Unsurprisingly, the flood of serious launch bugs are the catalyst for this decision. However, the launch bugs are really only incidental. I've said this a time or two before about other games but for no game does it apply better than ESO: the game's minor bugs hide major design catastrophes. I believe in due course the relatively minor bugs that have plagued and continue to plague the game will be fixed -- many reviews state (accurately) that it feels like the current players of ESO are no more than beta testers for an untested game. Each patch closes more and more of them and the rate of patches are accelerating as Zenimax has time to focus on them. Even the most recent bug that I mentioned the other day will almost certainly soon be fixed.
But it does reflect an overly-casual attitude over at Zenimax. They're supposedly in the forefront of building an A-list MMO suitable for millions of people to subscribe to it... but they can't prevent issues this silly and preventable? This is not a good sign for the future.
Even if this were not the problem, though, the design issues will be a bit tougher to fix and I think will in due course doom the game to the free-to-play also-ran list that includes Star Wars The Old Republic, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Aion, Conan, Star Trek Online, Everquest 2, and Perpetuum Online.
That said, ironically I think ESO will be quite successful in that space because there is a lot of content to the game. In addition, the PvP is actually quite good and will lend itself well to a pay-to-skip-grinding framework. Zenimax seems able and willing to push both of these aspects of the game. For the first, given that Elder Scrolls games have always been single-player sandbox content-driven games, that's actually turning to be kind of appropriate... I just don't feel the need to subject myself to it. As for the latter, while PvP in the game is quite good, I'm discovering there are other games I can get PvP that's just as good and not have to pay $15/month for it.
|Another aggravating element of ESO design...|
I talked about my concerns with the design of ESO group play about ten days ago and for the most part, these concerns continue to hold true. And I respect that Zenimax is aware of them and is trying to deal with them. For instance, the 1.1.2 patch of the game includes instanced treasure chests in dungeons so that rewards are spread a bit more equitably among the players involved. That's a step in the right direction. But so many of the design elements in the game reward you for avoiding other players that it's becoming clear to me that:
- the designers didn't think this through; and,
- there's not going to be any simple way of fixing it.
Mabrick -- who is struggling with his own decision whether to subscribe to ESO -- pointed over to this quite good article at PC & Tech Authority by another writer also confronting the same issue. And that writer came up with a near-perfect descriptive phrase for ESO: it's an "MMO for loners", he says. And the more I think about it, the more accurate I find this description. As I mentioned in my own piece on the matter, if you like exploration, ESO is a terrific game. And if you play it at the right times, you can avoid the bulk of other players or use them to your own benefit to punch through the baddies in the more difficult dungeons for you. But most of the time in the PvE, you'll find the most pleasure from playing the game solo.
Which kind of begs the question of why ESO is a MMO at all, except to pull down those sweet sweet monthly subscription checks. How the hell does a MMO that seems disdainful of the social element of gaming succeed? I'm really not all that interested in an MMO that seems custom-designed to be played as a subscription solo game. I can find all sorts of excellent gaming experiences that don't come with the continuing drain on my wallet.
Anyway, this is a pretty long post for a pretty short conclusion. I just find myself incredibly disappointed by the state of affairs. As all of you know I've been looking forward to this one for a long time. And while I do feel like it avoids the mistake of being another World of Warcraft clone, it makes all new mistakes that are unique to itself and that should have been avoided. There's nothing saying this decision is permanent: perhaps Zenimax will find some way to address the worst flaws of the game and draw me back in (because Heaven knows I love this IP). But for now, I'm going to look for someplace else to spend my money.