I’ve always had a certain attraction to exploration in games. Mostly it’s a side attraction attached on to the main focus of the quest train, stopping at all stations, which I usually hop onto and then promptly forget the rest. Everything is but a mere glance through the windows while you pass by on your trip to the end game grind. Most mmo’s have a certain amount of exploration there, but the content focused on actual discovery keeps lessening or becomes warped by the achievement focus.
It’s weird then to now be in an mmo wherein exploration has become the foundation as it’s mostly a focus of play that died out long ago. ESO still has that path to the top but it’s no longer a guided train, plowing forward along tracks it can never leave but more a path through some ancient abandoned forest. The end point is still the same but at least here I can pick and choose my direction, explore my surroundings and be excited at my own discoveries.
This matters, so much so that I think this is what the genre has so badly been needing. There are definitely elements her in ESO that need improving, elements to omit, encourage or add but that foundation, the lure of being the adventurer is alive once more. I was trying to think about the elements that encourage this shift and how they make the feeling of exploration so strong and came up with a few points.
First I think it’s the quest structure itself. It isn’t as defined in that normal themepark way of going from point to point, picking up a load of quests at the next quest hub then going out to complete them all as they take you too the next quest hub. Here it does have that sense of guidance in trying to push you towards more of the map points, the other quests and dungeons but it certainly isn’t exact. After finishing one you might see the next marker off in the distance, or have passed one on the way. There might have been a public dungeon nearby or a few other points. It’s also not a guide you’re forced to follow and, while the zones do have level ranges within them you can still go, explore and complete whatever you might find.
Levelling isn’t just some achiever check-list, i guess there is still a check-list but it’s one you seem to make up as you go with what you personally find interesting. The same quests are still there but the way in which you approach and complete them is remarkable open.. and that’s rather freeing.
One thing that I think aids in the lure of exploration is that the power differences aren’t that big between levels and gear. It definitely improves you but not in the way that completely invalidates content. Going a few levels down and you’re still going to have to be careful pulling enemies. You still have that challenge level with certain key quests as well. While exploring it’s even ok to take on enemies above you, and quite dramatically as long as you play it safe. I’ve come across a level 23 paart when i was only 18 and was still able to complete a mission and make my way around quite comfortably, with a group it’s even more open.
The map design seems to help in a lot of zones as they aren’t just one funnel along the level range. The levels do tend to have a gradual movement to a higher point in one direction but the zones are rather open to accommodate exploration. There are many paths around the zones, in between valleys and along beaches and some parts are just large open areas to cross. To its benefit they’ve also been rather restrained in their addition of enemies to the map. There are certain areas where they are more dense but the pathways themselves and the zone in general is rather light so your not having to go around or back track. To be annoyed as you gather or search for interesting things. You’re not punished for just wanting to look around somewhere your too low for yet.
There is a great variety of things to do and find out there as well. Quests seem to be the main component but they are an interesting addition as some of the stories are quite interesting and flesh out the world, environment and experience. Many offer a lot of in depth lore discussions if you want to understand more as well.
There are the public dungeon spaces that are really quite easy but interesting to complete. Usually one mission and a straight flow through as well as one harder mob near the end. Then there are the many other smaller but equally engaging points that reward exploration like chests, skyshards, rifts…. anchors, gathering nodes, zone bosses, lorebooks and a few other things. Just finding these interesting points would be incentive enough but they are rewarding as well.
Everything is very well tied into character development and to compliment parts you might have been missing. You gain more skills, more gearing options and a couple of the points are tied into advancing a particular skill line (mage = lorebooks, fighter = rifts, undaunted = dungeons). This is the kind of horizontal progression system as I really enjoy as it allows further charcater growth yet doesn’t detract from playing how you want.
While a lot of people seem to dislike the minimal ui approach I think it really tends to help in that feeling of immersion and exploration. You don’t have a number of brightly coloured bars all over your screen, or flashy effects and numbers sprayed across the screen. It takes you out of that optimisation and numbers obsession that so often takes over until your worried more about the ui then the world around.
The fact the ui, the compass and map are designed to obscure your surroundings adds that level of mystery to the world that makes you want to unveil what’s there. And then it’s also how a lot of the interactables give no real overt indication that they are nearby. They are part of the world and it’s up to you to explore and be aware in order to find them.
All of this adds up to an experience that focuses on the world and exploration of it, to uncover the mysteries and grow as a character. Personally I think the one design principle that binds all these parts together is that the developers haven’t been afraid this time for players to miss content. To not find it or not play it and that their development time will go to waste. Developers have been trying to optimise this content delivery enough that they killed a lot of the joy these world’s used to have and it’s great that we now seem to be getting some of that back.
#ESO #Exploration #World