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Elder Scrolls Online Crafting: First Impressions

The Elder Scrolls Online's crafting system is an elegant tool that allows for numerous customization options without being overly complex.

I'm not sure that anyone really loves crafting in MMOs. Nearly all of us do it, but watching a progress bar churn out 50 ingots, one at a time, isn't anyone's idea of a good time. And then you have to navigate down a list of approximately 218 pieces of armor to find the one you can make, and watch your progress bar again as you make bunches of that, and... bleah.

The Elder Scrolls Online's crafting adds some interesting new wrinkles while not totally reinventing the wheel.

While you might debate whether ESO should be more like Elder Scrolls or more like an MMO, I think most people would agree that crafting in MMOs is simplistic and usually quite dull.

In ESO, you'll still harvest wood from trees and combine planks to make staffs and bows, for instance, but the control you have over what you make makes the system seem more customizable and enjoyable than the majority of the systems out there. It might not make you love crafting, but it at least should make it seem less of a tedious chore.

Once more, with crafting

As usual, you can find materials out in the wild – ore, plants, hides, etc. Since you don't have a minimap, you will have to (horror!) find them yourself by using (gasp!) your eyes, though there is a passive trait in crafting skill trees that will help them stand out. You can also break down (extract) weapons and armor you find for mats, and you'll find some materials, mostly of the food and drink variety, inside containers.

There are six crafting disciplines: three that produce equipment (blacksmithing, clothing, and woodworking), two that produce consumables (alchemy and provisioning), and one that produces upgrades (enchanting). For the equipment-making disciplines, you utilize a series of sliders to pick what kind of thing you want (sword, helm, staff, etc.), how many mats it will use (which determines the item's level), and what special properties, such as racial “look” and passive abilities, it will have.

It takes a little getting used to at first, but in my opinion, it beats the heck out of endless lists of nearly identical components and end products.

You'll start off only knowing how to make your race's style of equipment and can learn more by “researching” other equipment. You can also research item keywords, such as “sturdy,” which reduces item wear or “training,” which improves XP gain, to allow you to make items with those keywords. Researching consumes an item and takes a good chunk of time – six hours for basic gear, and I'd imagine longer for more powerful items. Finally, you can upgrade items – once you have the proper experience and special upgrade item – to improve them from “normal” gear all the way up to “legendary.”

Alchemy and provisioning are a little simpler, in that you mix a few ingredients together and see what you come up with. For alchemy, you mix one reagent, such as water, with two ingredients. As in most Elder Scrolls games, each ingredient has up to four possible traits it can pass on to a potion, and they're only revealed when you successfully create a potion with them – or visit the inevitable ESO wiki.

The sixth discipline is enchanting. Similar to the weapon and armor disciplines, you can find runes out in the world or extract them from upgrades. Combine one rune of each of the three types – potency, aspect, and essence – to create your own upgrades.

Finally, while not technically “crafting,” I found something else in the beta that qualifies, I suppose, as “gear improvement”: horses! The screenshot explains everything I know, so I won't repeat it here. It seems a lot simpler than other forms of gear management, with just three stats to increase, but it'll be another nice way to customize your character's “equipment.”

Spit and polish

Like all ESO skills, your crafting skills can be leveled and upgraded by obtaining passive abilities with skill points. Increasing your level in the appropriate crafting skill allows you to gather and use rarer materials to create better stuff. There's even a passive skill that gives you a hireling who will gather materials for you on a daily basis.

As with most things that are different from the usual, there will be some resistance or outright refusal to learn a new system.

In my opinion, The Elder Scrolls Online's crafting beats the simplistic crafting of most MMOs, but, as with most things that are different from the usual – by which I primarily mean World of Warcraft and games patterned after it – there will be some resistance or outright refusal to learn a new system. As with the class system and character development in general, there seem to be lots of ways to go, but people will probably insist on the “best” way of progressing and all the options presented to a new player might seem vast and confusing. A future crafting tutorial video from ZeniMax seems like a given.

Still, like the rest of the game, if you can understand the system – or just aren't overly concerned with perfectly optimizing your build – you'll probably enjoy it. Best of all, there's no special equipment required for crafting; everything can be done at the workstations without needs for gathering tools, smithing hammers, alchemic implements, salvage kits, etc. I could go on a rant about those sorts of things, but suffice to say that, unless a game is built around crafting (EverQuest Next Landmark, Minecraft, and Rust come to mind), they're outdated relics of older MMOs, gold and time sinks that contribute absolutely nothing to gameplay.

There, mini-rant over. Now get out there and make something that even Kagrenac would be proud of!

Published Feb. 10th 2014

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