From Morrowind to Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls games have always managed to impress and give us an RPG of epic proportions to get completely lost in- with us often not wanting to find our way out.
The latest entry, The Elder Scrolls Online, is attempting to give us a different experience in the realm of Tamriel. It is offering the opportunity to share our journey of immense scale with others.
Being a massive fan I was really looking forward to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). I did have my doubts with both the idea of an Elder Scrolls MMO and ZeniMax Online being the lead developer. I nevertheless followed its progress closely. It is currently out on PC with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version coming out in June.
For those wondering, ESO is not Skyrim online. It’s a new Elder Scrolls game with many improvements and modifications as to accommodate being online. It is set well before the events of Skyrim, when Tamriel was still in chaos, with alliances waring against each other and the dark forces of the Daedra.
Starting off your grand adventure is the all-important character creation. There are nine classes to choose from in the standard edition and one extra with the special Imperial Edition (I will address this later). Most of the basic classes we have come to know and love are included. So no surprises there. Character creation is much less of a tedious exercise. Though a simpler process, it still offers an adequate selection of modifications to differentiate your character.
Characters are looking much prettier. I remember with both Oblivion and Skyrim, trying to make Khajiit, Orcs or Dark Elves look good, never mind pretty, was near impossible. Here all races can be modified to some standard of beauty or at least not unforgivingly ugly.
The beginning sequence seems to stick to the Elder Scrolls formula; you being a prisoner of some kind and while escaping find yourself wrapped up in a much bigger picture. In this case you were a human sacrifice to Molag Bal, a super evil Daedric prince, and so become a soulless wonder imprisoned in his realm of despair, Coldhabour. Here you meet The Prophet and, with the help an old acquaintance of his, escape it. This area serves as a basic tutorial giving your first weapon and an idea of how to play the game.
After Coldharbour there are three starting areas correlating with each of the three alliances. These incorporate unique environments and quests for each. So beginning a new character or class doesn’t always have to be that repetitive.
The side quests available are numerous and waiting around every corner. They also come across as a lot more important and relevant to the environment and things occurring in it. Some quests involve important decision making, as there are consequences to deal with. Being an MMO there is no save and try again option giving a lot more weight to your final choice. With no obvious good or evil choice, it really gives you pause before going one way or the other.
Visually speaking the game encompasses eloquently balanced landscapes and architecture that captures the traditional Elder Scrolls sense and brings Tamriel to life. The environment is well developed and with exploration the detail and planning become more apparent.
Sound and music have had their fair share of input. The music is well done and suitable to each setting or event. Every once in while hearing a particular piece of music has you feeling nostalgic of games past. The sound effects are relevant and for the most part believable. Collectively the visuals and audio achieve the goal of providing a more immersive atmosphere.
The look and sound of NPC’s are better than in previous Elder Scrolls games. The character models are less dull and have a more individualistic look to them. They also have a higher standard of voice acting. With this overall improvement of NPC’s, I found myself more inclined to listen to what they have to say. There are even a few star voice appearances, one in the starting section from John Cleese himself.
Enemies seem less stupid. If you’re running around trying to dodge they aren’t going to continue swinging away at where you just were but rather follow your movements closely. Mages are the harder enemy to defeat. Instead of their attacks flying past if you move to the side, the attack follows you, making these particular battles that much more intense.
Combat itself is somewhat different to that of Skyrim. There is a slight auto lock-on feel with the ranged weapons. Magic can no longer be wielded as a weapon but is allocated, along with special abilities, to hot key slots. Ranged weapons, including staffs and bows, now have unlimited ammo.
Close quarters combat hasn’t changed all that much. I did find the shield and sword combination to be the most awkward but I’m sure this might vary as I’m always a ranged attack kind of gal. Being so, I chose the Wood Elf, using my archery and stealth to take out the enemy with them never knowing what hit them. While I enjoyed this in Skyrim, the damage bonus while in sneak seems to be nerfed as the extra damage is minimal to non-existent. The only way to improve it is to unlock the ability, specific to my class, at a much higher level. Thus, forcing me into more open combat situations. This, along with all enemies being fully aware of your presence the moment you attack whether or not in sneak and hidden, means the stealth aspect is not as enjoyable or practical.
The MMO aspect of ESO, despite my initial scepticism, turned out okay. The multiplayer implies it’s a natural element and is the core idea of the game. Except participating in it can sometimes turn out to be a tedious affair. Quest sharing is limited by level differences and locked alliances limit class choice when with a group of friends (unless you all got the Imperial edition) or else playing together isn’t really an option.
Questing with others, when achievable, is rather fun. While you don’t necessarily all have to be up to the same quest, it makes quest sharing easier if you are. You can just pick another quest that you all haven’t done but this becomes more unforgiving the bigger the level gap between friends. Apart from this, starting in the same alliance is an obvious prerequisite, making players with the standard edition have a limited character choice.
The game can be attempted solo, but when you can, playing with friends or randoms for that matter gives for a more exciting experience. Each person brings their own class skills making combat a collaborative affair. There are also enough people about questing that chances are, you might help each other out without invitation.
There are dungeon crawling sections, where you traipse through grottos destroying enemies and collecting booty from chests. These are quite enjoyable and make up for poor quest sharing. You can be on pretty much any level and you can do them more than once. Meaning if you miss out on co-op questing this is still something you can do together.
Completing a grotto really relies closely on team work. They require a well-balanced skill group of four players. This offers something different and is a bigger challenge as enemies don’t come at you one at time. If you are out of actual friends there are plenty of people about wanting to give it a go. So it’s also quite accessible.
There are a few issues outside of gameplay. One being the difference between the Imperial and standard editions. Anybody who purchased the Imperial Edition receives a bonus race (the Imperials) and the ability to choose any class without automatically allocating their alliance.
Those with the standard edition are locked into a specific alliance depending on the class chosen. There are obviously a few other perks with the Imperial Edition but these two should have been included as basic game content and not only available to those forking out extra cash.
The Elder Scrolls Online comes across as a well-developed and finely polished game that really gives us a Tamriel worth exploring. It has great visuals and sound to give an immersive experience. The game definitely encourages a group approach to questing but doesn’t punish you harshly if you don’t. It’s apparent a lot of thought was put into most every aspect of gameplay.
While some might have a bone to pick with different editions or the subscription fees, with more content to be released I feel it is, and will be, worth it in the end. So if you’re looking for the next big MMO worth throwing your hard earned money at. This could be it.
ESO contains a lot more and to fit it all in one review would be obscene. There is more ESO goodness on its way. I’ll give you all the goods on other important elements, like PvP, skill trees, crafting, glitches, etc. I will be imbuing all my thoughts and final verdict in Part Two.