Weekend Recap for August 23rd

Another weekend come and gone. This one was a weird one for us. We lost power Thursday night, though it was restored by midnight. Somehow that still threw our Friday out of whack. I’m amused at how ‘delicate’ we are. I can remember going weeks without power due to hurricanes when I was younger and while it was certainly inconvenient, we just kind of rolled with it. These days, 6 hours without power made us crazy. Of course back in the old days not every activity I did required a screen, so there’s that.

Anyway, let’s get started.

Movie Night — This week we watched The Suicide Squad which we’d heard a lot of good things about. It didn’t resonate as well with us. @partpurple almost called it but she started enjoying it more after the half-way mark. I liked it more than she did, but it certainly wasn’t a favorite. I can chuckle at over-the-top gore for a while, but two hours of it got old. My favorite character was Sebastian, and for those who haven’t seen it, he is a rat. Like, a literal rat. I think that says enough about my feelings towards the movie.

Family TV — The highpoint of our whole week, in TV terms, was Friday night watching episode two of What If…? on Disney+, and episode 2 of The Lower Decks on Paramount+. Both were really good. We’re really impressed by the voice casts (as well as the stories) on What If…? and this episode of The Lower Decks had us howling with laughter. Both are animated shows. What If…? is a series of stand-alone alternate history shows for the Marvel Universe, and The Lower Decks is a comedic Star Trek spin-off about the lives of lower ranking crew on board a star ship. When The Lower Decks was announced I was sure I would HATE it since I’m pretty serious about Star Trek, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Reading — Copy/paste from last week. Still on book 6 of The Saxon Stories series from Bernard Cornwell.

Gaming — I had a dumb gaming weekend. Thursday I finally re-subscribed to Final Fantasy XIV, but about 10 minutes after I did that the power went out. Friday I spent getting clients upgraded/installed on both PC and PS5, and tried to figure out where to roll a new character to get my feet wet. There is really no need for alts in FFXIV but the last time I came back I was so intimidated by the jobs and systems I’d forgotten about that I just bounced off completely. This time I decided I needed a new character so the game could re-teach me things and let me ease back in more gently.

Then I noticed that thanks to QuakeCon, the Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood expansion was on sale. I already own the expansion on Xbox but don’t know anyone else who plays there. I did have a friend playing on Playstation though, so even though I’m not nearly as advanced on that platform, I sprung for the expansion and a month of ESO Plus.

So now all of a sudden I have TWO MMO subscriptions. I spent a bunch of time researching a build for my ESO Dragonknight, and getting all the settings tweaked, plus doing the quest to get one of the Companions that Blackwood added.

And I started a new character on the Zalera server for FFXIV and got him rolling along, but now I’m kind of more interested in ESO. Typical me. I hate the forced grouping in FFXIV for dungeons. Social anxiety really spikes. ESO has grouping for dungeons too, of course, but they are optional and nothing is gated behind them (plus once you get powerful enough you can solo a lot of dungeons in Normal mode). What makes things worse for FFXIV is that if I play on the console (which is where I prefer to play) I run into the problem of no communication since, y’know, no keyboard.

I guess my next step is to get a cheap wireless USB keyboard for the PS5. It’d be useful for both FFXIV and ESO.

And because I guess I was operating under the delusion that we have plenty of disposable income these days, I ALSO bought the update/upgrade for Ghosts of Tsushima on the PS5, but thus far I haven’t even touched it. Clearly I need more gaming hours in my day!

So that was the weekend. Now we have another super hot week to get through, but September is ALMOST here. Also Gamescom is this week so there should be some gaming news to talk about to get us over the finish line of Blaugust.

Hope you’re all doing well!

ESO: Companions & Solo Dungeons

I play The Elder Scrolls Online on Xbox, primarily, and I play it like a solo game. Sure I’ll jump in with strangers to help take down a world boss or something, but I never communicate with other players beyond a /cheer at the end of those fights.

There are plenty of good ESO players that can solo dungeons. I am not one of them. My build isn’t ideal, my gear is just whatever I’ve had drop, and I only recently hit 160 Champion Points (before then it seemed silly to focus much on gear since I was replacing it so often).

The recent Blackwood expansion added Companions — NPCs that will fight beside you. I just finally got around to unlocking them the other day. My Companion is using mostly default equipment and doesn’t have all her skills or skill slots unlocked. In other words she is a noob Companion for now.

Thing about ESO is that the ‘overland’ content is really easy, even for my half-assed character. Add the Companion and we just slice through overland stuff like butter. (I’m not counting World Bosses.) While this is kind of fun in its own way, it left me wondering why I even needed the Companion. Delves are not much harder than overland content so I didn’t really need a Companion for those, either.

I decided to try a World Boss with my Companion at my side and she literally yelled out “I think we’re going to need some help” before we were both smushed. We’re both essentially DPS builds right now, and even with two of us we don’t have enough healing output to handle the damage we were taking.

Then I decided to try to solo a dungeon. I failed, but we did make it about half-way through an early-zone dungeon, Spindleclutch. (I know with “One Tamriel” everything is supposed to be the same level of challenge but in practice the zones that used to be low level are still easier.) I made it further solo than I ever have before, by a lot.

Now in ye olde days I have done Spindleclutch in a group, back when I knew other people playing. We blazed through it so fast that I mostly was frantically looting and throwing out some DPS and it was all a blur of spiders.

Going (part-way) through Spindleclutch alone was a completely difference experience. I was reading the notes scattered around. I was listening to what the NPCs were talking about. I was poking into corners looking to see what I could find. It was really enjoyable and pretty much a completely different experience from doing it in a group.

Now I’m really excited to kit out my character and my Companion, and to work on my character’s build. I really want to be able to do more of the dungeons solo. (I know that some literally can’t be completed solo because they require people to stand on pressure plates and so forth.) Being powerful enough to finish them while playing at my pace and drinking in all the sights and lore hidden within them is going to be a blast!

Suddenly I’m really jazzed to play Elder Scrolls Online again…just in time for the New World Beta to start. LOL

Checking out Elder Scrolls Online’s Skill Advisor

Somehow this weekend I found myself back in The Elder Scrolls Online. A random YouTube video triggered my desire to log in and once I did I remembered there’d been some big changes since I last played. One of those was the new Skill Adviser, a system intended to help players spend skill points as they level up.

One of TESO’s biggest barriers up until this point was that you could really gimp your character if you didn’t get the build right. As a newbie, the best way to avoid that was to do some research on the web to find a build put together by an advanced player and follow that. It’s what I did and honestly it wasn’t all that fun, but it did work.

The Skill Adviser [hereafter, SA], I assumed, was Zenimax’s way to obviate the need to turn to the web.

I decided to take it for a spin. I was playing on Xbox where I didn’t have any capped characters or high-level characters so I was, I thought, a good proxy for a new player. I did have a level 29 Stamina Templar and I started there. I reset his skill points and dove into the adviser.

For each class they offer 5 builds: a “newcomer” build, a Stamina DPS, a Magica DPS, a Tank build and a Healer build. The “newcomer” build for Templar is based on Magica and I didn’t want to reset my attribute points, and as rusty as I was I didn’t want to go Tank, so I chose the Stamina DPS build.

I have to say, it was a struggle. The build had you take just one self-heal and it was the one (sorry, I forget the name) that relies on having corpses laying around. My SA-specced StamPlar did fine fighting crowds of above ground mobs (I should note that all my testing has been done solo and outside of dungeons) but when a story quest led me to a 1 on 1 fight with a powerful opponent and no trash mobs to leech health from, I was doomed unless I had plenty of room to kite (the build pushes you towards dual wield and bow). I fought one end-of-mission boss (in a confined area) a dozen times before rage-quitting the mission. Finally I went ‘off plan’ and put a couple points into healing skills so I could self-heal and started doing MUCH better.

My assumption is that the Stam Templar DPS build it intended for group play with a healer. Or possibly for more advanced players who have access to better gear, better food and better potions.

My next test was a level 8 Dragonknight. I re-specced him and started following SA Dragonknight Tank build. Seems a natural fit. I almost immediate ran into problems where the SA was telling me to take skills I hadn’t unlocked yet. Further I never would unlock them because it never told me to take skills from the same line with lower requirements (which would cause that skill line to grow until the one it wanted me to take unlocked). I ditched that one quickly.

For my 3rd and final test I rolled a new character, a Nightblade, and followed the ‘newcomer’ build. It had me go Magica and so far this build is WEIRD but is working well. I’ve held my own against world bosses (can’t solo them but don’t get pancaked immediately) and delve bosses are no problem. I’ve had fights that have been a struggle but not an over-whelming struggle. More of “OK that didn’t work, let’s try another tactic” struggle, which are so satisfying when your new tactic works.

So why is it weird? At level 20 I have not put a single point into a weapon skill or an armor passive. Everything has gone into the Nightblade skill trees, including passives. One passive rewards wearing heavy armor so for now that’s what I’m doing, which seems crazy right? I’m running dual-wield on the front bar mostly because aesthetically it fits the combat style (a lot of nightblade skills are based on stabbing and such). So here is a magica-based, plate-wearing dual-wield ninja, teleporting into combat, then vanishing from sight and hitting again with a stun. Very mobile build…in heavy armor. On my back bar I put my single buff and my single dot (the other slots being dupes of the front bar for now) and I’m using a Restoration Staff (what?) that has a mana leech ability. Basically if I run low on mana I switch over to the staff to leech some from the target, but most of my time is on the front bar.

At some point I’ll go off-plan since I have like 7 skill points I can’t spend yet since I’m waiting for my class-abilities to level up enough to use them. But I’m waiting to see how far I can get just following the SA.

I have been told that at level 40 you get a free respec coupon as a level up reward. Based on my findings and that fact, I think the “intended” way to use the Skill Adviser is to start a new character, follow the “Newcomer” build to level 40, and then if desired switch to a more focused build. By that time all your class skill lines will be leveled up (as well as whatever weapons you’ve chosen to use). I also think we need to take the name literally: this is a Skill ADVISER not a skill dictator. If you feel like you need a skill that isn’t “advised” be willing to bend the plan to your needs.

I mean, that’s just a guess. We’ll see. Given the 4 year anniversary event going on, leveling is super fast (you get a 100% experience buff). You now get ‘level up rewards’ and at low levels you get a lot of gear that is +exp as well. I created my new character Saturday evening and hit 20 by end of day Sunday…I’m going to guess 6 hours total play time maybe? And I wasn’t really hurrying, just playing the game and enjoying the ride.

Poor Far Cry 5 got kicked to the curb during all this, but as a single player game it’ll wait. I’m really enjoying this 100% exp buff ride so I think I’ll stick with ESO for the next week until the event ends.

The Elder Scrolls Online’s New Life Festival

I skipped No Man’s Thursday last night in favor of checking out some of the limited time events I mentioned yesterday. I tried my hand at Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer mode and that went about as well as expected (in other words, it was a disaster). Why can’t game companies do matchmaking right? The match I was in, and I believe it is 5 on 5, my side had two level 1 players (me and another guy) and we were short a man. The other team had 5 guys level 40+ (our other two guys were also 40+). Needless to say we lost, badly. Though honestly I got more kills than I expected to.

Anyway, then I logged into The Elder Scrolls Online to check out the New Life Festival. I’m not sure what to think of it so far. Maybe what I think is that rushing to do these the first day isn’t the best idea. For me, I’ve only explored one of the 3 factions in TESO, and the quest began with an NPC (Brega) deep in the Ebonheart Pact area. So step 1 was riding through three zones trying to find a path the the NPC (there’s probably some way to teleport there but I couldn’t find it). Once you find the main quest giver she sends you off on a series of sub-quests to see how the different people of Tamriel celebrate New Life Festival (which is essentially New Year’s Eve, so no decorated trees or anything).

First quest sent me back to the Daggerfall Covenant lands so I took a wayshrine to where I needed to go and did that. (I had to perform for various crowds… simply push a button in the right place.) Then back to Brega for a box ‘o loot and my next quest. Number 2 took place right near her so that was simple. The next took place along the trail of wayshrines I’d tagged on the way to starting a quest. After that I had to go to Grahtwood. I had no idea where that was but after a bit of scouring the map I saw I could take a boat from Wayrest to Grahtwood, so I did that. The Grahtwood quest actually involved a tad of combat (the earlier ones are basically go somewhere and click a button to perform some task) and the poor mobs barely spawned before they were slaughtered.

After talking to Brega again I was sent to Shadowfen, another place I’d never been. I couldn’t find a shortcut to get there so more riding across zones. For this quest I had to do some fishing, and this is where things got ugly. There’re a couple of areas where you can catch the event fish and the first one was packed!

People were selling the needed fish in chat for large sums of gold. Other people were shouting they wanted to buy fish. And a third faction was cursing out the people selling the fish for ruining a Christmas event (reminder: not a Christmas event) by their greed. I decided to move on to the second spot to fish in. It was much less crowded and after maybe 5 minutes I had the fish I needed. Turned them in and back to Brega who sent me off to Betnikh for some big party. At that point I’d had enough running back and forth for one night so I left the rest for another time.

Each completed sub-quest got you a box of stuff. Some event motifs, some recipes, some silly trinkets like fake swords so you can do a sword swallowing emote, and some materials for making the holiday crafted items. I dunno what happens when you get through all of Bregas stuff. I assume there is one per race so I should have 4 more to do.

Its kind of sad that these events can bring out the worst in people. The folks who need to have EVERYTHING as soon as possible just seem to get crazy at the start of events. I don’t understand why anyone would care if someone was selling those fish. Personally I don’t see the point of buying stuff…I mean catching the silly fish is part of playing the game. But I guess for some people the point is to Have All The Things rather than to play the game. Or possibly they’re crafters who want to have all the motifs so they can sell holiday-themed gear for major amounts of gold.

Anyway, it all kind of turned me off the event. People shouldn’t be getting so angry about a game; games are supposed to be fun.

Also, I watched Tipa streaming some of the Final Fantasy XIV holiday event and from the few minutes I watched (I was at work, shhhhh) it seemed much more narrative-based and much less “OMG GET STUFF NAO!” than the Elder Scrolls one. TESO’s event felt like “OK we wrote some lore about this festival, now let’s dole in out in bite sized chunks via isolated simple quests.” while FF XIV seemed like it was telling the player a story. I’m a little bit jealous of FF XIV players right now.

Elder Scrolls Online HDR patch

One of the reasons I was anxious to get a PS4 Pro as soon as they launched was that I’d heard The Elder Scrolls Online would support the new hardware with improved resolution (or ‘enhanced details on 1080P screens). It was one of the first games I tried on the new console and when I saw the difference I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Now don’t get me wrong, it was still TESO, but the increased resolution meant more details ‘popped’ and the improved draw distances made the world feel even more alive. Mostly this is all aesthetics though I can spot harvest nodes from further away now.

Of course me being me, soon after I drifted off to other games, but I always come back to TESO eventually.

I did that yesterday and was surprised to see “An HDR video is playing” pop up on my screen when I loaded the game (that’s my TV’s awkward way of indicating it is receiving video from an HDR source). Turns out a recent update added HDR support to the game. I was delighted until I logged in and found the cave I’d happened to log out in was dark. I mean really dark. Dark to the level of having to navigate via the map because I literally couldn’t see the walls.

I went online and found I wasn’t the only one having issues, and in fact even people without HDR TVs were complaining about the game being too dark. So I think Zenimax is going to have to adjust things. That said, for me it was just a matter of tweaking some settings.

Here’s the thing about HDR. First, it’s impossible for me to show you how awesome it is unless you have an HDR display and even then I’m not sure how I, personally, can capture HDR data to share. It’s kind of like 3D or VR; without the right hardware there’s no way for you to see it. Second, it’s still pretty new tech and tends to be fiddly. You see a lot of people talking about how it’s too much trouble; these comments, I have to assume, are coming from people who haven’t experienced it. It is very much worth the few minutes it (sometimes) takes to get it right.

In my TV’s case (a Samsung KS8000) I found that I had to turn on Dynamic Contrast, which is something all the pundits tell you to leave off. With the new patch there’s an “HDR Brightness” slider. With Dynamic Contrast turned off this didn’t appear to do anything. With Dynamic Contrast set to high, moving the slider resulted in noticeable changes though it feel more like “how HDR-ey do you want this” more than an actual brightness slider.

But with Dynamic Contrast set to High I could see in caves again. Given, again, that all the pundits hate Dynamic Contrast, I then tried it set to Medium and still had good results. On Low it’s a wee bit dark. It’s dark in a way that actually feels cool in terms of immersion but maybe too dark to do group dungeon content, not that I ever do group dungeon content.

Anyway once I’d done this….WOW. The Elder Scrolls Online looks like a whole new game now. A lot of colors are brighter, the lighting is amazing and everything just feels more “real” something. It’s really hard for me to articulate what HDR does, but I really like it. Now I’m running around the world and sometimes something will catch my eye (the rays of the setting sun on water, maybe, or a shaft of magical light coming from a relic) and I’ll just stop and gawk. At one point I was looking for the source of glare on my TV screen for a few seconds before I realized it wasn’t glare, but the light from an in-game torch was just THAT bright.

I’m really looking forward to when HDR is more common and less finicky; I can’t wait for more people to get HDR religion :). One of my biggest issues now is, I’m not a TV professional and there are a lot of settings to play with. I generally look up the settings for a TV from some site like rtings.com and use those. But for this Samsung I keep getting conflicting info, and then there are settings for HDR and settings for regular video, AND then there are a few settings on the PS4 that you can mess with. So many variables! I finally say “Heck with it” and I’m letting my eyes decide. Rather than worrying about if the picture is correct or accurate, I’m worrying about whether it is pleasing to me. Still, there are a LOT of settings to tweak and it can be really confusing. I hope it gets easier over time.

Still, totally worth it though. HDR is the real deal.

Elder Scrolls Online’s “One Tamriel” comes soon & I’m still concerned

Zenimax announced that the “One Tamriel” update for The Elder Scrolls Online hits PC on 10/5/16 and consoles on 10/18/16. While a lot of people are excited about the update, I’m a bit more hesitant. I’ve already written about this and had some people disagree with me, pointing at Guild Wars 2 as a game that works the same way and that is successful.

Since that time I’ve spent a lot of time in Wrothgar, one of the DLC packs for TESO that works very much the same way One Tamriel will work, and so far I’m standing by my hesitance.

It was when I hit Wrothgar after playing through the Daggerfall Covenant that my interest in TESO started to wane. I would hit content I couldn’t complete and knew I’d never be able to solo it so I’d just write it off. I mean I already had written off Dungeons, but now I have to write off world bosses and delves too. There’s no more leveling up a bit and going back to try again since there’s essentially no more leveling up. (You’ll still have levels for some reason but will get bolster to 160 Champion Points from whatever level you are.)

So One Tamriel, for the solo player, means less content that you can do. That’s my biggest concern. Maybe once you get more than 160 Champion Points you’ll be able to do it? We’ll see. I’m only to 65 or so Champion Points so far.

A more subtle concern is that I personally kind of enjoy gated content. It feels aspirational to me. I enjoy entering a zone and running deep into it until I am over my head and then backing off, getting stronger, and heading back into that content now that I can tackle it. I also like how monster levels can help guide you through a zone. Now everything is the same level so that goes away as well. In Wrothgar all my quests are the same level and I wind up spending more time running back and forth across the zone than I do playing since there’s no logical grouping of quests based on level any more.

I certainly understand why people who love to group in TESO are excited about the change. You can now play with anyone no matter their level or alliance. I’ve just always enjoyed TESO because it felt like a hybrid of a single player game and an MMO and I have solo’d 99% of the time. One Tamriel feels like they’re pushing harder into MMO territory and de-emphasizing the solo game. That probably makes sense from a business standpoint and I don’t fault them for it; I’m just a little sad.

The one bright spot is that Craglorn is getting a make-over. Currently you need a group to do Craglorn. And when I say need I mean it; there are places where you have to stand on 4 spots concurrently to proceed. Now the story mode of Craglorn will be solo-able so I’ll be able to go and experience that.

I guess that’s the take-away. Solo players will be able to do all the story content in the game and pretty much nothing else. Everything else sounds like it is now scaled to groups.

On the bright side, the re-mastered Skyrim will be out soon and I can get my single player Elder Scrolls fix from that.

Rebuttal: The Elder Scrolls Online is not Guild Wars 2

I’ve had a few people respond to my earlier post saying that having a scaled world works for Guild Wars 2 so it’ll be fine in The Elder Scrolls Online. I’m not so sure, for two main reasons.

First, not everyone likes Guild Wars 2. To me, the scaled world in GW2 makes the game pretty awful. I never felt a satisfying sense of progression in GW2 since I never had that experience of going back to a lower level zone and swatting down enemies that used to own me. I want to feel mighty when I play an MMO, at least some of the time, and I felt about the same at level 80 in GW2 as I did at level 20. Now clearly this is extremely subjective and if you enjoyed GW2 then maybe you’ll like One Tamriel better than you do ‘vanilla’ TESO.

Second has to do with world population. Since GW2 was built from the ground up to be a scaled world, there are systems in place to support that. For example (and forgive me if I get this wrong, I’m going from memory) if you’re on a ‘shard’ with low population in GW2, you’ll be asked if you want to move to a more populated shard. This means there’s almost always other players running around in GW2 so it is rare that you find yourself trying to complete an event solo. When I have had to do GW2 events solo they’ve been tough, but usually my experience was that there was a huge zerg that steam-rolled over content before I even knew what was happening. Bleh.

TESO doesn’t have a similar system. I just finished running through Bangkorai (a 37-43 zone) in TESO and I did probably 80% of the delves (basically mini-dungeons) and 90% of the world bosses solo. I was able to do them because I’d out-leveled the zone, and I had to do them solo because there were no other players around. At the end of my time I headed to the public dungeon and was fortunate to run into one other player and between the two of us we were able to handle things. If it had scaled and we’d needed 4 players I might still be there waiting.

Now of course ZOS could build a system similar to GW2’s that’ll push the existing player base into fewer shards so the world is more densely populated, but then they’d have to tweak mob density as well. And even if they got that all right, it would fundamentally change the nature of the game. One of the reasons I love TESO when I’ve pretty much given up on other MMOs is that ZOS promised that TESO would be a solo-friendly game, and up until now they’ve delivered on that promise. My character is 48 now and has never Grouped, at least insofar as I can recall. And I like that. I like that sometimes I’ll see other players and we can organically work together to take down baddies, but I also love that some days I’ll be in an area where I never see another player and I feel like a true lone wolf out there being a Big Damned Hero to the people.

TESO to me is like a hike through a state park. Lots of time alone, and then when you do encounter other people it’s a delight. GW2 is like walking in a city park. You’re constantly surrounded by people and noise and you’re never alone with your thoughts. I like TESO much more and I hope that One Tamriel doesn’t change the feel of the game too much. But I guess ZOS needs to risk alienating current fans in order to try to bring in new blood. We’ll see how it works out.

So yeah, you might be right that One Tamriel will “work” because GW2 works. But in order to make it work I fear they’re going to have to make some fundamental changes to the game. Damn, comparing TESO to GW2 scares me. “This game you love will be fine when it changes to work like this other game you hate.” That gives me no comfort!!!

Elder Scrolls Online: My concerns with “One Tamriel”

Zenimax Online Studios has announced a new “One Tamriel” system for The Elder Scrolls Online, and most of my friends seem to really like the idea. I’m not as convinced, but before I get into why let’s recap the story so far.

When TESO launched, it was an ambitious game with 3 factions, each having their own content to level through, though there was a main storyline and some guild storylines that were the same for all players. The downside of this design was that not only did you have to make sure you were on the same server as your friends, you needed to be in the same faction, too. The upside is that if you wanted to roll an alt, you could level up a 2nd (and 3rd) character through content that was new to you.

Since launch things have changed a little. Servers collapsed into mega-servers, for one thing. The new DLC/Expansions are the same for all factions, though each faction gets its own instance. Separate but equal. More importantly, recently ZOS let us start forming cross-faction groups for instanced dungeons. Since you really need a group to do instanced dungeons, this was a great change.

Back to One Tameriel; when it launches all these faction-walls get torn down (the one major exception being the PvP areas). The amount of content will stay the same but you’ll be able to go to any faction you like at any point. Aside from role-play concerns, I don’t see any downside to this aspect of One Tamriel.

Now let’s talk about leveling. At launch your journey through TESO was a classic one of leveling-up and moving from zone to zone as you did so. Cap was level 50 and vanilla TESO content leveled you smoothly through all 50 levels, presenting monsters that would challenge you each step of the way. Since then ZOS has tried a few post-50 systems, I guess (I’ve never got that far). Currently once you hit 50 you start earning Champion Points that you can spend to buff your character in various ways. ZOS is using Champion Points almost like a Gear Score to indicate character and monster power.

Dungeons are treated somewhat differently. Dungeons scale in level (with each having a minimum level), and in particular scale to the level of the group leader.

The leveling system presented another barrier to friends playing together, sort of. If I’m level 40 and my friend is level 20 and we group up, content is either going to be trivial for me, or impossible for him. Personally I don’t see this as a big deal and I’m happy to help out lower level friends but some gamers aren’t interested in playing unless they’re getting rewarded.

The DLC was different from vanilla TESO and worked something like dungeons. To make DLC packs of interest to all players, mobs are all max level, and characters get ‘bolstered’ to max level when they enter these areas. So now if I take my level 40 character and my friend brings his level 20 character, we’d both get boosted to max level and earn awards and experience appropriate for our levels. Sounds good, right?

One Tamriel brings this system to the entire world. Every mob in the world (once you get out of the brief tutorial) will be an equal match to a level 50 character with 160 Champion Points (that’s the current max level for mobs). When you leave the tutorial you’ll be bolstered to the equivalent of a level 50/160 CP character and that’s where you’ll stay forever. Of course you won’t have all the skills of a max level character so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that.

Anyway this is the aspect of One Tamriel that I’m not as sure about. My friends, who are casual players of TESO, think it is awesome because they can group up no matter what level they are. That’s true. But I don’t think many of them are thinking about what is going to happen when they’re not grouped. And let’s face it, in practical terms most of us spend a lot of time soloing whether we want to or not.

Under the current system if you find a quest or a world boss or an open dungeon that is too difficult for you, you can just skip it, gain a few levels, then come back and try it again. Maybe your gear isn’t up to snuff. Maybe you’ve put together a feeble build and are still trying to work out the kinks. Maybe it’s content intended for several players (world bosses or dolmens come to mind) but there’s no one around. You can just come back later when you’re more powerful and try again.

As someone who solos a lot, I have had to lean on this system pretty heavily at times. It goes away with One Tamriel. No longer will you be able to skip world bosses and come back and mop the floor with them later. If there aren’t a group of players hanging around, world bosses, open dungeons and dolmens will probably be beyond your ability to solo. The exception will be folks who’ve been playing long enough to get best-in-class gear and who have perfected their builds. But casual players, the ones this system seems to be built for? They’re going to be frustrated. When they don’t have a group, a lot of content is going to be beyond them.

Basically in the same way that casual solo players have to skip dungeons now, they’ll have to skip world bosses, dolmens and public dungeons once One Tamriel hits. As a casual solo player, I’m pretty bummed about this.

Of all the MMOs out there, TESO has been one of the most solo-friendly I’ve played and that’s a big part of why I enjoy it. It’s fun having that single-player story-driven gameplay but in a world where you see other players and do kind of organically help them out. To me its the best of both worlds, but I have to just skip the instanced dungeons. Fortunately for me by the time One Tamriel arrives I’ll be comfortably at cap so it won’t impact me much, but I think we’ll see a lot of casual players return and find that maybe the system isn’t quite as awesome as they’d hoped it would be.

I’m hoping there’s some aspect of this system that I’m not quite getting and that solo players will still be able to progress smoothly through all the content. I guess we’ll find out this Fall.

Elder Scrolls Online: What a difference a bag makes

The Elder Scrolls Online’s latest patch/DLC, The Dark Brotherhood, finally hit consoles this week and what a difference it has made for pack-rat crafter types like me. Why? Craft bags.

So what’s a craft bag? Basically it’s a container that holds all your crafting materials and makes them available to all characters. In other words it works like a bank for crafting materials only you don’t have to go to a bank to use it. And it’ll hold virtually unlimited amounts of stuff (the limit is somewhere in the millions of items).

The only “bad” news is that in order to put stuff into your craft bags, you need to be an ESO Plus Member. I know we all wish everything was free but ZOS has to make money and this seems like a perfect item to put behind a paywall. First, casual players probably have no use for craft bags; if you’re not heavily into crafting there’s no need for it. Second, if you’re playing and using the craft bags and you get distracted by another game you can cancel ESO Plus and still pull materials from your craft bag; you just can’t put more in. So just make a point of stocking up while paying and you’re good.

It’s also worth noting the ESO Plus comes with a monthly stipend of Crowns, and you get roughly (maybe exactly?) as many Crowns for your $15 sub as you’d get by just buying $15 worth of Crowns, so you can look at it that way too.

Anyway so what’s the big deal? My typical ESO play session used to be to adventure on my adventuring character for an hour and then spend 30 minutes muling crafting materials and gear over to my crafter character. I don’t sell gear (unless it has the trait that makes it extra valuable) since I need the crafting experience you get from deconstructing it (as well as the raw materials you get from breaking things down). At this point I have 130 slots in my bank (saving to expand) and 170 slots on my adventuring character (ditto) and I still constantly had inventory problems due to tons of crafting materials and bits of gear I was saving for research.

The The Dark Brotherhood patch hit and that all went away thanks to Craft Bags. I played all Wednesday night and most of Thursday night before my adventurer had to finally hit the bank to unload stuff. Since the bank was almost empty he muled everything over in two batches and my crafter quickly broke down all that gear and gained some levels and materials to do writs.

It just makes a huge difference to me and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Of course there’s also all the new Dark Brotherhood content (which you get free for being in ESO Plus) and a lot of other quality of life updates to the UI. And poisons, which I’ve barely scratched the surface of. I hadn’t gotten a character to Veteran Levels so their removal didn’t impact me much but those are gone too. All in all, seems like a really good patch/update to me.

Pro game streaming: It’s time to move beyond esports

Greetings loyal readers! It’s been quite awhile, eh? I’ve been playing ESO on the consoles almost exclusively for the past few weeks, but nothing worth sharing. Just grinding out crafting writs and working my way through the quest lines. Not blog-post worthy but I’ve been having fun. When not playing I’ve been watching a lot of ESO videos of builds and stuff.

So what does this have to do with esports? Listen I know you all love Twitch and watching people play League of Legends for big cash prizes. I like to watch some LoL from time to time too. I think we’ve established that broadcasting game matches is a Thing that people like.

But now it’s time to move beyond that and expand the offerings on Twitch and the like. What I want to see now are professionally commentated dungeon runs from MMOs. I came to this decision when two vectors crossed in my brain. First, when I haven’t been playing ESO I’ve been re-watching Log Horizon, which is an anime that takes place in an MMO world. I really enjoy the (faked) battle scenes when the gang is doing raids. It’s fun watching them puzzle out how to bring down bosses even though, y’know none of it is real.

And I’ve also been reading JZH Gaming’s blog lately. He posts videos of his ESO dungeon runs. This is the last one I watched:

I like this video for a lot of reasons. First, it’s a speed run so it doesn’t go on for hours. Second, the leader guides the group through the dungeon in a calm way. The rest of the gang also acts like, well, adults. No one is screaming or playing dub step over their mike. It almost feels choreographed and I feel like I’m not only watching a team take on a challenge but I’m learning a bit about this trial, too. Third and much less significantly, this was done on the PS4 version of the game and I have some platform pride over it. There’s this stereotype that console gamers are all potty-mouthed children and it’s cool to see this group overcome these obstacles while maintaining their composure. I wanna be friends with these people!!

But it is hard to hear what the leader is saying at times, plus she’s busy playing so doesn’t have time to elaborate. Which led me to imagine a Twitch channel that had professional commentators who could follow a group through a dungeon and give a kind of play-by-play of what is going on, in the same way that good LoL commentators can help viewers understand the details of a LoL match.

Of course before that could happen, the game developers would have to add some kind of spectator mode so the commentators have the tools to show off what is happening. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch a group take on a dugneon boss and flip back and forth between what the tank is doing, and what the healer is doing?

Eh, maybe I’m dreaming. But I think it’d be cool. But until the rest of the world catches up with my brilliance 🙂 I’ll keep watching JZH’s videos and hope he does more runs with this bunch. If you have some favorite dungeon run videos, why not post links in the comments. I’m not looking for “more dots” and Leeroy Jenkins. I’m looking for a team working together “professionally” to get a job done.

I find videos like this kind of inspiring. They make me want to play ESO better.