You know what one of my favorite parts of Elder Scrolls games? Setting out into the world, looking forward to working on some quest or mission I’ve set my sights on... and then completely getting sidetracked because I wound up finding something else to dive into. If there’s one thing Elder Scrolls Online needs to get right (hell, there are likely hundreds), it’s that exploring the world needs to feel like something that can happen organically. Getting lost in Tamriel is half of the fun in TES, and if we can’t do that in ESO, it won’t truly be an Elder Scrolls experience. So let’s go through a couple of things that the MMO Tamriel can do to avoid this pitfall.
MMO Quests - Avoid the Norm
Skyrim is most likely the target Zenimax is aiming for when it comes to nailing the Elder Scrolls feel. And why not? It’s easily the most popular game of the series, though not everyone’s favorite. But one thing that all TES games do well is to avoiding making it obvious that you’re going on “random mission number 100”. MMOs have a habit since WoW of just making it incredibly clear which NPC has a quest for you. At first this was a stroke of convenience and genius. But as time went on and more and more cloned versions of this system went out, the question mark and exclamation point system of finding and turning in quests became a little tired. Okay, a lot tired.
I want to log into Elder Scrolls Online and go exploring. I don’t want to login and have my hand held. The tutorial or opening experience isn’t a bad place to have this sort of guided experience. It can set the story, which is a strong part of the TES series, but once I’ve completed the typical MMO starter area, I really hope ESO lets me wander off the rails and figure out what I want to do and what I can or cannot do. I want to ignore that story if I very well feel like doing so.
I’ve spent time with ESO on a number of occasions now, but mostly just a starter zone. The area had a pretty clear path to success, with little yellow dots that show you where a quest is, dots and circles that lead you to an objective... and it’s all a little too familiar if you ask me. I know that Skyrim’s quests are essentially the same: you have a waypoint on a compass and go to that waypoint towards the objective.
I guess what I’d like to see is less obvious hints on the map. A waypoint to show you a location is good. A waypoint to show you an exact thing you need to interact with makes me feel cheated out of a challenge. If ESO is going to employ these now standard theme park features, I hope I can adjust them or turn them off. I’d also like to see quest givers be less obviously denoted. Let me explore and talk to people to find things to do. Don’t pop a flag up in my face by making an NPC glow. All that tends to do is push people towards skipping the wonderful dialog that’s been written just to get to the “accept quest” option. I’ve had enough of that in the past decade, and I’m sure you all have too.
Pepper The World With Lots Of Stuff To Find
One thing I remember annoying me in my time with ESO last October (granting the game has likely changed a lot since then) is that most everything in the starter zone tied into the starting storyline missions. There were a few little quests that you could happen upon as you did the main story (like helping a nice lady turn her friends back into humans from rats), but by and large all of the missions in the starter zone were tied into the main story quests. You could go anywhere you wanted and do them in any order you wanted, but there was nothing else “hidden” to find. Or I suppose it was all so well hidden that I couldn’t find anything.
In Skyrim, using the megahit as a touchstone, you could easily set out on a main quest and find yourself three hours later nowhere near your original goal. I want that to happen to me in ESO’s PVE. The starting zone I played in October was a great experience. I loved just about every second of going through the zone. But when I think about re-playing that experience? I realize I’ve done it all in the first time through, and I now know exactly how it will go when I try it again.
I’d like to see more random content added to ESO’s PVE, and the Dark Anchors are something we haven’t really seen that much of but they’re one solution to this (though they don’t happen in the starting experience). But more than “dynamic” stuff, I’d really like to know if the “real world” of Tamriel opens up into a more explorable and less directed experience. You can, from what I’ve played, go just about anywhere and the landscape does not feel like you’re fenced in. But what good is all that space if there’s not a lot of little minutia to uncover? More than just treasure chests in the wild, I want to see caves without a quest tied to them, dwemer ruins that go deep into the earth and offer chances to discover something I’d not ordinarily find if I just followed the storyline.
But what about you? What ways do you think ESO can make sure there’s a real exploration feel to this online Tamriel?Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.
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