This guy’s an even worse fibber than I am.

ESO: Real estate in Morrowind

Nothing like standing in front of a lava field with your dumb dog thinking about drinking from it. If you were to correctly interpret the look on my character’s face, it would be “I have no idea what I am doing, but I’m going to strike a pose and make others doubt my ineptitude.” Also, “Hey dog, you’re going to be pooping fire tonight if you keep that up.”

I’ll give Elder Scrolls Online this: It’s slick, it’s polished, and it feels wide open in a way that I think the devs wanted to mimic from the solo games. I have a few quests in my log, but I’m largely free to go where I want and die how I want. So when I logged in the other night, my goal was “get a house.” I’d been starving for housing in many of the other MMOs I’d played this past month — WoW, GW2, SWL in particular — and I have heard really nice things about what ESO has done in this regard.

And unlike some other games that make you wait until you’re level 50 and have jumped through many-a-hoop (FFXIV, I’m calling out names), you practically get a free house right out of the gate in Morrowind. To be fair, there is a short quest chain beforehand, but the most difficult part of that is a 10-minute road trip (via jogging; I have no mount as of yet). After doing an errand, I got a deed to my own apartment in Vivic City — and a quick port to it to boot.

Here it is: Syp’s grand castle. OK, it’s a small room with no windows, but you know what? It’s free and it’s large enough for now. I thought it was kind of funny that one part of the housing quest asked you to buy (or make) at least one housing item. I didn’t have a lot of money, so that little stool over there represents about 1/3rd of my current wealth in the game. I’m worth three stools. The only other decoration I have is a spare pet that I planted in the corner and told to watch over my stool. HANDS OFF MY STOOL U NOOB.

Maybe it’s strange and a little pathetic, but I feel more “established” now that I have a home of sorts on this island. Time to head off and pay lip service to needy red-eyed Elves.

ESO and FFXIV: The siren call of summer expansions

Does anyone else hear it?

Can anyone else feel it?

Summer… it’s here. And carried on the wind is the smell of sunshine, pool parties, and MMORPG expansions.

June is shaping up to be an especially busy month for the MMO industry. Elder Scrolls Online is releasing its first expansion, Morrowind; FFXIV is coming out with its second expansion, Stormblood; Black Desert Online is launching on Steam; Elite Dangerous is coming out on PS4; RuneScape’s got an expansion; and Secret World Legends is happening. Oh, and there’s also E3 and any possible announcements contained therein.

Of course, standard disclaimer, I’ve got plenty to do in my games as it stands, but I cannot deny that I am weak-willed when it comes to an expansion launch — even if I’m not playing the game. And I am feeling tugged toward both ESO and FFXIV, a situation that I did not predict but could very well be fueled by all of the coverage and hype going on.

Morrowind is especially appealing because that was the only Elder Scrolls game to date that I actually liked and played for any length of time. Plus, it’s a perfect start point for new characters, there’s that housing system to check out, and a pet-based class? It’s like they’re checking off my wish list. ESO also remains one of the big MMOs that I still have yet to give a fair shakedown, as I’m just not sure I can get past the combat, console-esque UI, and generally blah armor models.

FFXIV? I’ve been mulling over a return for a couple of months now. My character was on the cusp of Heavensward, and that’s when everyone said the story gets good. I genuinely miss the community and the dungeon runs (especially as a healer). Red Mage looks pretty sweet too, even though it lacks bears. BEARS. On the minus side, there’s the general hodge-podge of FFXIV annoyances I’d have to overlook and a subscription fee to contend with.

So what’s the plan? Do neither? Do both? Pick one? It’s a big summer ahead, and I wouldn’t mind a change-up of my MMO stable, especially since my other anticipated releases — Project Gorgon, Sea of Thieves, LOTRO’s Mordor expansion, GW2’s second expansion — are coming no earlier than fall at best. It seems like a perfect time to try on ESO for real or to give FFXIV another go.

I’m at a loss, really. I could see myself enjoying either of these, but I could also just be jealous with that time and keep investing it into LOTRO, GW2, and to a lesser extent, SWTOR. Anyone else hearing this siren’s call, or have you already made up your mind?