Successfully merging an RRG titan like The Elder Scrolls into a MMO format is a gargantuan task, and yet Bethesda and Zenimax Studios Online have set out to take the series into a bold, new direction with The Elder Scrolls Online. With a month of service already on its belt, is this all-new Elder Scrolls adventure one that you should invest your time and money in, or should you wait for the next single-player quest instead?
The Elder Scrolls Online
Developed by Zenimax Studios Online / Published by Bethesda Softworks
Available on the PC and Mac.
*Review code provided by Bethesda Softworks
In the Elder Scrolls Online, which takes place a thousand years before the events of Skyrim, you play as the Vestige, an individual who after being killed by a sorcerer called Mannimarco, is enslaved by Daedric Prince Molag Bal, who is harvesting souls to increase his power in a bid to merge the realm of Mundus with the Oblivion plane Coldharbor. The Vestige however is contacted by a mysterious individual who claims to know a way to escape the Daedric Prince’s nightmarish world, and soon after escaping is flung headfirst into a battle for the fate of all Tamriel.
As typical of Elder Scrolls games, Elder Scroll Online’s main plot is an epic tale full of heroics, power, magic, mischief, gods and men. The story of the Vestige and his/her quest to save the world is entertaining and pretty enjoyable, and it’s also well-written, creating a world full of rich lore and history that fits perfectly within the Elder Scrolls mythos. While the plot is all over the place thanks to the story distribution style of MMOs, it’s very similar to the format seen in the Elder Scroll games, with exploration leading to all sorts of storylines that little by little build the world around you.
Upon first booting into the game, players go through the customary character creation screen, choosing from the various and unique races of the Elder Scrolls universe. While there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a race, class selection is somewhat limited, only offering access to the Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Nightblade, and Templar. While it’s understandable that the classes offered are limited at launch, the lack of diversity leads to players running into a lot of other people of same class more often than not in game (especially during the early portion of the game), usually with very similar builds. It’s not really appealing when you see dozens of sorcerers or Nightblades in the same area attacking the same enemies with the same animations.
Skills remedy the lack of variety in classes somewhat, offering classes three skill lines that players can pursue in order to play a specific role or grab from what they like in order to become a mesh of styles. For example, a Sorcerer can invest points in Daedric Summoning to bring creatures into the field, Dark Magic for crowd control, and Storm Calling to use some lighting spells. A Dragonknight can place points in Ardent Flame to use fire-based attacks, Draconic Power to harness the might of dragons and heal, or Earthen Heart to channel the earth for attacks or buffs. Then there’s also skill lines for armor and weapons in order to improve how well you handle them, world-specific skills like Lycanthropy and Vampirism, guild skill trees to unlock additional skills, crafting skill trees to improve you handiwork, and racial skill trees which grant passive bonuses to your character. Not only are the options great and give players options, but it also allow players to distinguish themselves from others with different builds.
In addition to gaining access to new skills with points as you level up, each skill also evolves as you keep on using it, growing in strength or usefulness by offering a choice between to improvements (skill points must be spent in upgrading as well). The Sorcerer’s Unstable Familiar starts off with summoning a small familiar, but after the first skill evolution, you then can either apply explosive attributes to it or opt for a larger Clannfear instead. Choosing between two options as you evolve your skills adds a nice touch to the usual skill tree progression by allowing you to customize your character even further.
When it comes to navigating through the world of Tamriel and making your mark on the world, The Elder Scrolls Online is very similar to the main Elder Scrolls games, with players free-roaming and choosing what to pursue from a first-person viewpoint (with third-person being optional). While players are presented with the main quest line from the start, upon completion of the game’s tutorial quest, players can do whatever they choose to afterwards exploring a massive world that’s full of dangers and surprises. If you’ve played an Elder Scrolls game before, especially the later releases like Oblivion or Skyrim, you’ll instantly feel right at home with this one, as it’s very similar both in control and appearance.
Armed with a journal, a map and a compass from the start, players are encouraged to navigate the large continent of Tamriel in search for quests, most of which can be played solo if the player so desires. As typical of Elder Scrolls games, main story quests only make a small percentage of the content, with side quests available everywhere and appearing in various forms, such as guilds and factions, appearing as you travel throughout the land. Horses make travelling quick, and Waystones, one of the game’s fast travel systems, will take you to other previously encountered Waystones for a small fee. Travelling around Tamriel and getting quests is easy and enjoyable thanks to the beautiful environments, and it’s manageable thanks to the journal that’ll keep all of your open quests jotted down, and will only display the quest of your choice onscreen to keep things from getting too cluttered. Despite the clean organization of the menus however, the game is lacking in the mini-map department, and with a game as large and dependent of a map as TESO is, it’s a somewhat poor decision on the developer’s part.Thankfully some user-made addons exist to rectify this problem.
Combat, one of the best parts of The Elder Scrolls, is just as fun and addictive as the main entries. Players have three bars: Health, Magic, and Stamina, and engage in real-time battles that’ll test their skill and reflexes. New in this entry are dodge mechanics, with players tapping any direction twice to sidestep, and special attacks that can stun enemies who are in the middle of casting a special attack or spell. Additionally, similar to other MMOs, some enemy attacks will indicate where the attack will hit, allowing players to get out of a red splash damage ring or attack direction to save their hides. Then there’s the hotbar, which allows players to equip six spells or abilities and one ultimate ability for quick, one button casting. Despite being an MMO, spells and abilities don’t suffer from typical MMO cooldowns, meaning that as long as you have the stamina or magica, you can combo stuff as long as you have the energy required to do so. Regardless of the new additions, the combat feels as fluid and satisfying as ever be it with sword, bow, axe or staff.
Exploring the realm and finding items to loot is another matter entirely, as it’s quite different in TESO. Instead of a high amount of items lying about for the player to pick up, observe, and collect like in past Elder Scrolls games, most locations in TESO feature only a couple of collectable items and searchable objects, and most of the loot has little to no value, preventing players from farming common or inexpensive household objects for gold. Instead, players gain gold and rare items after completing quests, and can occasionally pick weapon and armor from fallen foes in loot drops or find the rare treasure chest that may need some lockpicking. Despite this however, most items you’ll find in shops are pretty expensive (especially to low level players), and will require a lot of work from players looking to get out of their clothes and into better stuff, so hard work and lots of questing will reward players more than saving gold and buying at shops, unless you’re into crafting your own things.
The crafting system in TESO lets players create their own armor, weapons, items and runes for use or for sale. As expected, players start off making simple stuff from rags and bits of stuff that they can loot from the game world, but with lots of crafting they can level up and improve their proficiency within the trade of their choice in order to craft higher-quality stuff. Crafting can’t be done whenever you choose though, as you’ll need access to special crafting stations found in towns, cities or special locations in the wild, so you’ll have to make frequent trips back and forth to make a living off it or make the stuff you need.
Since TESO is a multiplayer game, you also have your multiplayer features. In addition to seeing other players run across the screen and complete the same missions as you (including stealing some of required kills or spawns), players can sell and trade with each other, become friends and party together, assist each other in missions, create and join guilds and use guild banks and stores, and of course participate in PVP, which unlocks after gaining level 10.
PVP takes place in Cyrodiil, and has players and their faction take on others in one big map in a struggle to control key points on the map. While level 10 will get you in, you’ll be facing players up to level 50 and with Veteran Points (another leveling system on top of the level 50 soft-cap) that will utterly destroy if you aren’t leveled up enough. Despite this, the siege based gameplay in PVP, which has you using points to buy siege equipment, is fun, challenging, and very addictive.
The Elder Scrolls Online is a massive game that successfully blends the best parts of the Elder Scrolls franchise with the typical MMO experience. While it could use some small refinements here and there, such as the UI, more class variety, and cheaper shops, and the monthly subscription might turn some people away, the massive amount of quest content, a large world, explosive real-time combat, and thrilling multiplayer really make this an epic Elder Scrolls adventure that everyone should try out.