Tamriel Infinium: About that Elder Scrolls VR grind

Khenarthi's Roost art

Last time around I took a little flak from people who felt that my positive opinion of Elder Scrolls Online would change once I reached a certain veteran rank. In the past two weeks, I've gotten most of the way to VR2 whilst playing primarily solo a couple of hours per day. I would've gotten higher, but I got sidetracked into ESO's addictive crafting minigame!

Anyway, so far my opinion of the world's first Elder Scrolls MMO hasn't changed despite the fact that the VR content does seem pretty grindy. The game is still a first-class themepark that's full of content, incredible art direction, and interesting progression, and the cherry on top of this particular sundae is one of my favorite IPs.

All that said, ZeniMax could stand to alter its post-50 approach.

ESO toppled statue

When you hit 50 and save the world from Molag Bal via the main story quest, you're then sent off to the newb area for one of the game's other two factions. In my case, I rolled Daggerfall Covenant at launch, so at 50/VR1 I was told to pack my virtual bags for Auridon and start doing the Aldmeri Dominion quest content.

At first I thought this was pretty cool because I typically prefer to do everything in an MMO on a single character rather than be forced to roll as the puppetmaster of my own personal alt army. It did strike me as odd that I'd suddenly go fight for an opposing faction after three months spent killing its NPCs and making rude hand gestures at its elven queen, but whatever. MMO story has always been a bad joke, and as in every MMO I've ever played, the only story that matters is the one I create with my roleplaying pals.

Protect the queen

Anyway, ESO's VR content is pretty much the regular game content, from a certain point of view. If you're faction X, you'll play your way through all of the quest content for Y and Z, eventually ending up at the current VR12 cap. I say eventually because the XP curve here is far slower than the 1-to-50 game. I haven't seen any hard numbers from ZeniMax, but I've seen player estimates indicating that VR1 is about equal to 15 of ESO's 1-to-50 levels while VR2 and VR3 are somewhere around seven levels each.

The whole setup reminds me a lot of DC Universe Online, where I literally went from newb to the level 20 cap in two weeks. As most veterans will tell you, though, I was just getting started since there's a rather hellacious gear grind in store for players who want to see any of DCUO's actual endgame stuff.

I don't fault ZeniMax for this because if you've played in this genre for more than five minutes, you know that the object of any themepark is to throw busywork at players in perpetuity so that they keep subscribing, keep using the cash shop, or keep serving as fodder for those "Eleventy Billion Logins Since Launch!" press releases. Where I think the company erred is in the presentation of the VR levels. Why not just launch with a level cap of 100 or however the math works out?

While the VR grind may be all about perception and not any more or less grindy than any other MMO treadmill, ZeniMax's designers didn't help that perception by ham-handedly trying to disguise it as the mythical "endgame." Cyrodiil and Craglorn are currently the real endgame, though of course the latter wasn't available at launch.

God rays

Aside from the fact that it feels much grindier than the pre-VR content, ESO's post-50 stuff also seems a wee bit harder. Or maybe it's just my Nightblade. I don't know. I'm still not dying very often, but I have to be a lot more careful in VR1 to VR2 Auridon and avoid pulling multiple mobs, whereas I typically handled groups with ease prior to 50. It also seems as if my CCs are breaking a lot quicker -- and sometimes not working at all -- though I'm not a theorycrafter and haven't bothered to actually test that hypothesis. It's just an off-the-cuff observation.

There are noticeably fewer players around, too, which means that as a soloer I can no longer count on lucking into an impromptu group to take down a Dark Anchor or a world boss, and so I've got a lot more incompletes on my zone maps than I'm used to.

ESO goblin

I don't know if most people are opting for Cyrodiil at VR1 or if they're getting in one of those Craglorn grind-groups that several people have recommended to me. Either way, in my opinion ZeniMax needs to re-tune the VR content or funnel more players to it.

Ultimately, I don't have the intense hatred for ESO's post-50 levels that I've seen former players exhibit. I do find it odd that ZeniMax obfuscates the process with VR ranks instead of something straightforward like 50-to-100. And given the solo-friendly nature of the pre-50 game, I find it a little bit off-putting that the VR ranks are currently tuned for groups that don't exist or classes that solo better than mine.

But despite all that, it's doable for me as a solo Nightblade in crafted gear. It's just taking a long time, and longer still because I'm a notoriously slow lev... ooooh, pretty, let me get a few dozen screenshots! Sorry, I was saying that I'm easily distracted and a notoriously slow leveler anyway.

In other words, I'm exactly what your average subscription-based MMO wants.

The VR system does in fact need some tweaking, but it's not as dire as angry ex-ESOers are prone to making it sound. And the good news is that ZeniMax can pretty easily do something about the perception issues if it wishes.

The Elder Scrolls Online might not be a sandbox, but it's a fine Elder Scrolls game in its own right. Join Jef Reahard every two weeks as he journeys to Tamriel and beyond in search of some extra inventory space for his crate, barrel, and bag loot. Or come kill him in Cyrodiil, if you'd rather.