Hello, all! Kyle here from the ShoddyCast. After over 200 hours thrown into The Elder Scrolls Online and hitting VR10(highest Veteran Rank), I feel I can make an accurate assessment as to what ESO is and how well it accomplished what it set out to do. So in this article I will be reviewing the different aspects of the game and see what the final verdict is. I hope you’re sitting comfortably because this will be a long one.
Questing and Leveling
Something we all must do in an MMO. The end goal is the same but how we get there varies from person to person. Some prefer finding a spot and grinding for XP while others like myself prefer grabbing all the quests in an area to complete and turn in as efficiently as possible.
The 1-50 leveling wasn’t bad at all. In many cases it was actually quite enjoyable. The speed at which I could level was pretty decent at about an hour to an hour and a half per level once past around level 20. There was a pretty steady flow of skill points to use and even enough to keep me evolving 2 different builds at the same time which made the weapon swapping feature a valuable asset. Once hitting the Veteran Ranks however, things began to change.
Once you’ve completed the main storyline of your alliance, you’re thrusted into the next alliance territory to begin leveling your Veteran Ranks. You might think, “Oh, it’s only 10 more levels. I’ll get through this pretty quickly.” But then you realize the game is designed so that if you did the quests and completed the dungeons, you’d only gain one rank per zone. So effectively, you should reach Veteran Rank 5 by the end of the second alliance and Rank 10 by the end of the third. That means that it takes about 10 times as long to level one Rank than it would to level a normal 1-50 level. That’s a long ass time!
Luckily there are ways around this. Some could be considered exploits and some not so. First, there are zerg groups. These groups of 4 or more run around and complete all of the dolmens(Dark Anchor locations), World Bosses, dungeons and public dungeon as completing an area (turning the icon on the map from black to white) would net a substantial amount of XP. I found this out myself at VR2 and quickly shot up to VR5. After that however, to progress to the next alliance territory (50++) you’d have to complete a set of quests listed in Cadwell’s Almanac. Luckily this didn’t take too long and the Almanac actually displays the main quests of the zones which are the most interesting ones to do.
More zerging and I found myself at VR8 and this is where things get controversial. There are a few different ways to level to VR10 from here that will take a matter of hours instead of days of questing. Keep in mind that this is from an Aldmeri Dominion player so I don’t know any methods that work for DC or EP players. One method was to run Wayrest Sewers over and over. The runs only take about 15-20 minutes and nets around 300k XP each and the same group could do chain runs to keep getting that XP. The other one I will not divulge as it may be considered an exploit and I do not wish to get people in trouble. I will however tell you that it consists of killing a boss’s adds that net you 50k XP each and then resetting the boss to respawn the adds. You get about 2.2 million XP an hour doing this which means you can go from VR8 to VR10 in about 3-4 hours as well as gain a whole lot of VR10 epics to equip when you get there. I cannot say if this can be considered an exploit or not as I’m not sure if the boss mechanics would be considered faulty. Having done it myself, I’d have to say it does actually take work to do it so it’s not free XP, it’s a grind and thus shouldn’t be considered an exploit. So that was my leveling experience in a nutshell, let’s move on to the questing systems and quests in general.
Before I move on, you may have noticed that I haven’t been talking about the plethora of progress-blocking bugs that curses this game. Fear not, I’m not ignoring them, simply holding off until I get to the negatives of the game. So questing, how is it? Short answer: pretty good! Yes, the quests are basically the same types we see all of the time in MMOs. You know, the kill this many creatures, escort this person, collect these items, craft that item, find this person, defend that person and talk to yet another person type quests. These are the kinds of quests that make up the bulk of an MMO and ESO is no different. Where it differs is that ESO does a pretty good job at masking the fact that that is all you’re actually doing. They often make it more interesting with added effects, an interesting backstory as to why you’re doing what you’re doing and the fact that most quests become quest chains making you feel more invested in what you’re doing. It’s not to say that questing cannot feel like a grind in this game. Trust me, it can really feel like a grind when they blatantly send you out to collect 4 reeds and 3 mudcrab meats. UGH! But within all of that tedium there are the gems of a quest that are really cool and obviously took some effort to create and I was happy to do the mildly mundane tasks to see where the story lead. So all in all, the questing in this game is rather fun. There are clear favorites when it came to quest design for each alliance. Aldmeri Dominion had some of the coolest quests in the game where as in the Ebonheart Pact, I had gritted my teeth on numerous occasions as I collected bear asses for no reason other than the NPC needed them.
Not much else to say here. I haven’t done a lot of PvP yet as I’ve been concentrated on leveling, but now that I am VR10 I’ll be working on that next. PvP is obviously a strong point of the game. It’s something we haven’t really seen before at this scale. Hundreds of people on the screen at once, siege battles, ganking questers, farming dungeons, there’s plenty to do for every type of PvP with the exception of arenas. The only arenas I’ve seen was while questing near Elsweyr on the Aldmeri Dominion side, but that was against NPCs. Still cool though. I really hope they implement arenas in the Imperial City once that is opened up. Yes, yes, I’ve heard the argument that it may detract from the real battles going on outside, but you know what? Shut up! Hehe. People want arenas. People want to be able to duel one another and see whose build is the best. So if they won’t implement dueling between consenting players, then they better add this feature at some point. Competitive play not only keeps people coming back for more but can attract the attention of big names on YouTube and Twitch and may start tournaments that will keep people playing ESO long after launch. Make it happen ZOS.
Bugs, Bugs and More Bugs
During the Early Access of ESO, I thought the launch was the smoothest I’ve seen with any MMO to date. The servers were strong, little issues except a bug here and there but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a quick relog or reloading of the UI. No big deal. Then Greenshade happened. Those on the Aldmeri Dominion side probably know what I’m talking about. An entire zone riddled with progress-blocking bugs that usually consisted of NPCs and interactables not loading. No amount of relogging would fix these. Not only were there bugs but the servers would roll everyone back constantly. You’d figure out when you were about to be rolled back when your skills stopped working or you couldn’t mount up. Any progression you could actually get done in the zone would be wiped clean over and over again. This honestly was probably the worst gaming experience I’ve ever had in an MMO and I played Cataclysm so that’s saying something. Even worse still was after escaping that hell hole I heard reports that the zone after that started doing the same thing, though at a lesser degree. It obviously was due to server load issues. The amount of people in that zone and the amount of interactables on each client’s screen couldn’t be handled so the server did what it could which wasn’t much.
The bugs didn’t stop there of course. It seemed any time ZOS released a patch to fix one thing, it broke 3 more things. There were at least a couple HUGE progress-blocking bugs that kept people from moving on to the next alliance territory. My friend Sterling Jennings could not progress into the veteran zones after completing the 1-50 main storyline because The Prophet wouldn’t talk to him. It took over 5 days of dealing with clueless customer support to get the attention of a game master who basically had to spawn duplicates of the NPCs in the Harborage in order for him to speak to them. Then there’s the story of Force from ForceStrategyGaming who couldn’t get from the 50+ to 50++ due to yet another progress-blocking bug. This drastically undermined his progress in the game and now I hardly see him in-game anymore and I don’t blame him. And I’m not even going to get into the numerous exploits and duping bugs that are prevalent throughout the game.
I understand the viewpoint some have that this is just the time included in the purchase of the game and that we aren’t really paying for the playtime yet so give them a break. Sorry, but that’s bull. We did pay for this playtime with the purchase of the game and thus we have a right to have a fully functional game. I’m fine with bugs, but when you’re blocked from any kind of progress that can last for days? That’s completely unacceptable and I don’t blame any who quit and even request a refund for the game after having to deal with something like that.
So what happened? What caused all these bugs? Well I feel it came down to testing the game. I’m not one of those that says the game should have had an open beta. In fact, I was one of the few that said there would never be an open beta. There wasn’t a need for one since they had over 3 million signed up to test it. The issue came with the lack of pre-mades. For those unfamiliar with that term, pre-mades are a way for people to test things at a certain level or with other certain criteria in mind. So say they wanted to test Greenshade out during beta. They would allow people to create level 30 toons or whatever the level was for that zone and make their builds with all the skill points allowed to them and usually are even given armor and weapons to use as well at their level. This would allow for more precise testing of systems and resources within particular settings. Instead however, they made everyone test from the beginning over and over and over again. Forced to trudge through the starting islands and get too bored to progress far enough to get to a place like Greenshade because they’d have to do all the same content again and again. How was ZOS to know that Greenshade couldn’t handle the amount of people in it if there was never enough people testing it during beta? The lack of targeted testing I feel is the cause of the issues we’re seeing today.
First things first, I like this game a lot. Even with all the bugs and issues it has, it’s still a fun game. I’ve missed being able to chat with like-minded people and kill some monsters together while doing it. The questing is fun for the most part, PvP is strong and the promise of more content to come keeps me playing and striving to be ready for it. But with that said, did ZOS succeed in what it set out to do? Did they meld an Elder Scrolls game and an MMO successfully? Short answer: no.
ESO is a strong MMO. Take out the bugs and whatnot that will eventually be fixed and focus on the content that’s there and you’ll find a solid MMO. The combat is fluid and visceral for the most part, voice acting is top notch, characters are engaging, crafting is great and overall the gaming systems do what they should. With all of that in mind, if I were to score ESO only as an MMO I would probably give it an 8 out of 10.
If I didn’t know what an MMO was and have only known TES games and then picked up ESO, I wouldn think it a terrible TES game. Too many things are lacking that make a TES game a TES game. Completely open world from the get-go, organic quests and that feeling that you and you alone are the ultimate badass that’s here to save the world, all of this and more is missing in ESO. And who are all these people jumping around named Haxor1337? That’s not a very immersive name… So with that in mind I’d give ESO as a TES game a 6 out of 10 and that’s being nice.
So combining the scores I’d have to give ESO a 7 out of 10 overall which is actually lower than the IGN score that players in-game are bitching about. I have to say that their score is fair if not lenient. Many of you might be saying that it’s not fair to judge the game like this, splitting it into 2 halves and then combining the scores. But it’s absolutely fair and ZOS knew this coming out of the gate. When you go out of your way to bridge the gap between 2 genres, it’s only fair to judge it on both sides of that bridge. As an MMO ESO has succeeded, but as a TES game it failed to impress.
So what does this mean? Is it a good game? Well it comes down to what type of gamer you are. Are you the MMO player? Then you’ll probably really like this game. But if you’re the avid TES fan, you’re most likely going to be disappointed. I am an MMO player more so than a TES player so I do enjoy this game. I look forward to Craglorn and Trials and all of the other future patches to come including the Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild. Will I continue to play this game 6 months from now? A year? I cannot say. And same is true for if ESO is worth the $15 monthly subscription fee. We won’t know the answers to these questions until ZOS starts releasing content patches and how regularly they do so. I still have high hopes for this game and they will get at least another month out of me, but they better get that first patch out quickly or we’ll have another SWTOR fiasco on our hands and no one wants that. Huttball anyone?
P.S. You can expect a full video review to be released in the coming weeks. This will detail even more issues and successes with the game in Josh’s viewpoint so keep an eye out for that. Until next time, boi!