Early Access and release have come and gone, and The Elder Scrolls Online has been live and running for a few weeks! Rutledge has spent some time in The Elder Scrolls Online, questing through the many areas of Tamriel that we have both seen and never been to before. Offering a truly Elder Scrolls Experience with elements of MMORPGs integrated into it, the game has a lot to offer players, both new and old, of the MMO genre.
The Elder Scrolls Online - Flawed at Birth
This game has certainly received a ton of criticism from a variety of other outlets, and while we certainly agree that The Elder Scrolls Online has some flaws - the low scores it has received aren't very fair. People expected it to be one of two things; a normal MMO or a new Elder Scrolls game. In truth, it is a good mix of both, and a lot of the elements are certainly well done - with a few that are very cool and really add to the experience. Elder Scrolls Online gives you the same type of gameplay experience that you have come to love with Skyrim and its predecessors, with the option to play as a variety of character types in third or first-person modes. Different from the previous games, however, are the active skills that you will have access to depending on your class. Each class has a skill tree of special abilities that they have access to, as well as general ones such as sword and shield, staff, mages guild, and racial abilities.
Combat, as it is in most MMOs, is one of the key components of the game. The Elder Scrolls Online takes the combat of its previous single-player games and adds a few new elements to give it more of an MMO feel. This is both a good and a bad thing, as, at times, the combat can seem a bit clunky, and if there are any latency issues - you may get smacked down! The number of skills for each class is essentially the same class to class, with each one having a skill tree specific to its key uses. Similar to other games in the genre, the player will have access to these abilities via their number keys - but will only have access to 5 at a time, forcing you to pick and choose your skills very wisely (Which in our opinion, is a good thing!). If you're low on Magicka, Stamina, or Health, you can hold down the Q key in order to open up and select an item in your quickselect wheel, then tap Q to use it. With the action-based combat being driven by the mouse, the combat is fast-paced and enjoyable - offering players a Skyrim/Oblivion feel while adding in some extra abilities.
The Elder Scrolls Online - Story
The game thrusts you into the story from the start, forcing you to save the "Prophet" in the tutorial dungeon. Yes, you are starting in a dungeon...as a prisoner...again. But it works, right? Anyway, the story is played out from zone to zone, but more intermittently than you would think. Essentially, you will quest through each zone, completing main quests and (significantly more) side quests. Through each area, there will be times in which the Prophet will contact you, and you can continue a few more quests in the main quest line. The way that Bethesda laid this out actually flows really well and in a way, forces you to complete everything you can do before moving on too far into the main storyline. This helps with scaling zone-to-zone as well, and so long as you don't skip much, you won't find anything too easy or too hard. The weird and kind of awkward part of the quests and questing is that the NPCs still treat you as if you are in a single-player game and thank you for saving them individually, as if the 7 people standing next to you don't matter. This isn't a massive deal, of course, but it sometimes feels out of place.
Crafting in The Elder Scrolls Online is a bit different than what most MMO junkies, such as a few of our writers, are used to. It's the same premise as any game with crafting but has some features that some might not understand at first. Obviously, you collect the materials you need by mining, collecting, looting, and woodcutting the resources you need to create the armor, weapons, potions, food, and more that you want to craft. Each crafting is a bit different from the other, requiring certain components (such as stones to create certain racial kinds of armor and weapons for blacksmiths) to create certain things. In terms of collecting, it's not easy at first - there's no minimap or bright glow to discern what is or isn't a resource, but as you level up your character and craft skill, you can unlock abilities to make them easier to find. Players also have the ability to upgrade armor, weapons, and more with various items you can find and loot around the gameworld that will increase the rarity/quality of the items, which must be used at the crafting table. Crafting, as it does in most games, offers you the ability to customize your character even more, and having skill trees for crafting allows you to tailor the experience even more.
The Elder Scrolls Online - Horses
One of the first things that surprised me personally was the horses. I know, shocking thing to say! But here's why: You can upgrade your horse(s) however you want - giving them more speed, bag space, or durability (take more hits before being knocked off). Every 20 hours (every day, really), you can upgrade each attribute by 1 point for 250 gold. 1 point of speed gives you an additional 1% speed increase, 1 point of carrying capacity gives you one more bag slot, and 1 point of durability gives your horse the ability to take more damage before it kicks you off. This whole idea allows the player to tailor their mount to what they want. Are you a wimp who runs away from battle? Durability is perfect for you! Are you a hoarder? Add some bag space! Do you just like being fast? Give your horse an apple! Inevitably, most people will add speed to their mount, but there is a chance that some people will still use some of the other choices!
A few of the other notable things that aren't quite "traditional" include the way that Bethesda has gone about doing new characters as well as starting areas. For example, if you complete the tutorial on one character, you actually have the option to skip it on the rest while still getting the experience and items that you got on your first character! Additionally, while normally an MMO has a starting area such as Goldshire in World of Warcraft, but while Elder Scrolls Online does have starting zones...they're actually optional. Once you step into the game world after completing (or skipping) the tutorial, you can actually choose to ignore the starting area by skipping the quest that is offered to you! As a tip, though, it's worth doing the starting area for the extra experience and items you will receive! These features allow players to have a choice in how they want to start their game, which is very different from the norm!
The Elder Scrolls Online - Dungeons and Settings
Dungeons, much like many other games, are group-based instances that put you together with a few other people to complete a...dungeon. The nice thing about ESO is that from the start; you have access to a group finder (similar to what was added in WoW in later expansions) in order to complete dungeons, as well as even to have people to quest with. Dungeons offer a challenge that takes some coordination to take down, whether bosses or groups of enemies. If you're reading this, you are most likely familiar with groups having a healer, a tank, and some DPS (Damage Per Second). This is the case in ESO as well, and your party is only four members (different from WoW and other MMOs). There are usually a few bosses in each one, and they offer good rewards to those who complete them!
If you've played an MMO, you've like been part of a guild, but in ESO, you can belong to up to 5 at once! This offers a variety of options to choose from with guilds that offer Trading, RolePlaying, Raiding, PvP, and more! Every guild has a guild bank, which essentially allows members to buy/sell/trade items with each other in lieu of an in-game auction house. Join a guild or two, and you'll find that you can easily make a few friends or find people to tackle challenges with. Being in a guild is also the best way to find a group for endgame content when you get to that level.
Enough about the gameplay; let's talk a bit about the settings and sounds! (If you said boring to that, I can assure you...this world is worth exploring!) While only a small portion of the world is available, over time, all of it will be unlocked for players to explore and quest through. Every area that you explore offers a new different ambiance from the one that came before, with the music accentuating the terrain laid out before you. If your computer is beefy enough to run on Ultra, it's highly recommended, especially if you love the scenery. While the graphics aren't quite as detailed as Skyrim, they are outstanding for a multiplayer online game of this magnitude. On top of that, every character that you can interact with has a voice actor who plays them (although some can be a bit lackluster). Did we mention that Patrick Stewart voices a character? Yeah, bonus points! While many players may focus more on the gameplay than the scenery around them, we highly recommend that you stop every once and a while and take note of the extreme care that the team took in making the game world!
All of the functions of an MMO are in The Elder Scrolls Online, offering fast-paced combat, quests, customization, PvP, and endgame content for players of all kinds. The launch, while buggy, was still a very clean and polished experience and the game world that has been offered is spectacular for a game of this magnitude. The "shard" based servers that are being used essentially allow all players to be on one giant super-server, and they can hop from shard to shard to be with friends. No more realm transfers! On another note, the backend support (primarily GMs) is fantastic, and any issues may run into will be quickly resolved. While competing with other players for kills and enemies can be a pain when the game can sometimes feel as if it were for a single player, the experience is still rewarding enough that it can easily be overlooked.
If you're considering The Elder Scrolls Online or looking for a new Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Game, you should definitely give it a shot - it's worth your time. From the lush, beautiful landscapes to the challenging dungeons, ESO offers an experience for Elder Scrolls fans well beyond what you could have received from yet another single-player game. While the game is highly polished, all that remains is to weed out some of the issues with accounts such as gold spammers and bots, and once that's done, the game will be in a great place. It's up to you - Work on your own, or with others, to make sure that Molag Bal doesn't take Tamriel for his own.
This review was originally published on 04-28-2014. While care has been taken to update the piece to reflect our modern style guidelines, some of the information may be out of date. We've left pieces like this as they were to reflect the original authors' opinions, and for historical context.