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.


Gaming Round-Up: ESO, Bless, Zeratul, and MMO Mobs

Once again I find myself with a number of gaming topics that are worth discussing, but not worth filling a full post on their own.

A story cinematic in Bless OnlineBless Online: Actually okay

With its launch as a full free to play title, I decided to give Bless Online a try. Given the incredibly negative buzz, I was surprised by how decent the game is.

Once again I feel the need to point out that the universal and hyperbolic negativity of the gaming community has made word of mouth entirely meaningless. I no longer know which games I should avoid, because basically everything is decried as a broken cash grab, regardless of reality.

That’s not to say Bless is a masterpiece. It’s not. I actually gave up on it fairly quickly. But this is much more symptomatic of how jaded I’ve become than the quality of the game itself. It’s got a lot going for it.

The graphics are gorgeous. The world is detailed and filled with personality. The story is surprisingly high effort and actually halfway interesting. The combat is very flashy and engaging, if once again much too easy. If I weren’t in a period of feeling somewhat burnt out on video games in general and traditional MMOs in particular, I’d probably have played a lot more.

In the end, that may be Bless’ one major sin: It launched too late into a market too crowded.

A flightpath in Bless OnlineESO: Home sweet villa

After months of hard work and with the assistance of an ESO Plus trial event, I’ve finally finished decorating my Grand Psijic Villa home in Elder Scrolls Online.

I am not sure why I did this. There is no gameplay reason to spend time in my own home, and I have no friends who play to show around the place. I suppose it’s a nice virtual environment to wander around and reflect on my life choices.


The place is so huge I had to wall off a few rooms because I didn’t have the resources or energy to furnish them properly. Even so, I did manage to include a feast hall, bedrooms for both my Aldmeri characters, a kitchen, and indoor gardens. Meanwhile the exterior is home to as much plant life as I could cram in, a campsite with a hammock, some lovely statuary, and a semi-submerged coral garden, among other attractions.

It is fun to express yourself through design like this. I’m beginning to catch a glimmer of why people are so passionate about player housing in games. I just wish it was a more fleshed out feature.

SC2: En aru’din Raszagal

Surprisingly soon after the release of Tychus, StarCraft II has gained another new co-op commander: Zeratul.

I preface my thoughts on him by saying that I think Zeratul is fun to play, and I don’t regret purchasing him. He has some cool abilities, a unique mechanic in the hunt for artifact fragments, and his unit skins are gorgeous.

That said, he does somewhat reinforce my perception that the co-op team is running out of ideas. Aside from the artifact mechanic, he could basically be described as “Nova, but Protoss and somehow even more overpowered.”

Zeratul is very powerful, and very easy. His macro is simplified to the point of being almost non-existent — even his upgrades are researched automatically — and he also has surprisingly low micro requirements.

Your only real strategic choices are what top bar abilities to pick (which is a neat mechanic, I grant), as his unit selection is limited, and you really don’t need anything other than Void Templars and Enforcers with the occasional Shieldguard for back-up. His only real micro in battle is casting blink and dropping his calldowns. Meanwhile his base runs itself.

Zeratul in StarCraft II co-opI mean, I hate economic management, and even I feel Zeratul may have gone too far in eliminating it.

Zeratul’s fun, but I can’t pretend there aren’t a lot of ways in which he’s simply a failure of good game design. If nothing else, I have to believe there are more interesting things they could have done.

New article:

In other news, I’ve published a new article on MMO Bro. This one seeks to rethink the design of open world mobs in MMOs.