The Elder Scrolls Online – Review (PC)

written by Stephen Hanley on 11.5.14 elder-scrolls-online

Yeah, we know that the release of The Elder Scrolls Online was  last month and perhaps for some this review may come a little late but we felt that a fledging MMO, even as ambitious as The Elder Scrolls Online, deserved a month or so to bed itself in before we gave our review.  Large MMO’s, on release, have a tendency to have a few difficulties, usually with logging on, server issues etc and this was something we found from the outset but as usual, patches are made and the game has settled enough for a verdict on our part.

It was never going to be an easy task to live up to the success of Skyrim, especially considering its mainstream appeal when compared to its predecessors in Oblivion and Morrowind. It transcended the barrier between gaming culture and became part of pop culture with everyone you know Fus Ro Dah’ing or taking an arrow to the knee, yet that didn’t stop Bethesda from aiming for their most ambitious project within the Elder Scroll series as yet, an MMO. Traditionally when Studio A takes Franchise B and tries to make it an MMO, it fails (See Warhammer Online: Age or Reckoning as an example). Would Bethesda be able to slay this challenge with The Elder Scrolls Online?

As seems to be the prototypical setup for questing in MMOs nowadays, much of your time in The Elder Scrolls online is spent completing quests. The quests in ESO aren’t anything like the dynamic quests from previous iterations of the franchise, and while there are certainly some quests which indeed do manage to do this and recapture the essence of what made questing in the franchise great, too many of the quests instead rely on the same old formula that if you’ve played any MMO, you’ve done them before. Whether it’s kill X number of mobs or collect Y number of objects, it’s nothing new and as a result, nothing to really get excited about. Additionally, the quests you receive is dependent on which faction you pick (more on that later) which is very unbalanced at the moment as the starting areas are very different in terms of how well they are put together.

One of the better parts of ESO is the combat system as it manages to not fall into the typical MMO combat system. Instead of fighting with a massive reliance on cast bars or auto attacks with automatic aiming of said attacks, you instead fight in real-time and have to adjust your positioning on the fly depending on how your foe moves around in combat. It’s certainly different but still depends too much on the spamming an order of attacks of even the same attack whilst asking you to be more aware of positioning and dodging. It takes a while to get used to, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s a blast and makes ESO feel different to most MMOs.

Most of the skills and powers a player will obtain comes down to their choice of gameplay and whichever weapons they decide to use. If you play with a box, they’ll gain new options with a box. If they’re using magic, new spells become available. It’s a pretty smart system that offers a lot of flexibility to allow you to play the game your way, however there is a pretty big flaw in it at the moment in that you can only become a werewolf or vampire through enemy and character player bites, which has led to players banding together and charging for their bites.

As I previously mentioned, the classes and races are split into three factions created for the purposes of this MMO, being the Ebonheart Pact, the Daggerfall Covenant and the Aldmeri Dominion. I felt that this segregation of the races you can be was unnecessary, especially considering that by purchasing the collector’s edition of ESO, you could create any character from any race with any pact. This is a bonus to spending the extra money as some of the racial better suited the different faction I wanted to play, however I feel it isn’t fair to have this feature behind a paywall. For those who don’t want to, or cannot afford to pay the €20 extra I can see how not having the option would be frustrating. Not only this but players who are in possession of the collector’s edition can get access to the 10th class, an Imperial Knight and access to the imperial horse (15% increased movement speed) from as soon as they leave the tutorial and as such gives these players a significant advantage compared to those that don’t.

The player economy in ESO is interesting as it both holds some positives and negatives to its current iteration. On the positive, ESO doesn’t hinder players by requiring them to take just one crafting or gathering skill, but rather instead lets players make new items based on how much experience they have using a skill. This is a welcome change that MMOs seems to be starting to adapt to instead of the age old formula of profession restriction and I can’t help but be happy with this change. On the negative, however, is that players trade items through a guild auction house, buying and selling items under a guilds banner instead of a universal auction house. This greatly reduces your chances of finding the item you want and as a result, could end up leading to a frustrating experience.

Once a player reaches maximum level, a “Veteran Rank” system comes into effect, with each rank giving statistical bonuses, which essentially gate players from being able to access certain PVE content until they’ve grinded out the requisite levels. Whilst I appreciate what seems to be an idea of making sure that max level players don’t rush through the end game content that is currently available and therefor become bored with the game, this leads to an unnecessary grind for said players which is rather frustrating as when you’ve already done 50 levels on your character, the last thing you want to do is level some more. It’s an alternative system to having to grind out gear to make these high level dungeons and encounters, but in many ways, it seems like a longer way of doing things. As for these dungeons, if you’ve played any high end content in other MMOs, then you’ll know what to expect and it doesn’t differentiate itself from the same formula either.

Whilst the player-versus-enemy content is pretty lacklustre and cookie cutter, ESO really shines through its player-versus-player combat, which takes place through a massive, three-sided campaigns on separate, pervasive PVP maps. Groups of players battle for control of fortresses, which is pretty standard however, it becomes a very exhilarating experience as siege weapons rain down choose on players scrambling to overthrow their foe. The enormity of the PVP maps also make it possible to incorporate a variety of tactical warfare, such as small groups of players striking key points and making a difference while the majority of players act as a distraction. I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing the PVP content as it was without a doubt one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.

The Elder Scrolls Online reminds me in a lot of ways to Star Wars: The Old Republic in the sense that they’ve tried to adapt a huge franchise with a dedicated fan base to a new genre that was not associated with the franchise before and as a result, it is having teething problems that are pretty typical to a new MMO. Whether it’s the lacklustre PVE, the unnecessary grind for “Veteran Ranks”, or the splitting of races over three factions with the 10th class being locked behind a paywall, ESO has a lot to do to improve itself. ESO shows at times signs of excellence whether it’s in the thrilling PVP combat or the combat system itself. It’s still early days on this MMO and a lot can change in the space of a few months. I hope that Bethesda can change a lot of the negatives this game has at the moment into positives and give the player base and the franchise the game it deserves.

4 stars
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