Welcome to my very first post in a new Tamriel playthrough: Elder Scrolls Online! My household has decided we want to try to play ESO, and so I’ve finally incarnated a character, Gyllerah the Altmer. Her character class is Templar, and in my very first session with her, I ran the tutorial that introduces you to the game.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
- Play date: 9/30/2022
- Session number in this run: 1
- Lots of energy spent on just trying to figure out what I could run ESO on, and the answer finally settled on the Deck (lots of commentary on this below)
- Created a High Elf Templar character, with the intent of doing both melee and magic
- Named the character Gyllerah, another name that comes out of books I’ve written
- Surprisingly this was actually my fourth choice! But Melisanda, Verlaan, and Nivarre were all taken? o.O
- Ran initial tutorial plot
- Made it up to level 3 and got a boatload of armor and weapons and other useful items
- Also got friend requests from friends and invited into their Guild, and useful presents by in-game mail <3
- Paused at the point of choosing which portal to take out of the tutorial, so as to sync up with Dara and Paul, so we can all be in the same place
First and foremost: getting the damn game to actually run
Before anything else, let’s talk about the effort I had to go to to get Elder Scrolls Online running at all.
The big impetus for getting me started on ESO this week was the surprise early arrival of my brand new M1 MacBook Pro. And this is a machine with the highest tier M1 chip in it, too, the M1 Pro Max. I specifically got that one because I very much wanted to be able to game on this machine. (In addition to everything else I want to do on my primary computer, of course. Like, say, write playthrough blog posts!)
But here’s the problem with that. The M1 Pro Max chip is not an Intel chip, it’s ARM. And ESO is not built to run on ARM. In fact, Bethesda explicitly announced that they have no intention of doing the work necessary to update the ESO code base to run on ARM, either, because it’d take a lot of work for them to do that. They’re still supporting Intel Macs for now. But what worries me there is how the M series of machines being Apple’s standard moving forward will impact game support. Because if game companies don’t eventually start supporting ARM, it basically will amount to modern Macs not being able to play a lot of the big headliner PC titles.
(She said, very specifically looking meaningfully in the direction of Elder Scrolls VI, whenever it finally actually becomes a thing.)
So when I tried to install ESO on my shiny new Mac, I got as far as running the launcher and getting to the point of having a Play button. But when I hit that button, I got a brief black screen and then crashed right back to Steam.
What makes this extra crunchy frustrating, too, is that Paul was able to run ESO successfully on his M1 machine. But he’s also got an M1 Air, with the lower tier M1 chip. So apparently ESO likes the lower tier chip, but not the M1 Pro Max.
I tried reinstalling the game a couple of times, as well as using the in-launcher functionality for doing a Repair on the game files. Neither approach worked. Neither did verifying file integrity via Steam.
Okay, I said, Plan B!
Plan B involved a thing I intended to do anyway for purposes of Skyrim, setting up a Windows VM on the box. Since this is an ARM machine, that meant my only option there was Windows 11, since Microsoft decided not to support a Windows 10 ARM build anymore.
I had an older copy of Parallels, so I bought an upgrade to get myself up to the current release. That actually let me download and set up a working Windows 11 VM. Dara bought me a new license key, and that got the VM properly activated.
But ESO wouldn’t run on that, either. It didn’t outright crash the same way it did Mac-side. But when I got to the point of that Play button, I got a whole lot of nothing happening when I clicked on it.
And no dice trying to solve the problem Windows-side, either. A couple of the steps I’d done Mac-side applied here too, i.e., attempting to reinstall the game, or repair it. In Windows, I also had the options of trying to run as Administrator, as well as trying to adjust the compatibility mode for the game executables. None of that worked. (And I tried this on not only the actual game executable, but also the launcher, and even Steam’s main executable as well.)
So okay, I said, with increasing frustration, time for Plan C: attempting to install on the Steam Deck. Since heavier duty gaming was, after all, why I’d acquired that, too.
And finally, with only a couple of hoops I had to jump through, I got the game actually up and running. Some of the action necessary was similar to what I had to do to get modded Skyrim running on the Deck, namely:
- Adjusting what Proton version ESO pointed at (in this case, Proton Experimental)
- Setting a launch option string
- Making sure I had my Bluetooth keyboard connected, because when ESO loaded, there was an alarming black screen that made it look like it had crashed, but it actually hadn’t, I just had to hit Enter to proceed
Primary source of help I got on this was a member of my friend Cync’s ESO Guild Discord server, but the same steps are talked about in this guide right here. So if you’re a Steam Deck owner and you’re interested in ESO, try that link’s instructions and you should hopefully be good to go.
While I was setting up on the Deck, just to be thorough, I also tried actually filing a support ticket with Bethesda. But, unsurprisingly, that didn’t actually help much. As expected they did tell me they don’t support the game on M1 Macs, though they did have a few workarounds I may try to play with, just to see if they help. They also told me they can’t support on VMs either, so they weren’t able to advise on the Windows side of things.
So playing on the Deck it is!
And once I actually got the game started…
ESO’s character creation process, and the subsequent tutorial, felt a bit more streamlined than what you get in either Skyrim or Morrowind. The other two games throw you through some backstory to establish the action first, before finally throwing you into the mechanics of setting up your character. ESO starts with the character creation mechanics first, and then throws you through a tutorial.
That tutorial does have its own little storyline, but it appears fairly self-contained. By the very nature of its play environment, I guess ESO can’t really throw you directly into Main Quest action? I dunno!
I did like the character creation process, though. It basically did feel like a smoother and more modern-looking version of the character creation UI I know from Skyrim. (With a couple extra options that Skyrim doesn’t have–such as, your character’s voice!)
And I actually liked the triangle-shaped control for establishing things like the shape of your character’s face, their build, and such. That seemed simple and elegant, and I enjoyed playing with it.
I also liked that there were options for jewelry when making my Altmer, both headbands of various elven types, and earrings.
It was simultaneously kind of neat and a little disappointing that you were able to toggle back and forth between “no gear”, “novice gear”, and “champion gear”, just because you apparently don’t actually get to start with the novice or champion gear, it’s just showing you what you’d look like that stuff.
Once I got through the character design I had to of course choose a name. And I was surprised that it took me four tries–though I guess I shouldn’t have been? Because ESO is a huge MMO, with gobs of players.
Still though, my usual naming scheme of naming my Elder Scrolls characters after names I’ve used in my books actually failed on my first three attempts–because Melisanda, Verlaan, and Nivarre were all taken. Heh. Presumably by other elves? 😀
But my fourth choice, Gyllerah, was a winner. So Gyllerah my character became!
I chose Templar as my character class, just because the combo of melee, magic, light damage, and healing all seemed appropriately Altmer-like.
And then I finally started the actual tutorial. Overall I liked the tutorial’s little storyline, though I found it very thin on the ground in terms of context for how the hell you wind up in that place to begin with. Mostly just OHNOEZ I HAS FALLEN THROUGH PORTAL.
It was kind of hilarious, though, that the NPC I met had a character design pretty damn similar to mine. Because Norianwe was an Altmer, and at least when viewing her from the front, her hair looked really damn similar to mine. Her features maybe not so much, but at first glance, wow yeah she looked like me. LOL.
She had a much better outfit on though, and I was kind of jealous of her awesome gown.
The tutorial basically provided me an opportunity to grab a lot of simple essential gear and supplies. I wound up grabbing everything I could get my mitts on, usually out of the numerous urns scattered all over the place. But there were several weapons on tables I was able to grab, and a later assortment of armor I was able to choose from.
Norianwe walked me through practicing combat, under the in-character explanation of making sure I was combat ready after the magical trauma of falling through that portal. And while much of the combat felt familiar, again from Skyrim, at least two aspects of it were new–the Dodge and Interrupt mechanics, which Skyrim does not have. So experimenting with that was cool.
Once I got to the chamber with all the armor in it, I noticed a figure jumping around in various directions that was not my NPC companion–and that took me by surprise for a moment until I realized it was another player running the tutorial. LOL.
Overall, the tutorial’s little plot was fun but surprising in a few ways.
One: Norianwe warned me about the golems on the ground going haywire, and the golems in question all turned out to be actual elven statue shapes, which was not what I was expecting. I suppose I was expecting gargoyles? But heh, this was an elven location, so I guess it makes sense.
Two: The main antagonist of the tutorial plot was a frigging Daedra. LOL. Throwing the newbie character at a Daedra right out of the gate? Not fucking around here, are we, game? 😀
(And I was frankly surprised that I actually managed to kill it. But I guess I was scripted to do so! That Daedra should totally have handed me my ass in a non-tutorial combat situation!)
Three: The final chamber, with the big crackly pillar of light and a bunch of portals to choose from, was not quite how I expected the plot to resolve. I’m not sure what I was expecting here, maybe a simple dialogue exchange of Norianwe offering to send me back through a more stable portal to the place of my choice?
But I liked this way, too. Having the assortment of portals to choose from, as well as Norianwe’s final lines about believing the player to be on a path of solving problems for the world, was a nice way to establish the Tamriel-wide scope of the game.
Four: Paul and I both noticed that we were not able to actually drop any of the gear or supplies we found during the tutorial. Apparently this is a hundred percent intentional. Bethesda even has a support page on it, explicitly saying that players cannot drop objects.
Which I suppose makes sense? Because if people were dropping objects all over the place, this would get computationally very, very expensive very, very fast, even for worldwide MMO-grade servers.
And on a related note, I saw that I couldn’t put anything back into the various urns I took things out of, too. Which was a problem given that, since I’m me in an Elder Scrolls game, I was inclined to indeed grab everything I could get my mitts on. And my carry weight was only 60! So I hit that multiple times, coming back down from it only when I actively destroyed items I was carrying (which admittedly is nice to be able to do), or when I read various recipes I found.
Five: Paul observed this in his tutorial, though I didn’t get to it in mine: you have a bow available to grab in the tutorial, but there aren’t any arrows. Paul says he was able to just shoot as often as he wanted with just the bow. So apparently the game is just assuming you always have arrows?
Again, presumably, because it would be computationally too expensive to be keeping track of arrows for every single character on the game? Because especially if we’re all used to playing Skyrim and carrying around literally hundreds and hundreds of arrows, that could be a super gigantic load on the servers. 😀
I paused at the point of choosing a portal, and logged out to await my next play session!
Since the overall idea here is for Dara, Paul, and I to play as a group, my next ESO session will depend upon our joint household schedule. We also need to coordinate on where to catch up with Dara, since her character was created before mine and Paul’s, and has a bit more play experience.
Once we do that, Paul and I both will be able to proceed out of the tutorial space and dive into the world at large. And I can work on figuring out how the hell ESO’s main plot works if you’re playing as a group!