Tamriel Infinium: Examining Elder Scrolls Online's first major update

Tamriel Infinium: Examining the Elder Scrolls Online first major update
I've often wondered if my frustration with game creators should be taken out on the game itself. This goes for any game, not just Elder Scrolls Online. Perhaps I love the game, but I believe the creators have had missteps that drag down production, or maybe they set customer expectations to a certain level then didn't quite deliver.

Blurry Scheduling
For instance, twice Game Director Matt Firor said that he expected an update every 4 to 6 weeks for ESO. These statements were specifically in defense of the subscription model. Even Peter Hines, VP at Bethesda, backed up Firor in March when he said, "We want to do the version that we think is the best game and the coolest experience. And that means putting a lot of people and a lot of content creators towards having stuff that comes out regularly; every four weeks, five weeks, six weeks. Big new stuff that you want to do."

I understand that sometimes you don't meet your deadline. Especially at the beginning of a production cycle, it's hard to get your rhythm. You come off a big launch, one made extra hard by the unforeseen bugs that cropped up on the live servers. But players aren't stupid. They know when you're lying or trying to cover something up when it's right in their face.

"I think we're still at the tail-end of six weeks, I could be wrong there, it's all a blur! But we're either in the sixth week or the seventh with this update and I believe our next update is fairly on schedule," Creative Director Paul Sage told IGN when asked about the release schedule. "When we released we talked about our plans rather than 'this is exactly what it's going to be' – we're generally pretty careful about the language."

I know things are a blur, but if you don't know how many weeks it's been since launch, you are either trying to hide something or terrible at your job as a director. By the way, one of the main jobs as a director is scheduling and making sure teams meet deadlines. I'm pretty sure it's the former, but that means that he's hoping we weren't paying attention.

The best thing to do would have been to apologize and then say what he said next, "But right now we have the second update lined up and ready to go onto the PTS once we launch Craglorn." In case you're wondering what the next update's going to be, Sage said it's a veteran dungeon called Crypt of Hearts.

Craglorn breakdown
But do we fault the game's new Craglorn content because the game's directors don't know how to apologize? Maybe we should see what Craglorn has to offer before passing judgement.

Craglorn exhibits the same features of nearly every other zone in ESO. You have skyshards, quests, dungeons, and other points of interest. Bear in mind, however, that everything in Craglorn is scaled for a group of four at veteran rank 10. If you are a fresh level 50, you will find Craglorn extremely frustrating, and even if you are VR10, Craglorn can be frustrating if you run it solo. It's possible that a group of four will find it frustrating if it doesn't have a healer in its pocket.

This kind of frustration adds to positive game design. Boredom takes away from it. Unfortunately, Craglorn dispenses moments of boredom centered around the Magical Anomalies.

During the standard leveling process, Dark Anchors periodically pierce the sky dropping giant metal hooks to the ground. Waves of horrible creatures spill from Coldharbour attempting to defend their master's machine that is designed to merge the realm of Nirn with Oblivion.

Mechanically, they drop four waves of monsters followed by a boss. Unfortunately, that is exactly what a Magical Anomaly does: four waves of monsters followed by a boss. Just like the open-world dungeons that appear to repeat themselves multiple times during the leveling process, by the time you reach VR 10, which is approximately 170 hours of gameplay, you just don't want to do another Dark Anchor.

Let's not dwell on that because Craglorn does offer other pieces of gameplay that are different and better than the Magical Anomalies, and the first ones I'd like to talk about are the Burial Sites. I don't think that players will find anything new in the mechanics of these events, but they will likely find it refreshing.

In the center of the Burial Site sits an NPC that must be defended. Unlike dungeons that give you a boss bar that you want to lower, Burial Sites give you an NPC bar that you want to keep up. You will encounter five waves of mobs that will attempt to kill the NPC, including two waves of gargoyles that make a beeline for the NPC ignoring all aggro-generating abilities.

The best part of Craglorn has to be the trials. These 12-man dungeons sound like something other than raids because of additional mechanics like a limited number of rezzes. But at their core, they're raids. The bosses have interesting mechanics, and even moving from room to room has its own challenges. Based on its initial description, I thought that trials were more like a gauntlet, but it's a raid -- through and through. If you haven't seen Dulfy's videos on the trials, you should take a moment to make your own judgement.

Although I am excited about the group content like trials and Burial Sites, I'm a little put off by the idea that you have to group for all of Craglorn content. But it's refreshing to see content that works, for the most part.

Should we judge the new content on the PR missteps of the creators? I'd like to say no, but I can't help this underlying feeling of disgust and dread. But I am willing to put that aside if the content works well, and most of all, if it is fun. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Traverse the treacherous terrain of Tamriel with Larry Everett as he records his journey through The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG from ZeniMax. Comments are welcome below, or send a message to larry@massively.com. He promises to keep the arrow-to-the-knee jokes to a minimum.
This article was originally published on Massively.