Dungeons are probably the worst element of The Elder Scrolls Online, and likely the most egregious violation of player expectation in a top-tier MMO release in a long while. Picture the lowercase letter “b”. Got it? Well done! You now qualify as a level designer for this game! In that letter, let’s call it the Lazy Loop, you have the map of every single dungeon in The Elder Scrolls Online. Every last one. You come in at the top and discover pretty quickly whether or not your dungeon is totally and completely full of dozens of other players who have already killed everything in a straight line between you and the boss. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and stumble upon a respawn as you sprint through, but that depends on how crowded your particular instance is.
Probably the biggest thing that hits you about these dungeons is that there is nothing interesting to see. Those little nooks, corners and crevices and all the spots on the map that don’t look like part of the train ride on the Lazy Loop contain a blistering, searing nothing. Players enter on a track, trudge along for three minutes to the end of the dungeon which is exactly the same shape, textures, configuration and style as the last ten dungeons and reach the area where the boss spawns. That spot is readily recognized because it is being camped by anywhere between 5-12 people, half of which may be gold farming spammer bots. A half-dozen bodies of the boss, recently fresh and constantly mined, lie piled up. Players wait with other legitimate players and gold farmer bots for the boss to respawn.
Generally, another player will be passing the time by using the play music emote (banging a drum) in anticipation of the spawn, while the scripted bots idle in silent automation, ready to pounce. Everyone waits patiently until the boss spawns, and he is dead within seconds. Players lucky enough to get off a few hits receive credit for the kill and count the dungeon as complete. They loot the two gold pieces off him and travel onwards to the final part of the Lazy Loop in the letter “b” as it curves upwards. Players exit from the door they saw on the way in, which is in the same spot on every dungeon map.
Infrequently, players may be fortunate to be one of only three or four players swooping through the dungeon, and may have an opportunity to fight the boss who dies in 5-10 seconds instead of 1-2. If a player kills the boss during a primary quest and they don’t move along fast enough in looting a single gold piece from the boss’s corpse, they’ll see the boss respawn again and issue the same hokey dialogue before attacking again. The feeling is reminiscent of a ride at Disneyland where once you have passed through a part of the ride, but not quite through to the next part because of a slow track, so the animatronic critters keep singing in a loop and gesticulating wildly as if someone new has entered that area. It doesn’t just break immersion so much as it blasts immersion into subatomic particulates with an orbital kinetic-based mass driver weapon.
“Well howdy folks, hope you enjoy your stay in Cavern 824. Hyuk hyuk garsh!”. [pause 3 seconds] “Well howdy folks, hope you enjoy your stay in Cavern 824. Hyuk hyuk garsh!” And repeat.
In my experience up to level 20, I never once cared about killing a boss in a dungeon because I never once felt threatened or challenged. These encounters felt like playing the most obvious of level treadmills with content spread so rapaciously thin that the purchase price for the game feels downright criminal. Dungeons and PvE are experiencing, in essence, a content famine.