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This is Hamako Mori. At 89, she’s not new to video games. She has been playing them for nearly four decades.
In an interview with GameSpark, the Tokyo native says the first console she played was the Cassette Vision, which was released in 1981. After that, she was into the Famicom and played The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest. She continued gaming through the years that followed.
For the past few years, Mori has been uploading clips to YouTube. Previously, Mori had watched other Let’s Plays and decided to start uploading her own clips.
“The graphics for the recent games are truly amazing,” she said. “I think it’s truly wonderful to have lived this long.”
“As you get older, I recommend single-player games over multiplayer,” she said. “Inevitably, if you’re on the battlefield with younger players, you’ll slow them down… But, I think as the number of elderly players increases, there will be dedicated servers where that won’t be a concern.”
The gaming granny is looking forward to the next Grand Theft Auto and Elder Scrolls.
“If you play video games, you don’t get dementia,” she told GameSpark, adding that her biggest piece of advice is to start playing video games when you’re young.
“If you are into fashion or playing sports, there comes a time when you cannot continue those hobbies.” The same isn’t true for games, Mori believes. “Even as you get older, it’s wonderful to keep gaming.”
The Elder Scrolls Online has always seemed strangely reluctant to get weird. Even though Elder Scrolls games are at their best when they’re at their strangest, the opening hours of ESO’s main quests have always been surprisingly low-key. But ESO’s latest expansion, Elsweyr, takes us all to the eponymous home of the series’ beloved cat people, the Khajit, and it’s plenty weird. While it’s not an expansion that makes ESO a better game, it’s definitely one that presents a better version of itself.
Elsweyr resembles a fantasy take on what I, an ignorant American, imagine Australia to be—80 percent scenic wildlife and 100 percent trying to kill me at all times. Starting with 2017’s Morrowind expansion, ESO has established an update rhythm that works pretty well: Each year brings a big marquee new zone with a self-contained story, followed by three updates with quest and endgame content between. You can pay for all additional content individually or subscribe to ESO Plus and have everything available to you at once. It’s a pretty good system that lets you buy into as much or as little as you like, with each expansion feeling like a fully fledged game of its own.
The best thing about this approach is the way that it’s allowed developer Zenimax Online Studios to streamline the onboarding process every year. If Elsweyr is your first time in ESO, then you’ll be given a brand-new tutorial quest, just like in Morrowind or Summerset. Elsweyr swiftly teaches new players the fundamentals of combat and immediately throws them into a fight with a big-ass dragon. (If you already have a character and create a new one in Elsweyr, you’ll begin at level 3 just outside of the tutorial area in Northern Elsweyr.)
Elsweyr wastes no time getting to the stranger, more colorful aspects of Elder Scrolls games. Part of this is just due to the Khajit, who are furry shots of charisma in what can be an otherwise stodgy fantasy world. They’re easily the most fun of the series’ fantasy races, which are mostly the sort of poncy humanoids and unloved orcs that are a staple of fantasy fiction—the Argonian lizard-people are the only other exception. If you imagine a bunch of cats walking, dressing like people, and talking like Antonio Banderas, you have a good idea of what the Khajit bring to the table.
If you need more of an idea, meet Mizzik Thunderboots, a self-styled (and very stylish) private detective you’ll meet in the village of Riverhold.
Or this dude, which my girlfriend dubbed a “hookah jungle cat.”
The story in Elseweyr is as narratively tight as ESO has ever been. When you arrive in Elsweyr, you’ll find a notice calling adventurers to Riverhold, a small hamlet in Northern Elsweyr. Once you show up, you get the main quest: An usurper queen has used her power to take over the capital city of Rimmen and, you’ll eventually learn, has been subjecting the Khajit to subtly discriminatory policy. Fantasy species as a stand-in for real-world marginalized groups will never be as good a fit as RPG writers seem to think it is, but considering the limits of storytelling in online RPGs, I appreciate Elsweyr’s gesture at depth. Then you get the good stuff: undead hordes on the march. A goofy soul shriven named Caldwell who can walk through portals and seems displaced in time. A disembodied head that might also be Caldwell, but evil, somehow. Also, dragons. Chatty dragons. If you wanted to lay out the Elsweyr trifecta, it’s this: cat people, dragons, and necromancy.
There’s also fun to be had with Elsweyr’s side stories and characters, which embrace the weirdness of The Elder Scrolls early on in a way that I appreciate. Agree to help dapper detective Mizzik Thunderboots, for example, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a missing person case that only gets more and more absurd as you progress. It’s good, bizarre stuff, if you can roll with the goofy theme-park approximation of Elder Scrolls that ESO trades in.
The last part comes courtesy of both the expansions plot and the new Necromancer class, the first new class since Morrowind added the Warden. The Necromancer class brings the total number of playable classes to six. Early on, it’s fine. I’m about eight hours and nine levels into a new Necromancer character, and it feels like a few of the other classes rolled into one, with the added edge of Necromancy being a criminal act—so if you summon a skeleton in the sight of civilians, they’ll report you, and you’ll have a bounty on your head.
The Necromancer skill lines are varied enough that you can build a character around any standard party role—tank, healer, or damage—with a few undead quirks to navigate and optimize. I’m a little lukewarm on it, but that’s mostly because I’m lukewarm on combat in ESO in general. I come to these games for story, and putting together a satisfying character build isn’t really compelling until the endgame.
Elsweyr doesn’t fundamentally change ESO, but it does make it much easier to fall into. It is still an online game that takes a series defined by an intimate, solitary experience and asks you to do it again, but in public. For that, it’ll always feel uncomfortably dissonant, even as its pleasures are roughly the same: slipping away into another world that is wholly open to you, where you can explore caverns and temples or just take on a fantasy day job in a guild. Having fun in ESO is just a matter of acclimation, and Elsweyr is better at that acclimation than any previous iteration of this game. It’s still early goings for me, but I feel more invested in ESO than I have for a long time.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
I flippin’ love theme parks. I loved them as a kid, and I love them as a grown-ass man. I also love anything that reminds me of a theme park—and for me, the game that feels most like a theme park is The Elder Scrolls Online.
Unfortunately, when it first launched on consoles four years ago, ESO embodied all the worst parts of the theme park experience. First of all, it was overcrowded. Also, the vibe was altogether strange, a weird simulacrum of a series of games that looked like something people liked, but wasn’t. It all felt off.
No game that’s plugged into the internet stays the same for long, and across the last five years, ESO has become much more endearing. It’s still strange, but in a good way. It’s become a place I love to get away to a couple times a year.
By now, I’ve gotten over the incongruous feeling that comes from playing a famously solitary series with other people milling around. Hearing NPC quest-givers greet seven other people like they are Tamriel’s Last Hope and then going on to greet you the exact same way has gone from disconcerting to endearing and funny as hell. Watching a scripted scrying ritual conducted in Artaeum—the Elder Scrolls version of Asgard, as far as I can tell—in order to determine who the Big Bad might be, only to have some dark elf and their baby griffin just splash through the scrying pool, also cracks me up. I’ll walk through the beautifully landscaped fields of Summerset, and then some goofy-lookin’ knight in gold armor will appear and shout something heroic. Will he take photos with guests? Will he sign one of my skyshards?
Granted, this is the kind of pleasure you can take from being more of a dabbler than a regular player. Every six months or so, I’ll pay a brief visit and check out the latest chapter—ESO nomenclature for what other MMOs would call an “expansion”—then see the sights and spend a solid twenty minutes fumbling my way through the menus as I try to remember how to do, well, everything.
I’m not the biggest expert in what’s going on in Tamriel, but I like it that way. I like visiting a place that feels bigger than me and making my own fun in a corner for a while. I like knowing there are totally new zones to visit if I ever got the chance. Maybe this summer I’ll visit the Morrowind Park. Or maybe I’ll check out the land of Elsewyr when that opens. I hear that’s where khajit are from, like my favorite cat-bro Razum-Dar. (Razum-Dar is not only my best bro, but also everyone else’s. He’s always happy to see me, even though I’m barely around.)
Theme parks are built with the understanding that you don’t go all the time, so their design is intended to make your one single experience something interesting and novel. Stick around a little bit longer, and that magic will fade. A lot of that charm comes from the kitschy re-thinking of something I already like—regular ol’ Elder Scrolls games. The feeling of making my way through a fantasy, alone. If I stick around in ESO too long, all the accommodations made in the service of other people will become increasingly prominent. I’ll start to notice the man behind the curtain, the mundane machinery that made all the whimsy around me tick. In a theme park, that’s the moment when I’d know I should bow out here and be satisfied, happy to return again next year.
Stick around a little more, though, and the relationship can change again. You can learn to appreciate that machinery, and engage with the game for what it is: an MMO. You could also find yourself wanting to poke at the world more deeply, to find out what urban legends its denizens hold, if any ghosts haunt its delves and halls, take in the history of a place that’s always changing, even as it presents itself as one made solely for you. That way, when you share it with someone else—and that’s what loving theme parks always leads to—you can see it all as new again, and understand what it took to make it feel that way.