The Elder Scrolls Online Critical-D-view: Tamriel Lite

 

I’m going to be up front with you all: after having sunk a gripload of hours into this game, I still don’t entirely know how I think about it. I certainly didn’t dislike my time in the game, there are some things implemented in the game that I really really like. At the same time, I can promise you that I’m definitely not going to be re-upping my subscription when my complimentary 35 days are up. What disappoints me more than the buggy world, reused environments and lackluster combat, is the fact that deep beneath these issues I can see that a LOT of work has gone into the game, and there is some serious potential.

Full Frontal Tamriel

I’ll definitely give the game some credit: they did manage to cram all of The Elder Scroll’s world of Tamriel into the game in a way that is pretty impressive. Many of the areas from previous games can be explored at length, albeit in a scale that isn’t quite as grand as, say Morrowind’s cities in The Elder Scrolls III. Also impressive is the fact that the game actually does look really good. Even on my crappy laptop that I play games on, the game manages to look rather impressive at times.

In addition to this, you can tell that Zenimax Online Media did their Elder Scrolls History 101 homework going into the game. It takes place thousands of years before the previous five games in the franchise, and it really is interesting leafing through the thousands and thousands of pages of reading material littered throughout the world to gain some insight into Tamriel’s history. On top of the lore, being immersed in the history of the world and the war between the three warring alliances can be interesting at times. The main story isn’t particularly enthralling, but that was never really what Elder Scrolls was about anyway. The games have always been more about exploration, and that’s where the game begins to unravel.

The Joyless Exploration

One of the tooltips for the game that appears on the loading screen implores players to pick a direction and explore. This is definitely an idea that has always permeated the franchise; exploration in Skyrim was a joy. Walking in any given direction would lead players to quests, characters, dungeons, and really any numbers of things. There was an elation to dungeon diving that made me personally feel like a sort of fantasy Indiana Jones raiding pits and finding untold treasure.

One of TESO’s big fumbles is that it fails to capture that same feeling. To be fair, it would have been hard to in an MMO setting, and Zenimax Online certainly tried. Speckled throughout the various parts of Tamriel are explorable dungeons that can be cleared for experience, but that’s really about all they’re good for.  It feels very flat and uninspired, and I certainly didn’t feel the same drive to explore that the franchise’s single player offerings gave me. Of course there are NPCs who hand out quests as well, but most of the quest lines are pretty standard MMO affairs. Mostly go here, do this, come back, gain EXP and some items, and so on. Some of the optional quest lines can be really interesting, like shutting down an illegal Skooma-running operation, but most of the quests just feel bland.

It’s Combat/Character Time

Yet another part where Zenimax Online tried to capture the magic of the mainline games while mixing in traditional MMO elements is through combat and character creation. In the end all it elicits is a resounding “meh.” The combat isn’t broken, per se, but much like the mainline games it certainly isn’t the game’s strong suit. It all starts with the character creation process.

When a player starts, they pick a race and change their looks with a dizzying amount of customization options. For PvP and story purposes however, the game also makes players pick one of the game’s three alliances: The Aldmeri Dominion, The Ebonheart Pact, and the Daggerfall Covenant. This will determine in what part of Tamriel the player starts, as well as which army in PvP warfare the player fights for. All of this is fine and dandy, but the part of the creation process, and combat as well, that bugs me is the inclusion of classes.

This isn’t a wholly new idea to the Elder Scrolls franchise, but where previous games had almost endless customization as far as classes were concerned, TESO locks you into one of four classes, each falling into a basic MMO archetype. There’s the rogue, the mage, the warrior, and the. As the player progresses, the classes begin offer some differentiation. As the player levels up they are able to put points in various skills and buffs that they are able to slot into one of a limited number of slots on the ability bar. In true Elder Scrolls fashion, you can be a wizard who uses a sword and shield if you wish, but you won’t be a very effective player. In the end, it all comes down to spamming left click at a thing while throwing some spells/abilities at it until it dies. Also, I don’t know if I’m just bad at the game or it’s actually that hard, but one boss in the first Fighter’s Guild quest just kept killing me mercilessly no matter what level I reached, until I basically just gave up altogether. (that’s not really a complaint to the game, but It just pissed me off.)

Buggy. As. Hell. 

This game, in its current state, is still really buggy. I often found myself teleporting to a new location or leaving a room just to find myself buried in the floor unable to move to such an extent that even using the /stuck command couldn’t even get me out. The issue made me quit the game altogether and re-login just to get going again. This happened a number of times to me every time I played. I also experienced some quests that were unable to be continued, attack animations not working, and many other issues. The game is by no means unplayable, but the constant bugs that popped up consistently hampered my enjoyment.

One thing to note is that bugs tend to be par for the course for a fledgling MMO. Odds are most of these bugs will be ironed out in the coming months as more and more patches are released. For now though, the constant bugs have become an annoyance.

The Battle of Three Armies

PVP Can get pretty bonkers
PVP Can get pretty bonkers

There is one part of the game I found a lot of enjoyment in, that I wouldn’t find in any other Elder Scrolls game: TESO’s novel take on player vs player combat. The player is but one soldier in a massive all out war to take locations, elder scrolls, and lives of soldiers from the other two kingdoms. The aim of becoming the controlling army of Cyrodiil (Of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion fame.) is always within grasp.

Instead of 1v1 or party battles, the war takes place on the open world map of Cyrodiil with every player fighting for land and country. Players can buy siege weapons to take keeps and land from their opponents, and it is often a thing of real beauty and fun to join your allies and storm a keep in the open world. The same complaints with combat still exist, and if someone is playing their class willy-nilly with some bizarre combination they just won’t be effective. When everything comes together though, it can be a lot of fun Traversing Cyrodiil and working together to take back an Elder Scroll, or overtake an enemy castle.

The Verdict

The biggest complaints with the game can be summarized in one word: compromise. The franchise’s trademark freedom of play is there, but the freedom is ineffective when put into an MMO environment that is just too structured. It’s clear that the developers were trying to keep the core ideas of Elder Scrolls in place, but it just seems like the game is trying to fight back against MMO concepts. Sometimes the MMO trappings are put to good use, such as in PVP, but more often than not they just seem to hold the game back. Not to mention unforgivable exclusions such as a universal auction house just seem baffling. (There are auction houses in game, but only intra-guild, so if you want to trade items, you have to join a trading guild of 600 players max. It just makes the idea of an economy seem useless.)

I know there is a good Elder Scrolls game in there somewhere, and in a couple months when Zenimax Online gets into their groove it might rear its glorious head. For now, the game is just held back by its MMO trappings from becoming the all-encompassing Elder Scrolls game that it should be.

Should You Buy It? Maybe one day a couple months down the line. As it stands right now, the game just isn’t good enough to warrant a purchase. Should Zenimax Online get their shit together though, there could be a wonderful Elder Scrolls experience lying in wait.

Should You Pay Full Price? No. I can’t imagine the game will stay $60 for too long, but the full price game with a $15/month price tag on top of that is way, way too much to pay for what you get. Who knows, it may even go the way of Rift and go free to play.

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