The Elder Scrolls Online review – the next big MMORPG?

I’ve been a pretty big fan of the Elder Scrolls game series for some time now. Oblivion was the first game that sparked my interest and, after playing that gem of a title on the 360, I started working my way backwards through the catalogue of Elder Scrolls titles that were already available. I roamed through Morrowind’s elven settings, ambled through Tamriel in Arena and explored the depths of High Rock and Hammerfell in Daggerfall. All of these were great games with fantastic settings, but, in my opinion, Bethesda really stepped it up with Skyrim. The game world felt incredibly detailed, the story was deep and made a real impact, the landscapes were almost breath-taking at times … plus it had dragons, and who doesn’t love dragons? For me, the game was so good that I found it difficult to see where they could take the series from there. I expected something slightly different from the norm, but teaming up with ZeniMax and taking the leap into the world of MMORPGs really took me by surprise.

The Elder Scrolls series always had the potential to be developed into a decent MMORPG, all of the ingredients were there. It has a deep history of titles to draw on for content, it has the right mix of magic, might and sneak to cater for all play types and, most importantly, it has a huge following. But, at the same time, there was plenty of competition. World of Warcraft was, and still is, a massive MMORPG with a gigantic following. Granted, some of those people are leaving, but it is still the world’s most popular MMORPG. That’s a tough act to follow, let alone knock off of its perch. Still, if there is a game series that has the potential to do it, it would be The Elder Scrolls. That’s why we here at IM PLAYIN were incredibly excited to hear the announcement of Elder Scrolls Online, over two years ago. I was once slightly addicted to World of Warcraft, many years back. So I know a thing or two about playing, and paying for, a decent MMORPG. From the setoff, Elder Scrolls Online had the potential to be a decent entry into the genre, just on its reputation alone. But, whether or not it had the capabilities to be the ‘best’ needed proving. I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls Online for almost a month now, and I can really see its potential to be up there with the greats, like World of Warcraft. But it will still take a lot of hard work and dedication for it to sustain its growth, especially if it wants to be a real contender with other established MMORPGs.

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Earlier in April I wrote a quick ‘what I think so far’, of ESO. When I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, it was still early days. I hadn’t played a huge amount of the game, and I was still working my way through the lowly levels, trying to improve my stats, learning the controls and commands and exploring the vast world that ZeniMax and Bethesda have opened up for us to enjoy. To be honest, little has changed since then. For a real verdict on a game like The Elder Scrolls Online, you need to take your time. It’s not something that can be rushed through and the real joy of playing these types of games often comes form shared experiences, more than just a love for the game itself. Obviously, there is a lot to love about ESO, but I don’t think we’ll really be able to measure its success for some time. Initially though, I’m really excited about the future of this title.

It’s easy to see the potential of the game, especially after playing it for a good chunk of time. The production values are incredibly high and, most importantly for me at least, it looks and feels like an Elder Scrolls title, rather than a mashing of popular MMOs, which was something that I was initially afraid of. It must have been incredibly tempting to just copy the formula of WoW, but it’s quite obvious that they’re putting their own Elder Scrolls’ey swing on the genre, which is important for the game’s longevity. In the same vein as recent Elder Scrolls titles, the game opens with the character having to escape a prison. This gives you an opportunity to learn some of the controls as well as explore various menus before being shoved into the mean and (at times) unforgiving world of Tamriel. It is also an opportunity for you to learn about your destiny or, at least, why your character is so important to the story.

On your escape, you meet a prophet / spirit guide who informs you that you, and every other online player (I assume, though perhaps I really am incredibly special, like the mysterious prophet has told me) will play a vital role in the battle against Molag Bal. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series would have heard Molag’s name mentioned here and there. I took great pride in finding his Deadric mace in Skyrim, which was a pretty decent weapon, as far as maces go. Molag is one of a number of Deadric Princes, he is also renown for creating vampirism. So kudos for that, Molag. In ESO, however, he acts as the main protagonist. Being the crafty Deadric Prince that he is, he is taking advantage of the turmoil in Tamrial and attempting to merge Nirn and Coldharbour into one Deadricy hell-hole by using machines called Dark Anchors. These events precede both Oblivion and Skyrim, but there will be plenty of familiar names to spot for fans of the series.

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Once you’ve escaped the prison and learnt about the goings on in the outside world, you’re pretty much left to your own devices. There are plenty of main quests and tonnes of side quests to keep you occupied. The quests are incredibly varied, as you would expect from an Elder Scrolls title, from saving champions trapped inside mysterious portal worlds to observing a Queen perform a ritual. But something that a few commentators have noted is that all of the other players does take away from the fun of the quests. I know right, lots of people in an MMO, what a surprise. But I guess I can see where they’re coming from. To me, an Elder Scrolls title is more of a solo experience, and, on occasion, I’m not sure if I enjoy sharing that experience with others. I think that the main problem was that I lacked friends to play the game with, so I ended up tagging along with a few strangers here and there and, in the most part, the quests just ended in disaster. I found that groups were often ill prepared for the encounters and, as I didn’t really know any of them, I didn’t feel like I could suggest better ways of tackling the tasks. This is, of course, my fault for being anti-social and not making new friends. But still, the MMO aspect of the game did take away from the concept of an Elder Scrolls title, though only very slightly.

To me, the Elder Scrolls is all about one off encounters, weapons that nobody else has in the game, and objects that are specific to something that you achieved. Obviously, this is still the case, but having other players in your game world makes you realise that you’re not that special. Other people have already defeated that boss, an they have that special weapon that you hold proudly in your hand. They probably have it stored away in their inventory, because they found a better weapon later on in the game. Looking back at my experience with Molag’s mace. When I found that in Skyrim, it made me feel like a Deadric prince, now, if I were to see five other players with the same weapon, it’d just make me feel like one of many. This was unavoidable in an MMO, because Bethesda are trying to create a shared experience. But sometimes you just want to feel special, and that feeling is hard to come by in ESO. But there are plenty of opportunities to play online with others, what with it being an MMO and all. When some of my friends start playing this game as well (which I know they will), I have an inkling that the feeling of ‘specialness’ that I’m oh so familiar with in the world of The Elder Scrolls will be replaced with a sense of comradery. Although it’s kind of an alien feeling to the series, it isn’t necessarily a bad feeling to have. And, to be honest, I’m kind of excited to share the joys of The Elder Scrolls Online with friends and foes alike. So I guess I don’t mind seeing a buddy with the same weapon as me, as long as we worked hard together to get them. And isn’t that what an MMORPG is all about?

The game’s level of detail, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions, is vast in every aspect. This includes the voice acting, something that I briefly wrote about at the end of my introductory article; well now I can tell you more. I find great pleasure in listening to the amazing cast they’ve brought to this incredible series and I find myself regularly turning and going “oh that’s so and so from Harry Potter!”. Obviously, by “so and so”, I mean Michael Gambon. Just one name in a list of incredibly talented people brought in to voice characters in this game. Waiting to hear the voice of so many famous characters in a video game slaps a huge smile on my face, once the concentration face has passed, that is. It’s also meant I’ve paid so much more attention to the dialogue in a game than I’ve done with most other titles. For an MMO to keep my attention whilst the characters are talking takes a lot to do, but I find myself listening, and thinking, time and time again.

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When I first looked at my character whilst creating, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with how it looked … the same goes for when I first entered the world. However, these feelings were quickly gone when I turned up the graphics level to maximum; for some reason mine was preemptively set quite low (maybe they knew that I’d be playing on a rubbish PC?), but it’s amazing what turning up the notch on the graphics level could do. Such a thing allowed me to enjoy the game so much more; the difference between a bad looking and good looking game is more than just visual. It taints a game to me. Turning up the setting helped me and it’ll help many others, I’m sure. Provided your PC can handle it, or you don’t mind the occasional graphics lag! This really is a game that would excel even further on top end gaming PCs, so it’s something to bare in mind if yours is a little out-dated.

There is a tonne that I’ve not yet mentioned, but I’ll save going into detail for now, for the sake of not boring you with a thousand more words. I’ll just quickly sum it up instead. The combat was good, but felt a little alien in an Elder Scrolls title. Though this was of course to be expected. The general atmosphere was amazing, and the game really felt like it had hidden depths just waiting to be explored, which I love in an MMO. It’s what makes you want to keep playing. Finally, I loved the inclusion of the factions, and the return of guilds like The Dark Brotherhood put a massive smile on my face. But these will be ellaborations for another day, and another article. As I said before, an MMO takes time to develop and I really get the feeling that ESO will be around for quite a while.

As it stands, The Elder Scrolls Online is a great game. But, as I said before, it’s still early days. With any MMO, the deciding factor is longevity. They wouldn’t have developed ESO assuming that it’ll be a one hit wonder, ZeniMax and Bethesda will have far higher hopes for this game than just a flurry of one month subscribers. For someone like myself, who doesn’t have the sort of time I once did to dedicate to an MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online is perfect. Much like the other Elder Scrolls titles, it’s one of those games that you can dip in and out of throughout the week, for an hour here and there, as well as lay down those epic day-long gaming sessions when the time’s free. You aren’t punished for avoiding quests and grinding in caves / dungeons, or opting to level up by other means. For the more dedicated gamer, however, I couldn’t tell you how long the game will last. The success of an MMORPG should be based on their ability to expand the game and keep people interested with regular new content. So, any real verdict on the game won’t be made today, or even four or five months down the line. For now, the game earns a solid 8/10, but this could change in the coming months. An MMO should be judged by its playability a year down the line, rather than its immediate appeal. But, if they manage to release content to the same standard as the initial game, we’re definitely in for a winner with The Elder Scrolls Online.

This review was based on a review copy of The Elder Scrolls Online, on the PC

  • Glad you’re still loving it! I’m pretty much the same with FFXIV at present, dabbling in everything so there’s always something new and exciting to look forward too on each of my various jobs and classes, still got a couple to try out and a load to unlock. I figure by the time I settle into my main job I’ll have a good idea how all the other ones operate in conjunction, e.g. if you’re tanking try to keep your target facing in one direction and standing still at all times so the DPS can pull off their actions that require them to be behind or flanking the target etc.

    I’m still on my free month, crunch time will be the first monthly payment but it’s a no-brainer yes for me at present because there’s so much I’ve yet to see and do (there’s an Achievement log in-game to track literally everything).

    I guess the only downside is the RMTs (real money traders) constantly being added to my blacklist for annoying spam whispers and shouts, 37 at the last count, are they present in TESO too? It’s something Square Enix has always had a problem with and it was one of the main reasons for me jacking in FFXI way back when, but it’s less of a problem here at least.

    Anyway, I’m off again, things to craft and furry things to slice and dice.

    • Alecs Pillik

      You’ll have to ask Con about that one, not sure if they’ve made it over yet!

      I’m really looking forward to it coming to console. I’ve never personally played an MMORPG, other than a dabble into KOTOR for like, three days. So I’m looking forward to my first real go! Still not a fan of subscriptions. But I loved Skyrim so much, I figure there’s no harm in a couple of months at least.

      I read somewhere that a FF might be coming to the One soon, which would be good. Never played any of the FF series, so it’d be good to give it a go!

  • Glad you’re still loving it! I’m pretty much the same with FFXIV at present, dabbling in everything so there’s always something new and exciting to look forward too on each of my various jobs and classes, still got a couple to try out and a load to unlock. I figure by the time I settle into my main job I’ll have a good idea how all the other ones operate in conjunction, e.g. if you’re tanking try to keep your target facing in one direction and standing still at all times so the DPS can pull off their actions that require them to be behind or flanking the target etc.

    I’m still on my free month, crunch time will be the first monthly payment but it’s a no-brainer yes for me at present because there’s so much I’ve yet to see and do (there’s an Achievement log in-game to track literally everything).

    I guess the only downside is the RMTs (real money traders) constantly being added to my blacklist for annoying spam whispers and shouts, 37 at the last count, are they present in TESO too? It’s something Square Enix has always had a problem with and it was one of the main reasons for me jacking in FFXI way back when, but it’s less of a problem here at least.

    Anyway, I’m off again, things to craft and furry things to slice and dice.

    • Alecs Pillik

      You’ll have to ask Con about that one, not sure if they’ve made it over yet!

      I’m really looking forward to it coming to console. I’ve never personally played an MMORPG, other than a dabble into KOTOR for like, three days. So I’m looking forward to my first real go! Still not a fan of subscriptions. But I loved Skyrim so much, I figure there’s no harm in a couple of months at least.

      I read somewhere that a FF might be coming to the One soon, which would be good. Never played any of the FF series, so it’d be good to give it a go!