Multiplayer Elder Scrolls? What’s not to like?
It was a long wait for The Elder Scrolls Online. When it was first announced, Elder Scrolls fans went a bit crazy with anticipation. Then the lull set in as little information was released about the highly anticipated game, leaving the fans to start worrying about just how different this online version of their favorite series would be. The launch finally arrived and went relatively smoothly and now, one month later, players have explored enough to make informed decisions about the game. Here are my informed decisions…
Players of the single player games will feel at home when it comes to the character creation. There are plenty of options here to make a unique character for adventuring in Tamriel. Nine standard races are available for the player to choose from, all of which have featured in previous titles, and there is the tenth Imperial race for those who forked out the extra cash for the impressive Collector’s Edition. Disappointingly, there are only four character classes at the moment, but these classes are well designed to give the player plenty of freedom in how they play. The Sorcerer needs no introduction, flinging magic all over the place, and then there is the Templar, Dragon Knight and Nightblade, each of which bring a combination of abilities to the table.
Along with the heavy customisation of how the character looks, the player will also have to choose a faction to belong to, a choice which may be limited depending on whether the player pre-ordered the game or picked up the Collector’s Edition. These factions have a few impacts on the game, but are most important when it comes to the PvP side of The Elder Scrolls Online. However, PvP is not something that new players need worry about for a while.
Once the player has worked through the initial tutorial area, which also sets up the ongoing story for the game, then it is on to Tamriel and time for some heavy questing. The quests, which can be picked up from NPCs, are largely made up of fetching stuff or going to places. The exploration quests can be a little difficult at times, as map markers can be confusing and leave the player trekking round entire mountain ranges. However, the quests are only the smallest part of the game.
Exploring, finding Skyshards (three of which allow for an extra skill point), finding secrets and lore, and crafting materials for the crafting skills are all alternative ways that the player can spend their time. Leveling up will give the player skill points that they can use in a huge variety of skills, allowing them to unlock new abilities or even improve their crafting skills. There are seven crafting paths that a player can wander down as they gather more components from defeating enemies or exploration.
The combat again is similar to the previous Elder Scrolls games, being more based around skill than just having the best weapon and abilities. Combat is all about moving, blocking and taking the swipe at just the right time. There is no highlighting the enemy, pressing a button and letting them get on with it. The combat has been perfected over years of the Elder Scrolls, and although it takes time to get used to for those not familiar with the early games, it is much more immersive.
A wave of familiarity washed over me as I first started up The Elder Scrolls Online. There was also a sense of dread as I worked through the early hours of the game. The Elder Scrolls Online sets out feeling very much like the earlier games in the series, which is decidedly single player. Sure, I could see other players doing their thing, and occasionally tagged along to run through a quest quicker than I could have done alone. But the experience in those early hours was still very much a single player one, an experience that really didn’t warrant a monthly subscription, especially after paying out for the game. This does change as the game progresses, specifically at level 10 when the player unlocks PvP.
Unlocking PvP takes the player to the massive playing area of Cyrodiil and the territorial conflict between the three factions. Join a group and take on other players, try to capture buildings and even take on quests. The PvP game is almost like another game all of its own, and warrants the monthly subscription for those players who enjoy this kind of team based play. So far, I have not spent too much time in the PvP game as it is quite brutal to new players or those who have not quite come to terms with the skill based combat, but the appeal is clear.
There are a couple of things about The Elder Scrolls Online that I have noticed and I am not exactly sure how I feel about. Firstly, it is that the game is quite hard. Now, I am not one to shy away from a challenge, but when most MMORPGs subscribe to the “Gran Turismo” formula (in which driving skill was not really necessary, as long as the player had the best car), suddenly coming up against enemies of the same level that can actually defeat your character, or even of lower levels if they team up, is a little unnerving. Skill and caution, knowing exactly how to use whatever abilities you have unlocked, are all important, and equally important is knowing when you have wandered into an area that you are not prepared for and when to run away.
The other thing I am not exactly sure about is how long the game takes. This is an MMO, so I would expect to be packing in many hundreds of hours over multiple gaming sessions, but the progression is so slow that moving up a level and actually improving your character becomes somewhat of a novelty. I can understand the reasoning behind this, players jumping into The Elder Scrolls Online will be expecting a long haul, and rightly so. But then there is also the more cynical voice in my head that tells me the reason why it takes so long to progress is so that ZeniMax can get as many monthly subs out of the player as possible (and why don’t they sell 30 day time cards?). It is still difficult to make the distinction between TESO and a single player Elder Scrolls game, so sinking in many hours with very little reward can be hard to stomach.
Speaking of rewards, I am afraid that I may have to moan again. Loot drops and rewards for completing quests are not exactly awe-inspiring. I want a new weapon that puts all of my other equipment to shame, not one that is slightly inferior to what I am already using. That’s if my character can even use the item I have been rewarded with, as much of the time the loot is simply not applicable to me. Sure, I can make some quick cash, but rewards should offer something a bit more to the player than they would be able to get otherwise – What is the point in doing quests if not for epic loot?
Well, one major appeal of doing quests is to give your random wandering some direction. The world of The Elder Scrolls Online is simply beautiful and begs to be explored. It is all too easy to jump on a horse and head off into the sunset, checking out some interesting blip that you may have seen on the map. This is where it is easy to wander into hostile areas and end up waiting for other players to come along and save your character, but to see the glorious sights of Tamriel, it is quite often worth it.
And the world is absolutely huge too. This could be another reason why the progression is so drawn out, to give the player a chance to visit all of this glorious world before they become some powerhouse character that strolls into an area, kills anything that looks at them funny, and then leaves without being able to appreciate just how nice everything looks.
Trying to review a game like The Elder Scrolls Online is much like trying to count to infinity. Whilst I have put many hours into the game, I know there is so much left for me to find and experience. And as I find and experience more stuff, yet more will be added as the game is updated, and things I may not have been entirely happy with may be tweaked and changed. The result will likely be that in a years time the game will be quite different to how it is now, and I will still not have seen it all, although hopefully I will have gained at least a few levels by then.
The Elder Scrolls Online undoubtedly brings with it the appeal and the quality of the Elder Scrolls games. It certainly starts out feeling like a single player title, and that monthly subscription may well seem over kill. But it is later in the game that the massively multiplayer game opens up and starts feeling much more like maybe an MMO. The first ten levels or so are an uphill battle, but then things start opening up and possibilities present themselves that make the game, whilst still damn hard work, feel like a place that players could happily lose hours and hours in. It is a way from perfect, but The Elder Scrolls Online is bringing something slightly different to the crowded MMORPG market, and is well worth a punt if you are looking for a new world to call home.