The Elder Scrolls Online didn’t quite live up to our hopes, displaying occasional flashes of brilliance with its sweeping vistas and intricate quests, only to disappoint with its inability to marry narrative ambition with a massively multiplayer framework. But as with any MMOG, the game you experience on release date won’t be the same game you play a few months down the line. So with that in mind, GameSpot editors Kevin VanOrd and Shaun McInnis spent some time conjuring up a wish list of features they’d like to see added or improved in the coming months.
Kevin: Large-Scale Dynamic Events
Is there anything sadder than The Elder Scrolls Online’s dark anchors? Just a half-dozen players can turn these ever-so-slightly-dynamic events into a race to see who can get in even a single shot before each daedric attacker falls in battle. These meager occurrences are laughable shadows of Rift’s rifts and Defiance’s arkfalls, and offer no incentives to group with others, or even to participate at all.
What if dark anchors caused as much drama as this screenshot actually implies?
Were Zenimax Online Studios to increase the scope of these events, dark anchors could give rise to exciting and unpredictable battles. If anchors were left alone long enough, tougher and more impressive enemies could spawn in, perhaps going so far as to roam the surrounding region in packs and attack nearby encampments or even entire cities. Not only would such dynamic events give players a reason to band together, but they would give ESO the touch of capriciousness it so desperately needs, and hopefully offer unique loot that encouraged adventurers to participate.
Shaun: A Reason to Get Off the Beaten Path
One thing I really like about Elder Scrolls Online is the world itself. It’s a sprawling, diverse, often gorgeous collection of outdoor terrain and bustling villages. But the more time I spend traipsing along the trails that link the cities of Tamriel, the more I long for an incentive to go exploring.
Surely there must be better reasons to take a tour of Tamriel.
Sure, you can find new quests and the occasional treasure chest by getting off the beaten path, but the world feels static, and lacks those serendipitous discoveries of previous Elder Scrolls games. It’s little things like the use of environmental storytelling. Think of when you would wander into a small shack in Skyrim, a building having nothing at all to do with a quest, only to find a dead body and the remains of a business deal gone sour. Maybe there was a note, maybe there wasn’t. But it was a fun–if slightly grim–opportunity to imagine your own story.
It’s stuff like that I miss, those random little discoveries–the loot sitting at the bottom of a lake, the troll with a suicide note under a bridge–that drive home the fact that this is a lived-in world. As is, Elder Scrolls Online really only comes to life when you’re on a quest. It’s all that time in between I’d like to see become more interesting.
Kevin: Group-Friendly Questing
The Elder Scrolls Online’s biggest issue–and it’s a doozy–is how its single-player storytelling and multiplayer structure are constantly at odds. Should you and a groupmate be at different stages within a set of missions, or if your groupmate has already concluded that particularly story, you may not be able to adventure together. Giving players the opportunity to join teammates even when they are in a different story layer would help rectify that issue, and would be no more damaging to the game’s sense of immersion than its current reluctance to let players remain together.
What a lovely group of adventurers! Too bad The Elder Scrolls Online tries so hard to split them up. And that needs to change.
Even better, why not allow groupmates to tackle decisions together? The oft-maligned Star Wars: The Old Republic actually did a creditable job of letting players make choices as a unit. A similar system in ESO wouldn’t just keep grouping from being such a hassle–it would encourage people to come together.
Shaun: Greater Incentives to Craft
I write this as my level 11 Dragonknight sits on the verge of level 12, and in all the hours I’ve spent getting there I’ve never once felt an urge to try out the crafting system. The quests are so generous in doling out useful equipment that I feel no need to spend time pursuing a career in amateur blacksmithing, and the skill tree is so flexible that I show up in battle without the slightest urge to buff myself with potions or food. Crafting in ESO might be a wonderful, robust system for all I know. But with over 50 quests under my belt, I just haven’t felt any need to see what it’s about.
What a lovely sword you crafted. Who will you sell it to once you’ve outgrown it?
Granted, my relative ignorance of crafting is something I can very easily remedy by, you know, crafting. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel like this portion of the game feels somehow disconnected from the rest of it, tucked away into a dusty corner with only the occasional vague gesture letting you know it’s there. Sure, that beats the hell out of having a terrible crafting system shoved down your throat, but I just wonder what the development team can do to give players a little more encouragement to try it out. An auction house would be a great way for master blacksmiths and alchemists to sell their wares, while guilds would be able to better make a name for themselves if all their members could create armor and shields stamped with custom guild insignias. Hopefully that would bring crafting in from the periphery of the game and make the whole thing feel more cohesive.
Kevin: Meaningful Day/Night Cycle
Is it night? Is it morning? On cloudy days, you might not even be able to tell. In offline Elder Scrolls games, we’re used to seeing citizens go through their daily lives, setting up shop during the day and packing up and heading home when the work day is done. Of course, The Elder Scrolls Online does not allow you to speed up time by resting in a bed, so having vendor access around the clock is important. But what if nighttime vendors sold different items during the day? What if there were different monsters, or those monsters behaved differently depending on the time of day? What if you could only accomplish some quests during the night? What if night were actually… dark?
Is it day? It it night? Is it going to rain? Why are there butterflies and torchbugs next to each other?
Few MMOGs go out of their way to make nighttime all that different from daytime, but the Elder Scrolls series has always given significance to time’s passage. Not only would the variable NPC behavior make the game feel more alive, but time-based elements could give Tamriel an air of the unexpected.