Following on from last week’s post, my rediscovered-addiction to The Elder Scrolls Online continues. I’ve managed to tear myself away for long enough to be able to get a few hours in with a couple of other games, but I’ve paid frequent visits to my High Elf in the land of Auridon to complete a quest or two each time.
During one such excursion, I was reminded of a post written by Luke at Hundstrasse back in September about open-world titles and the way he tackles them. This got me thinking about my own process and it suddenly dawned on me: it’s kind of like being in a relationship. A union which is passionate whirlwind full of exciting discoveries and tempestuous arguments, split into six distinct stages before its sad demise…
1: The infatuation stage
The first stage in a new relationship is filled with intense attraction and an uncontrollable urge to be with each other. Design flaws don’t exist right now and you only want to focus on the good stuff: you spend your days at work daydreaming about picking up the controller and how good that frame-rate looks on your monitor. Those initial plot missions allow you to become comfortable with a game in a gentle learning curve, and the thought of there being a huge open-world to discover is thoroughly exciting.
2: The understanding stage
At this stage you and your love-interest start getting to know each other a little better. Tackling those side-quests picked up while completing the first set of story missions fills in their background, like long late-night conversations about families, exes and hidden secrets. Both life and that screen resolution seem so beautiful and romantic – until, that is, your relationship hits its first major hurdle. You inevitably come across an optional quest which is harder to overcome than the others and it’s clear you’re being asked to upgrade your gear.
3: The power-struggle stage
This can be a painful stage for most couples as it’s when the romantic illusion falls away and is replaced by disappointment and potentially anger. You start seeing your partner’s flaws: you want to be the hero and concentrate on slaying the beasts in their open-world, while they want you to collect 152 twigs in order to improve your armour before progressing. You’ve got two choices. You can either get on your knees and collect those resources, or continuously meet your end as the game sends foe after foe rip through your defences.
4: The stability stage
Learn how to fight in a way where both you and the game win and you’ll move on to the stability stage. As you slide into the routine of working through a story mission, knocking off a few side-quests and then gathering more resources for upgrades, the thrill of being in love returns and you think you’ve finally met the game made for you. Unfortunately though, it’s easy to get stuck if you become too attached to the peace and stability; at some point you realise that growth requires change, and you need to get out of your comfort zone.
5: The restless stage
It’s been a hundred-hours since your relationship began and, somewhere along the way, restlessness starts to creep in. You feel confined by the routine and compare your relationship to those with past games; where did the romance and excitement from those early levels go? As your eye starts to wander towards those glittering shapes on the horizon, you feel the urge to throw off the responsibilities, the side-quests and resource-gathering, and instead ride off into the distance to seek your fortune. What might you discover there?
6: The reluctant stage
Unfortunately, the only thing you find is even more side-quests and it’s with some reluctance that you return to the grind. A sense of guilt invades your spare time as you realise only a few story missions stand between you and the end-credits; you know you should really finish them but that cute little indie title you bought in the last Steam sale is calling your name. Only two options remain. You either need to roll up your sleeves and get the job done… or resign yet another game to backlog.
Just as there are plenty more fish in the sea, there are plenty more video games on Steam. Will The Elder Scrolls Online and I make a lasting commitment or are we headed for relationship-counselling?