Levelling and Gear Progression in ESO
One of the most trying old adages associated with the MMORPG genre is “endgame is where the real game begins”, or some variation thereof. It’s a stupid dogma that is happily negates all that the player has done while levelling. It usually goes hand in hand with the mindset that the only worthwhile pursuit at level cap is raiding, but I digress. For many MMOs, it’s a real challenge to make the levelling experience feel tangible and relevant, so players don’t get the impression that their just treading water when it comes to gear and skill points. However, some games do manage to get this right. LOTRO has several sets of armour that you can acquire at early stages in the game that are worth holding onto for at least ten levels. The Armour of Fém is a good example. It can be obtained at level 42 in Aughaire and can last the player right into Moria, ten levels later, before it needs to be replaced. STO proactively negates this problems by allowing gear to be upgraded but again I digress. My point is, much of what we acquire and use as we progress through an MMO is transient, but if the developers have done their job properly, it doesn’t seem that way.
Sadly, this is not the case in The Elder Scrolls Online. The game has many virtues and selling points, but the gear grind is clearly an irrelevance until you reach a specific point in the game. Namely level 50 with 160 champion points. Until then, finding adequate gear is very difficult and players are “encouraged” by the prevailing dogma of the game, to just slum it with items from quest drops, irrespective as to whether they’re optimum for your characters build. The alternative is to simply buy armour and jewellery from vendors and to apply glyphs to enchant it to your chosen specifications, but this is an expensive option and the gear itself is of the lowest tier of quality. Of course, there is the option of running delves to find suitable gear, but the task is made more difficult by the fact that your character will frequently be underpowered, due to the lack of quality gear they have equipped. As you can see, it’s a chicken and egg situation. The only other alternative is Dolmen farming but then this is not always the most enjoyable way to play ESO. Plus, if you do it for a few hours at a time, you’ll find you’ve out levelled half of what you’ve acquired.
In other MMOs, there are often several alternative ways of acquiring gear sets, other than depending on standard quest rewards. LOTRO has the skirmish system which provides the player with barter currency to buy specific sets. Furthermore, the sets are available to a variety of levels. The reputation system in STO also allows you to buy a variety of gear sets for your ship. And of course, most games also have an auction house system that allow for the buying and selling of all non-bound items. This is where most players look first to fill the gaps in their build or to buy something passable while levelling. Sadly, there is no server wide auction house system in ESO. Individual guilds buy and sell gear. They have store fronts littered round Tamriel. The range of items they sell is dependent upon the guild size, how prodigiously they craft or farm quests. More often than not, most guild traders only have smattering of items below level 50 with 160 champion points because that’s not where the money and market is. Due to there being multiple outlets, checking stock is time consuming. The only option left therefore is to craft gear yourself. However, like everything else in ESO, this only becomes a viable option at level cap.
Exactly how did ESO arrive at this point? Well the One Tamriel Update removed the level restriction on content, scaling everything according to the player, which obviously didn’t help the gear situation. With delves and story quests scaling to your level, there isn’t the surplus of gear generated by content fixed at a specific level. The lack of a server wide auction system is also a major contributor. Finding specific gear, even with addons to help the search process, is time consuming task that requires you to visit a multitude of outlets. Joining a guild may help and there is the chance that fellow guildmates will help you out with gear acquisition. But ESO strikes me as a game with a substantial player population with alts at level cap. Levelling is not seen as a journey in itself but more of an obstacle to be overcome. It’s a shame. This issue certainly doesn’t mitigate the positive aspects of ESO as an MMO, but it does impact upon the way you play until you approach the level cap. Now that I’ve reached level 50 and have amassed over 100 champion points, I can certainly play more effectively. I can now focus on what gear I would like; something I couldn’t do at the start of the game. Perhaps ZeniMax will address this issue in a future update.