ESO: Don’t call it a themepark

One way to judge a recently released MMO is by how often the devs need to patch in the first few days to fix things. ESO has had one so far, so while no game to date has been perfect, ESO continues to have by far the smoothest launch out of any MMO I’ve experienced.

I think walking into ESO expecting a themepark is also going to cause more than a few people to miss a lot of the good stuff (and was the root cause of a lot of early beta feedback of ‘more of the same’ feelings). Not to say that ESO doesn’t have themepark flavors, it 100% does, but those flavors aren’t “the whole game”, much like the main plot chain in Skyrim wasn’t “the whole game”.

If you went into Skyrim and stuck to the main plot exclusively, you missed a lot of the good stuff in Skyrim. If you go into ESO and do your routine “quest hub to quest hub leveling until the end-game starts” dance, you are going to miss a lot of the good stuff.

I’m currently just lvl 13, and have only done about 60% of the first ‘zone’, despite putting in a good chunk of time with the game because there is just so much ‘stuff’ to do/see that doesn’t directly progress you in levels, which is awesome. As mentioned before, there is true explorer stuff in this game, and not all of it rewards you with great xp or great items, sometimes you find things for a bit of lore, or to view an insignificant but fun little scene play out (I found a tied up merchant on a beach, approaching him caused a few hidden brigands to jump out, beating them allowed me to untie the merchant, who thanked me and walked away. No quest mechanic, no massive reward, just a random little bit of content that took 5 minutes and made wandering on that beach feel worthwhile).

Another random bit: In almost every village or town so far, there have been multiple houses or areas that aren’t directly tied to some quest. Themepark mode tells you to skip those until the game sends you inside, but ESO never will. Sometimes those houses only contain some random stuff and a lore note/book, other times I’ve found new crafting recipes or treasure chests tucked away. Point being, turn off themepark mode and follow up whenever you go “I wonder what’s inside there”. Unlike in most MMOs, in ESO you are very likely to find something.

I went into one of the instanced dungeons last night with the guild, great time. We had two people who out-leveled the place, which made it a bit easier than intended, but not so easy that we didn’t need to work together and pre-plan the encounters. The group size of four puts a lot more weight on each member, which is fantastic, and the whole experience still felt like ESO rather than a side game or something that played completely different than the rest of the content. Looking forward to more of those.

Finally we are hoping to get into some PvP tonight as a guild. I’ve yet to hear anything negative about it, so really looking forward to seeing what a smaller coordinated force can do and accomplish. Our guild is basically open invite, so if you are looking for people to play with, feel free to reach out.

#ESO #Themepark #Sandbox

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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44 Responses to ESO: Don’t call it a themepark

  1. pkudude99 says:

    It depends on where you explore too. Last night I found some fun stuff, and think I may have even somehow gotten a random elite boss encounter, but I also explored a really big cavern and the end result of that was…. got a nice screenshot, so I’m still happy! But a chest tucked in an alcove wouldn’t have been amiss either. . . .

  2. Ravious says:

    Oh so how you can like find hidden Mickey Mouses at Disney World?!

  3. sid6.7 says:

    If you keep this up, you might have to giveup the Hardcore moniker… some of the latest posts.

    Erotica1…big meanie that should be banned
    DFUW…the play2crush era is scary
    ESO…not a themepark

    Mind you, I’m not offering an informed opinion on any of those topics. Just observing what appears to be a trend… :)

    Next up-

    World of Warcraft…why the next expansion will be AWESOME

  4. The Guilty Party says:

    I think moreso than many games, ESO’s quality is all in the eye of the beholder.

    I find whenever I start entering into a ‘ok let’s grab all the quests then run towards the quest markers’ mode, the quality of the game seems lower. When I stop myself, relax, start poking around and immerse myself, the quality of the game goes way up.

    I suspect official reviews might be a bit overly negative because of this. As a reviewer, you tend to drive hard through content to see as much as you can, but that backfires pretty badly here.

    • kalex716 says:

      I don’t know…. seems like if you have to remind yourself to stay immersed, you’re still in the “honey moon” phase of a new video game.

      Eventually, its meta will boil all that off, and then you have the actual guts and bones of the thing to be judged for what it truly is.

      I’m holding out for this,

      And by my own rationale, I estimate Syn getting to that point in about 4-6 weeks.

  5. A concerned Minmatar says:

    I understand that you consider “themepark” to be a bad word, and that you are enjoying ESO right now. Take a step back and consider what you are saying carefully though, because you seem to have moved the goalposts for themeparkhood. Your post seems to apply just as well to vanilla wow, where I’m sure most of us spent more time off the path than on it. It’s still a themepark though, because the main content consists of preprogrammed encounters and situations rather than involving player interaction.

    • Rammstein says:

      “I understand that you consider “themepark” to be a bad word,”

      Where did he say that?

      “because you seem to have moved the goalposts for themeparkhood. Your post seems to apply just as well to vanilla wow,”

      How is that moving the goalposts? Syn has called vanilla WoW a themepark a million times–and that it is the model for all the modern themeparks, although EQ was the first themepark.

      6 weeks ago:

      6 years ago:

      • A concerned Minmatar says:

        Isn’t it obvious that Syn considers themepark to be the lesser form of MMO gameplay? I’m only saying that I think he hesitates to apply that label to a game he really enjoys.

        That he has no qualms with wow being a themepark was precisely my point.

        • SynCaine says:

          Lesser form for me, yes.

          Also lesser form in terms of design difficulty; I think it’s much easier to make a decent themepark than it is to make a decent sandbox, and much harder to make a great sandbox vs a great themepark.

          I also think that the ‘perfect’ MMO looks more like a sandbox than a themepark.

          That doesn’t mean I think all themeparks are automatically terrible, and that all sandboxes are automatically good.

          A lot of the themepark-based problems I’ve had over the last ten years or so isn’t just that they are themepark, but that they are weak copies of WoW, and more recently, weak copies of the flawed (post TBC) version of WoW.

        • Rammstein says:

          I’m going to change my response to :

          “Your post seems to apply just as well to vanilla wow, ”

          No it doesn’t.

    • SynCaine says:

      I’ll also add that I think ESO has a lot more sand to it then vanilla WoW. If I compare the layout of the first ESO zone to the first WoW zone in vanilla, WoW was far more linear. Not AS linear as other themeparks today, but not as open, as random, and as “do what you want, still progress” as ESO is right now.

      Of course the comparison is a bit unfair; in 2004 what WoW was doing was great, but by 2014 standards not so much. ESO is a beast right now in terms of options, content, and systems.

    • Anonymous says:

      This all falls in line with Syn’s internal gaming code. He plays themepark games and post generally favorable post until one day he quits playing and then makes hate posts (Rift, GW2). Sandboxes are slightly different in that the favorable posts come but then he just quits playing and doesn’t comeback until an expansion on major patch (Eve, Darkfall). At this point it is rather tedious.

      • Rammstein says:

        I don’t agree that what you describe is tedious, but since you do, why do you still come here to read and post then?

      • SynCaine says:

        I was pretty clear about the changes made to Rift, first from beta, and then with 1.2.

        Find me the post where I said GW2 was great all around.

      • Xyloxan says:

        Anon, could you please elaborate what your “internal gaming code” is?

    • SynCaine says:

      “I was able to devote some significant time to playing two characters where I got a good feel for the first 5 levels of the MMO”


    • SynCaine says:

      “MMO visionaries from Rob Pardo to Curt Schilling to Brad McQuaid”


    • SynCaine says:

      “This MMO plays like a FPS than a MMO. Perhaps previous Elder Scrolls games play this way?”


    • SynCaine says:

      Ah too much fun, I’ll stop now. Didn’t know that guy was in the EG-review business. I’ll have to keep his blog in mind going forward.

      • Xyloxan says:

        Actually, before even starting his review, the guy admits “I have never really enjoyed any of the Elder Scrolls RPGs.” At least he is consistent. And, as expected, his review is biased.

    • Rammstein says:





      Am I doing it right?

  6. John says:

    I went to level 50 in Swtor and if I open the codex all planets are at most 20% complete meaning that there are lot of things I did not discovered by just doing the quests…So swtor is not a Themepark.

  7. splatus says:

    Well, ESO _is_ a thempark. All content – no matter how well hidden and surprising – is generated by the game and exists for all players to see. The key elements of a sandbox (player generated content) is missing.

    That does not mean its a bad game. In fact, ESO sounds like a amazing game. But its a theme park

    • Rammstein says:

      Your argument is, in essence: “ESO is not a sandbox, therefore, ESO is a themepark.” This is a false dichotomy, as it assumes that any MMO must be definitively a sandbox, or a themepark; this assumption includes the assumption that it is impossible that any hybrid form between the two can ever be created; as well as the assumption that it is impossible that any unforeseen additional forms will ever be created.

      • A concerned Minmatar says:

        No, that’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying that all the main content of ESO is pre-scripted rather than player generated, and hence resembles theme park rides in that you can visit and enjoy them whenever you feel like it, and they will be there waiting for you. We have come to describe MMOs with a supermajority of such content as “themeparks”.

        • Rammstein says:

          “He’s saying that all the main content of ESO is pre-scripted rather than player generated”

          This is just a different false dichotomy. It is possible to create content which is both pre-scripted and player generated. It is possible to create content which is neither.

          “and hence resembles theme park rides in that you can visit and enjoy them whenever you feel like it, and they will be there waiting for you.”

          What? Theme parks IRL aren’t open 7/24/365 unto eternity. This is not only why theme park MMOs are called theme parks, this isn’t even true.

          “We have come to describe MMOs with a supermajority of such content as “themeparks”.”

          How do you measure the supermajority-ness of “content”? Bits of data? Human man-hours put into the game design? Portion of XP gained by the average player? Total XP possible gained? What’s the measuring stick?

          I don’t agree that any MMO ever made actually is as black-and-white as splatus claims: “All content – no matter how well hidden and surprising – is generated by the game” If all content is pregenerated within the game, then this means that no content is player generated. Any meaningful player interaction is player generated content, and I don’t see how a game with no meaningful player interaction is an MMO at all. Let me ask you a question, ACM–what is the most sandboxy element of EVE online, in your opinion? (Note the inherent fluidity of this question: Am I asking you “What is the most sandboxy element of the EVE online client? Of the EVE online servers? Of the EVE online universe? Of the EVE online player experience?” Depending on which of these you’re answering, you’re likely to give me a different answer.)

          This terminology is so oxymoronic and frustrating, we talk about player generated content which isn’t contained within the game client, when ‘content’, taken literally, means exactly ‘that which is contained within’. Themepark and sandbox are metaphors which are taken very fluidly. If you designed a game which was a themepark simulator, simulating building and running an actual themepark, it would most naturally be a sandbox-y game. If you designed a game where you played as a child in a sandbox, it could be a themepark-y game, or a sandbox game.

          Let me ask you another question: What is the inherent roadblock, in your mind, to one single MMO being as good a themepark as the best themepark MMO that you believe has ever existed, while also containing within itself the best sandbox experience of any sandbox MMO you’ve ever seen?

          In my mind , the best MMO’s, both in quality and commercial success, have been those which maintained the most separate subgroups, while also keeping real connections between those groups. In WoW, serious raiders, hardcore Arena players, and casual levelers, are all playing games which are pretty much totally separate from each other. Similarly, in EVE online, nullsec sov warfare, low sec pirate roaming, and highsec ISK farming are fairly separate areas/game rulesets, with some connection between them. If MMOs can offer these ‘separate games’ to players, what inherent fact prevents one MMO from intentionally offering a ‘hardcore sandbox’ sub-area, a ‘completely themeparked out’ sub-area, and 3 more areas which each stake out an area somewhere in the middle, with carefully crafted but limited connections between them?

          If you agree that this is possible, then hasn’t that already occurred, to some extent? E.g., pretty much every MMO ever made has some sort of a mining mechanic, which involves materials spawned by the game client, competed for by players, who may be able to fight over the spawns. If every MMO ever has this mechanic, how can it be purely a sandbox or themepark element?

          Just because Toyota came out with the prius doesn’t mean that people must stop talking or mentioning about gas-powered or electric cars. But can we at least agree that hybrid cars are possible, and that we’ll call hybrid cars hybrids? Can we also stop pretending that modern gas-powered cars don’t have batteries, electric start motors and ignition, and more computers than as many clowns can fit in one have fingers?

        • A concerned Minmatar says:

          Are you aware that you are attacking a strawman of his position?

        • Rammstein says:

          When did you stop beating your wife?

    • Raelyf says:

      The difference between a sandbox and a themepark is NOT who generated the content.

      Skyrim, for example, is largely a sandbox. The Europa Universalis series is a sandbox. Mount and Blade is a sandbox. They’re all single player games.

      In League of Legends, all the content is generated by other players. Same with countless FPS games. But they’re in no way sandboxes.

  8. Galien says:

    I’ve come to dislike the themepark/sandbox thing, because it almost inevitably degenerates into a semantic nightmare.

    But yeah, ESO has heaps of self-directed gameplay. And (with the exception of picking up all the skyshards) one can pretty much live in Cyrodiil from level 10 onwards if one is a player-generated-content purist.

    • Rammstein says:

      “I’ve come to dislike the themepark/sandbox thing, because it almost inevitably degenerates into a semantic nightmare.”


      • So are you going to bypass or overlook it going forward?

        • Rammstein says:

          If I were smarter/wiser, I would.

          As you can see above, I made a fairly prolonged comment laying out a case to stop using the terms entirely, which doesn’t seem to have gained much traction.

  9. sleepysam says:

    It’s not a themepark, sort of reminds me of Ahnold – “It’s not a tumor!”

  10. GamerDroid says:

    For me, the problem has less to do with the difference between sandbox and themepark and more to do with its social dependency. I can almost stomach an MMO with linear quests if gameplay is largely dependent on others [curiously, this is how I define “sandbox”]. Majority of new MMOs are not true multiplayers but are just single player games with co-op elements bootstrapped to them. Developers need to seriously reappraise their understanding of ‘multiplayer’ and build a game from the ground up with this concept in mind.

    • kalex716 says:

      While I agree with you.

      I will refute the statement that developers need to reappraise their understanding, because that is precisely what has lead design decisions down the road towards individual empowerment.

      Maybe you are right, in that the pendulum should start swinging back, and I for one would love it if it would…

      Unfortunately, doing it any other way (the old school way), makes your project less accessible. And I doubt i need to explain why outside of the indy scene (or niche), purposefully limiting your userbase to support your design philosophy runs counter intuitive to the standard way most business want to run.

      • GamerDroid says:

        It doesn’t necessarily have to be less accessible if done correctly and tbh, the current (standard model) is anything but successful. The attrition rates in modern MMOs are frightening, especially after the first few months.

        Difficulty is the token of longevity for any successful MMO, and this difficulty must be embedded in its social design. Quests and storylines can only support immersion for a finite amount of time. Social play, by contrast, facilitates a more complex and immersive style of gaming that improves enjoyment exponentially.

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