Sunday, May 17, 2020

Pale Lilac Snow: Elder Scrolls Online

Yesterday evening saw my return to Elder Scrolls Online, a little over a year since the last login, when I stuck my head around the door of my free inn room, saw how dark and pokey it was and promptly logged out again.

In all the time I've played the game (can't be more than a few hours in a few years) I've only ever tasted a single race and class, Khajiit Dragonknight, levelled, painfully, slowly, sporadically to level twelve. All I've seen of the game is the starting area for that combo.

Or maybe it is. Hard to remember. ESO hasn't made much of an impact. About all I recall are some caves, a bit of woodland, a rocky island where some orcs live. Oh, and a beach. Maybe I might have seen a strip of desert once, on a boat trip.

To be honest, it's all a bit of a blur. I do know I haven't seen any snow before, though, so the place I found myself in last night has to be new.

With cat-people off the menu, the options that faced me at character creation weren't doing much. There seemed to be a lot of elves, never a happy omen. Some rather ordinary-looking humans. One of those viking/barbarian types.

Nothing really bit. The faux-authentic gear wasn't helping.

I don't know, time was when what I wanted from a high-medieval MMORPG was armor looking like the artist sketched it through dusty glass at a down-at-heel market town museum in some central European backwater but I've been spoiled. These days I'd rather come on like the sugared-up second cousin of a Ruritanian princess, tricked out for a tour with a favorite band of glam-folk troubadours, on the run from that day job in the circus.

I like a bit of color, in other words. Not getting much of that here.

So I chose the lizard. If you can't dress exotic, be exotic, right? And they get frills on their heads. Or punk rock spikes. I went with the spikes.

It looked good in character create but in most MMORPGs no character design survives contact with the game engine. The screenshots tell the old story here. Ninety minutes of play, I really only got a good look at my character once.

That was the oddly blurred shot above. I'm not even sure how it happened. Must have hit some chance combination of keys. It's the only shot where you can - just about - see the character's face. Not that a lizard shows much expression. And the face markings and head-spikes are hidden under the rough cloth cowl.

ESO is one of those games where the graphics look better in screenshots. It's funny how often that happens. Or the other way round. I was only saying the other day how The Hammers End looks better than the screenshots suggest.

It must be something to do with settings. I confess that's something I almost never pay any attention to in any game, although given the ridiculous number of screenshots I take I almost certainly should. I tend to shy away from getting involved too closely with things like that, for my own safety. The last thing I need is discovering something like Black Desert's super-sophisticated in-game photo options. No-one needs a virtual David Bailey.

Anyway, I wasn't really looking at my character. I was looking at the snow. It was pretty good snow and I'm something of an afficionado. Snowficcionado. It's a word, now. I once wrote a piece on Good Snow Art for a comics fanzine. I may have done something similar here, on this blog.

Snow does make everything look better. There's all that blue in the palette. I know humans can recognize more shades of green than any other color but green in games tends towards the bland, except in jungles. Blue has much more resonance.

Blue, white, red. Winter landscapes, there's sometimes a surprising amount of red, bleeding into the blue, leeching pale lavenders and mauves. All these shots drip with it. It makes the cold seem so warm.

Which is probably just as well because, lizard. Cold-blooded, yes? Unless Tamriel evolution is very different, which of course it may be because, magic.

Anyway, I was surprised to find my lizard, whose descriptive background had mentioned something about swampland, waking up in a log cabin somewhere in the frozen north. A quick conversation with the nearest person confirmed no more than I'd expected: shipwreck, washed ashore, unconscious, found by villagers, now pressed into service against imminent threat. Yadda yadda and like that.

Could there be a more generic opening? Well, I guess. I mean, lizard in the snow, that's a twist. Explanation as to why or even how any of it happened, though? Not forthcoming.

Of course, I did opt to skip the tutorial. Maybe it was in there. But the game helpfully told me I'd done it before on another character so I didn't have to go through it again and I took the offer, gladly. No matter it was half a dozen years ago and all forgotten now.  No matter I'd been a tiger, then, in another place. Let's press on.

Out of the cabin I ran around some. It was daytime, for a wonder. In the time I played, night never fell. It did get a bit less bright for a while, one time. It helped a lot, the sun on the snow, the brightness. I'm losing patience with spending half my playtime in thick twilight let alone deep night. It was nice, being able to see, for once.

I grabbed some quests as I happened across them. I didn't seek them out or linger. I don't like either the font or the background. Harsh. Dark. Abrasive. These things affect my enjoyment strongly. I have these issues with print, too. There are novels I just won't read because of the way the text lies on the page.

If it's good, you'd make the effort but the writing in ESO is ponderous. No, that's maybe not the world. Ponderous suggests uncertainty and quest text here is far from uncertain. Too confident, if anything. Portentous, that could be the word I'm groping for. Or pretentious, though usually I like that. No, it's portentous, all right. Portentous and leaden. Lies heavy on the line. A common failing of fantasy, transcribed here faithfully from those endless series that stretch an author's career across decades.

Although... let's be fair. The few quests I did last night weren't all that bad. Better, or at least, less wearing to read than those I remembered from the other starting area. More perfunctory, less long-winded. Mostly "go find this guy" and, when I found him, "go do this thing".

At one point I almost felt a sense of urgency. A ship sighted, an invasion anticipated. Danger blowing in on the wind. You wouldn't know it from the voice acting, of course, still as first table-reading as ever. I have a theory about this. It applies to video game voice acting in general, not just to ESO. I don't know enough about the process to begin pontificating. Yet.

I didn't do a lot of questing, anyway. Mostly I ran around in the snow, taking snapshots, killing stuff. I ran into a bandit camp early on. Expected to die, being only level two or three. Tried to con the bandits, couldn't figure out how, so I blasted one to see what would happen. What happened was I killed him.

So I killed some more. Quite a few. Got a hat, put it on. Burned some supplies, freed a captive. Bandit Camp 101. I dinged. It occurred to me this must be the famous equalization. One zone for all.. Makes you wonder why levels at all except I guess without them there'd be none of that drip drip drip, progress. I suppose now I can go anywhere, kill anyone, like in that old joke, the one about the army. 

My lizard's a sorceror. I thought maybe it would be easier than melee, given the awful, awful controls. It wasn't, actually. If anything it was harder. More keys to press, can't just spam LMB/RMB. But I lived, bandits died. Can't complain.

And it was fun, kind of. As much fun as the horrible controls let it be. I started thinking maybe I should get a controller and use that. Could hardly be worse. I was already thinking about it. I even looked at some on Amazon the other day.  

After the bandits I went to some kind of temple, swarming with skeletons. Again, I lived, they died Or undied. Whatever the verb is. I do like fighting bandits and undead at low levels. Simple pleasures. If these count as low levels, that is.

The game was kind of busy. Really busy, actually. There were players everywhere. It seems ESO etiquette dictates you just pile on when you see someone fighting. People were always "helping" me to kill stuff. I got the loot so that worked out. I didn't reciprocate, though.

I found all my runes, opened the crypt door, looking for the necromancer. If I followed the plot I think I was supposed to kill him but I never even saw him. There was a line. I didn't bother waiting, just spoke to a ghost. He seemed to think I'd done whatever it was I'd come there to do. Fine, then.

I grabbed a bit of paper that said something or other and left. Gave it to the guy who'd sent me. He was waiting right oustside, which saved me a run. He asked me to go back to the village, tell someone what had happened, not that I really knew what that was. I did it anyway and the guy said something bad was going to happen so it would probably be best if we all ran away. More of the supposed realism? Maybe, but it's going to be tough adventuring if all the quests go "check out if something bad's happening and if it is come tell me so we can all run away".

I said I'd tell a few other people and we'd be off but actually all I did was move five feet away and log out. I'm sure he won't mind waiting although on form so far it could be another year or two.

Or maybe not. It was kind of fun. I think ESO may well be another of the growing list of MMORPGs (FFXIV, LotRO) I enjoy the more, the less I quest. Now if I could just figure out a way to make the combat not actively annoying...


  1. Every race/faction have the same tutorial. If you don't do it you kinda miss some story. However, ESO is really weird here cause expansions replace the tutorial with different tutorials which makes it very confusing for new players.

    I don't really get you problem with controls. Other than left/mouse buttons and a dodge you have like 5 abilities to use. It makes me feel way more comfortable than older MMOs which suffer from ability bloat where you have to press dozens of hotkeys.

    1. Five is too many for me when it comes to "action" controls. I can barely manage LMB/RMB and two specials on the keyboard, which is about all I ever use in DCUO or BDO or Neverwinter. If I have to locate more than a couple of keys during combat it's pretty much random what I'm going to press unless I look at the keyboard the whole time.

      I'm not sure why ESO is worse for me than any other action MMO but I find it significantly more awkward than any other I've played. I mean, I'm not any good with any of them but at least I can muddle through. The main reason I stopped levelling my first character in ESO was that by about level ten I'd hit my skill ceiling for using the controls. I couldn't manage to stay alive for most fights because I was messing up the keys so badly. That never happened in any of the other action games I've tried.

    2. I wonder if the issue is with ESO interface somehow. It has interface addons, do you think there is any chance changing UI layout will help?

    3. I just played again for an hour and fiddled with the settings. I'd forgotten I had a load of add-ons on my other character - all out of date now. I'll have to have a look at what's available. I also bound my two main damage spells to LMB and RMB instead of attack and block. That certainly makes it easier.


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