Many years ago, I played the Elder Scrolls Online on the PC and I must say I enjoyed my time there. I leveled a character to 45. I played ESO like a solo MMORPG. Everything was going well until I happened upon a gay NPC couple in a shack. I resent having identity politics ideology being shoehorned into medieval fantasy MMOs, so I quit playing.
Other than the gratuitous inclusion of occasional homosexuality and woke worldview detected in some of the story arcs, I rather enjoyed my time playing ESO. The rich graphics, the attention to detail, the bustling cities and towns (courtesy of the North American mega server), the thieves guild were great additions.
I decided to revisit ESO a month ago. I had heard about an update called One Tamriel, but I wasn’t sure what it really was. Soon I realized that although players have levels and can level up, the NPCs don’t have levels anymore. NPCs scale up to the level of the players fighting them.
Here’s the official description of One Tamriel:
ADVENTURE WITHOUT LIMITS
Welcome to One Tamriel, a world of opportunity without restriction!
An unprecedented achievement for an online RPG, One Tamriel removes Alliance restrictions and will automatically level your characters to match the difficulty of the content wherever you are in the world. Travel where you like, whenever you like, with whomever you like regardless of their Alliance or level. Accept any quest, fight any monster, and experience a world of adventure without limits!
No matter where you go, the content scales up or down to meet your level as does the loot. To me, this is a deal breaker that destroys the verisimilitude of the Elders Scrolls universe. Fantasy virtual worlds need all the help they can get to be as real and convincing as possible. Having enemies magically change their level (or you change your level) so you can battle them erodes the believability and authenticity of their game world.
Gone are the level indicators for NPCs. In a normal MMO, without knowing their level, a player has no way to gauge their strength and effectiveness. But with One Tamriel, every enemy will be perfectly tailored to you. It’s really discombobulating to say the least.
One argument for this approach, is that One Tamriel allows friends to play with each other despite the level of their characters. While this is true and perhaps convenient, it comes at a great cost of having a world that is artificially the same level.
If you want to play with your friends™ in a non-scaling MMORPG, you can do things:
- Level up to get to their level
- Have your friend create an alt to play with you at your level or vice versa
Imagine if Lord of the Rings Online used a similar scheme and allowed new players to aventure in Mordor or allowed high level players raiding in The Shire. It would make a complete mockery of Middle-earth.
Most fantasy virtual worlds start off in low level homelands. As they learn to play and rise in level/power and in skill, they outgrow their starting area and can explore the word and face new challenges. It’s a simple, time-tested equation: the player grows in skill and earns the right to unlock new areas and they encounter new monsters.
I remember playing EverQuest and hearing stories of what happened in hard dungeons and raid zones. These vivid accounts of dragons, bravery, and great treasure stimulated my imagination and whetted my appetite to level up, gear up, learn my class, become a better player, and experience those challenges for myself.
Fantasy worlds should have easy low level areas and they should have impossible high level areas and everything between. The One Tamriel system makes a mockery of this
Another argument put forth by Zenimax is that One Tamriel scaling system allows more players to see the entirety of the ESO world. While this is true, this system discourages creating organic alts that would level up in those areas.
Making alts to experience different areas of a MMORPG is a tried and true practice that many players do in MMOs from EverQuest to World of Warcraft. This way you get to experience the dwarven lands from the perspective of a dwarf or a night elf from a perspective of a night elf. Players also develop stronger bonds to their characters and dwarven culture if they see and experience other dwarves both PCs and NPCs. This makes your game stickier and players will hang around a lot longer.
Creating alts is a good thing and shows your MMO is healthy. It also means that your MMO is more replayable, sustainable, and more profitable. The One Tamriel system makes creating alts to experience unplayed content less likely.
Even the guilty pleasure of going to a low level zone and slaughtering enemies with superior power is impossible in ESO.
I do not believe in scaling systems that scale either the monsters or the players. It’s fake, phony, and artificial. I play fantasy MMORPGs because I want to be part of a living, breathing, dynamic world of adventure. When you allow players to into any zone at level one and fight any enemy, you have plunged a dagger into the verisimilitude of your world.
Leveling up and levels are a core MMORPG mechanic. Part of the reward of leveling up in fantasy virtual worlds is that the higher you level up, the more freedom you have to be able to visit zones that were previously too dangerous to visit. Exclusivity and prestige matter. When a video game studio unlocks every zone from day one, you have robbed the player of the satisfaction of one of the benefits of the leveling process by giving it all away.
When difficulty is scaled to the player, the challenge of adventuring becomes predictable and rote. There’s no sense of satisfaction from defeating a tough enemy because all enemies have are the same difficulty.
Level up and adventuring is not supposed to be easy and on rails. It is supposed to be a hard fought journey.
Zenimax wants you to experience a world of adventure without limits. But this is flawed thinking. Players need limits and boundaries. Players need to earn the right to expand their limits. It should not be given to them on a silver platter. Player levels means nothing if levels are easy to obtain and leveling doesn’t grant you anything.
In recent years, a school of game design that has emerged that seeks to pander to players at the expense of the health of the game. It manifests in dumbed down gameplay and one-size-fits-all schemes like One Tamriel. I believe this misguided philosophy is coming from out of touch executives and marketing departments who are looking for ways to increase their profits.
I really wanted to fall in love with the rich fantasy world of the Elder Scrolls again, but the One Tamriel system is a deal breaker for me and I have unsubscribed.