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.

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.

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