Few games have as much of a prowess behind them as the Elder Scrolls series – the iconic fantasy games, known for their expansive and engrossing worlds, and complete gameplay freedom.
Everything this franchise touches tends to turn to gold – with massive hits in Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim, marking milestones of gaming excellence on their respective console generations.
With that in mind, it only makes sense that Bethesda would try their hand at expanding their already engrossing world even further, by creating a fully actualised, MMORPG version of Cyrodil.
But where does it stand in relation to its titanic brothers? The answer, despite its best efforts, is that Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited doesn’t quite live up to what you’ll expect from the series, managing to deliver an OK experience that’s neither a great Elder Scrolls game, not a great MMO, but rather a generic combination of the two.
The game begins with somewhat of a whimper, while you find yourself creating a character, by without the vast range of races, classes and visual choices that the previous entries in the series have afforded you.
Four races and classes simply isn’t enough to make you feel like you’re playing in the vastly complex world of Elders, but one has to suppose that it’s probably more than enough variety when compared to other MMOs – the first generation of WoW, for example.
You find yourself trapped in a dungeon, inside what is roughly explained as the Cyrodil equivalent of Hell. Luckily, you are sprung from this prison by someone who recognises you as part of an ancient prophecy (a classic trope of the ES universe), and it’s not long until you’re back in Cyrodil, ready to head off on a series of adventures.
At first, it’s somewhat impressive how completely fleshed out the world of ES Online feels.
When you first hit a major city, the setting is alive with activity. Townsfolk are eager to talk and offer up exciting quests for you to tackle – each character is fully voiced and engages you in conversation much like in Skyrim before.
However, this soon becomes tiresome as you realise that not only are there around 6 voice actors in the entire game, but also that many of the quests follow the exact same frame work. Many of the quests offer some sort of intriguing mystery or interesting element, but these come few and far between once you proceed further with the stilted and simple main single player story.
Perhaps the hardest part of this game would be to try and sell to fans of the series just how limiting it is.
The best part about Skyrim was the ability to literally do whatever you felt like in your own little world. Here we find ourselves sharing this world with countless other adventures – so gone are the days that you can rob guards, murder helpless chickens or break into people’s houses willy nilly.
This is one of many examples of the game trying to shoehorn the ES universe into a more standard MMO space, and it only serves to hurt the overall gameplay.
The same can be said of the combat mechanism too. The basics of swordplay and archery are the same, but in the interest of making this PC port workable, all the magic you have access to is hot keyed to one of your buttons, meaning you only have access to a certain amount of spells at any given time.
If your style of play doesn’t fit in with this system, as is the case with me and my battle Mage style, you’ll find yourself severely hampered and unable to play the way you might like to.
The controls on the Xbox One version, while fine, are limiting. Graphically, the Xbox version looks appalling and you can see how this was released for PC a year ago. The sound, however, holds up incredibly well and sounds exactly as good as you’d hope.
Based on the above review, you might think that ES Online is a bad game. But it’s not, it’s perfectly fine.
It’s fun enough with moments of sheer brilliance and some great elements. But unfortunately, it’s less than the sum of its parts and not a worthy successor to the last ES game.