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OPINION: My Personal Journey With Elder Scrolls Online

Poorna Shankar Posted:
Editorials 0

I have to admit I didn’t set off to write an article about this topic this week. Instead, if you recall, I had discussed last week what I consider to be my personal most impactful games of the decade, and was intending on looking at what I consider to be the most detrimental games of the decade for this week. But as I reflected, and certainly since I completed The Outer Worlds over the weekend, I found myself drawn back to ESO. My journey with the MMO has been chequered, but to deny that ESO hasn’t been important to me would be folly. And so, if you’ll permit me, allow me to tell you the story about my journey with ESO.     

Like our Managing Editor, Bradford, I too received my “start” in this industry by writing and podcasting for an Elder Scrolls focused podcast. My journey to ESO certainly was influenced by my time at this network, but it was not the beginning.

My beginning with the series started in 2006 when I bought Oblivion for Xbox 360 on what was a big gamble. I had seen the game played on my friend’s woefully underpowered PC and was left thoroughly underwhelmed. However, a few days later, I saw the game at GameStop for Xbox 360 and chanced the purchase.

My friend and I raced back home wherein I popped the disc into my console, let Patrick Stewart say his piece, and swiftly began character creation. I’ve mentioned this several times, but that first moment when I exited the Imperial City sewers to see Vilverin before me and Cyrodiil beyond is forever burned into my memory. I will never forget it. So impactful was this moment that it fundamentally changed in that instant how I thought about games.

I was in love. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in Oblivion – a game I play to this day. This isn’t hyperbole. Just Sunday, I reached Bravil so that I could begin using S’Krivva as a Thieves Guild fence for the thousandth time.

Oblivion is a game I cherish with all my heart. It means so much to me. It was the game which opened me up to RPGs, and showed me what I had wanted all along but couldn’t quite put a finger on – massive open worlds to explore.

In the intervening years between Oblivion and Skyrim, I graduated high school and graduated college. It was around the time of Skyrim’s launch when I caught wind of an Elder Scrolls podcast. This was early 2012 and so, like I suspect everyone else, I was obsessively playing Skyrim.

However, on May 3, 2012, GameInformer officially announced ESO as part of their June cover. At this time, I was not yet part of the podcast, I was merely a listener. Upon the announcement of the MMO, I wrote an email to the show outlining my concerns with taking a single-player game and making it multiplayer. I feared that what I considered to be the soul of Elder Scrolls would be deeply diluted in what I called, “just another WoW clone.”

This email caught the attention of the hosts and then-News Director, Bradford. I was invited on the show, laid out my concerns, and shortly afterwards, was made a permanent member. I became the voice and perspective of the solo-player amongst a group of MMO players.

At the same time, Bradford wanted me to write for some reason. And so, I started a weekly editorial piece. My focus was on, what else, Elder Scrolls. I wrote and wrote and wrote. This was my start in the industry. (So for those keeping track, I have hated Bradford for seven long years. I have no doubt he’d reciprocate the same about me).

2012 rolled into 2013 and the folks on the podcast, including myself and Bradford, were invited into the ESO beta. In fact, it was really a tech test. The servers were only open for about three hours. I hopped into the game to check it out.

I was completely shell-shocked. This was absolutely not the Elder Scrolls I had come to love. Why was there a mini map on the screen? Where was the first person perspective? Why were all these other people running around ruining my fun? Why am I on a starting island and not the main world? Why is the tutorial so damn long?

I was so thoroughly put off that I just stopped playing future betas. It was such a jarring experience and absolutely not what I was looking for. However, I eventually jumped back into a beta in early 2014 when a lot had changed. It had improved for sure, but it was still not the Elder Scrolls experience I expected.

The game launched and I decided to give it a second chance. I can’t say I didn’t have fun. I wouldn’t have played roughly 60 hours if I hadn’t had some sort of fun. But there was still some disconnect between the game and what I wanted in an Elder Scrolls game.

After some time, I stopped playing and moved on. I didn’t really pick it back up again in earnest until summer 2019 with the release of Elsweyr. However, I had been aware of the updates to the game in the intervening years. The One Tamriel and Tamriel Unlimited updates had brought about massive changes, fundamentally changing the way ESO played. But I did not truly know what this meant yet in terms of gameplay as I had been away from the game for so long.

I stepped back into ESO, curious about the Elsweyr expansion chapter. I was genuinely floored by the massive changes. Suddenly, I realized I could truly go wherever I wanted and the game would scale to me. No longer was I restricted to zone-clearing like other MMOs. I could set off in any direction and play the way I always played Elder Scrolls games.

Of course, group content never really went away. But, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, I found myself enjoying the group content more with ESO post One Tamriel and Tamriel Unlimited than I did before these updates. I enjoyed group content more in this third attempt at ESO because I was no longer constrained to how I could play the game solo. And so, because I enjoyed the solo play so much more, I began to appreciate the group play.

I’ve constantly described ESO as the single-player game I can play with my friends, and I fundamentally see the game through that lens. I fully accept that this game isn’t for everyone. That’s not how the world works. But at long last, ESO finally feels like an Elder Scrolls game to me.

Having now finished The Outer Worlds, I’ve immersed myself back into ESO and am continuing my adventures in Murkmire before heading off to Morrowind. But this is just one more step in my conflicted history with ESO, which at last seemingly seems to be at peace. There’s a sense of closure I get when I play ESO now, but this feeling wouldn’t have been possible without all the history I’ve had with the series, my start in the industry, and now, my newfound love of the MMO.

I hope that by explaining this history, my passion for Elder Scrolls as a series and my new love for ESO as an MMO makes sense now. The series as a whole has had a tremendous influence on my life. It is the reason why I’m sitting here writing for an influential outlet in our beloved industry. And it is this history which will continue to influence me as the future of Elder Scrolls marches on with the recently teased Skyrim chapter for ESO.


Poorna Shankar