Beautiful, Almost Epic, Ultimately Forgettable
Hello, and welcome to my review of ESO’s Summerset Chapter. Now Summerset was one of the worst kept secrets in the ESO fanverse: the datamine for assets, the new Psijic skill line and even the plot were all leaked months before an official reveal. Perhaps that’s why I was so tepid going into it, though the spoiled surprise isn’t wholly to blame for my reservations about the Chapter.
Summerset represents a crowning achievement in ZOS’s artistry. Watching the sun glimmer low over the foreboding horizon of a magic-belching abyssal geyser rarely loses its charm. Armor models have a level of detail and ornamentation previously unseen in Tamriel. New monsters, landmasses, environmental and particle effects have been added and they all look and sound appropriately grandiose. Well-spoken dialog continues to be one of the series’ strengths, and while they couldn’t tempt Kate Beckinsdale back to reprise her role for the queen, the talented voice cast make you forget she isn’t there. Taken on a purely aesthetic and aural level, there is almost nothing about this sweeping, technicolor landscape or its chatty denizens with which you could find fault.
Here’s where many of my complaints lie. Twenty years of online storytelling and we’ve actually managed to devolve from MUDDs—quite branching and user-driven complexities of events—to railroaded experiences that funnel the gamer from one dialog chain and collect quest to the next. ZOS does next to nothing to change this stagnancy. Indeed, there are parts of the Summerset quest line that were so rote for me, I wondered if I had done them before. Which, in a sense, I had.
Prior to playing Summerset, I took a character through the whole “Daedric Triad” saga: a series of events connected through the Morrowind, Clockwork City and then concluding in Summerset. There were no less than three instances of Deus Ex Machina, where character’s embroilments or events resolved themselves spontaneously with powers or miracles never before foreshadowed. Anything to keep that point A to point B themepark experience tootling along. Forget logic or character development. The most interesting lore and dialog in ESO comes from either books you find, or dialog trees that occur after you have triggered the requirement to rush off to the next dopamine hit whatever quest you’re on. ZOS also has a really terrible tendency to hamfistedly foreshadow on the instances where they choose to use the technique. It’s akin to introducing a moustache twirling cackling man in black holding a smoking gun and then later revealing that—gasp—he’s the murderer. I suppose part of that is due to the broad demographics of their playerbase; they want to write epic and mature dramas, though they’re hamstrung by the need to please the lowest common interest in storytelling.
And finally, if you’re going to hook the player in for an ‘epic’ quest that spans three DLCs and a year of personal investment, you should probably make sure that the last boss isn’t a Nord in a Crown Store costume. Without exaggeration or hyperbole, that is what you get. So keep your expectations in check for the finale.
Again, a bit of a mixed bag. Two handed weapons finally counting as two pieces of a set, was a refreshing but still overdue adjustment. The ‘balance pass’ they did on each class, addressed a few of the pain-points, but created many new ones. In a display of Trumpian retraction and wordfuscation, shortly after launch, the balance pass was said to be the first of many, and not the final pass—obviously, because that’s not what had been said for months on end since the last ramshackle DLC rolled out and sundered Tamriel. Summerset’s broad adjustments to PVP and Cyrodiil handily broke that part of the game, and even today after multiple hotfixes on PC (and one on console) the great battlefield remains a ghostly place littered with disconnected and disembodied players, flickering geometry and loading screens that—should one actually survive them with their patience—clear to a view of one’s corpse lying on the ground. It’s highly unrecommended to go there. You’re better off testing your sanity in the proc-set-meta dominated battlegrounds (now open to all players in Summerset). Just bring your Zaan’s, Sload’s and Shackebreaker or gtfo.
An unexpected low point of Summerset, would be the Psijic questline, which amounts to a treasure hunt around Tamriel—the entire map—to collect fragments of a magic staff and other arcanum. Once more, there’s some character development that’s entirely optional and explains the motivations behind the well-telegraphed villain of this particular tale. Ultimately, and after all that leg-work, the skill line just isn’t that interesting or effective, and when coupled with the added global cooldown on many of the skills, a lot players and builds just opt without. The same can be said of jewelry crafting. There’s nothing gamebreaking or even gamechanging that can be done with the new crafting skill—other than a few super speed builds zipping around Cyrodil like little bees. Both of these new elements are reminiscent of how ZOS constructed the Warden: decent, but not so good as to be best-in-slot or to validate the “pay to win” crowd. Decent, but mostly forgettable.
Summary and Closing Remarks
“Decent but mostly forgettable”, seems to be a theme with ESO’s overall trend in design. You see this mentality and meniality most manifest in the workings of the game itself, the creaking, stitched-together engine that’s further crippled with every update, and yet which keeps getting crammed with more and more crown store razzle-dazzle to compound its already haemorrhaging demise. Summerset was unplayable for many at launch, and Steam issues, disconnects, eternal loading screens and whole raids freezing in the game’s open world PVP were, and continue to be, commonplace over a month after launch. I’m generally forgiving about the tribulations and complexities involved in game design, though after four years of this continued debacle, players and ZOS really need to be asking the hard questions and making the tough decisions on how and what will fix their game.
Still, and after what seems all that griping—come from a place of love, I assure you—I cannot pull away from this game. And that’s not due that first time WoW-addict’s bliss. I’ve beaten that dragon and games aren’t able to hook themselves into my psyche as deeply as that one once did. I come back to ESO because despite all its flaws, it is a lovingly made product. Sure, it’s a bit of a mess, and moderately to completely unplayable at times. Sure, it’s social tools lack even the basic functionality to search a store by item name and instead list each and every item in that category by cost—so book off a good day for shopping in ESO if you’re on console. Sure, it’s developers can appear tone deaf even with their new “Class Representative” initiative. Nonetheless, ESO has fantastic combat, some truly challenging and reaction-testing encounters, pleasantly engaging if stock fantasy stories, and a helpful and kind community. Those elements outweigh the bad, for now.
We’ll see how far the next DLC tips the scale in the other direction.
Thanks for watching! As always, my opinions are my own, and all discussion and (polite) disagreements are welcome. Feel free to like, subscribe and comment below, and expect another video surprise next week! All the best.