Review: Elder Scrolls Online is not an Elder Scrolls MMO

All I wanted was to explore the Elder Scrolls world totally and completely like never before. I’m an admitted MMO junkie, you see. I’ve weened off WoW, SWTOR and other games of the MMO genre over the years, but who doesn’t love the Elder Scrolls? I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing Skyrim, Oblivion and Morrowind, so I was ready to sink my teeth into the universe that I’ve always wanted to share with a friend. 

ESO has a lot of things going for it; the beautiful locales, the fully-voice acted NPCs that litter every inch of every zone. It’s wonderful, at first. The beta really made me want to make this place my home, but now, about 45 hours later, I just want to leave. ESO is an MMO set in the Elder Scrolls universe, it’s not an Elder Scrolls MMO. It’s come to my attention that many have only played Skyrim, so let me make this example – you can’t go into a random home, kill the person living in it, then steal all of their fruit. You can’t travel wherever you want, because you’re locked into the systems put in place around 2006. Venture into a new zone, and enemies are far too difficult for you to defeat alone, you can’t stealth around like in previous ES games and in general, the whole feel of the ES universe is missing. On the surface, this is a gorgeous look at places you’ve ventured to before. The architecture harkens back to riding your horse through Cyrodiil in Oblivion, and you can’t help but be in awe of the attention to detail with everything but the gameplay.

This game has its feet firmly planted in MMOs of yesteryear. It’s a major bummer. There is no real innovation. Even the PVP, which is the best part of the game (outside the crafting system, but we’ll get to that) is borrowed heavily from Dark Age of Camelot. In ESO’s PVP, you fight over a living battlefield, moving from military outpost to military outpost, busting down walls and taking castles like WoW’s Wintergrasp x100. Except it’s far too sprawling to really be a concentrated area of fun. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a stealthy archer, and I love the fact that I can play this class to my own accord by using skill points gained a la Skyrim. I rain down arrows on the usurpers as they work towards bringing down our walls with their ballista, but therein lies another issue – my server has a huge pop, so we do nothing but dominate. This has led our opponents to all but abandon the battle for Cyrodiil. Now I can only ‘guest’ in another PVP zone until my 60 days in my home zone runs out. Lame. This affects my gaining of PVP points and other cool prizes, so it makes me not want to play.

Heading out into the wide world of ESO, it plays just like every MMO ever. Talk to dude A, gather some stuff, bring it back to him. Yes, the game is brilliantly written and features some of the best voice acting of the entire ESO series, but I am completely sick of killing 10 boars or collecting 5 flowers in order to move on with my life in the game. 

While out in the wild, you’ll run into many other players doing their thing. You can explore many caves or dungeons littered about the countryside, which is a fun and hectic romp that I don’t think was intended in the final release. Basically, you’ll get a quest taking you into a cave, which has a boss or an item you need to find at the back of the dank hole, but it’s filled with other players, so you kind of group (or run alongside) an improvised crew, burning through everything until you can GTFO. 

This, and the phasing system, which is genius at first and tiresome later, is the crux of ESO’s issues. It simply feels like all multiplayer was tacked on. I bought this game to play with my friends and family, yet it’s an absolute pain in my ass. If I’m not on the EXACT quest my friend is on, or he is elsewhere on the main quest, he’s simply invisible. I can’t help him, he can’t help me. We are invisible to each other except in PVP. That isn’t a living, breathing world. It yanks me out of the experience and makes me want to try out the Skyrim multiplayer mods.

While trying to group with friends, you’ll find tons of items in the wild to harvest. You can also take old gear, either found or taken off dead enemies, and break them down into materials to craft with. This is by far my favorite part of the game, as it was my favorite part in previous TES games, but for as fun as this is, the onion peels back to reveal another stinky issue; the inventory system. 

You WILL run out of inventory space, and fast. Yes, you can buy a bigger bag or bank slot, but they are extremely expensive relative to the amount of coin you’ll make in the early game. I have 7 mules just holding my crap and materials until I can get around to cooking and crafting them all up. Ridiculous. I’m a huge dork, and I love inventory management, but this is like a second job. What could’ve been an ingenious addition to the game, a Skyrim-esque crafting system, is just another bogged down system in a game overrun with them. Damn, I want to love this game, but it makes it so, so hard for a fan of TES to love.

If the devs can somehow push this game into 2012, maybe I’ll go back. I don’t really regret my time spent in ESO, but the fun factor just wasn’t there. Yes, you can play it like a single player TES title in a way, but it plays like most MMOs and eventually you’ll have to group up, even if you don’t want to. I’m pained to say this, but this is just mediocre craftsmanship on the part of the devs. 

As I said before, ESO is an MMO set in the Elder Scrolls universe, it’s not an Elder Scrolls MMO. It’s not the TES MMO we deserve or want, but it’s the one we have, unfortunately. No amount of slick graphics can save it.

I loved this game in the opening hours, then my love turned to complete apathy.

Published on May 1, 2014 at 5:31 pm
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