It wasn’t too long after purchasing Fallout 76 that my husband and I decided to give The Elder Scrolls Online a try. After all, I had a shiny, new PlayStation Plus membership to make use of, and he had been interested in playing ESO for some time but never found the motivation to invest in it. A sale and two copies of the game later, and suddenly we’re roaming around Tamriel as a Breton mage and an Orc warrior. And we’ve been having quite a bit of fun doing so. We’ve not put in much time into ESO as we have Fallout 76, but already my warrior is nearly level 20, and she’s a particularly adept fighter with a multitude of different armaments and powers at the ready. This lies in stark comparison to my friend Amelya in Fallout 76, who, as fond as I am of her, has become rather one-note.
But these meager character notes say nothing about the games themselves. Though created by the same company, they featured very different worlds, each with their own mechanics, purposes, and visions. But when we switch between games, I am unfailingly struck by how much better ESO feels as a player, and my hope is that Fallout 76 will eventually reach that same level of consistency and comfort.
So I’m going to get my soundbite citation wrong, but sometime after the release of Fallout 76 and the debacle that followed, someone from Bethesda said during an interview something to the effect of we had never made a game like it. I’ll grant that I don’t know anything about development cycles, but I recall thinking, oh, but hadn’t you? It’s called The Elder Scrolls Online. It was released in 2014 (2015 for consoles) and, from what I remember, it had just as terrible a time getting off the ground as Fallout 76. But since then, the game has expanded tremendously, what with three major expansions now available, plus a host of DLC.
Jumping into ESO in 2019, I have to admit that it felt very intimidating running around as a Level One player amid characters that had level rankings in the hundreds. But after garnering few quests and getting the feel for what I wanted for my character, things started to feel okay. Progression, even with the existence of new quests around every corner, began to feel natural, and more importantly, it was consistent. The appearance of high level players in a region didn’t immediately tip the scales of the leveling curve. The game threw out lots of challenges, but none felt so immediately deadly that they weren’t worth trying. Dungeon delves came with great rewards, worthy rewards, rewards that made you feel like you hadn’t wasted your time. Most notable was that ESO didn’t feel like an expanded Skyrim – it was so much more. Of course it was. It had several years of “being a live-service game” under its belt.
I wouldn’t say that I dread the moments when we decide to switch from ESO to Fallout 76, but I do have steel my resolve to take on the grind. As much as I’ve come to like Appalachia, Fallout 76 progression feels like molasses in winter. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Level 100 in ESO, but I feel like I could with effort. In Fallout 76, just getting to Level 25 (where I am now) felt like a darn miracle. The game doles out XP in the most miserly fashion. Granted, we’re avoiding XP-heavy daily quests or events – we just don’t play regularly enough to make them worthwhile — but we’re also avoiding them in ESO, and that game has somehow managed to hide its grind behind an overall enjoyable experience. I will continue to be a broken record about how terrible scaling remains in Fallout 76. There are other issues, for sure, but having gone through punishing sessions because of enemy scaling problems is the one thing that makes me want to say to my other half are you sure you don’t want to keep playing ESO?
Traveling through both games, seeing what other players have accomplished, I understand now why people usually tend to commit to a single MMO over a long period of time. You find a groove with a game you like, maybe invest a little extra money into it, and hopefully (usually) you’re handsomely rewarded. Perhaps my views will always live outside the lines, as I’ve no real desire to devote myself fully to either ESO or Fallout 76, but I do truly hope that Bethesda carves a more playable path for the latter as it did for the former. If the company intends to live by that new “mantra” as uttered by Mr. Howard – It’s not what a game is a launch, it’s what it becomes – then it’s definitely got some work to do.
Lede image compiled by author with screenshots from Fallout 76 and The Elder Scrolls Online (© Bethesda Softworks LLC).