The Realization That It Doesn't Get Better
It Does Not Get Better
Usually when a new MMO launches, the large bulk of players will buy the normal version, and a smaller more dedicated set of early adopters will throw down for the deluxe, collector’s edition. With The Elder Scrolls Online, a disproportionately larger number of players (myself included) went for the Imperial Edition, for the right to play the Imperial race, get a decent horse to start, and play any race in any faction. The perception of risk in doing so was minimal. It’s Elder Scrolls. It has to be good. It just has to be.
For a while on my way up to level 20, I bumped into some personal cognitive dissonance. At level three, sure the game right now is terrible, but it probably gets better after level 10. At level 12, it’s awful of course, but what about after level 15 when we get to do the big group dungeon and leave the landmass we’ve been stuck on? Surely, I thought, things must improve by then. A slow revelation crept in upon arriving in the newest region that no, this isn’t fun, and it is never going to be fun. The game remained barren, with quests becoming even more rote than in earlier levels. I tried to convince myself that I had not been taken for a rube by shelling out $60 for an MMO at launch and trying to rationalize it. But I never, ever got to the part where normal gameplay became fun. Perhaps the fun was just hiding in the next area? Or two levels higher than I am now? Or perhaps if I picked a different class, or a different alliance? I’ve spoken to quite a few fellow players, and this experience is extremely commonplace, especially in light of how many plunked down the big dollars for the Imperial or even Collector’s editions of the game. The feeling that says “I’m just about to reach the part of the game where it gets fun. You’ll see! You’ll see…”
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well, in gameplay mechanics, it gets boring pretty darned fast. Those of you familiar with White Wolf’s pen & paper RPG series Exalted may bear me out on this, but a game where everyone has a one-hit, unstoppable, murder-kill attack and unlimited, perfect, flawless defenses, gets tedious. You end up with either blind, staggering success that demeans the suggestion of a challenge, or unbeatable odds where there’s no point in even trying. The Elder Scrolls Online takes that approach, perhaps inadvertently, with its PvE. If you can’t kill something within 10 seconds, it’s going to murder you now and forever. If you can kill it, it will be over lightning-fast and you’ll be rifling through its pockets for that shiny single gold piece, wondering if you should stick around and camp the boss like everyone else to see if you can get something more than a gigantic middle finger for mashing your five number keys in the correct order.
To wit, in The Elder Scrolls Online, I have (up to level 20) been in no fights that have lasted longer than one minute.
Abilities and other choices a player must make during level progression to create a balanced character are interesting, and a novel take on the traditional player customization options. Combat can be engaging, but the abilities and combat system being decent is failed by other systems, specifically the minimal combat strength and AI weaknesses of enemies you encounter.