In both my review in progress and the final review, I expressed my dissatisfaction with veteran rank questing. If you’re unfamiliar, ESO’s take on the continent of Tamriel is split up into three major factions, each with around 150 hours of hand-crafted, fully voice-acted content to quest through. Once you hit the level cap of 50 and finish your faction’s quest-line, you can quest through the other two faction’s zones, facing off against much tougher, level-adjusted versions of those foes. It’s akin to questing through max-level versions of the Horde zones in World of Warcraft after finishing your Alliance content. While this is certainly a friendly way to let players experience all the content ESO has to offer, and extend the endgame to boot, the system has a few big problems.
Questing through the storylines of the two other factions shatters much of the camaraderie that’s so vital to a faction-based MMO. That feeling remains. The lands of the Ebonheart Pact–Skyrim, Morrowind, and the Black Marsh–are barely a memory now, and I only go back to hunt down stray skyshards for skill points. Occasionally I return to craft or bank in the towns of Riften and Windhelm, but that’s only out of a forced feeling of nostalgia and a tiny need to roleplay with my Nord.
Stronger, too, is my conviction that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the game as much had I started out with another faction besides the Ebonheart Pact. The Pact, with its dreamlike fauna and architecture combined with the Viking brawn of the Nords and the wattled huts of the Argonians, delivers an ambiance that’s at once evocative of the single player games and leap away from the trappings of conventional fantasy. The Daggerfall Covenant and the Aldmeri Dominion, by contrast, both cling closer to genre conventions and deliver little of the awe that drives the single player games. It’s little wonder that Bethesda seems hesitant to use these regions for a traditional Elder Scrolls game. Worse yet, these guys were once my enemies. It’s like letting players sample both the Imperials and Stormcloaks in the same playthrough of Skyrim.
But the biggest problem is that Veteran questing feels like leveling through the game not twice but three times before you reach the ranks required for the upcoming Craglorn content. “Veteran Rank 10″ sounds so attainable, but I sometimes wonder if we would have been better off if ZeniMax had simply called the level cap 150 instead of 50. The only real difference is that you no longer receive attribute points for health, stamina, of magicka as you level, and the main story no longer advances. In all other matters, you continue performing the same actions without the comparatively frequent rewards through the first faction’s playthrough.
I wouldn’t mind this so much, but this cross-faction endgame quest also has the adverse effect of making leveling an alt account almost unthinkable. In other MMOs, when you hit max-level you might roll a new character to experience a new quest, and explore all the zones you missed. But in ESO, you feel compelled to experience it all on a single character, breaking the in-game lore along the way. It matters little how well-written the quests are if you’ve seen them all already; even the most dedicated lore lover must be tempted to just grind out level-ups the second time around instead of questing through the same quests for another 150+ hours.
There are times when I wish I’d leveled a Dragonknight or Sorcerer instead of my Nightblade, but the thought of playing through the content for roughly 300 hours again gives me shivers.