I’m not a big fan of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO’s). I’ve tried Guild Wars 2, Neverwinter, and several others, but none could keep me hooked for long enough to reach max level. I thought Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) would be different, as I love the Elder Scrolls series. I’ve lost immeasurable time exploring the worlds Bethesda creates in their titles. They are masters of the field when it comes to creating diverse worlds that offer players a whole new experience should they be brave enough to wander off the beaten track. I was curious to see how this would translate to an online environment.
The answer is not well, unfortunately. I found my first attempt at diving into the world only lasted a few days, and that was all I could handle. I found that ESO lacked the lustre and the sense of wonder that I got from playing Skyrim. It’s missing the reward for exploration that you’ve come to expect from the series. Sure, there’s skyshards to find, which turn into a skill point once you’ve collected three, but as far as loot is concerned, it all feels empty. You don’t seem to be rewarded for making it to the end of a cave, and I felt this doesn’t really provide much incentive to push on, and herein lies the problem with ESO. It never really gives you a good reason to continue playing. The main story is delivered sporadically, with quests unlocking once you reach a certain level – which admittedly isn’t unusual for an MMO. What is unusual is the fact that all the main quests are delivered from the same place, and triggering them takes you to a separate instance. I found this to be an annoyance, as every time a new main quest was available I’d have to find the nearest wayshrine and fast travel back to the starting area in order to start the quest. This was a frequent interruption to the flow of exploring new areas, and breaks the feeling of progress.
When ESO launched on console, I decided to try to get back into it. For some reason, playing on the console seemed to suit me better and I was able to stick with it for more than a week.
The story in ESO takes place after the events of the Oblivion crisis. The emperor is dead, and Tamriel has split into 3 alliances: The Ebonheart Pact, The Daggerfall Covenant, and the Aldmeri Dominion. The alliance you choose dictates which race you can play, as each alliance has three races assigned to it (this can be circumvented by purchasing the “any race in any alliance” bonus from the in-game store). Once you’ve picked your race and alliance, you can pick from one of four classes. Your choice in class doesn’t have a huge impact, as any class can use any armour or weapon type. Basically, all you get from your class choice is 3 unique skills. This is one good thing that separates ESO from most other MMOs. In my opinion, it makes the game a bit more accessible for those of us who don’t play MMOs very often. The character customisation is pretty deep and you can lose a lot of time creating the perfect character, if you are so inclined.
Aside from the main quest, ESO offers few other activities. As you make your way through each area, there are several side quests you can partake in. These are usually located in camps and villages that you stumble upon, and the quests usually entail the MMO staples. Go to the next town over, fetch 5 objects, and bring them back. Kill 10 wolves, and of course, the good old escort missions. While they can get a bit tedious, for some reason the same quest archetypes didn’t become noticeably repetitive.
Aside from side quests, there are dungeon delves, which amount to going into a cave and killing the boss creature; public dungeons, which usually have their own small quest attached; and group dungeons, which you must complete with three other players and are quite difficult. While it may seem like there is enough to do, don’t expect dungeon frequency to match that of Skyrim. The towns and dungeons are spread out in such a way that there’s just enough to keep you occupied without making you think there’s a lot to do.
One of my personal gripes with most MMOs is the passive, and frankly boring, combat systems that most of them employ. The simple “click to attack” mechanic is one thing that prevents me from playing most MMOs for any extended period of time. ESO employs the same active combat mechanic that the Elder Scrolls series has perfected over time. The control scheme works well with a controller, with each skill being mapped to a button and I personally found them easier to access as compared to a keyboard and mouse setup. One thing that didn’t port well is the inventory management system. It’s nice and easy to access your inventory and skill setup on PC, but it’s a little cumbersome on console. I don’t really think there’s a good way to do an MMO menu setup on a console, it’s just the nature of the beast.
If you’re a fan of PvP, you can enter the fray once you’ve reached level 10. You join your alliance in trying to defend and attack different points on the map. While there are fast travel options available, each fort is a decent distance apart, so there’s always a period of running between points that can become quite tedious. There are pretty decent systems in place to help you understand where the action is. It’s obvious at all times which keeps are under attack and when you are close to a player vs player battle – there’s an icon on your map that tells you where the battle is and if it’s a small battle or a large one. I found this system to be pretty accurate and a good way to try and keep across the action. You can always go and seek your own encounter, as there are plenty of smaller things to take over (lumber mills, towns, mines), but if you go in solo, you’re going to have a bad time. Everything is protected by NPCs of a fairly high level, so if you plan on taking anything over, you better have a group of friends with you. I personally don’t get into PvP much, and while I enjoyed the siege mechanics of ESO, I found I got bored pretty quickly. I also felt there was a massive lack of reward for your efforts.
If you’ve played an Elder Scrolls game before, you’ll be familiar with their tendency to ship with a few bugs, and ESO is no different. From launch, the console version was plagued with some pretty bad bugs, some of which were game breaking. One common bug was that characters would become invisible and impossible to interact with. This means that you couldn’t receive quests, and in some cases enemies would be invisible, which meant that they could attack you, but you couldn’t attack them back. There were also some clipping issues, where some enemies would either appear through a wall or could be knocked through a wall. Generally, this isn’t a massive issue, but if it happens in a house, for example, it means you can’t interact with the door to get out, as you can’t interact with things while in combat. These are just a few of the bugs that the console version shipped with, and this is after the PC version had been out for over a year. While some bugs have been fixed, at the time of writing there are still some bugs present in the game.
While I was excited to jump into the next Elder Scrolls offering, I was pretty disappointed with what ESO has to offer. The quests are a little too few and far between for my liking, and while each quest has a nice little story attached, they still follow the same MMO archetypes. The combat is quite good by MMO standards, and the crafting mechanics are nice and simple. Despite these things, I still feel that ESO is missing something that would make it more compelling. While I’ve pushed through the bugs and flaws of the console version, I can’t find a reason to continue playing ESO. It’s just not as fun as previous Elder Scrolls titles and it feels too stripped down to hold my attention for any period of time. The only saving grace is that they’ve now ditched the subscription model, so you don’t have to spend money on a monthly fee in order to play the game.