Elder Scrolls Online has been a mainstay in the MMORPG genre for the past six years now, originally releasing to very little fanfare but eventually growing into the One Tamriel (pun intended) that fans know and love— myself included.
MMORPGs, exorbitantly expensive to build and maintain as they are, rarely survive long enough to leave much of a legacy at all. By all accounts, ESO is a great game that clearly stands up against Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft, the other two MMORPGs dominating the genre spotlight. Both of those venerable games bear long legacies full of stories shared by their distinct and vibrant communities.
It isn’t perfect, however. As a long-time Elder Scrolls Online fan, I’ve watched my beloved MMO stagnate to the point where each expansion released in the past two or so years hasn’t felt like much more than an extension to ESO’s already lengthy repertoire of content.
As such, here are the top five ways I would innovate Elder Scrolls Online further, breathing new life into an otherwise fantastic MMORPG that could use more than a few new tricks in 2020.
Give Character Classes Dedicated Guilds and Questlines
One of the things I think is great about Elder Scrolls Online is that each race has not only their own cities; they have entire regions of Tamriel that are dedicated to telling their backstories and immersing the player in their cultures.
This is why it’s so jarring that player class templates haven’t received a similar treatment. What might have originally been meant to represent a loose “template” for a player to choose when they create their character, is now much more prominent as class skills represent an incredibly important part of how a player builds their character out.
More importantly, class passive abilities offer some of the only tangible ways you can carve your character out, given that level-scaling makes each character function pretty much the same way (before Champion Points are applied, which I explain below). So why isn’t there a Templar’s or a Nightblade’s guild, to offer a few examples? Why does my character have the abilities that they have?
If, at this point, these class abilities are so important within my character’s skill point allocation that I practically need to adhere to them, then I’d love these class structures to have clearer representation within the world of Tamriel. Final Fantasy XIV’s class quests, by comparison, do a lovely job of illustrating exactly what my character is, who they are, and how they do what they do in that world.
Revamp (or at least Rebalance) the Champion Point System
When the One Tamriel update introduced a global level-scaling system that conveniently tied every bit of content together— aside from distinctly endgame content such as Veteran Dungeons, Veteran Trials, and such— it also gave us the Champion Point system. This system allows you to continue leveling up your character after you hit the standard level cap of 50, by increasing your stats by increments of a fraction of a percent each time you hit a higher Champion Point level.
While this system definitely works to keep the current level-scaling system balanced, you never really get a proper feeling of progression as you build your character up over time. Instead, each character is more and more personalized around a certain playstyle as they branch out, with only marginal vertical gains in power that could make a Level 50, CP 800 character objectively more effective than, say, a Level 1 character with no CP at all.
There certainly is a difference at that point, but it’s no more noticeable than the difference between, say, a Level 5 character and a Level 1 character in another game that doesn’t include a level-scaling system. The time it takes to even reach the highest CP at this rate, versus the noticeable lack of dynamic range in combat difficulty throughout ESO’s world, is certainly something that could be explored and developed further.
Once again, this current system keeps level-scaling in order, but what it often trades off is a sense of fun in the leveling process, or even a sense of purpose in going through and completing much of ESO’s content at all. It really demands that you make your own fun or stick to parts of Tamriel that tell the stories that are most interesting to you, which brings me to...
Add More Variety in Item and Enemy Types
It’s fantastic that you can go wherever you want and do whatever you want in Elder Scrolls Online, post-One Tamriel. There’s only one problem with ESO’s execution: most items you find in containers and throughout the world are only scaled to your level and skills, but not to the region you find them in, making each zone feel same-y and stagnant as you discover new locations and explore outward.
There are certainly exceptions to the rule. For example, you can find bits of clockwork metal scrap on enemies and in containers in the Clockwork City. Similarly, Summerset is a hotbed for Jewelry Crafting supplies and Greymoor’s enigmatic Crimson Nirnroot can only be found in the depths of Blackreach. These are fantastic examples of variation that already exist within Elder Scrolls Online, but it’d be far more interesting to see this kind of variation spread throughout the rest of Tamriel as well.
Moreso, the same basic types of enemies and NPCs are generally spread throughout Tamriel, making it easy to tire of combat even as you enter a previously unexplored zone. Even when enemies have different names and slightly different fighting styles, NPC deja vu combined with a universal level-scaling system can make most encounters feel extremely methodical, predictable, and boring.
Returning momentarily to my previous point, a total revamp of the Champion Point system may be too big of an ask for ZeniMax at this moment, but at the very least it’d be nice to see more zone-specific items, enemies, crafting supplies, challenges, and quest types.
Restructure the Original Quests, Including the Main Quest
It’s been over six years since many ESO players experienced the original main story quest, and it hasn’t changed much, if at all. Further than that, the world still feels narratively structured around a closed-border faction system that’s long since been patched out of the game, making it quite jarring to run from a local quest in Stonefalls, for example, to a local quest in another faction’s zone.
It’s hard to feel like my character is anything other than a vessel for these narratively dissonant faction-based questlines, and it really throws a wrench into the consistency of a world that’s otherwise inviting me to explore it.
What could definitely help make Tamriel feel up-to-date, given the large bounty of new storylines that have been added in DLC and expansions since ESO’s initial launch, is a narrative restructure that ties the world narrative back into a singular thread, meanwhile updating the main story to feel cohesive with the world that’s since been created around it.
This wouldn’t have to be as comprehensive as forcing players to complete questlines in order, as in Final Fantasy XIV, but it would be far more immersive if Tamriel and its denizens were more self-aware, or at least aware of just how much has changed since they were first introduced.
Introduce a Better Dedicated Player Hub
Elder Scrolls Online can provide a fantastic single-player experience if you want to make it that. In fact, that’s one of the boons of playing in a level-scaled MMORPG with so much soloable content available. You can play it on your own time, then jump right into a session with any of your friends when they log in, or you can just simply ignore them and keep doing your own thing.
The whole world of Tamriel is open, which means any city or zone you’d like to visit (that you have access to, barring zones from DLC and expansions you don’t own) is accessible from the get-go. With regards to just how freeform ESO’s gameplay structure is, this would be fine! But it’s also an MMORPG that has no centralized auction or trading system, which, while not terrible on its own, feels like an incomplete idea when dedicated player hubs are this fragmented by design.
Aside, incidentally, from Rawl’kha and Vivec City, which have only really become meetup points and trading towns out of convenience, players typically just meet up in the wild and go from there— making the whole Elder Scrolls Online community feel like it lacks roots. Again, this is in contrast to Final Fantasy XIV, which has several designated social hubs such as Limsa Lominsa, Gridania, and Ul’Dah. Each of these locations serve as crossroads for the player’s journey throughout their entire time in that game, are host to regular seasonal events, and are easily accessible to everybody.
It’s arguable that locations like Rawl’kha and Vivec City already function this way, but in those cases it’s by coincidence and convenience rather than by design. The way things are currently laid out, it’s hard to quantize any single location in Tamriel’s open world as a “go-to” social hub. What ESO could use here is a central location that works as a de facto home point, perhaps in a pocket dimension of Oblivion, that’s designed specifically as a game-wide crossroads where players interact and trade with one another en masse. I hear the Shivering Isles are nice this time of year.