ESO – Criminal Life 2

Over on the criminal but more sinister side of the content is the Dark Brotherhood, which if you know your ESO lore, are rivals and originally a splinter faction of the Morag Tong, famed Morrowind assassins. Sorry, my nostalgia with Elder Scrolls III is showing.

I was reluctant to join up and do this content, mostly because I felt bad just murdering people. Except, murdering people (and various sentient species) is a fundamental content activity in most MMOs. So I figured let’s give it a try, and signed up on my alt. As discussed previously, I compartmentalize my criminal activity to an alt because that helps reduce “skill point pressure” on my main, with a significant benefit of allowing a bounty to decay by switching chars.

As with the Thieves Guild, joining the Dark Brotherhood is easy – venture into a Outlaws Refuge and speak to Amelie Crowe who will point you on the way. Once you arrive in Gold Coast you can start the storyline which will require you to catch the Dark Brotherhood’s attention…

I enjoyed the storyline quite a bit – as you follow the quests you alternate between helping other assassins and investigating who is behind a threat to the Dark Brotherhood.

Your basic tool for the job is the “Blade of Woe”. It isn’t an actual item, it’s a passive that unlocks early in the quest line. The Blade of Woe lets you insta-kill NPCs as long as you approach by sneaking up on them. This does not work against players and “difficult” enemies, which covers bosses and guards.

It takes a little getting used to, but if you are also in the Thieves Guild then you already get some practice sneaking around to approach a target. As you get near you’ll get a message you can use the Blade of Woe – so be quick before the target moves too far away!

The repeatable/daily content comes in two forms: Contracts, and Sacraments.

Contracts specify an NPC to assassinate and their general location, or sometimes will ask that you go on a killing spree and murder 3 citizens. You don’t need to use the Blade of Woe – however you fulfill the request is up to you. Blade of Woe works, as does aggroing and fighting.

If the contract is for a single target, they will be marked with a Dark Brotherhood black hand over their head:

If you are observed doing the deed, you’ll accumulate a bounty… so the successful assassin will recon and scout their target for a bit and wait to strike when the target is alone or partly hidden from view with a reasonable escape route available. If you are seen, well you can use all the same tips for evading guards that I mentioned in the Criminal Life 1 post.

I recorded this video of my fulfilling a contract inside the Riften Fighter’s Guild. Fortunately the victim target NPC wandered into a bedroom so I could complete the quest.

https://stadia.google.com/capture/8617a941-3e0a-437e-adaa-2b82a23bddad

A few seconds into the video, they wandered to the doorway, so I moved to the middle of the room to peer outside. There was an NPC further away, but they weren’t looking into the room. I decided to chance it and strike when the target came back in… got it without being seen!

Each contract quest provides a short blurb explaining why this NPC needs to… move along. Some of my favorites that come to mind are:

My brother went on a boating trip with others. They capsized and saved themselves, letting my brother drown. I demand justice!

I found the surviving miscreant fishing on a pier; they are now sleeping with the fishes.

I’m the steward at the royal palace. One person I hired is stealing from the castle and I need them to quietly vanish before they are caught and I am blamed for hiring them.

The royal palace has a brutal HR department!

Often there is more justification provided for these contract murders then in the average MMO kill quest (e.g. collect 10 necklaces or whatever off the goblins over the hill).

Sacraments are similar to the Thieves Guild’s Heists – you are sent to an instance with a primary and secondary objective: kill someone, kill someone else or destroy an item, keep the alert level low, and escape before time runs out (big boss shows up). In this context, getting spotted by an NPC will raise the alert level, so be sneaky and jump into the occasional hiding spot when needed. But do remember that a few NPCs can spot you.

You succeed as long as you assassinate the primary target. Getting the alert level too high or taking too long only means getting a smaller reward and reputation bump.

Sacraments will mention how you are supposed to assassinate the target – use Blade of Woe, or poison. So have some poison handy because you might need to aggro and fight the target rather then just one-shot them with the Blade of Woe.

Also available is a collection quest of sorts, the Litany of Blood, a list of 15 targets in the base game zones that need to be assassinated. Unlike contract NPCs, these ones aren’t marked with the Dark Brotherhood black hand and require some searching to find: wander around the correct area noting each NPC until you find your target. Then follow until the right time presents itself!

Pedestals inside the Dark Brother headquarters fill in as you compete this quest. I’ve currently handled 5 of the 15, so I’ve got 5 ghostly trophy statues to view:

One tip – stow your Companion, if you have one. Both Mirri and Bastion view Blade of Woe usage negatively and their rapport with you will suffer. On the other hand, if something triggers an NPC to become hostile, your Companion will happily start attacking on your behalf! (You might get a bounty in this case).

For example, I saw my friend open a safe box, which is a criminal activity. That triggered the NPC nearby to become hostile, and my friend’s Companion started shooting arrows. I thought it was hilarious!

I am enjoying the criminal activity content ESO contains, much more than I thought I would. The various game systems (sneaking, pick pocketing, assassination, justice/bounty, outlaws refuges, fences, lock picking, chests and safe boxes, thieves troves, city guards, criminal actions attached to certain skills, maybe others I’m forgetting) work well together to allow content variety and a play option that other games simply don’t have. LoTRO and WoW have pick pocket skills for the burglar and rogue classes respectively, but the thieving content in both games is quite shallow compared to ESO’s multi-faceted implementation.

ESO isn’t a dedicated stealing/sneaking/assassination game – perhaps the Hitman series is arguably better along those lines – but what is there is outstanding for an MMO, IMO.

ESO – Criminal Life 1

ESO takes after the Elder Scrolls single player games and offers thievery and assassination content – Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. I decided to make my alt my “criminal” character, so my stamina warden is also my werewolf, and joined both the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood.

Joining the Thieves Guild is easy: just talk to Quen in any Outlaws Refuge, who will appear if you have the Thieves Guild DLC. She’ll start you on the way to Abah’s Landing. Or you can port to the Hew’s Bane wayshrine, and Quen will be there waiting to talk to you.

If you have the Thieves Guild DLC you can also open up a Thieves Trove anywhere you happen to see one. The skill line will appear and you’ll get the “Finders Keepers” passive for free. This won’t start the actual storyline, for that you need to speak to Quen to start.

Outlaws Refuges feature various useful services. There are banks (moneylenders), fences (merchants that will buy your stolen loot, or launder it in case it is something you want to keep; plus they can clear your bounty if you really want), regular merchants, and perhaps quests. The Outlaw Refuge in Abah’s Landing is larger than most, because it also houses the Thieves Guild with multiple quest givers offering storyline/zone quests, daily quests, NPC quests as you level up in the Guild, and other repeatable quests (guild jobs, reacquisitions, heists). There is also a list of museum pieces to steal called Kari’s Hit List.

Where is the Outlaw Refuge in your major city? Pay attention to the map symbols – there are two entrances – usually one inside and one outside the city. This makes it easier to move in and out of the city without going through the city gate where a guard might spot you.

If you have a bounty due to previous criminal activities, and you get close enough to the guard (they have an awareness radius but some city entrances are too small to sneak by them) they will notice and try to catch you.

You’ll be offered some choices: pay a fee (don’t do that, it cuts into your profit margin and you’ll lose all stolen items you’re carrying!), clemency (a passive skill you can get at rank 4 in the Thieves Guild), or run away.

I recommend… running away. It isn’t too hard to escape. Just be ready to roll-dodge or break free from crowd control, and keep sprinting away. The guards give up after a bit. Another escape tip is to jump in water and swim away – guards don’t swim. Also, you can jump down to help break their pathing – for example run up ramps/stairs and jump off, repeating if they are still after you. I’ve done loops in Abah’s Landing, running up a flight or two, jumping down, running to another stairs and doing the same thing. They’ll give up, but try to avoid aggroing another guard.

The worst case is getting caught indoors by a guard (they are more or less unkillable). You can’t open doors when aggroed so you are stuck… unless you have the Clemency passive mentioned above. That will let you walk away with your loot intact without paying. I highly recommend spending the skill point and picking up Clemency!

If the guard kills you, your bounty is set to zero so that’s some comfort.

I’m midway through the Thieves Guild storyline, investigating why the previous guild job went wrong. So far I’ve had to spy and gather information, slink through areas where I’m a trespasser, and take on some side quests to help other NPC Thieves Guild members. Ranking up opens various daily quests: committing crimes in various cities; doing heists, which are instanced locations with a time limit, list of objectives, and enemies to stealth around; doing various guild jobs which involve stealing or pickpocketing in multiple zones.

The stealth gameplay is basic but serviceable – it isn’t as tuned as it would be in actual stealth games. It’s fun enough for me and I enjoy trying out some different activities and content than what’s usually offered in an MMO.

Pick pocketing involves crouching and then creeping up on a target. The game will show the chance of success, based on target awareness, target difficulty (simple vs named NPC), your spending on various passives, and probably some other stuff. I’ve noticed the success windows is very brief and seems to peak quite early. So if you are going to have the best chance, it will occur soon into your attempt… waiting around just lowers the chances. The target may become aware of your presence and you’ll lose your best chance.

It’s convenient for me to split my criminal activities to an alt. For one, there is less skill point pressure on my main. Werewolf, Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, Legerdemain… all need some skill points to make them more effective or gain useful passives. For another, if my bounty gets too high, I can log off and let it slowly decay while I play my main!

Good scheduling is key. Say I take each of the available dailies: a heist, a guild job (pickpocket or safebox looting), and a reacquisition – and I start with no bounty. Then I should do the guild job first, because the bounty won’t matter for the heist or the reacquisition – no city guards to deal with! Whatever bounty I gain from the guild job, I can let decay while I do the heist and the reacquisition; the reverse situation is much less desirable – gaining bounty from the heist makes even the initial guild job a bit tougher. It gets a bit more complicated weaving in Dark Brotherhood questing as well, but that’s the subject for another post. 🙂

I’ve started finishing off my play sessions with some crime. After all, after I log out for the night and do something else or go to sleep, my bounty will decay and I’ll be a law-abiding citizen ready to start the next crime spree.

Thieving is profitable as well, as along as you don’t pay when you get caught. Remember: run away! However if making money is your main goal you can probably do better crafting or gather materials and selling them. But it’s fun to pick a lock to a house, find a safebox and pick that as well, looting everything and then making your escape.

I’ve received motifs, antiquity leads, decent gear, etc… but mostly small treasures I fence for extra cash. As for hitting a jackpot – my friend managed to steal Shivering Cheese. Which sounds silly but sells for 1 million+ gold!