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Elder Scrolls Online Column: Veteran Rank Changes Unifying the Game at What Cost?

By Christina Gonzalez on July 09, 2014

ZeniMax published a post late last week saying it planned to make a series of changes to Veteran Rank content. Those changes, which began rolling out this week, were indicative of what the studio called a desire to listen to the feedback people had been giving and gauge just where the community had been on the matter of Veteran Rank content. After listening, there were several key points, including that the difference in difficulty between the 1-50 game and the post-50 game surprised players, who felt forced into groups or simply felt they had hit a wall and then gave up. Some were also dissatisfied with the VR content necessarily taking them through the content of other factions with little change. If you pledged your sword to Queen Ayrenn, why would you then go off happily questing in service of Jorunn?

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Finally, the rewards in exchange for such difficulty didn’t make sense for some, who felt that after being put through that much of a wringer, there should be more on the other end.

Before the changes, the challenging gameplay was intended to “encourage” players to group but not, as ZeniMax claims, to force anyone to group or change play styles. The changes that arrived this week are thus intended to make the game more like the 1-50 game.” In other words, able to be easily soloed. More changes are to come, with an unveiling of a new path next week.

Does this dismantle or merely change the offerings for players post-50? The way ESO handled endgame was something I was initially pleased with. It let people feel like experienced heroes, able to experience content without needing to level alts and start from scratch if they didn’t want to do that. It gave people options. Then ZeniMax began tying new content to VR levels, which took away those options since if you merely said goodbye at 50 to one character and rolled an alt, you simply couldn’t enter Craglorn or participate in newly released content. For not wanting to force players to do things, gating new features like that was clear. That choice of endgame your way, and experiencing content your way, was no longer a choice at all if you wanted any of the game’s new content available to you.

Adapting The Elder Scrolls to an MMO is a topic much discussed, with just about as many opinions as people that have played the game. But in trying to please both solo-centric MMO players as well as those used to the single player RPG series, then tossing difficult, grouping encouraged content at them after 50, they might have created one game that felt like two.

In encouraging or making people group, then you’re obviously going to get these disparate reactions since people are expecting one thing and getting another. It’s an MMO, so the real mistake, in my opinion, was making it a way more solo-oriented game from the start, to the point where ESO has sometimes been less accommodating to grouping than soloing. As the the ongoing problem (also negatively received in the community) with instancing and sending player groups into individual instances or into solo quest portions when previous parts of a quest were doable in a group.

However, solo-friendly is just about a requirement in today’s games and in the name of financial viability, it’s an understandable one. With the planned console release, this decision to broaden the appeal to soloers instead of going the other way also makes more sense.

The problem behind this is really about designing the content to be two different things. If you design the content to be soloable, and then present the other two thirds of the content to that same character, the logical expectation would be a more challenging experience, but scaling with level progression in a similar manner as before.

It feels like having the game be more accommodating to grouping is a better direction than making the post-50 game more amenable to soloing. Two very different sides are voicing opinions in the community right now - the ones who loathe the instancing and find the game not amenable to grouping, and those who find the high level content near impossible without groups. What about those who want to play together but the game wouldn’t permit them to do so all the time? As for now, though ZeniMax has said the road ahead will include tweaks to quests that will help make them more easily playable together, right now it seems the solo player has won for the time being.

Ideally, encouraging grouping from the start is the way to go. Although many people do play MMORPGs solo these days, giving the option, as some in the ESO community have stated, to let players essentially decide between two difficulty settings with a toggle and scaled rewards, to group or not to group, is one way to handle it. Yet, how to handle the issues without splitting the community is another issue. Cater too easily to the soloers that want to get through VR quickly enough, and the risk is there to only gain a short term boost as those who couldn’t get through the content before and those leveling more slowly approach.

But if you’re a group-oriented MMO player and you like the game encouraging players to group up, then changes post-50 to make things easier isn’t likely to improve the viability of grouping up on the whole.

What we’re left with is a game that has felt like two different games rolled into one at times and an untangling of sorts going on before our eyes. And while this series of VR changes, with many reporting gameplay feel various degrees easier, might work in one sense to make things a little more uniform, it’s easy to wonder where that leaves grouping, and if we’ll get meaningful changes to the gates keeping players apart during the 1-50 game rather than just throwing in the towel and letting the solo players have it.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her contributions at RTSGuru. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez

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