Thursday, July 1, 2021

Elder Scrolls games and Elder Scrolls Online - part 2


In my last post I described how I was on the search a few months ago for an online multiplayer game to enjoy with my friend "T", from back in my hometown, on our XBOX's. That search had lead me to broach the possibility of delving into Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO I was only marginally aware of. I have a history with several Elder Scrolls games, and T loved Skyrim. Like, LOVED. I liked it as well, despite not having anywhere near the crunchy character development stuff and depth of the previous titles. But making an Elder Scrolls game more accessible to less hard core gamers lead to Skyrim's popularity while maintaining most of the things true fans loved about the games. 

So we bought the download and on the following weekend dove in. We both independently created out characters and they both turned out to be Dragon Knights. Great fighters who eventually breath fire and stuff. Both were female. Mine a Redguard, hers a Nord. The Nord is tall. My Redguard is a good bit shorter though I thought I had made her tall. But I think T went with max height. Like 6'5" or something. 

I was going for a nice tanned Rachel Welch look, and I think I captured it to some degree. She's dotted with tribal temporary tattoos (the fact that they have a drippy look gives the impression she paints the dots and lines on her body every morning). Meanwhile the Nord is pale as a ghost. I jokingly called them "Salt and Pepper" when we first started, but in the long run we started referring to them as the "Fire Sisters." 

The Fire Sisters fish. A lot. 

We both had created out characters and played them solo for a couple hours or so before we actually played together. So just like every Elder Scrolls game, ever, you start in some slave/captive scenario, escape it, and end up before a city official. And just like that you are turned out onto the streets in your ratty slave garb and sandals to start your life in this weirdo land of ugly elves. 

And that was my first impression. The mushroomy, pandora-ish flaura and fauna of Morrowind. You see, the original ES Morrowind was my first experience with Elder Scrolls. And the land is still weird, the elves still sort of beat-up looking. I played Oblivion second and Skyrim third, and after those pretty normal fantasy lands Morrowind once again is striking. After many hours of play its still unique. You almost never get used to it. And its more beautiful at this graphics level. In old Morrowind everything seemed so dark and muddy.

Impression numero two. The cantons. This cool multi pyramid city were like run down old tenements in the original Morrowind.  And off the beaten path you start the game on. Here they are a thousand years younger, and part of them still actually under construction. And you spend a TON of time there. 

Impression three. The other players characters. Oh my god. And I thought the people watching in major Las Vegas casinos was amazing. But the main gathering places such as Vivic City, are crawling with them. Especially on a Saturday night. They are visiting the bank, the Argonian shop, the crafting tables, and often just milling around. 

You will end up doing a lot of repetitive stuff, though there is a lot of it to do so variety abounds. Want to level up blacksmithing? Do as much of that as you can. Want to be a master tailor? Get to using the clothing crafting table. And get yourself out into the world for the materials needed for all this fun.

And did I mention fishing? We do a lot of fishing.

So that is how you spend your early levels. Going out to search the land for various materials to harvest and mine. Fighting the monsters lurking in such areas. And of course stumbling across the earliest quests. The game does a pretty good job of levelling with you, and as you go from 1st to 6th or 7th not only do you evolve in all you do, but the world around you does as well. Chests and Runestones to get resources from start showing up. More monsters and tougher ones. You can really feel that change, in what seems like a natural way. And of course as in any ES game, you collect the quests. Better start doing them! Deliver this message, find this person, fight those bandits, locate that Skooma stash. 

 Quest quest quest. Mine mine mine. Craft craft craft. That is a lot of your life in Morrowind. Lots of hours. Its all good fun, though the questing is what I'm about. You see, I didn't craft much in the other games. None at all in Morrowind. In Oblivion maybe a little. It wasn't until Skyrim I embraced it, at least the blacksmithing. There is some importance to it, thought just like the older games I think you can play the game fine without ever raising your crafting past half a dozen points. Its just that there is experience for doing it so I devote some game time to it. Its all fairly repetitive so far (have yet to learn a lot of crafting items in different racial styles). But like a lot of little activities in the game you do get that small tinge of satisfaction at completing these crafting mini-quests. Watching those abilities slowly level up. 

But T has gone coo coo for Cocoa Puffs for the crafting. For all of it. She's all in. She spends as much time as she can. That was the thing that blew me away the most. Its the "unexpected" thing I mentioned at the end of my last post. She is devoted to it. Well, maybe devote is too strong, since she has sworn to god she will never pay for the subscription. At something like 15 bucks a month I can understand. Who needs another monthly subscription money hit. 

She plays so much, she started another main character. We play "The Fire Sisters" together on the weekend. But in order to maintain a similar character level with our Dragon Girls she started another guy to solo with during allllllllll those hours playing during the week (weekends). The Sisters are around level 29. Her other dude is 40th, and has moved on from the main island Morrowind to Daggerfell and other outer areas in the expansion. Always a bunch of steps ahead. 

And here's the real kicker. All your personal characters you create share the same bank account and storage boxes. That means that a high level character can find greater stuff and leave it in storage for one of the lower level characters to be stronger from stuff they didn't even find themselves. And there are other cheats/hacks for this character item-share. You can create one or two extra characters you won't really play. Just exist in their own reality in the city from the other characters of this player, and act as item storage by dipping into the shared bank etc to take less needed items to leave room for the main characters. You just switch to that character, do your banking and stocking, and shift back to a main character who gets to enjoy that extra space. And let me tell you; without a subscription your space is very limited and you are always trying to shift things around to make room. Selling at the shop helps with this. 

 I have other games I like to play so I will never catch up in ESO.  Jedi Fallen Order (it came with my XBOX), Mad Max (kind of a hard game in spots, but a cool sort of fantasy version of Max), GTA 5, and a couple oldies like Dead Rising (nabbed it free in the XBOX store) take up some of my solo Mio Time. Playing with another person online is kind of a secondary thing to enjoy for me as far as my video games go. I still love my alone time with my precious consoles. 

And so for my solo time in ESO of course there is my Khajiit, "Zebra". A cool albino catman with dreadlocks and zebra stripes  (I sort of imagined his people evolved alongside zebra herds they preyed on). 

Zebra Kahn putting on a little performance.

 Zebra is currently around 17th level. And that has been a lot of work. I don't play him more than an hour or so here and there. I do a lot of levelling up activities with him. But I have to be honest, I kind of get bored after an hour or so. I really do like the two player experience more in this version of Elder Scrolls. It's way less about solo immersion, though its clearly a way to to go. Though you see a lot of solo characters running around, like most MMO's its designed so you need the multiplayer to experience everything it has to offer.  One thing for sure is that I learn things better on my own though; taking my time to sample the world and experience it when I'm alone in it.  Playing with somebody who knows it so much more means you are getting your hand held a lot so as to not slow things down. So I do need to spend more time alone in the that world. 

So anyway the Fire Sisters go out questing and just wandering and grinding, but also like to spend time in town stripping off our armor and playing music and taking turns dancing. Sometimes other characters join in from time to time, and it can be hilarious.

And other player characters are fun to just watch. Mostly very high level (800+ is common), they have had the experiences and gained the skills and items to look amazing. The variety is out of this world. Sometimes I just just sit back, play the flute, and watch the world go by in front of me. All the other characters going about their business, and sometimes taking a few seconds to check out the two Dragon Knights doing suggestive dances. Yeah, everything is so beautiful to look at. So much more so than cartoony Warcraft. 

Can you wait in line at the bank in Warcraft? Not as far as I know.

And we have slowly gotten some experience doing instanced dungeons with other players. Some you just encounter in a public dungeon, or if you have the right item that lets you get in a que for a special dungeon to wait for a couple of other players to que up, and when the number is there (usually 4 players total) you all meet in the dungeon and grind it and fight the boss together. 

They have done a great job with this game. There is so much. But of course things are left out I miss. I remember just sitting around in the woods in the original Morrowind, or on the porch of my house in Balmora, watching the moon and the stars move above the spotty clouds. You see, in those original games there was a fictional heavens and constellations that meant something, and moved in life like cosmic patterns. It was so cool. But it does not seem to exist like that in ESO. Also as was the pattern started by Skyrim, character development upon creation, deep astrological stuff etc, was softened up for more mass appeal in the general game play. Goodbye character gen crunch. 

Other things are minor. You cannot collect books, and the ones you  read don't often do anything for you. You also cannot dive underwater. But its an MMO, and a lot of things just are hard to replicate from what is available from a solo game. But man, do they do a great job with this. All this gameplay, so far, for just around 20 bucks. But they do try to temp you at all times with greater possibilities if you are willing to open that wallet. 

So we plug away. Me for my maybe 4 or 5 hours a week, T with her 15-20 (or more?). ESO has really been a game changer even for me. And after a couple beers or cocktails the role play comes easy for me. Yes, even this. No, we don't talk over the headphones in character (sometimes semi-in character), but I differentiate my Dragon Knight and My Khajiit Nightblade in terms of what they do. My Redguard is tough and abrasive, but also fairly noble of character. Nightblades are kind of assassins so yeah I'm a stone cold killer with Zebra. Doesn't matter in the long run though. If you steal, trespass, or even kill somebody you just have to go on the lam for a half hour or so till the bounty on your head goes away. I like to hang out in secluded beach areas fishing and looking for chests while I wait till I'm legal again. 

Along with other things mentioned in the last few posts, ESO is part of a parcel of things that are making up for my lessening interest in running tabletop RPG games like D&D right now, in person or online on Roll20. This game, Talisman online, and my beloved handful of boardgames are taking up my play-with-others time. In person or on tha' internets. 

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