Dungeons, man... dungeons. Elder Scrolls Online has them by the cartload. When you hit level 15, you’ll be prepared for your first true group instanced dungeon, and once you defeat it you’ll gain instant teleportation to the other two factions’ dungeons as well. With PAX East devouring much of my time this past week, I was just glad to keep progressing in ESO what little bit I did. I’m nearly level 20, and have hit over 40 hours played so far. I get that ESO has more than its fair share of bugs and design quirks, but I’m having a lot of fun regardless. There’s something about Zenimax’s theme park that really trips my trigger. It needs a lot of polish, sure, but what’s in game now is a lot more fun than I ever expected and I keep coming back for more. Anyway, on to dungeons.
There are several types of dungeons in ESO. The standard “Delve” dungeons that are scattered across the world, which players can enter, explore, clear for achievements and find skyshards in. These are sort of “lesser public dungeons”, and you’ll find random other folks in your adventures there. Scour the map and find them all, because each one has a skyshard, and you’ll want to collect as many of those as you can, believe me. Then there are Public Dungeons like Crow’s Wood that are small open zones for multiple groups which have an overall story, several missions, and usually a larger group boss to take down as well.
I like to think of Public Dungeons as a prelude to what we’ll find in Adventure Zones at the endgame. It’s worth noting that players were grinding like mad in these areas early on, and this is how many people hit level 50 within days of launch. You won’t find much of that now, though, as XP from mobs in these dungeons has been nerfed to the point where delves and Public Dungeons should only be played to get quests done, skyshards found, and achievements earned. Hopefully XP on the mobs inside will be rebalanced one day for those who do like to grind.
On top of all these more public dungeons, Elder Scrolls Online has more traditional single-group instanced dungeons. I’ve played through both the Fungal Grotto and the Banished cells now, two of the three level 15-ish dungeons which first become available to players in Tamriel. I was pleasantly surprised, even when I played them a bit over-level, to find that they’re no cakewalk.
That’s not to say the mobs in the dungeon aren’t easy. Most groups of normal mobs are relatively easy, but Zenimax has done well in that they throw a lot of trash at you at once, as opposed to small groups meant to slow your progress. This tends to make even the trash fights hectic and fun, as simply trying to tank a few mobs isn’t really on the table all that often. Mini boss fights can wipe a party if you’re not prepared. In fact, even our own Rob Lashley fell to the second to last boss of Banished Cells because the AOE fields he dropped were too powerful. We’re not talking fights that can’t be won, but they mix enough tactics and difficulty to make sure you’re kept on your toes. If you manage to make it through the dungeon, you get an achievement, a skill point, and of course, some loot.
Of the two dungeons, I rather enjoyed the Fungal Grotto more. But that might just be because you first get to go in, slaughter goblins, their leader, and then take charge of the remaining horde to go through the rest of the dungeon and fight Dreugh and giant crabs. Banished Cells had better fights though, as the final boss is actually quite a pain in the ass until you figure out his tricks and keep him from using them. If these are the first dungeons the game has to offer, and they get harder and more involved the higher you level, I’m sold on Craglorn. We should get some good looks at ESO’s first content update soon, so we’ll see.
Next week we’ll focus on the biggest piece of the ESO puzzle: it’s Alliance War PVP in Cyrodiil. The launch has been rough, for Zenimax, there’s no doubt. Lots of bugs from disappearing items to quest blockers, disappearing bank upgrades, and so forth. Bugs I can forgive, but they’re going to count against the final score for sure. But I’ll be perfectly honest: I get ESO. I didn’t at first, but the more I play Zenimax’ game, the more I enjoy it. I see several months of adventuring ahead of me, judging by how long it took me to complete one of the game’s many zones. If the content keeps coming every 4-6 weeks, ESO could be a great place to hang my hat alongside WildStar this summer. It really is a good time to be a gamer, so long as you can deal with the bumps and bruises of launch.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.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.