I’ve been trying to like Elder Scrolls Online. Like a lot of things, I always end up not liking something for some reason and I can’t explain why. I’ll sit there for ages, playing a game and not knowing what makes me hate it. But with Elder Scrolls Online, I think I have finally put my finger on it. It’s because it’s an MMO.
My first introduction to an MMO was a brief stint in Runescape. This was back in 2007-08, so it may have been a pretty good game, or it might have been shit, I don’t really remember. But I spent a lot of time asking questions and not really having any of my questions answered. That and the fact that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, and even basic tasks just seemed… tedious.
The next MMO I played was zOMG!, the MMO made by Gaia Online. The game no longer exists in any form, due to “a backdoor that could give access to our main databases” which took the Gaia Online team a year to realise existed, during which most of the time zOMG! was inaccessible. I honestly still wonder if that excuse is genuine, because by the way they worded it, it sounds like they just found the admin area of zOMG! as the original developers had moved on. Either way, I did get into zOMG! quite a bit, taking part in quite a few of their events, managing to get to maximum level and upgrading all my rings. The only ring I never got was a cash-shop exclusive that cost way too much money even then and gave a pretty shitty buff. I had all rings upgraded to level 10, and by the time I got back into Gaia Online, the new level 10-12 area was pretty much dead, along with the rest of the game.
zOMG! was my only real foray into MMOs. I did the grinding, I did nearly every quest, I did a ton of stuff. But because it was tied into the rest of the Gaia Online site, I felt like there was purpose in replaying Shallow Seas, because any gold I got, I could use on Gaia and make my avatar look nice. Even when zOMG! went offline for a while (one of the reasons why I later left Gaia), that gold was still of use even to people who had never played zOMG! ever. On top of that, the only thing that mattered was my skill, my cooldowns and the level of my rings. I wasn’t reliant on getting good loot or anything like that to progress.
After zOMG!, I did try other MMOs. The one I spent longest with was Adventure Quest but that was shit. It was a flash-based browser game, but most things were locked behind real-world cash walls. The community was no better, everyone ignored you unless you were in their guild, no one wanted to help newbies, no one was willing to do the many team-based dungeons that promised better loot. Customization wasn’t bad but again, pay walls. All I wanted was a pair of wings for my character but the only way to get one by playing was to grind to level 30. A week’s worth of play only got me to level 4. Fuck that.
Low level gameplay is always tedious. It’s often boring and overly simple. Loot is almost always shit until you get half way through the game. You have no friends or guilds early on either, so you have to solo your way through the game, which is again often tricky and tedious, grinding levels until you get something that looks nice.
The problem with these big, open MMO games is that, despite the fact that you are playing with other people, you always seem alone. You are the champion of the world. You are the savior of the universe. So is everyone else around you though, and none of them want anything to do with you unless you are their friend or in their guild about to do quests. Or are buying something. You seem small and insignificant. On the flip side, if I go play TF2, I am playing with and against a server of people and my efforts to win a game mean something. Minecraft, while not technically an MMO, can feel a bit MMO-y on multiplayer servers, but as servers are run by the community, the players you meet vary from insanely nice to complete and utter cunts.
Still, at least people are willing to talk to you. Even in TF2 servers.
So yeah, it’s the community feel of MMOs that put me off actually playing MMOs, especially Elder Scrolls Online, rather than the actual games themselves.