Letters From Tamriel

An epistolary gaming blog

Witches Festival review

@Zells - sepia stone - smallThe Witches Festival ended this morning; here are my thoughts.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone reading this doesn’t know what the event was, but I’ll start with a quick recap.

To participate in the Festival, players “bought” (for free) a Crow Caller from the Crown Store, which then put a crow caller item (a whistle) into their inventory.  Using the Crow Caller summoned a witch who gave a quest to kill a boss.  The boss dropped a Plunder Skull – a container with a random assortment of loot: 1-5 “creepy” mats (spider eggs, worms, etc.); 1-3 Amber Marbles (the style mat for the Hollowjack motif); and lastly, a HJ motif page / creepy recipe / special rare mask.  The quest reward was a Momento (witch whistle) that caused a 2-hour skeleton polymorph – wearing the skelly polymorph doubled player experience pts and caused bosses to drop Plunder Skulls.

There were achievements for doing the original quest, learning all the Hollowjack motifs, and collecting 100 Plunder Skulls.  There were also limited-edition items available from the Crown Store (a “Grim Harlequin” motif, scarecrow & pumpkin polymorphs, and a zombie horse).  That’s the recap; review is after the cut. Full disclosure of bias: I am totally a TES fangirl, and I’m likely to love everything about the game.  A lot of my posts have been “they added X and it’s GREAT”.  Having said that, my overall opinion of the Witches Festival was decidedly “meh”.

YAY, HOLIDAY EVENTS! – Seriously, I love them, I’m delighted ZOS chose to add them.  10/10 on the idea.  Adds immersion, lore, and culture to the game world, gives players a change of pace, and the limited nature of the events adds a lot of excitement.

Hollowjack style – is just the coolest.  Love it so much.

Grim Harlequin style – motif from the Crown Store is also seriously awesome.

…and that’s my high points. 😦

Total lack of story – Meeting the witch and getting the polymorph took ~10 min, and there was no “plot” involved in that quest, no story.  Witch says the smell of death hangs around the character, urges more killing…  Who is this witch?  Is she a hagraven?  Does she work for one of the Daedra?  One of the Divines?  What are the consequences here?  Who cares about the outcome and why?  I said holiday events increase immersion, but honestly, this one did the opposite.  The people of Tamriel didn’t participate in the celebration whatsoever; it was not part of the culture and that was obvious.  The witch doesn’t fit into the world, and doesn’t impact it.   The whole thing is a huge aside – not a Tamriel holiday, merely a player event.

So. Much. Grinding. – There are so many fantastic, game-friendly elements of Halloween celebration that could have been included in the event, but the Festival boiled down to nothing more than hours and hours and hours of grinding.  There were benefits: I spent days hanging out at boss spawns with other people, so I made new friends 3 minutes at a time.  And I deliberately picked bosses that dropped other motifs I wanted, so I was able to collect the rest of my Assassin’s League motifs and most of Outlaw easier than I would have otherwise.  But grinding is not “festive”, period.  If I hadn’t thought of grinding for other motifs while people were ganking bosses en masse, I’d have been done with the event the first day.  As it was, I participated, but was bored 90% of the time.

Lack of loot balance – I was initially worried about having a hard time getting all the Hollowjack motifs.  hahahahahaha  I, and everyone I know in ESO, is absolutely flooded with HJ motif pages.  (Hey, ZOS, maybe motif pages could stack?  Pleeease?)  I, and again, everyone else I know, is saving multiple sets to sell in a few months, but I suspect there will be a ton of them in guild stores all year.  Similarly, the Provisioning recipes accumulated until I finally started vendoring them.  By the time I was done (4 alts got the achievement, so at least 400 skull drops) I was so, so bored with the ~25 rewards.

Grim Harlequin only available from Crown Store – I’m uncomfortable with this.  If you spend real money to get the motif, you can sell the gear for in-game gold – that’s a game advantage, and we were told the Crown Store would never provide in-game advantages, only aesthetics.  Also, the style items for GH are not available in the world – you must buy Mimic Stones from the Crown Store.  Yes, some mimic stones come with buying the motif, and the style item will drop in decons… but still.  Not cool, ZOS.  And since I just bitched about the lack of story quests, let me point out that Grim Harlequin gear or motifs could have been a great quest reward for an extensive story quest.

Broken Achievement – the Monday after the event began, that week’s patch broke the Plunder Skulls achievement counter.  Since that was literally the only goal of the event and it couldn’t be fixed until the next Monday-patch, the event was extended by a week.  Bugs in the event are not cool, bugs that kill momentum on the only trackable goal are super not cool.  And while the extra week of 2x exps was nice, I am really, really tired of being a skeleton now; a week less of that would have been fine.

Wish List
So what would I do differently?  So glad you asked…

More story.  Story, story, story, story.  Connect the event to Tamriel & her people.  Let’s do examples:

Creepy Carnival Comes to Town – Creepy Carnivals are a solid Halloween trope, and could have been a great source for the Grim Harlequin motif.  The Carnival would ultimately be revealed as a joke/trick of Sheogorath’s, of course – maybe if a character had completed the Mage’s Guild quest Valaste would be one of the Carnies.  And what if each Carney had a different quest going to a different part of Tamriel, and each character could only complete 2 quests?  Or maybe each Carny’s quest has a choice at the end with different results – each player would be logging in with multiple alts to see all the content.  And completing multiple quests with different characters could result in big quest rewards, like the GH motif or the zombie horse.

Molag Bal’s Night of Terror – Halloween is a night when “the veil is thin”.  Why not have the Mage’s Guild concerned b/c a “conflux of astrological influences” (whatevs) makes it possible for Molag Bal to up his planemeld game during the event window?  The event could have involved the dolmens, or there could have been a big vampire theme, since the vamps are MB’s creation.  Or maybe a graveyard in each zone becomes the focal point for a mass raising of undead by local Worm Cult necromancers… so many Molag-Bal-related options, let alone pulling in Namira or Vaermina.

Scary Townsfolk – Move the event celebrations into Tamriel’s cities; they are local holidays, right?  So each major town could have decorations, parties, merchants in costumes, etc.  But there’s a murderer on the loose in a pumpkin mask, or maybe someone’s poisoned the apple cider, so now townspeople are turning into ghosts and it’s up to the player to save them….

More player/player interaction – The best part about the event was interacting with other players, not the event itself, so why not run with that next time?  Say each character gets treats, a limited number, or maybe as rare drops, and you have to trade your treats with other players until you’ve accumulated a certain amount, or one of each kind.  Or if there’s a group with each of you wearing a different costume, you can trick or treat at castles.  Maybe multiple people have to add a piece of a wicker man to the pyre in order to get it to burn… give me a reason to talk to and work with other players outside of a dungeon.

ALL special items available in-game, not through Crown Store. – The Grim Harlequin motif, zombie horse mount, scarecrow & pumpkin polymorphs should have all been big-ticket quest rewards, not a cash purchase.

Final Thoughts
It was not a bad first effort.  But I am hoping they up their game for the next one.

So that’s two huge posts in two days.  It’s almost like I’m trying to distract myself from this shitstorm of an election.  November 8 ends the Witches Festival, and if I’m very, very lucky, it will also be the end of political discussions in zone chat.

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