The Elder Scrolls Online Review
publisher: ZeniMax Media
developer: Bethesda Softworks
|ESRB rating: RP
release date: Apr 04, 14
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What do you do when you have one of the most popular and profitable single player videogame franchise in history? You could content yourself with another sequel or if you really want to rake in the cash you could set your sights on the sweet plum of an online multiplayer, monthly subscription based version of the game. This could be a risky move as there are a number of hurdles you have to overcome when taking a popular single player series and trying to translate it to multiplayer, (game play and mechanic wise). Plus the market is already heavily saturated with MMOs, most of which are Free-to-Play, making the decision to charge a monthly fee an even harder sell to gamers. Unless of course you are Bethesda and the game series in question is The Elder Scrolls. Bethesda has a long track record for producing games that score big points with gamers and the press alike. However the MMO arena is littered with the corpses of past titles that promised the world in features and fun, but ultimately, failed to connect with the public so Bethesda has its work cut out for itself. However after spending time questing within the land of The Elder Scrolls Online (or ESO), we can share our impressions and determine if Bethesda has done honor to the previous string of Elder Scrolls games or if they missed the mark and produced yet another generic multiplayer title.
MMO’s are hard to review because they typically feature so much content that it’s difficult to experience every aspect of the game in the short timeframe provided. Making it even more difficult is that as the time goes on, content can change and grow, so a ‘review’ would not be honest or complete so soon after the launch of a new title. Instead we offer opinion on the gameplay and features as they are currently implemented. In the case of ESO, as with its Single Player heritage, there is a lot to do beyond the main story line; quests to complete, craft lines to level, a huge world to explore, dungeons to tame, and other players and realms to combat. All are stepped in the rich and vast Lore that has grown and evolved since Arena, the first in the Elder Scrolls series, launched 20 years ago. Couple that with the beautiful graphics, a robust and highly customizable character creator to ensure you get the look that is perfect for you and the ability to play in first or third person view by scrolling the mouse wheel and then add a stirring soundtrack into the mix and players will find much to keep busy in game. But in order for the player to get started on their journey; they have to come back from the dead.
I am the God of thunder!
I am the God thunder. Thor is on vacation.
After you create your character from 9 races (10 if you bought the collector’s edition) within 3 separate alliances and choose one of four classes, you witness a cut scene in which your character is forced onto a sacrificial alter and watch as a dagger ends your life and banishes your soul. Your first task, which also serves as a tutorial for movement, environment interaction and combat basics, is to escape this spirit prison. If you have played Skyrim will be familiar with the controls and interface features. As you make your escape you meet a fellow prisoner, a prophet, who tells you to seek him out as you return to the land of the living. Depending on which alliance you chose, you will start in different parts of the world. Each starting area has people who need help (via quests naturally), each easily identifiable with an icon over their head.
Quests vary between the familiar single steps, item retrieval/delivery sort to multi-stage chain quests that have a variety of requirements that lead you from one NPC to another fulfilling tasks for each in daisy chain fashion. Kill quests have areas marked clearly on the map where you can find your target creatures and items that you need to collect standout with yet more markers. This makes quest completion more rote than an exploratory process and was my first major irritation. It felt like there was too much hand holding. While there are some quests that players might require help on, I would prefer a hint system that the user can engage when they feel they require help. To have every single item related to quest completion blatantly flagged takes the fun out of the endeavor. To be fair this is not new to ESO, as these same quest indicators were part of Skyrim as well. It just seems much more noticeable here.
While the questing system leaves something to be desired, I did find one positive side effect from it: I was paying more attention to the story lines. Each NPC you encounter has its dialog fully spoken and the overwhelming majorities are well acted as well. While in other games following the details of the quests take a back seat to just getting the relevant details on how to complete them, in ESO I find myself paying attention to WHY I am doing these things and even most of the time, caring about it. Also as you complete the quests some have an actual impact on the surrounding world. Helping clear out a section of beach from a negative magical influence caused the local wild life to no longer regard me as hostile. Meaning I could move freely through the area without getting attacked. The way you find quests also seems to flow more naturally as you encounter people or items on your travels that offer the opportunity for adventure. Most do not come across as a place holder for your next quest but feel like an organic offshoot of the environment or setting. This, for whatever reason, just feels right.
As you complete quests you gain experience, gold and sometimes equipment. Once you have enough experience you will gain levels which award points you can invest into your three main attributes (Magicka, Stamina and Health) and a skill point you can use on, well, skills. What is a very refreshing change to the MMO class system is that your character can use (almost) any equipment you like. You want a mage that wears plate mail and wields a sword with a shield? You can do that. There are benefits and drawbacks to the equipment you use based on your race and class but the freedom to develop your character the way you see fit is there. This is the same feeling of freedom that made Skyrim so hard to stop playing for many people. Combat has been given a noticeable tweak since Beta and is much more enjoyable. While you skill bar holds only 5 skills at a time you do have the ability to block and interrupt attacks by enemies and can unlock the ability to switch weapons once you reach the appropriate level. This increases you options for attacks. Engaging in combat has been refined enough that it’s easy to get over confident and into trouble. If you do get over powered and taken out, you can self resurrect if you have a filled soul gem in your inventory or respawn at the nearest shrine. Your items will loose some durability but you won’t suffer any more other long lasting effects.
Those gamers who suffer from OCD will be thrilled/horrified to learn that there are lootable containers scattered all over the place that reveal items used in crafting and other useful items (lockpicks, fishing bait, etc). Anyone can harvest metal ore, runes for enchantments, wood, plants and other materials that can be used in crafting. To gain access to the more complex and higher potency items will require the investment of skill points so don’t get the idea that you will be a Medieval Martha Stewart. While it is easy to collect all these cast off items, storage space in your packs and in your bank will fill up quickly if you pick up everything. Currently there is no auction house in the game however many players interested in maximizing their crafting efforts have joined ‘crafting guilds’ which allow them to trade for the items they need to craft with. As you can join up to 5 guilds at a time there is no reason to not join one of these guilds to help level your crafting.
Ok so the burning question (finally): Is it fun? The short answer is yes however there is a very large ‘but’ that has to be thrown in there. Players need to realize this is NOT single player Skyrim. The leveling and skill improvements are drastically slower so don’t expect to build a dark aged Superman like you did in the other game. Also for MMO vets, this same ‘slower growth’ concept applies. The gameplay is very different from the typical frantic pace of grabbing all the quests in your current zone, skipping the bulk of the background for WHY you are doing the quests and just blazing through them all in a breakneck pace or grinding mobs to race up the level ladder. What I have found in playing is that you try to play that way you are going to be disappointed and you are missing the point of the game. The world is so vast, the quests are so well done that basking in the story lines and getting to know the lore is engrossing and rewarding. ESO is about being PART of the world and the story they have crafted.
Great graphics and music, fully voiced NPCs, large world with lots of quests, interesting skill system lets you build and play your character how you want to, different play style than other MMOs, should be closely familiar gameplay/interface for Skyrim veterans, in game help/manual system actually gives information on how to play the game;
Typical MMO launch bugs and lag (but both are getting better), different play style than other MMOs which may be off-putting for the usual MMO fan, Too much hand holding for quest completion.