Things are getting a little more interesting of late in The Elder Scrolls Online, especially now that I've reached Cyrodiil. There'll be a big, fat article PvP and the heartland of Tamriel later this week, but for now here are eight reason why The Elder Scrolls Online is filling me with ambivalence...
I LOVE... Skill Progression
The organic process of getting better by doing something repeatedly has long been a staple of the Elder Scrolls games in the past. But it's not how MMOs have traditionally worked. Thankfully, TESO said bollocks to tradition and stuck to its guns, proving all the better for it. Thanks to the implementation of Skyshards, there's not so much pressure put on levelling, instead giving more weight to exploration. Besides, actually improving your skills works outside of general levelling anyway, meaning that whatever you're doing out in the wide world, you're probably getting better at something.
Reached level 23 and want to turn your Dragonknight into a staff-wielding bringer of rain? Well you can.
I HATE... Level Grinding
The gap between levels becomes interminable pretty quickly. I get that MMO developers want to keep you playing for as long as possible, and that TESO isn't all about the rush to the endgame content, but this is ridiculous. Combat counts for virtually nothing when it comes to rising through the ranks, nor does exploration or crafting or anything, really. It's not long at all before progression slows to a crawl, and that's even when you're doing every quest that you find and battling every creature you come across. Making you work for it is one thing, but too often TESO turns into a bit of an interminable slog.
I LOVE... Crafting, Cooking, and Concocting
Man, crafting in The Elder Scrolls Online is an utter delight. Too many MMOs have absurdly convoluted crafting systems that I never have the patience for. But not TESO. There are just so many variables on offer here, but presented in a manner that never feels overwhelming. I never had to look outside of the game to work out what to do, and that might be a first for me in terms of MMOs. So you can set the level of your weapons by adding or subtracting materials, you can craft in the styles of a variety of different races thanks to Motif books, and you can destroy and recycle weapons for parts and also to research augmentation traits. The potions are instantly familiar -- the trial-and-error method remains from Skyrim, but enchanting has you translating and combining runes in similar fashion. It's just brilliant, and I'm well on the way to becoming a pretty nifty blacksmith.
I HATE... Inventory Management
The inventory management in TESO makes no sense. First of all, the game does away with the weight-based system of past games in favour of starting you off with 60 slots. This means that you can be carrying 61 greatswords, and they'll still only take up one slot, but the myriad crafting materials you find out in the world, like light and delicate flowers, with all take up one slot too. Seeing as you're much more likely to come across crafting materials than awesome weapons, your bag gets full rather quickly. I know you can dump materials off at the bank, but that's no use when you're off exploring in the middle of nowhere and the game is smugly telling you that you can't take the awesome loot you just uncovered because of the three hours you just spent grinding for materials.
I LOVE... Loot
Loot is just the best, and TESO deals with loot drops pretty well. There's an above average drop rate from quests, and if you head off over the hills and far away, you're almost certain to come across a fat bunch of treasure chests dotted around the landscape. Mastering the lockpicking technique early on is an absolute must. It's good that the game rewards you, because breaking down those items are key towards researching crafting techniques and being able to actually make awesome weapons and armour later on in the game. I love it.
I HATE... Useless Merchants
The flip-side to the above, however, is that merchants are pretty damn useless. Enemies barely drop any gold at all, and you'll tend to use your cash for jumping between wayshrines rather than spending coin on vastly overpriced materials and random items. Once you've picked up the necessities and your off on your adventures, there's very little reason to ever hit up a merchant ever again except to sell things.
I LOVE... Cyrodiil
Cyrodiil is pretty much everything I want from The Elder Scrolls Online, or at least it's a lot closer to the experience I had in my head. Tamriel's heartland is a place where everything is happening. It's huge, stuffed with skyshards, and dungeons and PvE events. But it's also the home of PvP in the game, and just being in Cyrodiil feels so much more alive and dangerous and thrilling and exciting than anywhere else in Tamriel. The other players who are there are all fulfilling quests and objectives for their various factions, and you can kill and be killed by others. The game makes sense and comes alive in a fashion that's sorely lacking everywhere else.
I HATE... Other People
Elsewhere, however, there are people. Everywhere. Constantly breaking my immersion. Always stealing the iron node I've just spotted. Repeatedly filling the chat window with nonsensical blathering and ruining the experience. TESO doesn't require you to group up at all across the levelling part of the game, aside from the odd, optional dungeon. Even then, if you've focussed your levelling, you can best a few of the bosses along the way. But these claustrophobic swarms of characters, all doing the same thing, all going in the same direction, they don't make sense outside of Cyrodiil.