ESO Year in Review 2021

I’m here to give you my opinion on the year 2021 in The Elders Scrolls Online.  I returned to content creation and the game in early February of 2021 and I felt like it was a roller coaster year with big ups and downs.  Companions was the main feature and selling point of the Blackwood chapter, we had no real changes to PvP but some incredible new zones and story telling.  This begs the question, was 2021 a good year for ESO?  Well yes and no, let me explain.

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Flames of Ambition

2021 saw a yearlong adventure called the Gates of Oblivion, with three DLCs along with a new chapter.  The first DLC, Flames of Ambition and Update 29 were releases on March 8th of 2021 for PC, Mac, and Stadia for 1500 crowns or free with ESO plus subscription.  This DLC added 2 new group dungeons Black drake Villa and the Cauldron.  The two new dungeons were a great addition to a game that already had a plethora of dungeons.

One main reason why, the new dungeons both contain relevant end game get sets in both PvE and PvP. Giving massive replay ability beyond the initial clear and completion of achievements.  The second reason is ZOS difficult scaling, making the dungeons both accessible and super challenging.  Take for instance Black Drake Villa on normal.  It’s very easy.  Veteran mode, somewhat easy.  While the hardmodes can be challenging and another added layer of difficulty and complexity with secret bosses and you have a variety of challenges and plunder to collect. That’s essentially a four tier dungeon with scaling rewards and achievements and this where ESO  truly shines is instanced based PvE content.

Where ESO didn’t shine is massive overhauling of mechanics and Update 29 saw champion points radically change.  The TLDR here is the quote unquote removal of champion point cap, while changing the constellations to 3 rather than 9 with 4 possible slottables per constellation.  What did this really do? Not much.   Mostly people take the exact same 4 slottables per tree especially in PvE with very little variety outside of off meta builds.

Moreover, the cap removal wasn’t entirely true as you power was essentially capped at or around 1500 champion points. Beyond 1500, you receive no more passives that amplify your combat power and instead receive some convenience with changing slottables.  And this is where ESO really dropped the ball with CP.

Take the craft or green champion point constellation.  This constellation has all the sort of fun passives that do not require a slottable which  passively adds non-combat perks.  Take inspiration boost passive, “increases your crafting inspiration gained by 10% per stage.”  This can help leveling your crafting skill lines, zero impact on performance and does not require a slottable. Or the breakfall passive “Reduces your fall damage taken by 7% per stage.” The issue is this, why are all the fun nonperformance-based passives in the fitness constellation?

There should have been a lot more passive non-performance based adding into the fitness and warfare constellations to give end gamer players incentive beyond the cap in power around 1500.  ESO didn’t remove the cap, they just made it seem so and with no real end game incentive to keep progressing, this system continues to fall flat as a progression system and the rework gave more confusion than clarity.  This update also saw a massive overhaul of the armor system and you’ll start to catch a theme here in 2021, massive and I massive reworking of the core game mechanics.

All armor passives now scale per piece of Armor equipped, rather than some of them granting bonuses while wearing 5 pieces or more.  This, along with the new penalty and bonus system of Armor, should help diversify build variety and increase the viability of unique options such as 4/3 and all 7 pieces of the same Armor weight being worn.  A couple of the big ones that had major impacts on PvE and PvP were:

Light Armor

  • Prodigy: This passive now grants 0.5/1% Spell Critical per piece of Light Armor worn, rather than 5/10% when wearing 5 pieces or more.

Medium Armor

  • Agility: This passive now grants 1/2% Weapon Damage per piece of Medium Armor worn, rather than 7/15% when wearing 5 pieces or more.
  • Dexterity: Decreased the amount of Weapon Critical granted to 0.3/0.6/1% per piece of Medium Armor worn, down from 0.3/1/1.5% per piece.

While this took some getting use to, I will say it opened a lot of flexibility in builds.  For the initial DLC in the year, I really enjoyed Waking Flames DLC.  The dungeons are an absolute riot and I still love running them to this day. I constantly take my new tanks with 3 dps and no healer into the Cauldron as a check to see how my sustain feels. And now I’ve spent many hours farming Blackdrake Villa for kinra’s daggers and fire staff.

ESO Dungeon DLCs are always good as a content creator and fan of four player instanced based content rather than large scale trials.  Why? The four players are much more easier to get a group. You can dungeon que and even play normal mode solo.  Whereas trials takes more coordination planning and less winging it.

Blackwood Chapter

The Blackwood chapter was up next in the years content cycle released on PC June 8, 2021.  This was the yearly chapter that required an extra purchase beyond an ESO plus subscription:

  • Chapter Upgrade: $39.99
  • Chapter CE Upgrade: $49.99
  • Collection: Blackwood $59.99
  • Collection: Blackwood CE $79.99

In my opinion, Blackwood was controversial. The main selling point behind blackwood was champions. From my experience, a watered-down version of companions from other games like Fallout 4, Star Wars the Old Republic and even Skyrim to some extent.  I imagine companions were made to target folks who primarily enjoyed the story and needed some help in combat situations being a new player or someone who struggles with the combat. For the end game player, I found little use with them.

To level up their skills, you had repetitive quest grind from the mage’s guild, undaunted and fighters guild alongside collecting some gear sets.  Most of the time I forget they’re even in the game and we was even able to beat Veteran Dragonstar Arena with bastion as a tank, though he remained dead most of the time. I’ll probably get a lot of heat for this, but I think companions were one of the last things the game needed as a chapter release. A new class, PvP redesign, a new weapon line, a third morph, new guild, something but companions?

They were not for me and felt it watered down the overall chapter.  But on the bright side, ESO continues to release things they do well which was a new 12 player trial Rockgrove. What makes this trial spectacular is the pace and urgency you feel as you progress through.  As you approach the second boss with the big blue looking oblivion portal behind it, the scale, difficulty and intensity ramp up. This leads to the dramatic conclusion final boss with massive lava flowing from the sides, twisting path up flights of stairs.  The stakes feel high and the excitement even higher.

An amazing piece of story telling and PvE that will be cherished for years to come. Not to mention the gear and reply ability are extremely high. I have a lot of the gear sets collected but genuinely love just doing the trial because it looks so unique and feels very oblivion but with a large group of friends.

Blackwood also introduced a ton of new story content which I typically don’t do because I’m focused on collecting gear and polishing builds.  The new zone was another home run and I remember looking day one on the PTS.  What stuck out to me was the bricks on the wall and the intricate details of the structure. Even the house parked inside the wall felt cozy and protected from the demon horde just on the outside.  It’s these little details that ZOS does exceptionally well and a great area to explore.

ZOS also introduced new powerful mythic gear pieces that are still considered best in slot.

  • Gaze of Sithis – Heavy Head
  • Harpooner’s Wading Kilt – Medium Legs
  • Death Dealer’s Fete – Ring

The mythic were a massive pain to collect and instead of some fun Tamriel wide scavenging hunt, it turned into a nightmare sinking countless hours into mundane and repetitive task. Gaze of Sithis leads had you doing random RNG based daily through the Dark Brotherhood guild. I can understand and appreciate ZOS trying to revitalize old content, but the fact that it was per character which required the skill line to be level 4 with a passive made zero sense.

And who could forget the water alchemy mat farming in Shadowfen? You had literally every node camped by 1 or more players waiting 5 minutes just to loot hoping to get the lead for harpooners kilt. And still to this day, you’ll see people hanging out on nodes.  I’m all for interesting new ways to scavenger hunt to collect super powerful items in ESO. I love doing dungeons, even DSA to get death dealers I enjoy but things that promote isolate NOT group unity is counter intuitive to MMORPGs.

Blackwood also saw the gutting of battle spirit healing, removing the old school high health recovery playstyle and gave my beloved templar an absolute boost by scaling living dark off max health and spell damage, and buffing channeled focus thanks zos this was the highlight of the chapter.  And for PvP in this chapter we got…wait for nothing…nothing, shocker

For those people who constantly tell me in the comments this isn’t a PvP game, I beg to differ.  In fact, look at the games original marketing, trailers from 2013/2014 it was about obtaining the ruby throne, ESO was about Cyrodiil. I’m old enough to remember when ESO had Cyrodiil buffs that extended to PvE.  Meaning, if you wanted extra stats, critical rating, etc., your faction needs to have Emperor, scrolls and keeps.  While controversial, your faction had to give a crap about your home campaign.  Thus every evening, the PvErs would log in and zerg their campaign to get the buffs.  Cyrodiil mattered then, it doesn’t matter now at all.

If we are being honest with ourselves, let’s compare blackwood chapter to Morrowind what I consider the absolute best chapter in the game’s history.  Morrowind gave you a massive, beautiful zone, story that felt just like the OG morrowind game. Blackwood could be argued the same with oblivion style and story.  But the Chapter also gave you a new class the warden. Which may have led to my templar burial video, yeah moving on.

Regardless of what you think this was a massive addition, meanwhile Blackwood gave us companions, which I forget most of the time are still even a thing.  Blackwood did give us a top-notch trial blackwood, but Morrowind gave us Battlegrounds which has received nearly no support or attention throughout the entirety of its existence.  Yet I still absolutely love playing them every day and consider it my favorite part of the end game even though there are very little incentives.  Deltia that’s not fair you’re a PvP fanboy, okay fine let’s compare the expansion to Greymoor which was the previous years.

Greymoor chapter included the following:

  • A new zone to explore: Western Skyrim (includes Blackreach Cavern)
  • A gothic main story quest line that ties into the Dark Heart of Skyrim adventure
  • An intriguing new system: Antiquities
  • A massive new 12-player Trial: Kyne’s Aegis
  • New world events: Harrowstorms
  • New delves, public dungeons, and stand-alone quests
  • Rework of the Vampire Skill Line and Werewolf Skill Line (free for all ESO players)
  • Scrying Skills and Excavation Skills

The new system antiques is used but nearly all end game players today and has constantly new mythics to collect.  While I don’t agree with the means to collect them, they are relevant regardless if you’re a role player or sweatlord pvper.  Nothing against the developers here. Their hard work and passion they put into this game and the creation of this chapter is commendable.  But I think it was a total miss looking back 6 months later.

Waking Flames

Next up we have another DLC waking flames launched on August 23rd for PC for 1500 crowns or free with ESO plus subscription. Another absolute HOME run because of the two new dungeons The Dread Cellar and Red Petal Bastion. I’m 100% in love with ZOS new dungeon content design and theme.

It’s accessible for the average player just wanting to do normal or veteran to collect gear.  But three staged hard modes with secret bosses gives you something to come back and do a super sweaty challenge outside of trials. Then The Dread Cellar was on the PTS in its full glory (pre-nerf) this dungeon was one of the hardest encounters I’ve ever done. The final boss still gives me chills walking into the main room.

Not to mention the gear is amazing along with awesome incentives, titles, dyes, achievements, this is 4 player PvE at it’s finest.  But, there were downsides…because of course there were.  ZOS introduced three new sets obtained through PvP rewards of the worthy meant to break up ball groups.  Allegedly.

  • Sweat convergence or dark convergence
  • Plaguebreak
  • And Hroghar and chill

Each of which these item sets were extremely overtuned. When my friend John and I Dark Convergence tested on the PTS, I nearly one shot him as a 38k resistance Dragonknight. I thought no way would it make it to live, yep sure did.  Next you had the endless CC grape fruits nuking you in one shot. Combined with the release of New World you saw a mass exodus of open world PvPers flee Cyrodiil on PC NA and frankly it hasn’t recovered. I primarily PvP in Cyrodiil on PC EU now because of it. During this 3-month period, I considered to be the low point in ESO PvP history.I pretty much stuck to battleground and PvE because these sets, the lack of population and the balancing even worse than viper days.

It was nice to see the developers try to come up with set that would break up the fights and kill ball groups but like I said on the PTS, all it did was incentive ball groups to use the sets against solo or small group players and completely gutted my enjoyment of PvP for months.

The Deadlands

There was light at the end of the tunnel and that was the Deadlands DLC currently 2000 crowns and free with ESO plus subscription. This featured an overland zone and massive quality of life improvements.

If you’re a quester, you probably loved this zone and conclusion to the yearlong story.  The zone was filled with spectacular details and varying landscapes and a true show piece for the company and its world building. But to me, someone who focuses on killing on combat, I have very little interest in the zone because it provides very little reply ability beyond the initial thrill. Overland gear can be bought on traders, the world bosses that rove around aren’t that hard to solo and with no new dungeon there wasn’t a lot for me to do in this area.

The base game came with the armory system allowing you to switch between builds seamlessly and free 2 slots.  This is especially nice for console players that don’t have 25 addons that hold their hand like us pc players and I use this feature every day to swap from vampire pvp build to pve dps and I love it.  Also, a huge boon for the game was the curated item set drop giving you a much better chance at collecting the gear you want and filling out your sticker book.

ZOS has done a great job in recent years easing up on the unnecessary gear grind, while still giving you incentives to collect and obtain items.  This just makes it much easier to run stuff as a group because everyone in the group usually has an incentive to collect something in their sticker book.

And of course we had some combat changes  primarily to the Dragonknight class giving them insane resource sustain and damage.  Making DKs the kings and queens of PvP at the moment, well minus templar of course.ZOS also adjusted the overperforming items sets from the previous patch making PvP way more fun but still lacking anything new or incentives that are closely resembling PvE.  Overall this patch for me was a home run for me and brought balance back to the force.  For now…

If we look at the entire year in totality we got:

  • A massive year long story with a new zone deadlands
  • 4 new dungeons each of which were completely amazing and relevant gear to this day
  • A new trial rockgrove which could be argue is the best to date
  • Companions which I thought were a total miss but some folks like them so that’s debatable
  • And a regression in fun and enjoyment in PvP, nothing new, little incentives and new worlds impact is still felt to this day

Being 100% with you, I think ESO took a step back in 2021.  Neglecting one aspect of the game in PvP while releasing companions as the main selling point didn’t hit the mark and I felt previous years had much better content cycles. I don’t want ESO to become a crafting writs simulator and a dead PvP game. Maybe I’m in the minority on this, maybe I’m in for a big surprise, but what do you think?

That leads into 2022.  What in the world do you think ZOS will do? This isn’t a shot at the ZOS. The people there are truly passionate about the game, its direction and future and we are in good hands.  But I’m wanting more in 2022 and hoping for the best.