The Elder Scrolls Online attempts to bring the fantastic setting of Tamriel to a genre of gaming with an abnormally high mortality rate. Being the first Elder Scrolls game to not be developed by Bethesda Softworks, It seems that a lot of faith has been thrust upon the shoulders of a relatively young, unproven developer. Personally I am of the opinion that for the most part, The Elder Scrolls Online is a great, fairly balanced MMO and has perhaps proven the new studio’s usefulness.
The Elder Scrolls is a vast and expansive universe, filled with an amount of lore only matched by the number of sheer fans of the series. Adapting this universe to an MMO is an incredibly daunting task, perhaps this is why The Elder Scrolls Online is set a millennium before the last game in the series, Skyrim. Setting the game at a time so disconnected from the previous games has given ZeniMax some great freedom to create new lore and a brand new story.
The main storyline of The Elder Scrolls Online plays a lot like the games that have come before it and in this respect is does feel very much like a proper Elder Scrolls game. A Daedric Prince by the name of Molag Bal is the main villain of the game, now I don’t want to spoil the storyline to anyone but as with true Elder Scrolls fashion bad things are going to happen, and you are the only one who can prevent Molag Bal from melding two realms together. In addition to the main storyline quests there are plenty of side quests to tide you over, in fact they are almost everywhere. This is great because you can essentially pick and choose what you want to do and what kind of adventurer you want to be.
Creating your character is as easy as making a sandwich, you have a multitude of races from the land of Tamriel to choose from, barring of course an Imperial which are reserved for those that have purchased the more expensive Imperial Edition. There is a good deal of customisation available and it did not take me long to create my unique character. Depending on which race you choose you will be put into one of three factions, The Alderi Dominion, The Daggerfall Covenant or The Ebonheart Pact. From there you choose between four specialisations or classes which are, Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Nightblade and Templar. Each of these specialise in certain types of damage or skills, for instance the Nightblade specialises in Assassination and Stealth. The skill system, for the most part has been taken directly from Skyrim, meaning to level up in say archery, you would use a bow and arrow to get that skill up. This skill system is my preferred one compared to an XP based system used in most other MMOs.
The first quest which is compulsory, teaches you the basics of combat and looting. Once this is completed you travel to an isolated island where you will learn the ins and outs of quests and other aspects of adventuring, this can be skipped however if you wanted to jump right into the bulk of the game. The only thing missing from the starting areas is a tutorial on using Magic skills, which is oddly absent. It wasn’t necessarily hard to figure it out but nevertheless it probably should be included.
The combat in The Elder Scrolls Online is great fun, however it is very much an “MMO” combat system. You have a normal attack, for instance your sword or mace and in addition you have certain skills which are hot-keyed. These skills can be anything from a poison arrow to invisibility and area attacks, all of which drain your Mana but can be very useful. Often MMOs targeting systems are a reason for annoyance on my part but ESO gets it right with automatic targeting based on what you are looking at. This works well most of the time , providing nicely paced combat. The one negative thing during combat was that I have noticed a bit of lag,this is probably location based but nevertheless it was a bit disheartening when I was killed before I saw the enemy strike my character.
Tamriel is represented in whole on the world map and although you can’t travel everywhere yet, the world feels very expansive and I got lost quite a few times. Scattered throughout are towns and villages each with masses of side quests, shops and stalls. This is where one of the major differences from older Elder Scrolls games comes into play, and that is Stealing. One of the main hallmarks of The Elder Scrolls games has been the ability to be a thief and to steal peoples belongings from their houses and shops. The Elder Scrolls Online does not have this feature, perhaps it was required to be cut from the gameplay to ease server constraints but nevertheless if you are an Elder Scrolls Fan you will notice that it is not included. In most towns there are crafting tables, often situated near markets and other stalls these allow you to craft items for use or to make some gold selling them. Usually you would use items you have looted from dead enemies of in dungeons to craft better items for yourself, you can even research enhancements to these items for later use but I found these to take a good deal of time to complete.
As per usual with Elder Scrolls games, ZeniMax has spared no expense with the voice actors, including the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Peter Stormare, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Malcom McDowell and John Cleese. While listening to Dumbledore read an epic script is great, for an MMO I can imagine some people getting a little bored when having to listen to characters ramble on, however you can skip through any spoken parts which is a plus when you are in a hurry or if you don’t care for the dramatic.
Visually the game looks great, even more so when you consider that it is an MMO. The vast majority of Fantasy MMOs aim for a cartoony bright and over saturated world, The Elder Scrolls Online however has made the good decision to keep with the previous instalments of the series and aim for a more realistic look. In some aspects such as water, the game actually looks better than Skyrim. In addition the game also performed incredibly well on the three systems I had it running on.
One of the hallmarks of most MMOs is PvP (Player vs Player) combat, ZeniMax have implemented a PvP system similar to that of EVE Online’s faction warfare. Cyrodil, which is where the fourth Elder Scrolls game Oblivion is set, is entirely dedicated to PvP. Once you reach level Ten you are able to take part in a three way war for control of Cyrodil. I found this quite a lot better than a 1v1 or free for all PvP set up, and roaming around in large groups ambushing smaller groups was great fun. In addition when attacking a control point there are often catapults which makes for some epic sights!
It seems that The Elder Scrolls Online is off to a great start, not only in technical features and storyline, but in a sustainable online community. When travelling from quest to quest there is a mass of other players running around on their own journey, everyone has been really friendly and I even joined in on some groups working through dungeons, on the whole the game feels really casual and easy to make friends. whether this is because everyone is low level at the moment remains to be seen but I am hopeful. ZeniMax have promised regular updates to justify the monthly subscription model that many have been criticising. I for one applaud ZeniMax for going down this path because I despise almost all free to play models in an MMO. I will always be happy to pay the price of a meal each month to play a game without compromise.
The Elder Scrolls Online offers a great experience for fans of the series, newcomers are guided into the huge world of Tamriel with just the right amount of help and guidance making this one the most accessible MMOs I have played. That being said there are a few little things that can break the immersion, many times when trying to interact with objects or doors I had to try multiple times to get it to activate and the absence of physics based stealing may put some long time fans off. All in all The Elder Scrolls Online is a stand-out MMO this year and I would recommend to anyone looking for some good PvP or a sprawling story.
[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Huge Amount Of Quests
Massive World That Feels Alive
Great Voice Cast
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
Interactions Are Sometimes Buggy
No Physics-Based Stealing