One question that I’ve been asked a lot since starting to play The Elder Scrolls Online is “is it the same as Skyrim?”. It’s a logical question – Skyrim was one of the greatest RPGs of the last generation, and it has a lot of fans. In fact, for many, it was probably the first and only game that they played in the Elder Scrolls series. So it’s understandable that people will want to know how similar ESO is to their favourite Elder Scrolls title. The short answer is that it’s a little similar. It isn’t the same but, at the same time, it isn’t completely different. It’s not easy to explain, but I’ll try my best.
There are a load of similarities – reminders of the recent Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim and Oblivion. Obviously, the setting feels rather familiar, particularly for people like me who have spent a lot of time playing the various games in the Elder Scrolls series. The combat also seems pretty similar – especially if you enjoy playing in first person. As my Orc character, I’ve spent a little time killing bad guys with a bow, dual wielding, and with the sword and shield. With my Khajiit character, I’m sticking to two-handed weapons. I’m not much of a magic man, so when it comes to magic based combat I couldn’t comment. But, for the mêlée based combat, and the archery, it does feel a lot like Skyrim. Though there are differences – in the animations, for example, or the fact that arrows no longer stick into your enemy (one of my greatest disappointments with the game).
The setting and the combat aren’t the only aspects of the game that would make any Elder Scrolls fan feel at home. For me, one of the biggest draws are the quests, the story and the characters. Something that Bethesda have always rocked at is creating a vibrant, living world – and Elder Scrolls Online has the most vibrant, and the most alive world of any Elder Scrolls game. Which is good, because it was developed by ZeniMax, and I was afraid that it would lack those key Elder Scrolls ingredients. That’s partly down to the fantastic writing, and the incredible voice-acting from the entire ensemble – but it’s also down to the fact that ESO is an MMO. So that means that there are a tonne of other players in the world. And when I say a tonne, I mean a fuck-tonne. There are people in every corner of the word, and you can have a real-life conversation with any one of them. I’ve had people telling me where to find good loot, good quests to complete and even where to find good stores of ore, wood, and fish. It’s the ultimate Tamriel experience, and it’s fantastic to share that experience with hundreds of other players.
But, at the same time, this is also the key difference. The fact that it’s an MMO means that the game feels intrinsically different to all of the other Elder Scrolls games. On Skyrim, I’d take out a group of skeletons, a giant or a dragon single-handed, and feel like an absolute badass. But, on Elder Scrolls Online, you’re constantly fighting alongside other players. It’s rare that you get to take out an enemy on your own – you might not be fighting together, necessarily, but you’ll often find someone else getting a few hits in on an enemy that you’re trying to down. That’s mostly down to the fact that ESO uses megaservers. But, to me, that’s not Elder Scrolls. I’m used to being the singular hero – the one Dragon Born or Hero of Cyrodiil in my world. But, in Elder Scrolls Online, you’re lost in a myriad of other players – the majority of whom are far better than you. In Skyrim, you’ll usually be the biggest fish in the pond, and if you weren’t you’d eventually reach a point where you could kill the biggest fish and save the day. But in ESO that pond is now an ocean, and you’re often just a tiny fish compared to the Great Whites that are swimming around you. Plus, these Great Whites are no longer NPCs but other players. That makes for an entirely different experience, for me at least – particularly as someone who has played hardly any MMOs. I’m not saying that it’s a bad experience, but it’s definitely different to Skyrim and Oblivion.
If you’re trying to decide if ESO is for you or not, I’d suggest thinking back to what made you fall in love with Skyrim or Oblivion – or any of the other Elder Scrolls titles that came before for that matter. If you like to lone-wolf it in the world of Tamriel, ESO probably isn’t for you. Whilst it’s very similar, it is far from the same. You’ll easily find things that you recognise, and that make you feel at home. But, at the same time, it’s quite easy to get lost in the vast world and the crowds of other players.