Monday, January 21, 2019

Room At The Inn : Elder Scrolls Online

When I re-organized my HDD, one of my vague plans was to take another look at both Black Desert and Elder Scrolls Online. They each have settings that I find visually appealing and to some extent I enjoyed the relatively brief times I spent exploring their worlds.

Of the two, I liked BDO a lot more. The lore may be considerably less developed and the mechanics significantly more gamelike but it always felt much more like a "real" place to me. The various NPCs seemed, somehow, to be "there" in a way they don't in ESO.

It was very easy to imagine life going on in without me in Calpheon or Valencia, whereas in Glenumbra or Betnikh I felt more as if I was walking around a historical re-enactment. It was as though the NPCs were all actors, who'd heave a sigh of relief when I logged out because it meant  they could slip back into their everyday clothes and go home.

The overriding reason I enjoyed BDO more, though, was the mechanics. Both games use a form of mouse-locked, reticule-aimed action combat but in Black Desert that results in a wild, freewheeling romp whereas in ESO it's a jarring, discordant lurch.

Now, this is the kind of place I was thinking of...
Black Desert also benefitted strongly from having excellent personal housing. Property there is plentiful, inexpensive and appealing. The way you can open the windows of your home to look out and see other players passing by, even though your house is instanced, seems more magical than the actual magic in the game.

As I posted, when I'd patched up BDO and recovered my login details, the first thing I did was go back to my house in the hills. I was surprised to find I immediately remembered the way and delighted that everything there was exactly as I'd left it. When I think about persistence in MMORPGs I suppose this is the kind of thing I have in mind.

I'm not quite in Syp's class in believing that all MMOs should have personal housing but I do believe it acts as a very powerful incentive to retention. For that reason alone I find it strange that any developer would resist having it in their game, the way both Blizzard and ArenaNet seem determined to do.

When I briefly played ESO it didn't have housing but it wasn't long before ZeniMax added it to their increasingly impressive offer. I'd read a few things about it that made it sound a bit insipid but I wanted to take a look for myself. Once I'd got the game running and my account working - no short process - I logged in and went to look for somewehere to live.

Sounds interesting.
Okay, that's not strictly accurate. What I really did was log sraight out again and go searching for Add Ons.

I'm the kind of player that generally doesn't bother with third-party programmes for MMOs. I prefer to use the default UI, wherever possible. In ESO it's not. If you stuck with the defaults you'd never know where you were going, what you  were doing or how you were meant to do it. You most likely wouldn't even know what it was that you'd done after you'd done it.

Even with Add Ons giving me a mini-map, an on-screen quest journal, visible hot bars and an inventory with visual iconography I still didn't really know what I was doing. I managed almost two levels and an entire solo dungeon using only auto-attack because I had no idea where any of my weapon skills were or, indeed, if I was meant to have any.

Eventually I got that sorted out, which made killing things about two orders of magnitude faster and easier, at which point, naturally, I decided to stop the slaughter to go look for a house. I'd picked up a quest somewhere that wanted me to go to Daggerfall and speak to someone about an Inn room. I was already in Daggerfall so that seemed like the place to start.

You're really not selling it, Felande.
Whoever wrote the quest dialog for "Room to Spare" must have had their tongue stuck in their cheek so hard it probably left a permanent mark.  The whole thing's so arch you could run a railway over it.

The conceit is that having an adventurer staying at the Inn confers such status it's worth letting the room out for free. The landlady, Felande Demarie, somehow manages to smirk and wink her way through the entire catalog of things you, the player character, can and can't do in your room, including setting up crafting stations, displaying your trophies, housing your assistants and even stabling your mounts, without ever quite breaking the fourth wall.

It sounded like an awful lot to be going on in any Inn room but, when she finally let me see the room she was offering, I began to doubt her sanity. It was, without any question whatsoever, the smallest in-game accomodation I have ever seen. If it was any smaller you'd have to call it a cell. It's so tiny it makes the original single-room accomodation in 2004's EverQuest II look like a penthouse suite!

It also comes with no furnishings at all. None. Nada. Unless you count a single, guttering candle on the floor, which I do not. I stood there, gawping at my new home in dumbfounded amazement. I couldn't even get enough distance to take a screenshot that showed more than one corner at a time. Felande had made a point of telling me the room was too small to permit dueling. She's not kidding! You couldn't swing a rat in there, let alone a greatsword.

Monastic, I believe the term is.
All the same, it's dry and indoors, which puts it two places above anywhere my Khajit Dragonknight has spent the night so far. If he could just lay his hands on a bed...

You would think a bed would come as standard in an Inn room. I mean, I've stayed in all kinds of places, from five-star hotels to the box rooms of private houses, but never have I paid money to stay anywhere that didn't come with some kind of bed. Not in MMOland. There you get neither bed nor breakfast unless you bring your own.

So off I went to do some research on furniture. It seems you can buy the basics - the very basics - from NPC vendors, one of whom plies her trade out of the very same Rosy Lion Inn where I'm now living. You can also quest for a few things and you can either take up carpentry and make furniture or buy it from those who did.

It's motivating. I like furnishing rooms. I certainly like it a lot more than I like following ESO's so far unengaging main storyline or enrolling in the seemingly endless series of dour, downbeat, depressing side-quests and regional narratives that pepper the otherwise charming cities, towns, villages and farmland.

Triple-A Housing
ESO has received some considerable praise for its quest writing. I quickly worked out why back when I was playing before: the people who praise it like it because it's just like the stuff you find in all those endless, by-the-yard, multi-volume fantasy epics. I think of the authors who churn them out as the literary equivalent of the kind of prog rock band that makes a living playing in the middle of the afternoon on the second stage on Sundays at festivals all over Europe, when everyone's either too stoned, too exhausted or too hungover to pay attention.

I remembered that from last time but I hadn't really remembered just how stultifyingly bland the voice acting is. It's not that it's bad, per se. It's not like the astonishingly crass and inept voicework that EQ2 foisted on us a decade and a half ago, when that game promoted itself as the "first fully-voiced MMORPG". It's just flat, inert, lifeless and dull.

It's so bleached of human feeling, in fact, that I found myself wondering whether whoever was directing the recording sessions actively forbade the voice actors to express an emotion. Any emotion. Given that these are clearly professionals, who understand the lines, it's very hard to imagine them throttling back so consistently unless their paycheck depended on it.

After a few minutes I started skipping the spoken dialog. I can read the text in about a quarter of the time it takes the audio to play through so questing began to ressemble listening to FM radio while driving through a series of tunnels. Next time I think I'll switch the dialog off altogether, assuming there's an option for that.

There will be a next time, though. ESO's is a huge world and it seems one very well worth exploring. What's more, I have a home base now, and a prospectus of other places I could hang my hat. If I had a hat. Or a hat stand.

Things are looking up. One of these days, maybe I'll even get myself a bed.


  1. I did get a free bed! I think it was part of the new level-up rewards though, so you might have missed out on that if you were already past that level from last time you played (which - like in my case - was probably before level-up rewards were introduced).

    1. Ooh! I was only Level 12 when I got the room. Maybe the bed is still to come...

    2. Ah yes - a quick Google search seems to confirm that you get your choice of furniture rewards at level 18 (I thought it was earlier than that).

  2. Mom, I’m tired of sleeping on the floor! Not till you’re 18!

  3. That's one tiny room indeed. And here I thought the apartments in FFXIV were small.

    I do think that the actual living space inside ArcheAge's small houses was even tinier, but since those came with some additional usable space on the outside they don't count I guess. :-)

    I hear so much good stuff about ESO, but some of what you're describing matches exactly the reasons why I never really got into any Elder Scrolls game. It all just felt lifeless to me, like setpieces, and didn't motivate me to explore and seek adventure at all.
    Since so many people loved those games I thought it was just me...

    1. This free room indeed is small. It's the very introduction to housing, after all. But places can get "a little bigger", too.

      In case of doubt, check out this video:

      Note that the house in the video didn't cost money, either. It was given away during an event. Anybody who logged in at least once during the time of the event now owns this hous. (From what I gathered, it's not the only house which was given away for free, but up to now the biggest one. )

    2. Yes, I remember reading about the giveaway house at the time. I was a bit miffed at missing out on it which is one reason I wanted to get ESO re-installed. I hate missing out on freebies even in MMOs I probably won't play! Also, as to the potential size of houses, the second screenshot above was taken when I was touring one of the big ones - more like a village than a house, really.

  4. While nowhere as impressive as the free house that they gave away, the free inn room that you can get if you have the Morrowind DLC is noticeably larger than the rooms in other towns. About twice the size IIRC.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide