When Bethesda and Zenimax Studios announced that the next Elder Scrolls game would be The Elder Scrolls: Online, they were met with some harsh criticism along with excitement and praise. Longtime fans of the series were concerned that bringing Elder Scrolls to an MMO format would degrade the stellar quality of the Elder Scrolls series while MMO fans rejoiced that the rich Elder Scrolls lore would finally be available in a non-single player format. Did it live up to the expectations of both sets of fans or was it a huge let down? Find out after the jump...
The Elder Scrolls Online is an awkward game at best and an utterly frustrating nightmare at worst. Overall, the game can be best described in one word: Messy. A beautiful mess at times, but messy nonetheless. There is so much content and so many things to explain here, I found it best if I try to break each aspect of the game down individually between Player vs Environment (PvE) and Player vs. Player (PvP) with my final thoughts at the end.
Player VS. Environment
You begin Elder Scrolls Online as a prisoner (which is commonplace for EVERY Elder Scrolls Game it seems) trapped in The Wailing Prison, guided by a mysterious prophet who helps to free you from your cell and set you on your journey. This prison is the tutorial area for ESO, but it never outright says so until AFTER you've completed the area. Picking a weapon? You had better pick the one you want right at the start! Or else its a living nightmare to find the right weapon in the “real world” in time.
The tutorial area itself is standard faire, you learn how to fight, how to block, and get a bit of story thrown in for good measure. The real highlight is John Cleese's performance as Sir Caldwell, a knight trapped in the Wailing Prison for as long as he can remember. His dialogue is funny and it is the only worthwhile part of the tutorial area.
Once you're free of the prison, you are sent to one of three different faction based starter areas. These serve as a way to expand on what you've learned in the tutorial and take you from level 3-10 so get used to seeing the area! Unfortunately, everything is very linear. You do quests based on the area you're in and move onto the next area once you gain another level or two. There is no real exploration that the Elder Scrolls Games are famous for at low levels.
Unlike World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic, the quests aren't that great either. The story quests are few and far between and the lower level story quests could have easily been done as cinematic it seems. You spend most of the time watching the Prophet teach you something, or someone explaining what you're doing or why YOU of all people standing next to you are the “chosen one”. Thats right! Its another MMO where only you can save the world...even though you're standing next to 20 other people in front of the same quest giver who tells them the same thing! The side quests are mostly variations of escort missions, get 10 of ____, or kill 15 of ____. You would think that with all of the varied quests and dungeons the Elder Scrolls games have had in the past, they would have put more time and effort into the side missions to keep you engaged in the game. There is no real immersive quality. Every time I found myself getting drawn into a side quest storyline or liked a character, it seemed that the quest line was over. A lot felt half done. Like the game was rushed to meet a deadline imposed by a publisher.
Player VS Player
PvP is the space where Elder Scrolls Online has a lot of untapped potential. It uses a Guild Wars 2 style World Vs World Vs World system and for the most part, it works.
You gain access to the WvWvW (here called Cryodil) at level 10, and can choose to level exclusively from PvP content from that point out if you so choose. The map is huge, and you can spend hours, if not days just exploring the map, learning the various areas, or doing some of the single player-ish quests you can pick up at one of your faction strongholds. Playing by yourself in PvP is a real disadvantage however, as there will always be a large organized group coming to try and attack an area around you.
Organized groups; be it a guild, or just a group of your friends are where PvP really shines. Its a lot of fun to get a group of 5 or more people together and attack a rally point, strong hold, or just a supply area. You can lose hours if not days attacking different areas of the map, finding the enemy weak point and exploiting it, or just fighting another large enemy group over and over again.
State of the Game
Elder Scrolls online had anything but a smooth launch. Over-crowded servers, gold spammers, and bots were just a few of the issues that plagued the game. While all of these issues are annoying, nothing was as frustrating as the numerous bugs encountered during playthrough. I probably encountered a bug every 15 minutes. Simple things like a break in the map to larger things like a bugged quest that I would have to abandon, run all the way back to the quest giver (if you can find them again) to pick up again, and try to complete. This was really frustrating with missions where you have been working on a longer quest line and sometimes have to re-complete two or three quests you've already done to get back on track. Sometimes logging out and logging back in took care of an issue, sometimes it didn't. The point is, you shouldn't have to deal with such crippling issues in a full retail priced launch MMO. This was slated as the next big MMO to market, and at times it feels like a third rate game. A hacked together MMO that happens to be set in the Elder Scrolls universe. In fact, you could take this game out of the Elder Scrolls lore and you wouldn't notice the difference between some other MMO's on the market today.