Gaming Round-Up: How MMOs Changed Me, The Division, ESO, and More

With my goals in SWTOR complete, I’ve spent the last month or so bouncing between various different titles, which means it’s time for another gaming round-up post.

The Wrothgar zone in Elder Scrolls OnlineLong Division:

Around the holidays, I started poking back into The Division. I had trouble articulating why I gave up on the game before, and I’m even less clear on why I returned, but over a few weeks of sporadic play, I’ve managed to complete the main story and explore all of the launch zones.

I managed to solo the main story missions by simply outleveling or over-gearing them. It involved a bit of frustration at first, but once I was ahead of the curve, it was pretty easy to stay ahead of the curve, and I settled into a good rhythm of play as I cleared out zone after zone.

I had only one speed bump, when I hit max level. See, The Division has these things called World Tiers that scale up the difficulty and rewards of everything in the game to keep everything relevant no matter how geared you get.

Which is actually a great idea, except for the part where you’re automatically upgraded to the first World Tier (with no option to downgrade) as soon as you hit level cap, meaning you’ll be facing roughly twice as many enemies at roughly twice the strength while still in your crappy leveling gear.

The increased rewards allowed me to gear up very quickly, and soon the game was easier than ever, but it was a little bit of a baptism by fire.

My character in The DivisionThe World Tiers do damage the game’s ambiance a little bit, too. For most of the game, The Division has a relatively scarcity of both mobs and loot, and that helps sell the loneliness and privation of the setting. But then you hit max level, and suddenly it’s Diablo: Enemies are swarming everywhere, and loot is raining from the sky.

On a more positive note, the main story did get a lot more interesting by the end. For most of the game, it’s just a lot of shooting random criminals (many of whom are shockingly racist stereotypes), but the later legs delve a lot more into realms of conspiracy and intrigue, and it’s a lot more enjoyable.

The ending leaves some tantalizing loose ends, too. There’s definitely room for story DLC or even a Division 2, and I’m invested enough that I’d shell out money for either.

Overall, though, the most memorable parts of The Division will probably still be the smaller, more personal stories revealed through cell phone recordings, other lore pick-ups, and environmental storytelling. I was particularly invested in the ongoing trials of April Kelleher, a character you’ll follow through the entire game without ever actually meeting in person, and I became quite an avid listener to Rick Valassi’s “pirate radio podcast for paranoid insomniacs.”

The Division remains a game with more than a few hiccups, but I’m glad I came back and finished it. It’s got a real charm to it, despite its flaws.

Charles Bliss in The DivisionBoresinium:

I’ve also dabbled with a little Elder Scrolls Online in the past weeks. I bought the Orsinium DLC on sale ages ago, and this seemed like a good time to finally play it.

Despite Orsinium’s near-universal praise, I was concerned going in because my experience to date has been that Elder Scrolls Orcs are very boring. They seemed to just be the bog standard stereotype of, “Me Orc. Me hit things and eat bugs.”

Unfortunately, Orsinium did nothing to change this perception. I found the story so dull I struggled badly to find the motivation to even finish the DLC.

There are a few silver linings. One is that Wrothgar is a gorgeous zone. Man, why do all the best looking zones in this game belong to the most boring races?

Another is that Orcs have surprisingly bad security, and I never feel bad for robbing them. I made a lot of gold in that DLC.

Finally, I did enjoy Eveli. Yes, I liked the quirky Elf girl. I’m sure you’re all shocked by this unforeseeable turn of events.

My Bosmer sorcerer looking stylish in Elder Scrolls OnlineWhat was a more positive experience was the ESO Plus free trial, which gave everyone subscriber perks for a week. I’ve long been of the view a subscription in ESO is not worth it, but this may have changed my mind, at least a little. There’s a lot of very nice quality of life perks.

One of the biggest is the ability to freely dye costumes, which makes much more of a difference than I would have expected. Some of the costumes have a totally different feel with better dye jobs, and I’m now using them a lot more.

Also, rented access to all DLC is nice for one reason: A lot of DLC give you rewards just for zoning into the new area, and you’ll keep those rewards even if you let your sub lapse. I got a great assassin personality just for taking the thirty seconds to teleport to the Gold Coast.

I had hoped to play through the Imperial City DLC during the free week, as it is ostensibly the conclusion to the game’s “main” story about Molag Bal, but that proved untenable. Going in, I was worried about the open PvP nature of the Imperial City, but I never got ganked once. Instead, I was simply unable to solo the boss at the end of the first quest.

The Molag Bal story is actually fairly dull, so never seeing the conclusion isn’t the end of the world, but on principle, I dislike it when MMOs suddenly require groups to see the end of an otherwise soloable story. It’s one of the genre’s worst habits.

My sorcerer's latest new look in Elder Scrolls OnlineAlso, I was underwhelmed by the environmental design of the Imperial City. After hearing about it all game, I was expecting something amazing, but it’s just the standard Imperial architecture you see elsewhere, but with more holes.

Oh, and as you can see, I have changed my character’s look yet again. In my defense, this was the hairstyle I had in mind when I revamped her the first time; it just wasn’t available yet.

…And then I got her some new tattoos because I had some crowns leftover. On the plus side, these tattoos cover so much more skin that I can head canon these are genuinely new tattoos, rather than a “retcon” of her appearance.

Free mediocrity:

When the release date for the Age of Empires remaster got pushed back, everyone who’d pre-ordered got a free copy of a game called Rise of Nations. Recently I had the flu, and a slow-paced strategy game seemed like the way to go, so I loaded up RoN.

It’s definitely in a similar vein to the Age franchise, but it’s even slower, and feels kind of clunky and dull overall. It’s actually a lot closer to Empire Earth, the massively over-ambitious and deeply unsatisfying attempt to one-up Age of Empires.

A Korean town in Rise of Nations: Extended EditionThe strangest thing about it is how drunk on upgrades RoN is. I mean, AoE always had tons of upgrades, but RoN is on a whole other level. It feels like you spend all your time researching upgrades. There are literally upgrades for your upgrades.

So yeah, I didn’t last long in Rise of Nations. The one thing I can say is that the graphics hold up really well for what’s clearly an older game. It’s kind of like an impressionist painting, and the towns just look so pretty.

The music was nice, too.

New articles:

Finally, I’ve had a few more articles published at MMO Bro. One of my favourite articles that I’ve gotten to write in a long time discusses how playing MMOs has changed me as a gamer and altered my approach to gaming as a hobby. Surprisingly, it’s almost all good things.

I also go old school and rant about how subscriptions suck — something I did a lot of in the early years of this blog — and discuss how I believe the future of the genre lies with niche MMOs.

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Links Before the Holidays

As is my tradition, I will be taking a short break from blogging over the holidays. I expect to be back at it late this month or perhaps early in the new year, depending on how I feel.

My Sith warrior in Star Wars: The Old RepublicComing up when I return: A journey through the remaining class stories in Star Wars: The Old Republic, a review of season two of Glitch, and much more.

To tide you over during the break, I’ve got a few more articles up at MMO Bro. First, I take a look at the best non-fantasy MMO settings, for those weirdos who prefer space ships and superheroes over Elves and wizards. Then, I rank some of the best MMOs for solo players, for those of us who aren’t always social butterflies.

Also, if all goes according to plan, Moiren will be doing her annual Lovecraftian Christmas caroling livestream tonight at 9PM Eastern. It’s basically the only holiday tradition I have these days, so I’ll be tuning in.

It’s beginning to look a lot like fishmen…

I wish all of my readers a happy winter solstice. May you be spared the predations of Krampus and the wrath of Robot Santa for another year.