Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Solo player

Well, this is becoming disappointing.

Over the last ten days or so, I've now had good opportunity to try the group play in Elder Scrolls Online. Unsurprisingly, finding a guild in ESO proved much more difficult than finding a corp in EVE -- the structures in place right now are completely primitive. That, I'm sure, is going to improve over time. And that leaves the group game play itself.

Which is horrible. It's wretched. It's awful. It justifies every complaint about this aspect of the game that's been leveled at Zenimax Online.

I'm certainly familiar with those complaints and up to this point, I've been of the opinion that many of them have been unfairly leveled. And for much of the game, I believe that is still true. For instance, it's been a common accusation that Zenimax doesn't "get" Elder Scrolls games. And for the most part, I've found that untrue (except for housing, which I've already mentioned, and the criminal aspects of ES games, which I'm quite confident is being saved for a future expansion). I've said that the more that you play ESO as a world ready for exploration, the happier you'll be... and that's still true.

But exploration by its nature is something that is done on one's own, or perhaps with one companion.

Group play, on the other hand, is aimed at a different target entirely. I've been reluctant to link it, but the more I mess with ESO's group play, the more I think that the Angry Joe review of ESO might be the most accurate one around:

He briefly makes the complaint that Zenimax doesn't get Elder Scrolls games, but makes it only very briefly. The rest of his complaints are about group play and immersion... and I have to say that I think he's pretty much nailed it. If you have 38 minutes to give to something today, go ahead and give it a watch. It is rather funny in places.

For the tl;dr (tl;dw?) crowd, though, I'll summarize my views of ESO group play into two easy statements:
  1. cooperative play isn't; and,
  2. group play doesn't reward groups.
Let's take each in turn.

The core of group play in an MMO is the ability to cooperate toward a common goal. While ESO generally succeeds at this in the formal and informal group dungeons(1), when players actually group up to take on ESO's general content, it fails utterly. In particular, if you have completed one of ESO's quests, you cannot go back and redo it, nor can you help anyone else through it. Only if all players in a group have not started a quest can they cooperatively complete it.

This is something that Guild Wars 2 gets amazingly right and ESO gets amazingly wrong. In the former game, a highly-leveled player can come back to starting areas and help a friend level through those areas. GW2 even rewards you for doing so by occasionally giving you level-appropriate rewards for your assistance. Not only does ESO not do this, but you cannot assist at all if you've completed the earlier quests. There is therefore not only no motivation to help friends just starting out, you have no ability to do it even if you wanted to do so without rewards.

This. Is. Dumb.

Not only is it dumb, it's actively counter-productive. How exactly am I as a ESO fan supposed to encourage my friends to start playing ESO? My only option is to start a new character at the same time they start theirs and only play that character when my friend is on-line and available to do so. While this is a viable alternative for room-mates and couples, it's not very workable outside that scenario. At best if you enter an earlier level quest with a lower-level player, you will not see them but will instead see an arrow representing their location in their instance of the quest. At worst, you won't be allowed to follow them at all. In neither case can you help them.

So what happens if you actually join a group and complete those quests as a group? Does it get any better?

No, not really. The group play does not reward groups. While the treasures for defeating enemies are shared and available to all players in a group, these rewards are quite paltry. Often, the actual rewards associated with ES quests are found in chests, "crafting sacks", and resource locations. And these items are first come, first served.

Once again (say it with me now): This. Is. Dumb.

It creates an environment where group cooperation is not rewarded and is actively discouraged! If you and I are in a dungeon fighting a mini-boss, just beyond which is the dungeon's only treasure chest, you and I are both motivated to position ourselves very close to the chest so that the instant the mini-boss falls, we are instantly competing for that chest. This creates an absolutely crazy dynamic where you come to resent players that you're playing the game with! I had a somewhat similar experience with Warframe. In ESO, this experience is exacerbated and magnified.

More than this, though, I half-expected an Elder Scrolls game to further encourage group play by increasing the challenge of monsters faced when playing as a group. You see a bit of this in the (badly-balanced) solo quests on the main quest line. Several of them assign you a partner and then scale the difficulty of the encounters to reflect the fact that you have a partner.(2) ESO's group play does not do this except in the previously mentioned formal and informal group dungeons, which are balanced for groups, not for solo players.

Whew! This post is going on for longer than I intended. Let's wrap up.

Anyway, in the meantime this means that Elder Scrolls Online is best played in one of two formats: either solo, or in the PvP areas. I haven't mentioned the PvP areas at all yet and I'm finding them (with one glaring exception which I'll get to in a future post) to be quite fun and engaging. But the rest of ESO play is best enjoyed on your own, avoiding tormenting yourself with the awful group play. This is highly ironic for a game that touts itself as "Elder Scrolls! But with your friends!" But that's where things stand right now.

As I said at the beginning, color me highly disappointed.

(1) ESO has both formal and informal group dungeons. Formal ones are marked as such on the map and there is one per zone. But there are also between one and three informal group dungeons per zone where it is quite advantageous to bring a 4-person group, but not technically required to do so.
(2) In the main quest line, your partner is useless and does not engage. This is obviously a major bug and presumably will one day be fixed. In the meantime, this makes the main quest line quests more difficult than was likely intended.


  1. An MMO that punishes anyone who wants multiplayer. Have Zenimax even talked about fixing it ?

  2. Great article, every word is true.
    Its only problem is that Garth hacked it, replacing the term "EVE Online" with "Elder Scrolls Online".

    One comment: when I was a newbie in any game, I did not WANT any high level player come and AoE everything down while I'm just looting. I preferred to PLAY the game. But that's just me.

    1. Essentially +1 on both accounts. Just ESO also haves veteran bots AoE'ing everything in sight. :lol:

      Some of ESO's issues are terrible in that they are structural, like the lack of phasing. But it's a nice exploration game and the farther you are from other players, the best it becomes.

    2. I agree, It's especially pernicious in Faction Warfare. I've had people in my own militia attack my ship because they don't want to share the plex, even if they could use the back up against pirates and enemy militia.

  3. Angry Joe rocks.

    1. For the Angry Army, Rawr

      Regards, a Freelancer

  4. One of the things that drew me into Eve Online back in 2006 was a friend of mine telling me "It's got a bot problem, but we just gank the bots". My earliest sandbox activity in the game was sitting in a high sec mining/mission hub can flipping afk miners and trying various tricks (that still worked back in 2006) to get their bot programs to accidentally flag as criminal. Coming out of Wow this is like a breath of fresh air. ESO's bot problem is like the old days of WoW, the only ways to deal with bots are by using grief play which would be bannable if you tried it on a real player.

    The group play, is immensely frustrating. In some ways it's even worse than Jester is making out as he considers having 2 characters the same level who only play together to actually be a viable option. If you try that for long enough you repeatedly find quests where the moment the first character finishes talking to the quest NPC the second character finds the conversation ends and they are thrown into the next phase of the quest but without the quest itself having advanced. Sometimes the quest catches up after a boss dies or something. Other times the only option is to abandon the quest and do it again solo.

  5. Helping friends is one of the biggest parts of all social mmos .. sorry but I fly the first missions with eve noobs, level friends in diablo .. that is the stuff why you have player groups .. multiplayer and such ...if I want an single player game then please one without internet so you can play it during internet free days etc ...

  6. Actually that would be great for eve online if you get rewards for helping new players .. and not only rewards if you kill them ... would help the game ..

  7. I'm very curious to know your thoughts on Warframe - you noted that you came to resent other players, and while I can see a few avenues where this can happen, your perspective would be interesting.

    1. It's not worth a full post, since I only played it for about a week or ten days. But the game's PvE takes EVE's reliance on "killmails as motivators" and multiplies it by about ten. This creates a situation where players compete to rapidly kill the grunt enemies and leaves the tougher enemies for the weakest players (either in skills or equipment).

      Then when the match is over, the strongest players rack up dozens and dozens of kills and headshots (all on weak opponents) while the statistics -- and therefore the rewards -- of the weaker players are much less. So the game's design creates a situation where you end up competing with other players instead of cooperating with them.

  8. So, we're in agreement all they needed to do was release a co-op expansion to Skyrim...

  9. all 20 days total they had of open beta told me this wasn't gonna be worth my money, Most of the ppl in game didn't share my opinion when in the last beta when i claimed the game wasn't close to ready for launch.....I didn't expect much out of ESO mainly because i've played elder scrolls games and i've seen how bethesda/zeni work and i've always been of the opinion that most of the short cuts they take would bite them in the ass in multi-player, so they went straight to massive multi-player. This is what happens when a game is rushed to market basically, and that's what Bethesda does.

    1. Again, don't get the impression that I'm bashing on the full game. There are three general ways to play ESO: solo PvE, group PvE, and PvP (group, by its nature; more on that later). I'm saying the middle one is badly broken.

      The other two are still pretty good or better.

    2. The problem with solo play in an MMO is that it's usually inferior to solo play in single player games. Is ESO an exception ?

    3. @ edward: not at all. Other players are a liability when you're doing solo PvE.

    4. Anon is right. There are definitely times that I wish some of the quest strings in ESO were part of a single-player ESO game.

    5. "Anon is right. There are definitely times that I wish some of the quest strings in ESO were part of a single-player ESO game."

      Yes. They may tell you to "Infiltrate X" and there you go in, go stealth and meet a guy running around with with a clannfear, another with a familiar, two guys with pet crabs, a skeleton guy, the guy-checking-his-map (there's always one), two dudes playing music(!) and so and so. I wonder wether *someone* noticed *anything* odd going on in that mine...

      (Admittedly, after my encounter with the musicians, I was laughing so hard that a NPC spawn almost killed me...)

  10. after playing lots of different mmo for 12 years now, i have learned one thing.

    if a new mmo comes out, wait at least a month, better 2-6 month and check community feedback to find out if it is worth your time.

    there is absolutly no reason to join the rush for first max level, first best equiped, highest pvp rank or what ever.
    a mmo takes away lots of time, if you are not going to play it for years, its a waste of time and an offline game with multiplayer mode would be a better choice.

  11. For the most part, I think EvE scales OK from solo to small group PvE. Adding players dilutes the rewards, but in most cases (exploration, mining, L4 missions) you can complete the sites much faster which mostly counter-balances the sharing.

    Unbalanced sharing (where one character is a lot more skilled than another) is much tougher. PvE doesn't have much need for cheap tacklers or EWar, so the main asymmetric sharing options are salvage flunky for L3/4 missions, loot grabbing in exploration sites (which is going away), or picketing.

    1. I disagree.

      With the exception of Incursions, where there's a mechanic to explicitly get around this, all of the problems that are enumerated here with the two exceptions of scaling enemies to the group and preventing you from entering your buddy's instance if you've finished the quest exist in EVE Online:
      1) PvE bounty rewards are fixed. If you can do it solo doing X DPS, it's just as good as two players doing X DPS except now you get all the reward instead of half.
      2) On shield missile ships, there is little trade-off between damage and tank, since one goes in mid slots and the other goes in high and low slots. This means that getting a bigger ship really is just as good as bringing N+1 ships, since it allows you to both handle larger spawns and kill them faster. The only possible exception is when you're DPS-tanking things by killing them faster than they can kill you.
      3) Some of the valuable rewards, particularly deadspace drops, are in wrecks, which, like the aforementioned chests, are first-come-first-served. It doesn't look as bad because the solution to "I got a deadspace drop," is nigh-universally "Sell it," but it's still bad.

      Making it so that two people killing a rat together isn't simply 50% of the time for half the reward (and now you need to go find another rat) would vastly improve the viability of PvEing together for reasons that aren't social. Admittedly, with the propensity of EVE players to have alts, it might also result in a lot of "me, and my alt that I brought along to get some extra payout," and I'm not sure how to handle that.

    2. My point is that EvE joint PvE mostly avoids the stuff that *breaks* groups, even if it doesn't go out of its way to reward them. And where there is competition, it's usually designed into the system as a between-group mechanic rather than an intra-group mechanic.

      Missions tend to scale just fine with number of equivalent-ability players. All the rewards are halved, but you get through twice as much content, and the extra firepower lowers the risk and lets you defeat tougher 'rats more easily. And because there is not a single big, un-splittable reward, there's no "winner takes all" mechanic within the group.

      Mining and incursions can easily involve groups competing, so bringing your own group helps insure you get your slice of the pie.

      Exploration sites and rats are the case where exhaustion can be an issue, but often having two guys along makes it go faster and thus reduces the time commitment to the activity (and, as you note, the big rewards are usually sold rather than claimed).

      The critical aspect is that these are mostly numbers-neutral: you are not penalised for bringing buddies, but neither are you excessively rewarded.

      The problem is that they are numbers-neutral with respect to equivalently able players. It's hard to involve newer players at something approaching parity. Moreover, there's no particular mechanics that provide noticeable benefit from bringing weaker players along in PvE.

  12. "I've said that the more that you play ESO as a world ready for exploration, the happier you'll be... and that's still true.

    But exploration by its nature is something that is done on one's own, or perhaps with one companion."

    Jester, you've hit the nail on the head here without even realizing it. This is the key piece of damning evidence which shows that Zenimax does not "get" Elder Scrolls games. The heart of ES games is the open, explorable world, and in ESO Zenimax may have done a decent job recreating that experience. However, they failed to understand that this experience, as you say, is "is something that is done on one's own," and then they tried to make an MMO based on this single-player experience.

    Answer me this one question: in your experience with ESO, do you think the game would have been a better experience had it been released as an offline single-player game? If this and some of your previous ESO posts are any indication, I would expect the answer to be "yes," but I'd rather hear you direct response than presume to put words in your mouth.

  13. I just wanted to point something out to you quickly.

    The issues you have with grouping in ESO are the exact same issues I've had with mission running in EVE. Granted, they have a different focus, but why should that make a difference?

    Missions in EVE don't scale, either in difficulty or rewards, based on the number of people participating and there's little reason to drop down and help lower powered friends. Instead, the system encourages pulling less experienced players into higher level missions where they accrue loyalty by proxy.

    In your opinion is the mission/quest system more acceptable in EVE due to the setting and design of the game, or does it actually suffer from the same faults?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.