This is not about D&D or DMing. It’s an OOC comment from me.
So I bought The Elder Scrolls Online and had a play. I’ve played Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim in the past (though I first heard of the series through Skyrim, so you can ignore everything I say from now if you’re a hard-core nostalgiac).
I went into this game (TESO) fully expecting to be let down. From a MMO point of view I had no idea what to expect, as I’ve never played any of them before. I’m the kind of gamer that the Elder Scrolls series games are built for: I love tinkering, exploring, and freestyling around an open world at my own pace (which means reading all books and quest dialogue, for instance), so I was worried that I wouldn’t like the social aspect.
From the adventure/exploration point of view, I was concerned that I would be playing in a watered-down approximation to an Elder Scrolls game, with little to none of the lore and charm of the others. I am fully aware of what some see as the decline of the series from Morrowind to Skyrim, where more and more content is removed in favour of ‘casual’ game mechanics which streamline and simplify play. I agree with this assessment, to a point. I agree that a lot of adventure elements have been removed to make room for action elements, and that this is a bad thing for the overall story quality – think of what happened to the book of The Hobbit when it was Hollywood-ised – but I also think that there are many positives to this streamlining, seen not in the story but in the mechanics of play.
What did I think? I was actually very pleasantly surprised by TESO. I think it shines most in the amazing writing and in the number and variety of small, non-main-story features that dot the world. I don’t think any side quest I did in Skyrim quite compares to the side quests available in TESO – they’re more in line with the creative adventure plotlines seen in the earlier games.
For instance, to complete one quest recently, I had to read an in-game diary and solve the cryptic puzzle in the text to figure out which star signs corresponded to which keys, all in order to open a vault door. There was no quest marker directing me to do so. Now that is a far cry from “go to this cave and kill some draugr”. I’m not saying that every TESO side quest is a masterpiece of fiction, but I’m sure as hell saying that each is distinct and clearly shows the care that went into writing it.