I may have slaughtered Hamlet for that title, but I wasn't the first one to come up with this question. I saw it yesterday on PC & Tech Authority, in an article titled Should I keep playing Elder Scrolls Online? Huh..., by David Hollingworth. This is about the most level-headed assessment about the state of The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) I've read to date. I don't normally expect to see opinion pieces come out of tech e-zines, but I tip my hat to this article. You really should read it if you have any interest at all in a neutral biased report on the game.
Mr. Hollingworth hits the nail on the head when he very accurately describes the biggest issue in the game - and it's not bots or gold sellers. Those are things that Zenimax can mitigate. The biggest issue with TESO is the phased reality mechanic. In TESO, completing a quest changes the area around you. It changes how NPCs "talk" to you. I just slew Galthis and saved High King Emeric. Now when I walk through Wayrest, people say, "You're the one who saved High King Emeric! Can I have your baby?" Okay, I made that last bit up. The point is, what I accomplish changes the world. That's awesome! Now for the down side. It only changes the world for me. For most of those around me, High King Emeric is still in mortal danger. Read Mr. Hollingworth's article to understand how that really kills group play. He's had far more experience at it than I, but I know everything he says is absolutely true.
And to be honest with myself, I don't think Zenimax can fix that problem. They would have to remove something of far greater value from the game IMO: the feeling that what I'm doing makes a difference. That is what all the Elder Scrolls games are all about. It's about making choices and having an effect on the world at large. If you remove that from TESO, you won't have The Elder Scrolls. You'll have World of Warcraft. But so long as the reality difference remains in TESO, formal grouping will remain nearly impossible. As you adventure with your friends, you will all experience slightly different realities that will eventually drive you apart. Mr. Hollingworth has first hand experience to back that view. He goes so far as to call TESO, "An MMO for loners."
He may have something there. I've as much admitted many times I prefer to rely on myself first. That makes me a loner in most instances. But does that mean playing with others is out of the question? Frack no. I play with others all the time. For example, when collecting the keys to get into Wayrest Castle to kill Galthis, I played with others. Galthis is an instance, but getting the keys are not. There were at least a half-dozen other players with the same objective. I arrived at one of the key guardians just in time to see one 21st level character die. I skidded to a stop. Then a 20th level character skidded to a stop beside me. Without a word exchanged, we both knew what needed to happen. I started a 1.5 second duration spell, and he did likewise. As I leveled the guardian with a Shield Assault, he kept me healed and launched DPS spells. It took us seconds to secure the key. It was not a formal grouping, but for those few seconds we were a group - actively supporting each other with a common goal.
I've done this many, many times on my 22 levels. It became particularly useful in dungeons once GMs started clearing out the bots. I remember going through one, don't remember which one now, but I was running along with two lightly armored magic users. I tanked and they melted faces. We cleared the entire dungeon in about five minutes. We never said a word, but we were absolutely working together. I know they were because they held there casts until I'd completed my attack sequence: Solar Flare, Sun Fire, Shield Assault and Puncture. That way I had aggro and they had all the time in the world - more or less. This is also how Dark Anchors work a lot of times. A group of people gather, waiting for the anchor to fall. When it does, we all fight independently but we also keep track of each other. I heal when it's needed. I charge when it's not. Is it the most efficient way of doing an anchor? Probably not, but no one has died yet on the ones I've joined. Of course, we way over power them but that's a different issue.
Then there was taking out the Brood Queen. Man, she was one tough bug! Even at level 22 I couldn't take her and her eight drones down by myself. It was the last thing I had to do in Stormhaven, and I died three times in the trying. But I was determined to take the drones out one at a time if I had to. On my third assault, with the queen and four drones left, I was joined by another tank. I died again, but he fought on. Rather than resurrect at a Wayshrine, I resurrected on the spot just in time to save his life. Between the two of us, we finished off the drones and the Brood Queen. It was still a tough fight, but we did it. He saluted me when she fell, and I him. It was glorious.
So as you can see, there is grouping in TESO. But it is not the grouping Zenimax "promised." I'm not going to debate the reasons I put that word into quotes. We'll just say I don't interpret what Zenimax said they would provide in quite the same way some TESO players do. And with those bad feelings now firmly in place, the real question becomes will people play past the initial 35-day mark. I know I will. I signed up for six months. And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Of course you're more favorable to Zenimax since you're already committed." Silly troll, don't be ridiculous. I bought a lifetime membership to Lord of the Rings Online ,but when it ceased to be fun any more I stopped playing. I haven't been back since. Paying for my time in advance is just the way I roll. The only game I play when it's not fun to do so is EVE Online. And I kick myself for doing it.
I play games to have fun. The money is already spent. It's history. It makes no difference to me any more. I can afford more games. It's the fun that matters most. TESO is fun for me, as it is fun for Mr. Hollingworth, despite its short comings. It's fun because I understand, and enjoy, an "MMO for loners." There's nothing wrong with that, and I've no doubt there are plenty of people content to play TESO for all the good in it. To those who aren't, all I can say is move on. TESO isn't for you. And that's a decision many will have to make this week, if not last. It's been over 35 days, and the disgruntled are leaving in droves - or not. We don't know yet.
To Zenimax I say, understand this and embrace it. Whatever you do, don't kill The Elder Scroll affect to be just another MMO. You should consider marketing the current areas as non-group areas. Remove the group dungeons from them even. Just be certain new players understand the limitations of the initial zones. And when you roll out new zones, like Craglorn, dispense with the reality phasing. Keep everyone in that zone in the same reality. There are plenty of zones you can create in this fashion. You may even want to go back and create some non-phase shifted lower level zones just for low-level players who want to adventure together. Of course, all that will take time to implement. And the number of subscriptions bringing in cash will directly affect the length of implementation. Let's just hope Zenimax doesn't turn out to be poor Yorick.