In the year 2014, there was nothing that was quite the wet dream to any Elder Scrolls fan other than the idea of Skyrim online. Something about exploring the Nordic-dominated countryside with friends, taking on dragon priest along the way. Then, as if a blessing from the Nine Diving themselves Bethesda and Zenimax Studios roll out the Hero Engine-based holy grail of games, Elder Scrolls Online. Being a pre-ordered and closed beta participant (I have the monkey to prove it) saying I was looking forward to this game was an understatement. As a longtime fan of the franchise, someone who has bought Skyrim on 4 different platforms (I know I’m part of the problem) and found this love for Morrowind way back in the day, ESO was everything I dreamed of, but here is the thing, it wasn’t.
MMORPGs are to me, one of the most interesting game types on the market. Whether it be World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Rift, or another one of my favorites Star Wars The Old Republic all of them serve some appeal to not only a few, but millions of players that pay monthly and play daily. MMORPGs are without a doubt, a time commitment. With a triple-A title such as Elder Scrolls making their MMO debut the launch, kinda like Amazon’s New World, was a massive hit, for like a month, then it died. So how did this game go from a flaming mess to an MMO into one I have put well over 2 thousand hours in and is without a doubt, my favorite MMORPG ever made?
Well, that is why I’m writing this.
My journey started when the game launched, I made a toon that is still my main today, a brash, no fucks to give stamina Templar by the name of Serana Shadare. I love this character, to the point I wrote fan fiction about her. An Imperial noble who lost her family during the fall of Cyrodiil. Someone that was just in her conviction but at best was morally gray. Someone who liked Dark Elves a little too much along with her drink. Serana is still very much so an active toon on the mega server, one that at least gets logged onto every day to do crafting writs if not a session that can span hours leveling up and farming Mirri Elendis gear (I did say she likes Dark Elves). Serana wasn’t so much me as she was the thought of everything I’d like to be, a mixture of apathy and feminism. But alas I am not here to talk about dear Serana, maybe one day that will be a post, hell I might even start writing stories about her again and feature them here but for now, this is about ESO.
As I said the launch of ESO for better or for worse was a flop. Now as to why this is to be the case Is a point of debate, in my own opinion it was simply this. People wanted Skyrim online, what they got was a poorly optimized overly grindy cluster that’s leveling system was brutal, a messy general story, and a heavy point on PvP that simply didn’t work. I quit playing after 2-3 months after the launch, caping Serana at 50, discovering the sheer annoyance of the veteran system, and went back to Guild Wars 2.
One year later however something happened, March 17 2015 an update known as Tamriel Unlimited changed everything. It got rid of the base subscription and added ESO Plus, as well as a ton of fundamental quality of life, changing the game direly needed. It was with this change that I came back to ESO, though I was timid at first, gingerly playing through the content nonetheless enjoying myself as the stores and voice acting took me to another world that felt revolved around Serana.
Morrowind would come out a few years later, but that wasn’t the real hook for me, it was in March 2018 that I allowed myself to get fully immersed in an MMO for the first time since WoW back in 2009. Though an Imperial main I have always had a soft spot for the Altmer, the High Elves of the world, and claimers of the Summerset Ilse (funny since I made Serana’s choice in elves Dunmer) Summerset was the second full expansion for ESO and the second game since TES 1 Arena to allow the players to explore the as for mentioned Ilse. It also added jewel crafting as a skill and therefore made me millions and millions of coins but that is beside the point. It was with Summerset I started to truly understand what made ESO great, cementing my allegiance to it as the best MMORPG on the market as of writing.
First, however, I want to talk about the one BIG issue with ESO, something that we long-time fans have been struggling with since day one, Hero Engine. My friends and fans of the SWTOR world will know this struggle well, Hero, is an okay but more or less dated engine. It has led with the addition of server issues to ESO not being the greatest performance MMO, my hardware during combat hitting around 80 fps on max settings with a solid 100 ping. This is something the dev team has not only acknowledged but has put in their roadmap time and time again, the biggest issue with the game and the number one thing (they say) on their list is performance.
Another unpopular feature about the game that I actually adore is the economy. Unlike WoW or SWTOR that have central auction houses that allow players to buy and sell goods over, ESO has an interesting feature, guilds. So within the game, a player is allowed to join up to 5 guilds, and typically speaking one or more of those will fall under the umbrella of marketing guild. Marketing guilds exist to sell goods via a guild trader that exists all over the world and have to be bided on for a guild to claim. Though hardly a perfect system it was in the Summerset jewel crafting boom I found myself a high-ranking member of a start-up marketing guild, and through the experience of myself and seeing other guildies make a ton of cash born in me an appreciation for how the market works in ESO. Though today I’m no longer in said guild due to a 2-year break, and currently, guildless, understand the pains of not having a universal auction house, nonetheless, I like the system as it is.
One of the selling points that came with this series, much like in the TES world is the ability for a player to play the game any way they see fit. Wanna be a blood mage healer? You can do that, frost tank? That is even meta. The idea that all classes can do all roles and even wield what weapon they want to is very much appealing and technically accurate, however, not ideal. Much like other MMOs that rely on the triad system, ESO tries to be different but fails. For group content, most people will want you to run a meta build, tank, two DPS, and a healer. Some classes and races do better at certain jobs than others and if you want to min-max the content all of this is relevant. But there is a middle ground where I think most if not all roles and classes and exist. I, for example, play DPS Stamplair, not the most meta choice but it servers me well enough and I did this without any real knowledge of the game since she was my first main toon.
So terrible engine, complicated economy, and an alright combat system don’t really sound like I’m selling this series too well. Even with good customization, tons of styles, and color options, though I enjoy all of those things what really sells me on this game and has time and time again is simply this. Out of all the MMOs I’ve played, ESO is without a doubt, quest-wise, the most morbid one. TES generally speaking has its moments of dark humor or just plan twisted story quest. But even with that, ESO has gone deeper, crafting some of the most charming and equally disturbing storylines that align more with dark fantasy than any Elder Scrolls before. When you add the context that Dragon Age Origins is my favorite game of all time, the idea of ESO being a bit darker appealing to me isn’t all surprising. Quest from wives looking for their husbands only to find out an affair lead them to be sacrificed to a deadric prince. A Kahjiit with a crush on a Breton led her to leave dead rodents on her doorstep. Princess exiled and hunted, a friendly NPC with a bit of a drinking problem only to progress through a quest to find it eventually gets the best of them.
The atmosphere and the stories within that space reel me in, in a way other MMOs have failed. SWTOR would be the one I’d say came the closest to making me feel this way but it was only for the base game. When the first expansion came out and the story was no longer tailored to the classes that charm was lost, somehow I never felt that with ESO. The main quest, the side quests the DLCs, all of them to a certain degree made me feel something I wasn’t expecting. I became attached to NPCs because their emotions felt real, the pain and anxieties they suffered made sense, some of them even playing to humor to alleviate it. This is only helped by the fact we have some more story-driving NPCs like Naryu Virian, one who, as I have written, Serana is very fond of. Or the ever-dashing Razum-dar who made me enjoy the AD questline ever so more.
MMORPG is a complex, expensive beast that has dominated the PC gaming market for the last two decades. They are full of content, stories, skill cap, grinding within everything in between and ESO is no different. All of them have their quirks, their problems and honestly even with my self-reflection of why I love ESO so much, might not be the whole story. Unlike WoW which I had no real connection to before I started playing, I have played every TES game, the first being Morrowind back in 2008, and have fallen in love with each of them time and time again. Ah yes, I’m simply just an Elder Scrolls nerd.
If any of you play ESO and would like to join me feel free to add me Raffen1, PC NA. This is the first post I’ve made In months so I am going to take a minute to clarify that. I started Otaku Post as an anime blog, a medium I am very interested in and enjoy. Like most things, however, I get into and out of things often. Currently, I’m not watching anime or reading manga, instead, I am reading novels and playing games. I am trying to figure out how to bring that sort of content to Otaku Post as well without shifting the core narrative completely from an anime blog to something else. I may even add some fictions pieces all in time. Either way, I appreciate the support of all my readers during this hiatus and look forward to creating content regularly.
As always, thanks for the read!