MMORPGs are a particular sort of game, prone to love, hate, greatness and mediocrity a alike. I am not an MMO fan per se, but I religiously played LOTRO for years on end, had numerous server firsts on the most challenging raids in the game and dabbled in RIFT for a year or so.
A rather peculiar aspect of MMOs is that they are built with 10 year cycles in mind. This often creates vision and delivery issues between the original developer team, the inevitable handover team, the original marketing and players, the new players, and at last the “casuals” that end up being pandered to in a myriad of “pay to win” microtransactions once the game goes Free to Play.
Knowing the above is inevitable, you must really enjoy a game’s concept and/or mechanics before deciding to invest your time into one of these titles. Of course some “serial MMOers” make the mistake of assuming the game won’t change and end up disillusioned, and quitting loudly on the game’s forums a few months, or even years, after launch.
This article is about why I, in full knowledge of all of the above, am sticking around the Elder Scrolls Online and loving every minute. Join in for a quick (albeit likely unpopular) rundown of how Zenimax has actually improved the game over time! CLICK HERE FOR TL;DR VERSION!
March 2014 – Launch!
I got ESO because I could not resist… the music, the setting, the outstanding graphics… the opportunity to immerse myself in the Elder Scrolls world with a friend. Gimme! I knew full well this wasn’t a classic MMO, with raids etc. It was clear this was a “Solo game with friends” and that is exactly what it delivered, to me. I had the good fortune of choosing the best faction of all, Aldmeri Dominion, because it has the best character in the history of Elder Scrolls, Razum-dar. My Khajiit partner in crime guided me through my faction’s quest, while I slowly discovered the world. I ran into some issues, like having to be in the same faction as your friends, or getting instanced out if your friends have completed a quest because the landscape adapts to your individual progress. However, I made it through all the zones and experienced the 300+ completely voiced quests to the fullest. I even ran into some people doing ERP to the tune of the Lusty Argonian Maid. Good times.
May 2014 – Trials added
Just about when people were getting loud about there not being great grouping, Zenimax added Lower Craglorn. This free new zone focused on group questing and introduced Trials, the ESO equivalent of Raids. This began to define what “endgame” would look like, and to me it looked great. A challenging but not impossible or time consuming “raid”, that drops good loot and can be done with a pug? Sign me up 🙂 – This push to give endgame more body continued later in June, adding the veteran version of Crypt of Hearts as a taste for what was yet to come.
August 2014 – Set Bonuses, Guild Traders, Guild Heraldry, Armor Dyes!
Moving towards what would become FashionScrollsOnline, ESO added an Auction House equivalent: Guild Traders. This made it so people had to join specific guilds to trade their equipment and materials. This also created a need to group, recruit and collaborate, and came accompanied by some guild management tool improvements so that players could keep up with what was happening, and wear their guild colors as a tabbard to show their affiliation. But the real game changer here for me was the Armor Dyes. Up to now, achievements had little purpose save giving you a cool title now and then, but with this update they changed it so your armor customization could be improved by unlocking them. This appealed to the completionist and fashionista in me to go around hunting for hard-to-get achievements to unlock specific colors I wanted to try.
Patch 1.3.3 made an ENORMOUS change to how ESO handled itemization by adding 2 and 4 piece bonuses on all traditional Sets vs the previous approach of only 3 and 5. In my opinion, looking back on all the changes made in the past 3 years, this one was likely the most significant because it radically transformed how Sets were viewed and how everyone approached them. Figuring out how to have the best combination of bonuses became the fuel for build theory crafting, and to this day it is by its Sets that ESO lives and dies.
September 2014 – Upper Craglorn & Dragonstar Arena and Master Weapons
At this point, ESO had a healthy amount of endgame players bored of running the same instances over and over. Enter Upper Craglorn with it’s new trial Sanctum Ophidia and the Dragonstar Arena, ready to keep us busy figuring out how these new sets and pieces would match our builds, and contending for the best rewards from the Arena. With the addition of this content also came the inclusion of Master Weapons which further redefined end game gear. Now not only did you have functioning Sets, but you had to factor in the unique qualities of these power items.
November 2014 – Pledges, Crafting Writs, Veteran City of Ash
Another significant game-changer, the addition of Undaunted Enclaves and daily Pledges, pushed the game in the right direction towards becoming “more of an mmo”. It had been 9 months since launch and we had already done all the quests for our Faction, and gone on to do the ones on the other two factions (on the same character) – we had explored Craglorn and were hanging out wondering what was next. Pledges made us all remember previous zones, and gave us a reason to go redo a dungeon, learn all of its ins and outs, and look forward to new loot from doing them every day.
Crafters got a similar treat, with daily quests called Writs, that rewarded the production of something rather than the destruction of materials. Furthermore Zenimax introduced Surveys, which became a great reason to visit old zones again.
Veteran City of Ash… was also added in this update and it remains one of the more difficult dungeons in ESO to this day.
March 2015 – Justice System, Champion System, Game Rebalancing
It had been 5 months since the last major update, but a year after launch Zenimax unleashed truly amazing changes that re-invented the game once more. Whilst it’s tempting to lead with Justice and Champion, the real game-changer here was the removal of stat soft caps previously called Overcharge. Before this update, if you focused too much into one stat you would “overcharge” it, making further investment pointless, forcing you to diversify your stats. No longer! Now players could mold builds to their specific desires, and having full sets of light or heavy armor would yield significantly different results. To date this remains one of the most significant changes to the entire game.
Not to be outdone, the Champion System was introduced, bringing a way for level capped players to still “level up”, which is a progression system akin to Rift’s Planar Attunement or Diablo’s Paragon Points. This new take on the “Constellation” mechanic of Elder Scrolls made for a fantastic change that gave long-time players a reason to continue playing and earning experience, as they could feel their character getting better with each point invested and perk unlocked. I found myself loving this particular aspect, and together with the removal of soft caps it allowed me to rebuild my character in a completely new and fun way.
As a cherry on top, the long awaited Justice System added the option to pickpocket, trade contraband goods, and be chased around by guards. A new skill line associated with this would also be added, and cities came to life as you saw fellow players running for their miserable criminal lives with a tally of town guards breathing fire on their sorry behinds. The word that sums up this update is: fun.
BONUS: “Tamriel Unlimited”
On March 17th 2015, a year after launch, the game changed from its initial “Buy and pay subscription to play” to “Buy and play for free, subscription optional”. Those of us who had been with the game since day 1 (subbed the whole year) got an awesome Senche Tiger Mount, and hordes of returning and new players joined in the frey for the fate of Tamriel. This change was a very successful one for the game’s economy both in-game and for Zenimax pockets, which is a double-win for me as I want the game to do well since I like it so much :).
May 2015 – Set Scaling Fixed
Sets were changed to scale to your highest stat, which is taken for granted nowadays but did really bring the Champion System and Overcharge removal into full effect.
June 2015 – ESO on Consoles
This is the second defining moment of the game for me. I have never enjoyed PC gaming much, and the option to move the character to my PS4 and play from my couch was one I had been waiting since the game was announced. I made the swap without hesitation, and so did another 3.2 million players (estimated consoles sales).
Playing from my couch on my TV has truly made ESO accessible to me, and I would absolutely love to see more quality MMOs delivered to console. The arrival of One Tamriel, combined with the console launch shortly thereafter, was so significant that it drastically altered the course of the game’s future, all but guaranteeing that it would succeed for years to come.
August 2015 – Imperial City And Crafting Styles
Imperial City, the first “expansion” for ESO added new pvp and pve content, delivering in the form of challenging dungeons and interesting multiplayer variances to the tried and true alliance war. After doing the same dungeons for more than a year, I was ready to be challenged with new content, and the new sets were excellent rewards for my efforts. These dungeons remained the most difficult in the game until the release of Shadows of the Hist many months later.
My crafter also got a beautiful new motif to learn, and a necessary change to the way these work was made, dividing them into several chapters rather than one book. This was a controversial change, as many people saw it as a way to promote the “easy buy from crown store” and take away from the actual gameplay, but for me this meant the multiplication of in-game goals. Up to now, I was looking for 1 item, and once I had it, I had the style and I was done in my quest to obtain it. Now, I have to collect 13 different chapters of the book to complete a collection and learn the style, which improves the longevity of the hunt. This would prove to be a very successful change for Zenimax, and it opened the floodgates so that instead of having racial + 3 or 4 special craftable styles we have 50+ (as of 2017).
November 2015 – Orsinium DLC – New Crafting Materials and Maelstrom Weapons!
Free for subscribers, Orsinium, a large sized new zone, brought about many fun activities for my character. I could do the quests and collect items, grab skyshards, defeat bosses, do the new delves… and I could enjoy collecting the new styles, all while enjoying an increase my VR and Champion Point ranks (so further endgame progression).
Crafting writs began gifting me fragments to collect and transform into Glass motifs, and this zone was populated with special endgame crafting materials that were needed to craft endgame gear, as well as new crafting stations that make some of the best sets in the game. This was an overload of content for me, and I could not have been happier about it! The new sets and materials boosted the game’s economy and motivated old and new players to push to the limit and attempt the Maelstrom Arena: a solo-friendly “trial” that yields similar rewards to the now one year old Dragonstar Arena including Maelstrom Weapons. These weapons remain some of the best in the game to date.
Moreover this DLC introduced another subtle change, that would ultimately shape the entire game later on: Battle Leveling application. In order to sell the DLC to new players, and still keep it interesting for veterans, Zenimax had to figure out how to fit us all into the same challenging area. This was done by automatically scaling lower players Up, as it’s done in the PvP zones. Thanks to the game’s seamless instancing of materials, this did not affect crafting for other players, and created the first integrated PVE zone in the game, where new and veteran players could quest side-by-side without one getting carried or the other one getting nothing from their efforts. It also added some improvements to the “looking for group” tool that allowed players to challenge dungeons with friends or randoms from different alliances.
All in all, Orsinium still remains the best overall DLC ever added to ESO since it’s creation.
March 2016 – Thieves Guild DLC – New Skills, Content, Trial, Assistants!
Also free for subscribers, this medium-sized DLC added a lot of fun little things for players to do. Following in Orsinium’s footsteps, new and low level players would be battle-leveled so they could enjoy the content, making the zone a bustling hub in no time. Besides adding a new trial as well as world bosses and quests, the Thieves Guild skill line improved the already available Legerdemain system for player misbehavior. Players could now be caught “tresspassing” and be penalized with a bounty, but may also obtain rewards called Edicts that are used to falsify a pardon for a certain amount of money. The addition of these checks and balances, as well as criminal quests, made for a fun spice-up of the Justice System, with Abbah’s Watch becoming a den of unlawful players constantly running for their lives within the city.
An often ignored, but one of my favorite retrospective additions, was the addition of a new category of collection: Assistants. These are NPCs that can be summoned anywhere you are at that perform a service that would otherwise cause you to travel. The first one is a smuggler, who conveniently fences anything you have stolen on the spot, with the mitigating factor that she takes 30% of your earnings.
May 2016 – Dark Brotherhood DLC – Murder, Champion System, Crafting, Motifs & Personalities!
A smaller DLC than the previous ones, but still introducing a zone and free for subscribers, the Dark Brotherhood brought about a fantastic change and further upgrades to the justice system. The Dark Brotherhood questline may not have been the best one, but its effects on the overall world changed the way towns work, forever. Players could now not only pickpocket NPCs, but could also murder them and gain enormous bounties if caught. Assassination quests and targets populated all of Tamriel, and the inexperienced hitmen of Tamriel found themselves out of pocket or life fairly quickly.
Some improvements made to PvP item vendors as well as the Imperial City and its mechanics, meant some more PvP action to be had there, but again the underlooked change was the addition of player Personalities. This collectible was introduced with the “assassin personality”, which is awarded for completion of the full quest of the zone. It alters the regular animations of your character, from walk and sprint to idle, boast, or other emotes, providing some fun to “waiting around” and allowing for further customization of your virtual avatar. Most personalities must be bought in the store, but I’m hopeful Zenimax will reward us with some more as content is released.
This patch had a significant change in the road to where the game is now: The removal of VR ranks. Players would now simply level to 50, and then automatically scale to their champion points accumulated on any character over 50. The conversion was automatic and simplified the game, and its progression, without penalizing players who had been around all along. In short it made it easier for players to create and play multiple characters, increasing the overall activity of the game greatly.
If that wasn’t enough, Zenimax also introduced poison crafting to Alchemy, allowing players to use their materials in a whole new way, and providing an alternative to weapon enchantments that soon proved to be favored by most PvP players, as poisons could have deadly effects on unaware enemies. For other crafters, new styles to hunt for were added, including some for the Thieves Guild.
And what for me has been the single largest change to the game: THE CRAFT BAG! Unfairly available only to ESO Plus subscribers, this amazing invention puts all of your collected crafted materials into a bottomless box, freeing up your 220 inventory slots and bank space for sets, pvp oils & coldfires, collectibles, treasure maps, stolen stuff, research items and whatever else fellow hoarders need. I cannot stress enough how much this changed the game from me. I went from not picking up resources because of space to gathering everything, using everything, and finally fully maxing out all crafting professions. I could quest large zones without having to stop every 30 minutes to discard materials, and pick up anything I wanted in a dungeon without worry. All praise the craftbag!! (Best 15 dollars/month I spend)
August 2016 – Shadows of the Hist DLC – Dungeons, Sets, Console text chat
The smallest of the DLCs, Shadows of the Hist is also free to ESO+ subscribers but it only added two new (really hard) dungeons. The gear within them is quite good, and they reward character skins and motifs, so this was a welcome endgame challenge for smaller groups who didn’t want to do trials.
The real jewels of the update were, however, the addition of several new sets and for me in particular the addition of console text chat. This was something I had wanted on consoles all along and Zenimax had been uncertain about, but eventually the playerbase demonstrated the need and it’s implementation has been a lifesaver. It really changed the way we PvP by allowing soloers , and has made trading items easier by allowing us to share and barter in zone chat. On top of that, it gave a much needed boost to the game’s economy by allowing players to link what they have for sale in the chat window.
October 2016 – One Tamriel – Any level, any zone, any alliance, all the fun!
This massive update redesigned the entire way the whole game is approached, finally recreating a feeling of complete open world for new players. From here on, all players are automatically battle-leveled to Champion Level 160 by stat buffing, and their incrementally gained levels take them in a steady gear progression towards the level 50 mark, and on Champion System progression until Champion 600.
This update revitalized the game in ways few could have predicted, as it also introduced a myriad of new Sets, and added them as rewards for completing Dark Anchors, Quests and World Bosses, all whilst allowing all players to access all alliances without restrictions of level, origin or quest progression. It created a month-long frenzy of world boss farming, and a chaotic rush for Guild Vendors so that players could match their new sets to the best Weapon Ultimates introduced.
Undaunted Pledges (dailies) came alive with activity thanks to smart revamps and simplifications to the reward system, and towns became hotspots for the newly introduced Dueling feature.
The game was on non-stop congestion as we all enjoyed the sudden influx of new and old players who wanted to try out the new system, and reinvigorated long-time players who now had more reasons to go do the many smaller daily tasks. I personally spent time farming Deshaan and Stonefalls until I could deck out two characters in my desired sets, and it was a blast thanks to the flood of players running about.
And as a little quality of life improvement, players can now pay to change their character’s race, name and appearance – providing those who have invested a lot of time into a character with a way to refine their initial choices from so long ago.
October 2016 – Holiday Events: Witches Festival!
This month also marked the introduction of seasonal festivals to the game, following the path laid out by many other MMOs. Following a unique Elder Scrolls style, the quests for this are actually enjoyable and the rewards thematic. Players loved to transform into skeletons to gain more XP and obtain loot boxes from world bosses – again giving unprecedented livelihood to usually quiet zones. More events would follow, such as New Year Celebrations and Springtime, all with a unique flair to match the ocassion and introducing consumables and other festivity collections for the players.
February 2017 – Player Housing!
Player housing had been a day 1 request from many players, and it materialized almost 3 years after release. The homestead patch added a new and completely optional aspect to the game, and is easy to ignore by anyone who is not interested… except there’s a lot of gold to be made from those who are! Whether you want a house or not, the process of getting unique and special items through the newly introduced Master Writs is a slow one, so all players can benefit from the boost to the economy from the trading and bartering of crafting recipes, materials and of course the writs.
For me, this added a whole new collection of recipes to learn and unlock, as well as new objectives and incentives to complete daily writs as well as uncommon achievements that grant special rewards such as monster busts which can be displayed in your house.
For large guilds, glamorous halls with trophies of guild achievements as well as crafting stations, assistants and mounts became a symbol of power and prosperity, bringing players within those guilds closer together as they rally to complete collections and sets to display.
June 2017 – Morrowind!
And… here we are! I am now playing daily to collect housing and other crafting items, whilst doing some PvP, and waiting to set out on the Morrowind Chapter. It won’t be included on my ESO plus, but I hear my bank space will be doubled, which can only be welcome at this point as I have already admitted I’m a hoarder. I’ve already played it on the PC closed beta, so I’m very much looking forward to this launching officially on PS4.
We’ll have an article with details on Morrowind changes and impacts sooner to the release date.
So, having gone through the 3 years of ESO history in as few paragraphs as possible, I look back and what I see is a company that did give me what I needed in incremental upgrades. Many players fear that the monetization system of the Crown Store will push the game towards microtransaction hell as it inches closer and closer to Free to Play. So far, I have been very satisfied, and in the three years I have played I have bought a grand total of 1 thing from the Crown Store: A vendor assistant during the One Tamriel set gold rush. To me, this means that players don’t necessarily need to use the store or spend money to get great value out of the game, and if you’re willing to put in the time or effort you can obtain the same rewards with gameplay or simply by farming gold and purchasing from other players.
During all this time, many changes have been done to the main class I play, and many times for the worse, but still enjoyed the game for it’s many opportunities. I quested and explored until there was not one undiscovered location in all of Tamriel. When PvE got boring, I went into Cyrodiil and helped win campaigns and get myself delicious gold jewelry gear. When PvP got bad because of a class nerf I didn’t like, I immersed myself in the DLCs, completed all the veteran dungeons and pledges, found every lorebook. When I got tired of walking aimlessly, I returned to Cyrodiil to find the new Town mechanics had changed spawns and all for the better. When that became stale, I went back to Anchors and Dungeons and farmed gear or traded with others to fill my gold coffers to purchase a house. All of this and I still have motifs to finish, trials to master, and fish to catch! I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
So Morrowind is just around the corner, and given the care Zenimax has taken of the game, and how they have kept me around for this long simply by slowly adding activities and making sure I always have something to do, I am genuinely excited and hoping they can keep this up and the store out of the way for another 3 more years! If you haven’t given ESO a try yet, I strongly recommend you do. The game has never been better than it is now, and it shows very few signs of slowing down.
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