We just hit level 16 last night in ESO, and I think we are about to finish up the first zone (Stonefall) for the Ebonheart Pact. I have to say right off the bat here that I am really enjoying myself far more than I expected. We picked up ESO as sort of a ‘what the heck we’ll give it a try’ kind of deal. Turns out, ESO does several things better than most MMOs.
I haven’t felt rewarded for exploring, or even the drive to explore a zone, in a very long time. Roaming around the map in ESO is extremely rewarding. Hidden throughout the zones are lore books to raise your Mages Guild level, Skyshards to give you skill points, and entire quest chains. These things are all -awesome- and immensely important. It’s one thing if the rewards for exploration are jumping puzzles — I feel no desire to explore and find those — but something entirely different when you can truly unlock more content you will not find unless you just roam around.
Throughout the map are optional public dungeons (really just caves with monsters), points of interest, these awesome event things that spawn bad guys, hidden quests, mini-world bosses, and even special crafting stations. Exploring is totally worth your time.
The story so far has been really quite good. You’ll need a bit of reading comprehension, but if you can keep these fantasy names straight you’ll figure out that everything you’ve done in the first zone all ties together. All of the NPCs you’ve met along the way seem to be connected, and many of their individual stories are all building up to something bigger. Graev and I explored off the beaten path and found this awesome little hidden temple ruins that ended up leading to a longer quest chain that sent us back in time and explained a huge portion of what was going on in Stonefall. Had we not found this quest we would have missed out on the backstory.
ESO is delivering the story in a really passive way. I think back to the story in SWTOR which was really spoon-fed, forced into questing instances, and just heavy-handed (and not optional). The story in ESO falls together and is there for you to absorb however much (or little) you want.
Story and exploration have yielded a fantastic atmosphere. Tamriel isn’t a sandbox world. I do not feel the world is quite as free as the original EverQuest, but it’s a happy medium. I’m usually not a fan of ‘playing through’ a zone mechanics, but ESO makes the experience rewarding and entertaining to the point that I forget all about the themepark nature and just focus on the moment. This is where the “Elder Scrolls” feel comes in, and Graev has pointed out dozens of references to things he has seen, done, or known about based on past Elder Scrolls games. Again, it’s well done.
Level takes a decent amount of time. We spent exactly one week getting to level 16 and spent the entire time in one zone. Leveling our characters hasn’t been a complete walk in the park, and we’ve had to make a lot of choices along the way. I love how skill points are limited and in high demand. I cherish every point we find, and I think long and hard before allocating them into skills. My choices have actually mattered.
I’m eager to progress and see what comes next. As we join up with several in-game guilds (like factions) even more possibilities for character development, story, and exploration unfold. I am very pleased with my experiences thus far in ESO. Let’s see what another week brings!