With the two-month mark since release hitting soon, an old feeling is beginning to creep in when it comes to The Elder Scrolls Online. I'm still enjoying the game though I've had less time to play recently due to a few outside matters. While there are always players on when I log in, and the community, in my experience, tends to steer more on the helpful side, I can't help but notice that some players are gone. Guilds are quieter or inactive, and my friends have stopped playing the game. This always happens in MMOs – populations drop and your friends might move onto another game. But the pace here seems to have been a bit quick.
Now, I am not ringing a death knell for the game. It isn't 'dead' or anything close to it. There are still plenty of people playing. The past weekend was even populated during the WildStar head start. I can't speak to the higher level areas yet, since I put my Nightblade on hold and rolled my sorcerer, but it wouldn't surprise me if the population is simply spread out naturally, as generally happens. We MMORPG players are, by now, often a cynical bunch, talking about games' inevitable drops and declines. Most of the time, it's right, but for ESO, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. Even if the community has gotten a bit smaller, with the megaserver tech, it seems possible to control the number of instances to fit the population. This way there should be the right balance either way. And the initial burst of activity at the start of any game always seems to wind down after a while. Those that left with the first free month aren't uncommon. Many studios count those players as an inevitable loss while trying to figure out how to retain those who are inclined to continue onward.
No doubt that this game has been polarizing in multiple ways. Some of my friends that are huge Elder Scrolls fans but not really frequent MMO players found the game too restrictive. Others that play a ton of MMOs found the game too bogged down in questing. Some players were simply turned off by the issues with the game and the response. Others have an issue with the structure of the game itself. Most people I know who played the game felt a combination of the above, with several liking the game but either it not being their style or experiencing major bugs or bots. I've been either lucky or in a quiet majority, as most of my experiences with bugs have been minor. I noticed yesterday that I was taking from a chest outside and it said “Bookshelf” in the popup, for example.
For ESO, the community will figure out exactly how to adjust and balance itself in order to continue onward. I quite enjoy the slower paced leveling of this game immensely, but it has even shifted a little bit into more of a solo experience for myself than I would like. I might find a new guild that fits the player I am, but for now, I'm hurling fire solo (or with a pet) at mobs, retrieving lost books, and helping people in towns with sinister occurrences. The structure of the game is one that fits my style more than any other has in some time. Is it perfect? No, far from it, but it's satisfying in general.
As far as being left without people to play with regularly, this game is suited to solo play but I'm disappointed because it's such a beautiful world that feels like a world (in spite of some things like level or quest gating of areas). The disappointment comes in not being able to play together all the time as easily. It's one factor in friends leaving. Being able to play together at all times, and even to see players you might want to meet up with who are stuck in other instances, all of this would help make the game even better than it is now. That said, I do think that with the console version delay, this game will see improvements over the coming months. The ability to see other players across instances (as promised in the May “road ahead”) will be a step in the right direction, though we're not sure yet how this will work. I hope that it wont be limited to simply those players in your group or guild, but allow players to roam around and meet one another. In this game, I think the megaserver, as much as I prefer individual servers in general, was a good, flawed, decision. Establishing the community and meeting other players has a hurdle in its path when everyone is spread through layers instead of in the world.
Ultimately, however, I do think ESO is going to settle into its niche well. There isn't another game out there today that is quite like it. It feels like a world to inhabit and a game to be explored, and played at your own pace rather than getting on a treadmill. With continued fixes, loosening the things that separate players from one another, getting Nightblade on track, and hopefully, more content for those who haven't yet reached Veteran Ranks, things should settle in nicely. In the meantime, I plan to continue crisping mobs along the shores and get to finding some groups.
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