ESO's Balancing Act
The Elder Scrolls: Online

My initial impression of The Elder Scrolls: Online was an awestruck one. Though not a freeform open-world like Skyrim and the previous single-player adventures, the zones were vast, gorgeous, and bustling with activity. The serene music as I sauntered through woodland areas and arid deserts had that perfect pitch that has followed every game under The Elder Scrolls banner. I spent well over two-hundred hours with the game since its launch, casually soaking the lore of each area by myself at first, then joining a 500+ members guild called Clan of Spears, and afterwards busting through the following 80% of the pre-Veteran campaign to catch up with my compatriots in order to tackle the endgame content. Now that I've seen most of what can be seen, I've found myself in a disappointed state. Looking back at my grueling grind, I'm finding more criticisms than compliments, as are many other players. Developer Bethesda spent plenty of time at the recent QuakeCon to address many of our concerns, previewing some major updates on to the way. But is it too little too late?

As is my calling with every MMO I engage in, I always choose a healing class with buff and other support abilities. I like helping friends and strangers, and expect nothing beyond a "bow" or thank you. In this respect, the first fifty levels of The Elder Scrolls: Online were a joy. With the ability to switch between two weapons (and thus two build options) after level 15, I was able to handle enemies with dps while soloing, then switch on the fly to my healing build whenever I noticed another player struggling or when jumping into Dark Anchor events. I would wait at an entrance of public dungeons for another player, then become their health replenishing shadow while we both zipped through the hallways. As the guild enchanter for the Clan of Spears, even Legendary glyphs came free of charge to members, despite trade chat charges running 3k+ in gold. These services kept me smiling until I took down Molag Bal and saved Tamriel.

Then, after being cast into one of the two other factions, I found a hardened and disillusioned group filling up the chat. Here we all were, after spending dozens upon dozens of hours building our stature within our preferred faction, now a lowly peon trudging through more quests, more anchors, with few rewards awaiting us. The Veteran points grind after hitting Veteran Rank is a tough pill to swallow. Most people were looking for Craglorn, only to discover that their V1 rank was no match for the V11 mobs surrounding the zone. Aside from fellow Veteran guild members and friends, little in the way of comradery could be found. The social joy and ease had ceased, and it was all about how to get yourself pimped with the best quality gear, and filling your Trials party with only the best players.

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I felt sorry for anyone who rolled a Nightblade class, as there longwinded adventure up to Craglorn was met with dismissal from nearly every group invite, with their class being underpowered for the Adventure zone. Some updates to the class have been implemented, though the stigma remains, and the class is still behind in the damage stats. I had a hard enough time with my Templar trying to join runs through the Aetherian Archive and Hel Ra Citadel. These 12-person Trials only require two competent healers to satisfy the group, making my pitches to win a spot hard fought, often having to prove my capabilities through showing my gear and skills to the enlisting party. Instead of being warmly greeted, I was received with caution. Though I performed my duties admirably during these timed Trials, a single death would always fall on my shoulders as being the weak link in the group.

It seems the Craglorn morale crush isn't going anywhere, so where can I turn? Well, it appears Bethesda is working on several interesting new content updates, as well as a rework of the Veteran system. Veteran Points will give way to standard experience gain, making the grind through Veteran zones a lot easier. A new Champion system is in the works, which will allow these points to be spent on various passive increases. Also, the reward system is being overhauled to provide better gear for those toiling away through Veteran zones. Finally no more recurring runs through Wayrest Sewers, or trips to an empty Cyrodiil.

The Elder Scrolls: Online

Speaking of PvP zone, despite being far from impressed with the sprawling Imperial region in my review of the game, the upcoming Imperial City campaign has some clever ways to integrate PvE challenges into the zone. Though opposing factions will block the sewer entrances into the city, once inside your team with find Molag Bal has unleashed a horde of Daedra for you to wipe out. Repeatable PvE quests, new group based challenges, and new Daedric gear to craft are combined with a very interesting storyline that looks to exceed those found in other dungeons. Of course, there are tweaks coming to the regular dungeons of the world as well, such as level scaling, daily rewards, intuitive grouping updates, even a new dungeon called City of Ash.

Since the launch, the content I have been clamoring for are the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood. Now, no official guild campaigns have been confirmed, but Bethesda will be integrating two new features: stealing and murdering. Instead of simply cleaning a house or shop of its goods packed in containers without so much as a glance from the owner, you will be able to steal the goods and sell them for a greater profit to fences around town. Or, if you feel an itch to dispatch an innocent townsfolk that rubbed you the wrong way, soon you'll be able to. Though being noticed puts a bounty on your head, which will have the guards chasing you down. Adding an interesting twist, players can take on the role of the guards, searching for thieving or murdering players, bringing an element of PvP into the PvE zones.

With a new spellcrafting occupation, new recipes for other crafts, more armor and weapon sets and the ability to dye them, another adventure zone called Murkmire and solo PvE zone called Wrothgar, there's plenty in the works for ESO fans to get excited about. Though it's unclear whether these changes and updates will be enough to win back the disgruntled gamers who have let their subscription run out. I myself am logging in far less often nowadays, though I'm willing to play with these updates to see if they are strong enough improvements to fix some of the game's broken systems, and if the new content worthy of an invested playthough.

Sean Engemann
Sean Engemann
@CardCanuck

Senior Contributing Writer
Date: 08/01/2014

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