Taking a second look at ESO, it's just how I remembered it
In the past I’ve made no secret of my personal dislike of The Elder Scrolls Online, so it was only as a product of some misplaced sense of duty I found myself downloading the newly dubbed Tamriel Unlimited this week. I actually let out an involuntary sarcastic chuckle at the thirty gigabyte download size, as if the game was somehow insisting upon my valuable time. It was my intention to give the game a fair shot, but apparently my self-righteous subconscious was having none of it.
With that in mind, I went in to the game determined to notice improvement, and happily I did. The new player experience has been subtly reworked into a shape less bloated, and the characters now move like they’re held together with organic matter. These are two things I always pay attention to at the start of a game, and while their value is subjective, it’s usually an indication of quality throughout.
It’s a pity then, that these features were fixed after the fact. To me, it’s a demonstration of the problem with ESO—massive amounts of effort spent creating the entertainment equivalent of beige paint: functional precisely because it’s so unremarkable. Or maybe something like artisanal porridge would be a better analogy, because no matter the skill and love that went into it, the outcome was never going to carry that passion with it.
Ironically, my biggest gripe with ESO is a testament to the success of the game. It’s a product designed with exactly this goal for use by an indistinct end-user; it’s the sad truth of show business, it’s why we have Nickelback and Justin Bieber and Michael Bay and I could go on. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, and I certainly don’t have to celebrate it.
Because I know there are some people out there who mix up criticism of something they like with a personal attack, let me take this moment to say I’m really glad you like ESO, I’m happy that you enjoy it and there is no reason that you shouldn’t, including my distaste for it.
It’s a natural evolution; innovation is followed by iteration which is rewarded with a breakout success. Others repeat the formula with the hope of enticing the same consumer base. In a more disposable medium like movies or puzzle-platformers this model can work really well, but when applied to an activity that’s meant to entertain us for years rather than hours, the cracks really start to show.
The first time I played World of Warcraft it felt like the future of games, so naturally playing games like ESO feels like going backwards. When I think of the future of games, I think of playing Monster Hunter multiplayer on the train, college teams playing MOBAs for their tuition, or EVE Valkyrie with a VR set, or players in Landmark creating the world of EverQuest Next. Or Minecraft, because Minecraft is everywhere.
My return to the blandest Tamriel made me remember the reasons I fell in love with the ideas behind Landmark and EverQuest Next. Everything those games are attempting is designed to take the players involvement in the world to the next level, not as a passive consumer, but as a participant and creator.
That’s always been the biggest draw for me, and ironically it’s what I’ve always loved about multiplayer games of any kind, including my first day in WoW. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) the world has moved on and the tricks that once dazzled us will no longer fly.
While it may be an inevitability in the dreaded ‘real world’ I am forced to engage with repeatedly, it’s a shame that such vast amounts of energy and resources are put towards the carefully crafted mundanity that ESO represents.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m still not much of a fan of The Elder Scrolls Online.