ESO: story in parallel

Elder Scrolls Online has an interesting variation on storytelling when grouped. It has a lot of voiced NPC dialogues – probably the most I’ve seen outside of SWTOR actually in a MMO. That’s generally a good thing in my opinion as I am feeling drawn into Tamriel and the faction story of the Aldmeri Dominion in particular, I’ve only played Ebonheart Pact in the past so this is all new to me.

In trying to think of a succinct phrase to describe the group play experience in ESO, the best I could come up with was “story in parallel”. It’s a midway point between two rather different models used in other games. In World of Warcraft most quest objectives when grouped are shared, very often if one person clicks something that updates an objective it does so for all players if they are nearby. That can be a boon and a royal pain depending on your group – if you have people who read at different speeds for instance then this group-progress-together model is not ideal.

By contrast in SWTOR, with the shared cut-scene delivery, story is more measured in its delivery – you are all paced by the speed of the cut-scenes and the group dialogue systems pauses and time-outs. In Elder Scrolls a lot of the story seems to be delivered through talking to NPCs before, in-between and after any action. These dialogues are individual and independent of anyone else in the group. The dialogues are voiced so that sets a pace of sorts, although you could in theory speed read ahead and cut the voices short a lot of the time if you wanted. A lot of the quest objectives likewise seem to be individual, e.g. all players need to “click X things”. It’s hard to be sure as I haven’t paid much attention to this in SWTOR but certainly this differs from the WoW norm.

ESO resembles WoW more than SWTOR in another manner, the heavy use of in-game ‘scenes’ to tell aspects of story without taking over control of your game – so rather than breaking into cut-scenes all the time, ESO will have NPCs act out important moments in front of you as you are playing. It’s certainly easier to miss this kind of story-telling, usually little epilogues or extra bits of dialogue between NPCs as you pass, but I find it a real boon to immersion to have things happening while I can freely look around and move.

Overall I’m liking the approach, even if there a lot of parallel reading/chatting and clicking of things going on. It actually forces me to be engaged with the story more, not that being forced is necessary as its engaging and well delivered, but there’s no chance to “zone out” and “/follow” another player through ESO’s content. That’s a good thing I think overall, less so for daily quests that you’ve done dozens of times, but for leveling story content the systems works well to keep everyone involved.

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