The Elder Scrolls Online Diary: Day 2
Day 2 - A Questing we shall go
I always wonder what happens to my video game characters when I’m offline. I’m at a wedding for a few days, she’s stuck in a swamp. I’m horribly hungover, she’s stuck in a swamp. I’m frolicking out in the glorious sunshine, she’s stuck in a foggy, dirty and poorly detailed swamp. Why doesn't she do something with her time, get a few levels here, an extra skill there. Anyway, my point here is that Day 2 of this rather sporadic diary, comes over a week after the first. I apologise.
Stretching her legs in the bustling city of Daggerfall, together (my eyes staring through the third-person portal) we wander around acclimatising ourselves to the new environment. There are people and players everywhere. Players easily spotted by their odd behavior: hopping and sprinting around, or piled into the market area like cattle, each in their own world of crafting menus. Any MMORPG player will be used to this experience, the NPCs easily spotted simply because they act normally, though admittedly spending their life in the same spot. As a comparison to the single player Elder Scrolls experience it is certainly jarring, with the world feeling less involving as a result. This emphasises something that I mentioned previously: The Elder Scrolls Online is first and foremost an MMO, with all the button hammering tropes that entails, and the single player Elder Scrolls drifting somewhere in the periphery. Acknowledging this, I set out on the first boat out of Daggerfall on a quest for adventure.
The dusty island of Stros M'Kai is the first port of call, its desert landscape a striking comparison to the more ardent greens of Daggerfall. This stark change is reminiscent of the earlier Elder Scrolls games, such as Morrowind, where the world was filled with everything from swamps to deserts. With a strong desire to explore my khajit wanders off into the unknown, hunting for more miscelaneous items that will no doubt be useful sometime later. I discover a goblin cave and soon I’m slashing through their feeble skins with excessive use of the 1 key. After a short period of grinding through this cave I level up, and unlock a new skill. Now the 2 key comes into play. A formidable strike from a distance that cause my character to leap into the fray, setting up a nice 2-1 combo move.
Sure it is very early into the campaign, but the enemies feel rather tepid. Their disjointed attacks, which seemingly hit despite never making any contact, do very little damage and their more powerful attacks are signalled with large red marks on the floor, usually giving you ample time to dodge with a double tap of a direction key. Often there are other players diving into battle with you, mages scorching foes with balls of fire, swordsmen spinning their blades and archers raining arrows down from above. In a sense it should feel epic, yet the ease at which creatures fall at this stage and the tendency for players to disappear without acknowledging one another certainly hampers any real involvement.
Levelling again, I dive into the skill system further discovering that there is a surprisingly amount of depth to be found. Similar to the Elder Scrolls series, experience of certain skills and techniques is gained purely through usage. This is something that I’ve always enjoyed and resonates with how (in some sense) skills work in real life. My khajit has slowly become proficient with dual handling weapons because she has spent most of the game so far with a hammer held in her left hand and a dagger in her right. However, unlike the Elder Scrolls series, levelling an expertise has little direct effect other than opening up skills to unlock, the character must invest skill points gained through levelling (or finding skyshards that are littered across the world) to be able to use them and later skills can be modified to become more powerful or have specific effects. Overall it feels like an interesting meld between the single player Elder Scrolls experience model and more common RPG skill trees. I’m looking forward to investing more skill points and developing more lethal combinations.
My new ultimate combo revolves around a diving attack from a distance that plunges into my foe, then up close I unleash a fury of swipes with my levelled double handed technique and then to finish them off, I plunge an ethereal blade into their heart - dealing double damage on the any fool with low health and reclaiming some of this life for my own. It effectively dispatches many of the puny goblins in the cave and at first is incredibly satisfying. Yet this satisfaction is slightly short lived, since there is only a limited number of times one can pull off this combo attack before it becomes rather tiresome. Yet the joy of this game seems to be that it is rather simple to switch methods of attack and try something new, and gain experience in this area of expertise at the same time. Pulling out a bow (there seems to be unlimited arrows, for better or for worse) I pick off a few mudcrabs from afar. Sadly there seems to be very little impetus behind any piercing hit with arrows and enemies just flop to the ground when their health reaches zero. That wonderfully entertaining, though admittedly fake, physicality of flinging foes from their feet that we saw in Skyrim is lost here.
As I smash through an ancient Dwarven ruin, destroying strange robotic spider contraptions, I get the unnerving sense that this is all rather easy. This is of course incredibly early on in the game, but everything feels limp and unthreatening. I’m finding myself deliberately experimenting with different setups just to see what happens. Yet, so far, nothing has killed me, or really even come close. Since this is an online affair there is no traditional Elder Scrolls slider that magically sets the difficulty to whatever you so choose. As I leave Stros M’Kai, having apparently saved the population from a tyrannical leader (though with hilariously little change) I hope that a greater challenge awaits us ahead.