It's often been the case that I've found myself lacking the patience for the seemingly needless convolutions at work in MMOs. Crafting in particular has always been something of a bugbear of mine, with systems often cluttered beyond belief, often only half-explained, and ultimately incredibly offputting.
The Elder Scrolls Online is nothing like that. In fact, it's something of a joy.
As it stands right now, there are six different professions available in The Elder Scrolls Online. Each have their own unique benefits, and what's impressive to see in a number of them has been how they tie into mechanics used previously in the series. As a player, you can start pretty much straight off of the bat once you emerge out into Tamriel -- it's just a matter of finding and obtaining resources and then getting to work. Here's a rundown of the sort of professions you can invest your time in currently:
- Alchemist: Becoming an Alchemist is all about potion creation. It's a great role to engage in if you're looking to become something of a support character as potions are particularly useful in battle, buffing stats and restoring health, magicka, and stamina.
- Blacksmith: This one is fairly straightforward. Becoming a smith involves crafting metal weapons -- swords, maces, axes, daggers, hammers etc. -- as well as heavy armour. It's a perfect profession for the Imperial Dragonknight I'm building up to be an utterly beastly tank.
- Clothier: You won't be strutting the catwalks of Milan as a clothier, but you will be able to craft and improve light and medium armour.
- Enchanter: Enchanting is all about enhancing items with special powers, for both aesthetic and functional purposes.
- Provisioner: Much like the alchemist, this is another profession that involves making consumables, in this case food and drink. But before you can do this, you'll need to uncover the various recipes tucked away around the world.
- Woodworker: Finally, becoming a woodworker gives you the opportunity to craft and improve, yep, you guessed it, wooden items such as staffs and bows.
There are still MMO staples involved here, of course. Running around and gathering resources from nodes is pretty repetitive and time consuming, but the respawn rate is fairly decent and if you're keeping your eyes open, you'll naturally spot plenty of maple, iron, jute and more on your travels. The limited inventory slots come into play when you're juggling lots of different ingredients for the alchemical and provisioning side of things, but you can stash crafting materials in your bank's vaults, so that takes the load off a little. The real fun begins when you get back to a spot of civilisation and can work upon turning your raw materials into useful items.
You begin the game only knowing how to make your own race's style of equipment, but researching can rectify that and llow you to expand your horizons. You can also research weapon traits such as sturdy and weighted by breaking down weapons and armour that carry the traits you want to learn. However, if you're breaking down a dagger, you'll only be able to attach that trait to daggers. Researching takes a good few hours, but it's worth it, if only because the game does a good job of dishing out loot, so you'll never actually be without a decent weapon at all times. It does pay to have a little idea of the sort of combat character you want to create, though. Crafting and upgrading items is all about having the right materials for the job, increasing the base materials -- iron, maple etc. -- to increase the level of the item you end up creating. It's a smooth, easy system and it works brilliantly.
Alchemy and provisioning are even simpler, in that they basically follow the pre-existing formula set out in previous Elder Scrolls games. Alchemy in particular is mainly about trial and error, sampling the various herbs and ingredients that you come up with to determine their effects. When it comes to making potions, you mix one reagent with two other ingredients. Boom! - you're a brewmaster.
Crafting progression comes under the larger skills banner -- everything is reliant on skill points in The Elder Scrolls Online. Though your level of proficiency in any discipline will increase as you craft more objects, allowing you to craft better things, that process is incredibly slow, and the skills and perks you can unlock will greatly help. However, it's important to ignore much of that until you've at least reached level ten and gained access to the Skyshard-strewn lands of Cyrodiil as spending the skill points you've gained levelling on your profession will leave your character sorely underdeveloped in terms of combat ability.
That last paragraph aside, I just love how easy it is to get going with the crafting system. It's not overly simplistic, nor needlessly convoluted. Everything makes sense and there are no special tools like gathering kits or alchemical vial or hammers fort he blacksmith's forge required to get cracking. You just press "E" to harvest from a node, and then head back to the nearest relevant workstation once your ready to get cracking. Research is a little trying in terms of the sheer amount of time it takes to get anything done, but as long as you're always researching something every time you log on, you should be fine.
The last point is that everything is valuable in some fashion. The little scraps of food you find in crates and barrels should be stored away for the next time you're in a town and you've uncovered a yummy-looking new recipe. You don't have to choose one or two professions and be done with them. You can make and craft whatever you want. Obviously you'll have to be a little bit economic with your skill points, but when it comes to just putting things together, you can do all or none of it, and that's fantastic.
The Elder Scrolls Online isn't terribly loot-driven, and the merchants you'll find out in the world serve mainly as buyers rather than sellers -- they tend to have little you actually need (unique racial crafting minerals aside) and their fully-fledged items are obscenely overpriced. As such, the game encourages you to play around with crafting, gently nudging you explore and forage and root out resources as well as treasure chests full of items to break down and recycle. It's one aspect of TESO that I really like, and that's because it fits. The crafting elements in this game are seamless, they work within the confines of the setting and the lore, and they let you be whoever you want to be -- channelling the spirit of what this series has meant up to now. It's yet another facet of the game that puts the more traditional crafting elements of MMOs into stark perspective, and another plus for a game that's managed to stay true to its guns in many key areas without compromise.