The Elder Scrolls Online turns one next week, though those of us that preordered the game, the game’s head start means that launch was a year ago. Considering the major change that just happened to the game two weeks ago in its conversion to a buy to play, subscription optional model, which was not without its bumps, it has been a rollercoaster of a year for Zenimax’s game. From launch through now, The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited had much happen during its first year, as the community got to know the game from launch and beyond and the developers decided to make both tweaks and complete overhauls. Here’s a look back.
Launch for ESO was, let’s say it together, a bit of a disaster. Not as much as some games have experienced, but there were definite issues. Players getting knocked off their horses for no reason didn’t compare with group members disappearing off the maps, launcher issues, errors, and well, downtime. Much downtime. The downtime was one of the more frustrating experiences. Add in extensive phasing, bugs, and players unable to meet up or disconnected, and you had a handful of issues that led some of the earliest impressions of the game, including in its official reviews across multiple games websites. It’s unfortunate, but MMOs, especially big ones with a subscription, only get one real shot at an impression. Plenty of folks will take their 30 days and then cut and run. The middling to fair reviews based on beta and a buggy launch only solidified what came to be an unfair assessment. The game is still trying to make its way out from underneath some of the initial launch ill will. That said, the team took responsibility, and ultimately, decided to build things up and change others. Taking responsibility for all of the issues was one thing. Taking the actions promised at an ongoing and rapid pace was another.
Having ZOS essentially take an apology and promise to do better, and listen to the community’s feedback, was nice, but would have fallen flat if the team hadn’t delivered. It’s easy to say, in hindsight, that the team was merely preparing for a long term conversion at the time and using PC players during its first year to get subscription money while beta testing the game, but I don’t think most players are that cynical. The changes over time have been substantial.
Playing together was a serious hurdle in the beginning of the game’s life. That was one of the first things the team started to roll out fixes to, ultimately amassing a list of dozens of missions where things would be changed to not suddenly lock players into separate instances. Players who routinely found their group mates disappearing off the map, or merely represented by an arrow while in another instance, also saw some changes. The fixes to groups were some of the more welcome changes, in my opinion, since it meant that the game finally felt more like an MMORPG. Yes, there were some then and still some now that hate the MMO conventions blended in with Elder Scrolls single player RPG elements, but it has always felt like a good blend to me. With other bits of Elder Scrolls (like stealing) added in in recent months, the connections are even clearer now than before.
Within the first couple of months, players were also figuring out how to make the most of ESO’s decentralized, player-driven economy. Right after launch, one of the biggest draws were racial motif books, often looted by players taking advantage of the way loot originally respawned. These were going for thousands of gold early, and the rarer ones for even more. Those players who were quickly out of the gate to become werewolves and vampires were also playing the economy, sometimes working together to kill spawns that would give players a chance to get bitten for free and then turning around and selling their once a week bite allotment for gold. Adding to the economy measures were the ability to establish guild shops in Cyrodiil at risk and with the necessity to keep them (pun intended?). Things eventually shook out in a more even manner (and a few patches like the ones making racial motif books rarer, and others) caused some shifts, but over the first few months, at least, things took a bit of time to be established and settle. You can still pay someone to bite you, but it won’t cost anywhere near as much as it did eight months ago, and comes with much less risk of scamming today.
While PvP over the first year some felt was handled without significant changes or new options, the focus on PvE changes were prominent. These changes, such as adding additional delves across all levels and turning on level scaling for groups, have added content to the game, as well as chances at rewards. That said, repeatable content is not a panacea, and you have to support players that fall on the more social and roleplaying ends as well, and the game did that with things like new emotes, greater immersion through changes in the world (like theft, interaction like picking objects in the world up and using them, and more) and ongoing support for community events.