About Tyler F.M. Edwards

Freelance writer, fantasy novelist, and nerd of the highest order.

ESO: Buy This Car to Drive to Work, Drive to Work to Pay for This Car

I seem to be referencing a lot of song lyrics lately. Perhaps I’ve been reading Inventory Full too much.

My sorcerer in her Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls OnlineAnyway, the last few weeks have seen me playing more of Elder Scrolls Online than anything else, and I have some fairly mixed feelings on that.

First the news, then the navel-gazing.

Rise of the alts:

Recently over the course of two days I manage to get both my alts (well, both the ones I actually play) to max level with the aid of a lot of XP boosts and dungeon spam.

By now my main has maxed out every crafting profession except for jewelry, which appears to be have been designed as punishment for mankind’s sins, so I was able to immediately outfit both characters in gear 100% crafted by myself, with mats I gathered myself, all of it epic or legendary quality.

That is a good feeling. I love being this self-reliant. No need for other players or prayers to RNGesus. I have all the power, and it feels so good to read “Made by Maigraith Santh” on all my gear (again, except the jewelry). Also, being able to choose the styles has effectively given me a second outfit slot for both characters, though with the disadvantage that I can’t use any armour type the way I would with a “real” outfit.

Also, why can’t I dye weapons without using an outfit slot? Can you answer me that, Zenimax? With all your science?!?

My warden in Elder Scrolls OnlineI know that if you really want to min/max dropped sets are often better than crafted, but this gear is still more than powerful enough for any of the content I’m likely to do. The first thing I did on my templar after equipping her new gear was solo a world boss that kicked her ass when she first arrived in Stonefalls. Took a while cause her damage isn’t great, but I did it.

In fact, ironically my alts are now much more powerful than my main. My main is using a hybrid magicka/stamina build that I find fun and flavourful, but which is deeply sub-optimal. My alts may not be perfectly min/maxed, but they do hew much closer to traditional builds. My templar is a tank, and my warden a pure caster.

Though, I have to say, I have some regrets in regards to the templar. Turns out I don’t like tanking in ESO very much.

This is not a problem with tanking itself. The lack of an AoE taunt or even any threat boosts to help hold crowds is a bit weird, but mostly the tanking mechanics in ESO are fine.

The problem is this game doesn’t need tanks.

Oh, I’m sure if you do really high end stuff like raids you probably need a tank or two, but the more casual content I frequent can just be zerged by a bunch of DPS. You barely need a healer, and you definitely don’t need a tank. If you try to actually play as one, you’ll quickly realize how worthless you are. You can keep the boss taunted to make yourself feel useful, but there’s really no need.

My templar in Elder Scrolls OnlineWorse still, the community knows it. Everyone just bolts through in full “go-go-go” mode. Try to keep up if you can. I’m not a fan of that playstyle at the best of times, and as a tank I find it intolerable.

I suppose I can use her to solo hard stuff my main can’t. She laughs at public dungeons, and seeing if she can defeat more world bosses could be an interesting challenge, I suppose. Perhaps I could finally play through the Craglorn story. It seemed interesting, but my main couldn’t hack it.

Then again, I’m not really sure what I’m doing with any of my characters these days.

Running on a treadmill:

Leveling my alts led to a bit of a revelation. See, I leveled them almost entirely without questing. I mostly run dungeons, dolmens, and the occasional battleground. My warden has completed maybe two or three non-dungeon quests ever. My templar finished Stonefalls and started on Deshaan, but that’s about it.

And you know what? I didn’t miss it.

This is a strange experience. Questing is generally my focus in any MMO. Exploring worlds and stories is the entire reason I play video games. And yet in ESO I find I enjoy it most when I play it as a sandbox game — wandering, gathering, crafting, thieving, decorating, and generally doing anything but the story.

A scenic dungeon in Elder Scrolls OnlineSomewhere out there, a sandbox purist is smirking and tenting their fingers.

But this is not some change in my tastes, or at least not a radical one. It’s unique to ESO, a combination of unusually engaging non-combat activities and unusually dull story-telling.

The thing is, everything in ESO is the same. Every zone has the same collection of quests, group events, world bosses, delves, and skyshards. And all of that content is built around standard formulas. If you’ve seen one delve, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

This is normally where story comes in to save the day. While ESO takes it to an extreme, formulaic content design is hardly an uncommon quality for an MMO to have. But stale gameplay can be given life by an engaging plot or characters — see SWTOR.

But even the story in ESO comes from a cookie cutter. It’s all the same. Bland generic cultists are trying to blow up the world in service of a Daedric Prince. The only thing that changes is which Prince, but they’re all the same, too. In theory each Prince is meant to have their own domain and personality, but they all come across as the same megalomaniacal mustache-twirler. I just stopped caring.

I am enjoying playing sans-story, but it does leave me with a nagging question: why? Why am I doing any of this?

My warden in Elder Scrolls OnlineI like to have purpose in games. It’s the reason total sandboxes have rarely held much appeal. I want to know what I’m working towards; I need a good motivation.

Usually, that’s story. I earn gear so I don’t find myself outmatched when new story arrives. I explore to earn a deeper understanding of the setting. I make alts to repeat old story or experience it from a new perspective.

Absent any investment in the lore, I don’t know why I’m playing. This is such a foreign way to approach gaming for me my brain is having trouble processing it.

Part of me feels it’s good to broaden my horizons like this. It’s a new way to enjoy gaming. But another part me of feels like I’m going to look back in a few years and wonder why the hell I wasted so much of my life picking flowers in Tamriel. I grind to make better gear to wear while I grind. I fear I may be flunking my “will this make a good memory” test.

I’ve reached this point in other games, but usually I quit soon after. When I stopped caring about Guild Wars 2 from a lore perspective, I quickly stopped playing, even though I still largely enjoyed the gameplay. Yet ESO lingers. I think it’s some mix of a satisfying gameplay loop combined with sunk cost fallacy, but I’m not sure what the balance of those two forces is.

Sometimes I wonder if the course of history might have changed if I’d never played Thieves Guild.

A public dungeon in Elder Scrolls OnlineThieves Guild was really, really good. In both game mechanics and story-telling, it was full of wit and creativity, and it played to ESO’s strengths very well. The good will from that DLC kept me going for a long time, but only now am I beginning to realize that it was an aberration. The charm and cleverness displayed by Thieves Guild is largely absent from the rest of the game.

I will say again that ESO is a very well-designed game, and it does many things very, very well. But it has no soul, and that’s a problem I’m still struggling to solve.

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It’s Not the Band I Hate; It’s Their Fans

I have never played Path of Exile. I probably never will.

A promotional screenshot from the action RPG Path of ExileThis is not entirely because it’s a game that doesn’t appeal to me. As a free to play fantasy ARPG, it’s in my wheelhouse enough that it should theoretically be worth a look, if nothing else. Unfortunately, its community has done a singularly good job of turning me off the game.

You see, I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say anything good about Path of Exile that wasn’t couched in the form of a dig at Diablo III.

This is a turn-off on a number of levels.

Firstly, if the only good thing you can say about your game is that it’s not another game, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Drawing comparisons is one thing, but any game should be able to stand on its own merits.

Second, there is a strong streak of elitism in the criticism leveled at Diablo III, and therefore also in the praise of PoE. While some people do have legitimate grievances of D3 that I won’t argue with, a lot of the time it’s people who seem to think it’s too “dumbed down” and childish, whereas PoE is a “real” ARPG with “proper” skill trees and an appropriately “mature” tone. UPHILL. IN THE SNOW. BOTH WAYS. LIKE A REAL MAN. GRR.

Related to the above, a lot of the things people hate D3 for are the very same things I like about it. I like that I don’t need to Google a guide to figure out my build. I like that experimentation is encouraged. I like that freedom and flexibility.

My crusader in Diablo IIIThe end result is that I have been given the overwhelming impression that PoE is not just a game that isn’t for me, but a game designed for and occupied by people who don’t want players like me around.

Now, I grant it is possible — nay, probable — that I am being unfair. I don’t doubt that a great many people playing Path of Exile are perfectly fine, and not embittered edgelord elitists. It’s also quite possible it’s a fine game I might enjoy.

Unfortunately, the embittered edgelord elitists are the ones you hear from most often, so for me they have become the face of PoE and its community. They’re the first thing I think of when I think of the game, and it’s a negative association that’s gotten so ingrained over the years that it’s hard to overcome.

I started off this post thinking only about Path of Exile, but mulling it over, it occurs to me that PoE is not the first gaming experience I’ve been turned off of by the community.

Despite the fact I’ve playing MMORPGs avidly for the better part of a decade now, I’ve never really gotten into raiding, as longtime readers undoubtedly know. I flirted with it during Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, but once the Raid Finder was added, I gave up on “real” raiding forever. Not even my beloved Secret World could make me care about its raids. I never even attempted them.

On reflection, this has at least as much to do with raiders as it does with raids.

A raid group in World of WarcraftMy experience with the raiding community has been almost uniformly one of bitterness, scorn, and elitism. Raiders are the ones who spent years calling me a “filthy casual,” and that’s by far the least offensive label I’ve been given. Raiders are the ones who fly off the handle the moment anyone like me has even a shot at minimal progression. Raiders are the ones I saw treating everyone outside their clique as something less than human.

And again, I know not all raiders are like that. Many are just fine, I know. But that was the prevailing experience I’ve had with raiders. That is the public face of the raiding community, and that bile is what immediately comes to mind for me when I think of raiding.

And that is one of the driving reasons why I never became a raider. There are other things I don’t love about raiding — such as the time commitments — but the community turned me off so badly I never had much motivation to give it a serious shot. Maybe I never would have gotten into raiding anyway, but we’ll never know.

My disinterest in PvP is also affected by this kind of community negativity. Never, in my entire WoW career, have I seen a battleground team lose with good grace. It always ends in name-calling and rage, without exception.

Now, PvP is fairly outside what I find compelling in games to begin with, and I have other issues with PvP outside the community, but the experience I’ve had with people who PvP hasn’t improved matters. PvP was never going to be a favourite activity for me, but it might have made up a larger portion of my gaming diet if my experience with its community had been one of sportsmanship and respect rather than a teeming mass of homophobes, tea-baggers, and nerd-raging man-children.

My rather pitiful rank in Heroes of the StormAll this is just more testament to how negativity and toxicity is poisoning gaming. If you want your hobby to prosper, you need to present a welcoming face, not elitism and hostility.