The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) was the title I chose for my contribution towards last month’s post about the best games to play at Christmas. It’s easy to get into, and you can do a couple of quests before getting down the controller and grabbing more chocolate.
I can’t say I booted it up during my time off work though. My two-week holiday began with the sort release I wouldn’t normally pick up but was inspired to try after watching a blogger-friend stream part of it recently: Yakuza 0. It won’t be one I’m likely to end up finishing due to its long length but I’m having fun with it for the time-being at least. This was followed by several days of World of Warcraft (WoW), my first real experience with this MMORPG and only my third online game.
It probably sounds strange that I’ve been gaming for over 30 years now and have never played it before. MMOs weren’t on my radar growing up in the 1990s because I was more interested in my beloved adventure genre; and this meant I didn’t have the opportunity to really learn how to use a keyboard-and-mouse outside of clicking. It’s caused me to always feel a little comfortable with team-based games due to my lack of coordination and so I tend to stay away from them.
Saying that though, I’ve sunk way too many hours into ESO over the years. I started off playing by myself in 2015 then roped my other-half into joining me, and we started playing on a weekly basis with Tim from Timlah’s Texts & Unity3D Tech and his partner Jake during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20. Although they ran us through some dungeons and I was clearly the weakest player on our team, it wasn’t something taken too seriously so I never felt I had to worry about my performance.
When I first met Pete and started discussing video games with him, he told me he’d had a long history and many late nights with WoW although he hadn’t touched it since 2009. His brother still played however and whenever we went to see him, the pair would talk about his current adventures. I asked my other-half if he’d like to get back into it after one such visit and he declined, saying he didn’t have the time; but I think this had more to do with his worry that I’d get frustrated with trying to play with him due to my lack of skill with a keyboard-and-mouse.
In mid-November though, Ellen from Ace Asunder began streaming and several mornings were spent watching her work her way through battlegrounds in the MMO on Twitch. Seeing how much fun she was having made Pete feel the WoW itch again and we somehow ended up organising to play with her and friend-of-the-blog Phil. I made an account and the four of us spent New Year’s Eve jumping from quest to quest until 01:30 in the morning, then making it up to level 37 after a few more sessions in the following week.
Are the keyboard-and-mouse controls frustrating me? Yes, and I’ll have a tantrum about them occasionally. But after several restarts to find a character I feel comfortable with and making use of Pete’s old keypad, I’m doing a lot better than I was initially. I’ve finally settled on a Paladin named ‘Laterlevels’ (how original) because this fits in with the odd way I like to play RPGs: I always want to do a bit of everything rather than being confined to a single role so here I’m able to tank, heal and do damage.
Before you say anything, I know you’re not supposed to play like this; you’re meant to pick your class and stick with it so you become an expert at what you do. But I’m lucky enough to be playing with a group of friends who accept my quirk and are more interested in hanging out than me gitting gud. Whenever I’m not sure what I’m meant to do be doing or make a mistake in-game, they don’t criticise me for it or make me feel like a bad player – they give advice or lend a helping hand.
It makes me feel like I’m a part of the team and that’s what makes it fun. We’ll follow Phil as we head towards the next quest, take on rare spawns when they appear in the hope that Ellen will get another pet to add to her collection, and watching Pete regularly fall off cliffs. And while we’re doing all that, we’ll chat about our day and what’s going on in the world. This social interaction is the lockdown equivalent of hanging out with colleagues at lunch-time or meeting with friends in the pub after work.
There are only two things bothering me slightly, the first being that I’m not paying any attention to what the quests involve. We tend not to read the descriptions and simply head off to the next adventure after the last one. I think this would be different if I were playing WoW on my own, because I’d be doing it for the story; but being with a group means the social aspect has replaced this need and become more important than the narrative. I feel a little sorry for the writers and know I should be paying more attention to the effort they’ve put into the game.
And then there are stairs – especially those damn spiral staircases in confined spaces. I can guarantee I’ll fall off every single one of them at some point upwards and if they have a bannister, you know my character will get caught on it coming down. I’m getting better at movement with more practice over time but I always seem to struggle with stairs, so I’m grateful to Ellen for letting me hitch a ride on one of her dragons or Mekgineer’s Chopper whenever I’m getting particularly frustrated.
It’s hard to say whether I’m preferring WoW to ESO right now; I think it would be more correct to say that it’s different. I do find the latter easier though because it’s possible to play with a controller and I’m used to how certain things work, like the camera and movement directions, after having sunk over 240 hours into it. But I’m sure this will come in time with WoW too and eventually I won’t need my teammates to give me a lift (although I’ll probably still accept because who doesn’t want to ride a dragon).
We’ve chosen not to stream our escapades so far. I’m not sure I’d feel entirely comfortable with the game being shown from my point-of-view while I’m still learning the ropes as I’d be too conscious about what I was doing onscreen to enjoy playing. I guess it could be something we consider in the future though once the controls feel natural. Who knows, WoW might become part of our #DaysForDonations challenge for GameBlast21 if we keep up our aim of playing at least once a week.
Being able to play with friends might encourage me to branch out into other MMOs in the future but I’m not sure I’d want to go it alone with strangers. Right now, I’m going to stick with hanging out with Pete, Ellen and Phil in Wow and seeing if we can increase Ellen’s pet collection.