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.

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.