Note: This post was originally written for and published by Contains Moderate Peril in 2014. as it no longer exists on that site, and because I’ve recently started playing ESO again, I thought it would be fun to resurrect the series on my own blog. Enjoy!
This is part 2 of the series comparing my two current MMO’s, LOTRO and ESO. Part 1 of the series compares graphics and questing and can be found here. This post will focus on advancement and crafting.
Advancement – From zero to hero
Until the latest expansion, a comparison between LOTRO’s and ESO’s character advancement would have been fairly straight-forward. However, when Helm’s Deep launched this past fall, it included a complete revamp of how characters acquire skills as they progress through the game. What USED to happen is that characters would gain skills one of two ways. Firstly, they would earn the ability to buy certain skills from their “class trainer” NPC as they leveled. Secondly, they earned skills or enhancements for completing deeds (using a skill a certain number of times, resurrecting another player a certain number of times, etc.).
Since Helm’s Deep, characters are now granted skill points for various things such as leveling and completing certain quests and deeds. Those skill points are put into trees that are used to unlock skills and grant other buffs and abilities. Some skills are still granted per level, though. It’s all a little confusing but the end result is that you’re able to pick a tree to put your points into, and gradually increase your character’s abilities. Many MMO’s use this kind of system and it seems to work fairly well. The one thing that it does very poorly in comparison to the older system is allow for hybridization of builds. For example, if you’re pouring your points into the “red (typically damage)” line of your skill tree, you will never be able to also include any of the more advanced abilities from the “yellow (typically AoE or CC)” or “blue (typically healing)” lines of the tree. You simply will never have enough skill points available to be able to reach the higher tiers of the alternate lines. This was done by design, as prior to launch Turbine warned players that they would need to “make a choice” regarding what they intended their characters to specialize in.
While I’m skeptical of the need for skill trees, I do agree that skills needed an overhaul. The number of available skills was problematic from a development standpoint, as Turbine was hard-pressed to be able to design new, exciting skills that a) didn’t conflict with the abilities of other characters which would have thrown a wrench into the holy trinity grouping system or b) didn’t conflict with your character’s current skills, rendering the new skill fairly useless. The upside of the change – depending on who you ask – is that the number of skills available are more limited, resulting in simpler skill bars and rotations. It also made room for new, more useful skills to be added in the future.
ESO, on the other hand, encourages players to mix and match skills to their heart’s content. It is much closer to LOTRO’s old advancement system than to a skill tree system. In ESO, skill points are also granted for leveling and questing, but can be spent on any skills or abilities that the player has leveled enough to unlock. And boy, are there a lot of skills to choose from. There are class skills, weapon-specific skills, racial skills, guild skills (fighter/mage guilds or undaunted) world skills, armor skills/enhancements, and even crafting skills. Customization is key in ESO. They want you to feel unique in the world and be able to match your character to your favorite play-style. I love the variety that’s currently in the game, however I do feel slightly lost when trying to decide which skills to unlock. I naturally gravitate towards DPS skills, and worry that my lack of self-healing may hurt me in the long run.
ESO is tackling the “skill bloat” problem by allowing only a very limited number of skills to be used at one time. The hot bar consists of 5 slots for skills, 1 additional slot for an ultimate ability and 1 slot for consumables. That’s a grand total of seven slots per weapon. At level 15 you are granted a 2nd weapon slot and skill bar, which can be swapped in as necessary.
I’m a little wary about ESO potentially running into the same skill bloat issues that LOTRO encountered with their old system. It may not be as much of an issue with fewer hot bar slots, though. Forcing the players to choose their repertoire up-front might be enough to ensure classes and characters don’t overlap one another’s group roles. However, with only 50 levels worth of content, skill bloat may be something that ESO encounters further into the game’s life cycle.
Crafting – making digital things into different digital things
When I first started playing LOTRO, I was introduced to MMO crafting in the Bree-land village of Combe. Gathering wood and creating my own bows seemed to be a cool way to enhance my character both within the game and within my own mind. Of course, a skilled hunter and forester would be able to craft his own equipment out of the materials of the woods! However, as the levels wore on and the grind got worse, it became increasingly apparent that not only was crafting a pain, but it was nearly useless for supplying yourself with weapons/armour. This was due to the placement of the materials. Gathering materials in on-level areas would enable a player to craft some on-level gear, but the *best* (critted) gear would typically not be attainable until your character was nearly too high a level to use it. This, of course, assumes gathering materials as you quest in a given area and not going out of your way to dedicate entire evenings to gathering mats. So, crafting is mostly useful for passing along items to your lower level alts and kinmates. The other problem with LOTRO crafting is that it’s just extremely boring. The mechanic relies on the player having the correct materials in his/her inventory, and then clicking a button and watching a progress bar. By the time I was rolling alts on other servers, I was ignoring crafting completely and hoping that somebody in my kinship who enjoyed it more than I did would be generous and/or have pity on my nekkid toon.
Elder Scrolls Online has taken everything I thought I knew about crafting and thrown it out the window. For one, the crafting actions/options actually make sense. Besides the usual gathering/crafting and leveling that is present in LOTRO, the player is also able to deconstruct old or dropped weapons and armor and re-use the materials within. If an object is found that possesses a certain trait (for example, a pair of sturdy trousers, the “sturdy” being a trait that provides a chance to avoid decay upon defeat), that trait can be “researched” for a period of 12 hours, after which time the player can craft trousers that possess that trait. Another nice aspect of the craft system is the ability to craft different racial appearances into the items, which adds a cosmetic aspect to the system. Different racial appearances can be learned along the way, so if you’re not happy with the way your armor looks, you may be able to craft something more agreeable to your fashion sense.
Right now I’m able to craft items that are appropriate to my level, and I hope to be able to continue doing so. If it’s possible without an extreme amount of grind, this usefulness in and of itself is enough to vault ESO’s crafting system in front of LOTRO’s, never mind the other interesting aspects of the system mentioned above. It’s difficult to know whether the newness factor has anything to do with my interest in ESO crafting. The real test will be several months down the line, when I’m either continuing to stop to gather materials, or running past them in search of adventure.
Join me next time! We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover.