ESO: Necromancers are healers who refuse to give up


What is it about necromancy in games? Thematically, it’s pretty dark; reanimating recently dead bodies and skeletons to fight your enemies is not the kind of thing the guys in the white hats are supposed to do. But mechanically, it’s pretty much always my favorite class in any RPG that has it. It turns out The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Not even a week after launch, and I already have three Necros. I had planned for a stam DPS and a healer, but when I got into it I really wanted to make a tank as well (even though I’ve decided that I don’t really like tanking in ESO, but maybe this time will be different?).

I’m no min/maxer, but it seems like this class is legitimately built to be viable for any of the four main build types (stamina DPS, magicka DPS, healer, and tank). Sure, it’s always been possible to build any class any of those ways, but let’s be honest, templars make better healers than dragonknights, dragonknights make better tanks than nightblades, etc. I also like that the META builds I’m seeing for tanks actually use a fairly even split of magicka, health, and stamina, rather than “just dump everything into stam, maybe a little into health if you don’t have at least X” like many of them. The hybrid build idea is what initially attracted me to the Warden tank, and, while the Warden didn’t ultimately hold my interest, I’m hoping this will be more like what I thought Warden was going to be.

I’m liking the Necro’s healing style, which is even more positional/directional than the Warden before it. For instance, one of the heals is a line between the healer and a corpse. As long as this extra complexity is rewarded, this could be a really fun healing class. If there’s a lot more complexity involved and about the same healing as a templar, who basically can’t miss with a heal unless the target is just out of range, then it’ll be hard to justify. It’s hard to know intuitively at this point, and I haven’t sought out anyone who’s doing parses or anything, so we’ll see.

The stam DPS Necro feels really good. I love the scythe slash that hits everything in a melee-ranged arc in front of you and heals you based on the number of targets you hit. Also, while I know some people find it annoying, I enjoy managing summons and DoTs, which is exactly what this playstyle is built around. It’s just about everything I wanted from this class.

As fun as the new class is, it’s also the new story that keeps me coming back. Khajiit have always made for some of the most unique and entertaining NPCs, so a whole zone filled with them, including the various less humanoid breeds we’ve never seen before, is pretty great. Dragons neither excite nor repulse me — they’ve overdone, but what fantasy creature or plot device isn’t? — but at least this game has a unique twist on them. They certainly make for interesting world bosses that amount to something more than just a pure zergfest. And it’s not just the main story that’s great; I’ve been enjoying many of the side quests just as much. For instance, I loved the Mizzik Thunderpaws sidequest line, which plays like a corny private eye novel, but with cat people.

Overall, this expansion feels a lot more whimsical than the previous ones, with less focus on backstabbing politics or apocalyptic daedric plots, which is a welcome change. It’s been a while since a game had me thinking all day about how I can’t wait to get home and play it, let alone one that’s been around for five years, but ESO’s Elsweyr expansion has done it.

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Holiday Events: Diversions or Disruptions?

Holiday events in MMOs are fun little diversions. They give us an excuse to revisit older, usually low level zones, do something light and silly, and get some cool cosmetics. A lot of games use these as a way to get people back into their game, and it often works. For instance, every May the Fourth, I log back into SWTOR to pick up that year’s recolored astromech droid. If not for that event, I probably would have gone years at a time without logging in, and, of course, once I’ve gone to all of the trouble of patching, I usually poke around in the game to see what’s new.

But lately I’ve noticed a pattern of holiday events having the opposite effect on me. They disrupt the gameplay routine by taking me out of the zone I was working on, taking up a good chunk of my playtime, and making it urgent that I do my daily holiday quests, because if I don’t, they’ll be gone before I get all of the stuff I want. I think every time I’ve wandered away from LotRO has been right after a holiday event. I know I haven’t been back to SWTOR since I binged all of the content to get that XP boosting armor from the Dark vs Light event. And I’m sure I could think of many other examples.

I’m not alone, either. Just as I was thinking about this, Ben (aka Braxwolf) over at Massively OP wrote about ESO’s recent rash of events and its “more is better” attitudes toward festivals. Go read it now, because he describes the problem in that game really well. I especially like this part:

Many MMO players pride themselves on being completionists… They can’t pass up an opportunity to log in and try to accumulate whatever is available at the moment. This mentality is partially what attracts people to MMOs in the first place, but it’s not always compatible with ‘more is better.’ The accumulation has to be reasonably obtainable, else a feeling of hopelessness and burnout can soon follow. I’ve heard some of the biggest cheerleaders within the community complain about the sheer number of events we’ve seen recently. The ‘I can’t even’ is real.

It’s hard to complain about more things to do in your favorite MMO, but time limited events, combined with rewards dangled in front of players, make us feel not only forced into a certain activity, but also rushed through it. And, even if your main MMO isn’t overloading you with events as ESO is, if you bounce around to multiple MMOs like I do, it can be somewhat anxiety-inducing to try to get around to the festivities in all of the games you play, let alone grab all the cosmetics you want, before the season is over.

Games shouldn’t be an obligation. I have a job. They pay me. I shouldn’t feel like I’m paying a game company for the privilege of working a second job in the digital world. I am by no means advocating that games get rid of holiday events, but games like ESO need to be aware of the fact that, while they may bring some players back, they create an exit point for others.

ESO: My Top 5 Pre-2019 DLCs/Chapters

With yesterday’s Wrathstone DLC kicking off the new Season of the Dragon, building hype for May’s Elsweyr chapter, I’ve been reflecting on the other DLCs and chapters (what normal people would call expansions) in The Elder Scrolls Online. I’ve been revisiting some of them on my various alts (I’m currently finishing up my stamina DPS sorcerer, and trying to decide on a healer to level next), so here are my top 5 favorite DLCs and chapters for ESO.

5: Summerset
Ah, Summerset, land of contradictions. On the one hand, it’s really beautiful. On the other hand, it’s almost too beautiful; it’s sometimes so perfect that loses its sense of realism. On the one hand, you have snooty, racist high elves (there’s a lot of racism going on in Tamriel, but the high elves take it to the next level). On the other hand, you have Razum Dar, one of the best and most memorable NPCs in the game. Quite honestly, I almost didn’t put it on this list. Its story felt like warmed-over leftovers from Morrowind: it’s about a different island of different elitist elves trying to stop (some of the same) bad guys trying to steal a different super powerful magical something-or-other. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good and had a lot of content, it just felt a little weaker than some of ESO’s other stories in my opinion.

4: Thieves Guild
This is the only DLC on this list that I haven’t actually finished. The story, while it has a cool “Robin Hood meets Indiana Jones” feel to it, is a little fragmented, and it relies heavily on stealth missions (as you would expect), which sadly don’t work that great in ESO. Yes, you can sneak around, but it’s more efficient to just sprint past all of the of guards, then jump in a basket, which makes them all forget about you (because video game logic). You’ll probably end up doing that anyway, even if you attempt to do everything by stealth, because the detection in this game is a little wonky. What I like best about this DLC is the effect it had on the rest of the world. It introduced stealing to the game, which is more fun than it seems like it should be, and is a great source of money for minimal effort.

3: Murkmire
I love argonians–they’re so weird and awesome–so the fact that we get to finally travel to their homeland alone gives it a place on this list. That said, it honestly wasn’t the most engaging plot–I’m still not sure I understand what the point of the central plot device was–but it was entertaining. And one of the main characters is The Epic Voice Guy from Honest Trailers in argonian form, so that’s a plus. It was also a surprisingly beautiful zone. I was expecting a swamp to be boring and ugly, but ZOS came up with some of the most interesting plantlife and legitimately beautiful vistas and widely varied flora and fauna for this one.

2: Morrowind
While I’m no fan of elves in any universe, ESO has some particularly dislikable ones. But at least these elves have a cool island! It has some of the most unique plant and animal life of the franchise, and plenty of dwemer ruins to explore, which was the biggest selling point for me. Yes, I’m aware that dwemer, despite being called dwarves, are technically elves, and I’ve spent half this post complaining about how annoying elves are, but that just goes to show you that the best elves are extinct elves. Other bonuses include sidequests involving becoming dark elf Batman’s sidekick, helping a mostly-naked nord that was hit with a freezing spell, and pushing an annoying elf “treasure hunter” down a well. It also introduced the warden class, which is by far my favorite for both tanking and healing.

1: Clockwork City
I absolutely love Clockwork City. I really prefer sci-fi to fantasy, but I love the (MMO)RPG genre, which, for better or for worse, is largely dominated by high fantasy settings. So any crossover of the two already has a big draw for me. The sci-fantasy/steampunk/magitech motif is everywhere, with clockwork robots and cyborgs as far as the eye can see. It’s cool seeing Elder Scrolls’ take on a completely synthetic world. Also, about half way through the main quest, there’s a detour involving the Blackfeather Court, a group of sentient crows they brought back from a particularly memorable public dungeon in Stonefalls. In retrospect, they feel a little shoehorned into the quest line, like it was originally designed as a sidequest but some lead designer saw it and said “Dude, we have to make that part of the main quest!” but it’s so goofy and fun that I don’t even mind.

So, what are your thoughts? Any DLCs you would add or remove? Is the order all wrong? Let me know in the comments!

Combat in Elder Scrolls Online: Good or Bad?

I was running some public dungeons with my guild in Elder Scrolls Online the other day, and we started talking about all the stuff we liked about the game. One guildie started gushing about the combat, about how fluid and active and engaging it is, and another responded with “Eh… it’s ok. I prefer tab targeting.” I was kind of torn about which side to take.

Personally, my all time favorite combat in any MMO was WildStar. It was an awesome mix of action and tab target where position mattered, and you were constantly ducking out of red telegraphs. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. Too bad WildStar’s developers decided that the best thing to do with their excellent combat was to push people into ultra-hardcore endgame raiding, leading to its ultimate demise. Two MMOs’ combat styles remind me a little of WildStar, and those are Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online. GW2 leans more toward the traditional, WoW-style tab target, whereas ESO leans more toward shooter-style action combat (which reflects the roots of each). GW2’s combat feels a lot better to me–I feel like I’m given better feedback when I’m doing something right, which makes me feel more like I know what I’m doing–but ESO has a lot more of the situational awareness/dodge-the-red-circles component, especially in dungeons (to a much more reasonable degree than WildStar).

Combat has, in my opinion, always been a weak point in The Elder Scrolls franchise. The main, numbered games’ combat boils down to “click to attack, click longer to attack harder.” ESO’s combat is a little more interesting, with five skill slots and an ultimate, times two swappable bars. Technically, that’s potentially more usable skills than WildStar or Guild Wars 2. So, while it feels watered down because you’re only seeing five skills at a time, if you think of it as having a ten slot bar with two different ultimate choices it’s not that different from other modern MMOs. That said, shooter/action camera has always felt unwieldy to me. I’d much rather my character only turn when I have the right mouse button down, and there are a lot of times where I’m left wondering if my fireball actually hit the things I was pointing at or if it fell just short.

I don’t hate ESO’s combat, but I don’t love it. I would rather it was a different style, but it’s not enough to overcome the things I do like about the game. It has incredible story, a great crafting system that is made even more useful by a pretty good housing system, and nice graphics. If ESO didn’t have any of that and was nothing but a bland murder hobo sim, I wouldn’t be playing it. But if the combat was absolutely painful to me, I wouldn’t stick around long enough for the things I do like.

So… I guess my position is firmly on the fence?

What are your thoughts on ESO’s combat? Do you love it, do you hate it, or do you just kind of put up with it?

ESO: To Elsweyr!

The official announcement is finally here! We’re going to Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit! And we’re getting the necromancer class! I’m excited. This will be the first expansion to come to ESO while I’m playing seriously, and its theme appeals to me a lot more than either of the other two we’ve gotten.

We’ve had a bit of a hype buildup already, starting, unfortunately, with a datamine (I tried to avoid spoilers, but they were pretty widely talked about). The Loreseekers made a good point on their podcast (S3 E9 around 26:15), that Zenimax Online did a great job of recovering gracefully from what could have been a PR disaster for them, quickly taking back the reigns of the hype train (that’s a mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). I’m struck by the contrast between them and ArenaNet, who, when their expansion info was leaked last year (basically because they weren’t releasing any info to hype the launch, so testers decided to take matters into their own hands), just stayed silent. They probably thought of it as refusing to negotiate with terrorists, but the way ZOS handled it feels so much better as a player; quickly acknowledge that there was a leak, and tell us when official information is coming. I can see why some would feel like this is giving the leaker the attention he or she wants, but the longer leakers are the only source of information the more attention they’re going to get from other players. I’m not sure if ZOS actually moved up their timetable for announcement in response to this or not, but either way, they handled the situation expertly.

Necromancer has long been number two on my list of classes I’d love to see added to ESO, just behind Dwemer Engineer (which will probably never happen), and I know it’s been widely requested across the community as well. (Other classes on that list include bard and monk, if you were wondering) Marvel Heroes’ Squirrel Girl and Rocket Raccoon taught me to love summoner classes, and now that that’s gone, there’s nothing out there really filling that void right now. It seems like MMOs tend to hate summoner classes, though (probably due to performance concerns) so we’ll see if necro summoner actually ends up viable. From what I’ve seen from the stream, it looks like they’ll have access to a number of temporary pets that do a variety of things, similar to Diablo’s necromancer, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

I’m interested to get more of the story, too. If anyone was going to get greedy and accidentally release dragons on the world, it would be Abnur Tharn. I’m hoping maybe this humbles him a little, but I’m not holding my breath. During the stream, they also really drove home the point that we’re not dragonborn, so we can’t actually kill dragons. I guess that way we have a reason to kill the same dragons repeatedly, maybe as dolmen bosses? We’ll see.

See you in the spring, and may your road lead you to warm sands.

Gaming Resolutions For 2019

It’s that time of year again where everyone is making their New Year’s Resolutions! Here are a few of mine, in the realm of gaming at least.

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I just can’t justify the cost of 4K.
Sorry, I had to get that out of the way.

Play More Lord of the Rings Online
I love LotRO. Every time I log in I wish I was playing more often. Yet sometimes it’s hard to get myself to log in. I don’t know how to explain it. And it happened again with the Legendary server; I started off strong, logging in almost every day, and then I fizzled out in December. I want to find a way to motivate myself to log in every day again, and get to 50 before Moria hits. Maybe start work on an alt?
Also, there’s always that looming anxiety that LotRO might not be there much longer. While I feel more confident about LotRO’s future now than at the beginning of the year, with legendary servers bringing back a bunch of players, lately Daybreak has been killing everything it touches. It’s still unclear what exactly the relationship is between Standing Stone Games and Daybreak, but it’s enough to make me nervous.

Spend Some Time In Elder Scrolls Online’s Housing
I love housing systems, but I feel like I always put off actually doing anything in them. Logging into WildStar (may it rest in piece) to get screenshots before the shutdown reminded me of all the grand plans I had for my various houses, and how little I actually got done. I’m starting to get decently well established in ESO, and I have some ideas for a few houses that I’d like to start working on.

Play More Group Content
I’m pretty comfortable playing MMOs solo or duo with my wife. That’s great, and I don’t have a problem with it, but I’d like to start getting into dungeons more. After all, why play a massively multiplayer game, join a guild, etc. if you’re going to play alone? Ok, there are a lot of really good reasons, but the point is, I’d like to start doing dungeons (and possibly larger group content?) more often in ESO, LotRO, and whatever other MMOs the new year brings. I really enjoyed tanking some dungeons during ESO’s Undaunted event (despite the buggy/overloaded group finder), and I’ve had the itch to do some healing again as well.

Publish A Game
I tend to start a lot of game dev projects and not finish them, and lately I’ve been thinking about why. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve been hearing this advice for years now that you should “make the kind of game you’d like to play.” The problem is that the kind of game I like to play is large in scope, deep in complexity, and rich in story. That’s why I play so many MMOs and RPGs. But my first published game (created by, at most, me and two or three friends) just isn’t going to be any of those things. Maybe one of them at best. I think I need to lower my personal expectations to making a game that I wouldn’t pay more than five dollars for. That’s not settling, that’s walking before I run. I don’t need to be Pixel or Notch or ConcernedApe or any number of other developers whose first published game was a labor of love masterpiece.

MMO Living Conditions, Ranked Worst To Best

A while back, my wife and I got into this anime called Log Horizon that involves thousands players getting trapped in an MMO world. Not in a virtual reality way, but actually physically there, having to work out how to navigate the intricacies and politics of a world where former players are apparently immortal. Since then, we’ve often joked about what it would be like to wake up one day in the various games that we play. Here are a few of the games that I play or have played over the years, ranked based on how much I would or would not want to live in them.

Tamriel (Elder Scrolls Online)
This game has finally clicked with me and I’ve been enjoying playing it a lot lately, but there’s no way I’d want to live here. There’s a three-faction war on, yes, but that’s the least of our worries in this world. Crime is rampant, everyone is racist, and daedra are constantly causing terrible things to happen all over the place. At least two thirds of quest stories end depressingly, usually involving people ending up dead. And can you imagine living in Vulkhel Guard with dark anchors dropping from the sky every five minutes about a hundred yards from the city gate? Sure, adventurers love killing the daedra there for the experience, but what happens if they don’t show up one day?

The Star Wars Galaxy (Star Wars The Old Republic)
There are a lot of cool places to live in the Star Wars ‘verse, there’s a hyperdrive-equipped spaceship in every driveway, and the prospect of having force powers is tempting. But in the time of the old republic, you’ve got about a 50/50 shot of living in the not-so-bad Republic, or on a world dominated by the Sith, or, perhaps worse, some Hutt gang. And then there’s the whole thing with the Eternal Empire coming through and wiping everyone out with their superweapons. Given the choice, I’ll pass on this one.

Gielinor (RuneScape)
Life in RuneScape is pretty simple. For the most part, catastrophically bad things tend to only happen when you go looking for trouble, and there’s no shortage of ways to earn gold for those willing to do a little menial labor. Even basic housing is pretty cheap! The only reason it doesn’t rank higher is because, quite frankly, it’s one of the least exciting MMOs I’ve ever played. It’s about as safe as real life because it feels a lot like real life, just with the occasional fireball thrown in.

Tyria (Guild Wars (2))
All things considered, life isn’t too bad in Tyria. Sure, there’s the occasional threat of elder dragon attack, but cities (other than poor Lion’s Arch) seem relatively safe, and travel is fast and easy (and cheap!). Also, anything you need help with, from your livestock getting loose to a bandit raid to a mordrem invasion, you can pretty much just yell until adventurers will wander by and help you.

Nexus (WildStar)
Aside from the fact that this world is about to cease to exist, Nexus seems like a pretty cool place to live. Sure, there’s the constant threat of random faction violence, becoming a Strain mutant, and danger from all manor of weird alien life forms. I’m not saying it’s safer than any of the other worlds on this list. But there are hoverboards. And space ships. And giant plots of land in the sky that you can get for free! What more could you ask for?

Middle-Earth (Lord of the Rings Online)
Middle-Earth has its fair share of places that would be terrible to live (forget orcs, I can think of way too many places infested by giant spiders), but for every one of those, there’s a place like the Shire, or Bree-town, or Rivendell (which, while beautiful, is infested by elves, who are almost as bad as the spiders). Pretty much everywhere is beautiful, apart from Mordor and Angmar and maybe a few other places, and most of the free peoples are pretty friendly and helpful.