erikmb's The Elder Scrolls Online (PC) review

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The Elder Scrolls Online Review

The Elder Scrolls is a game series where I have spent countless hours going on heroic quests and exploring long forgotten ruins. The first time I saw Cyrodiil was eye opening and my epic journey through Skyrim will be an adventure I will always remember. In May 2012 Bethesda Softworks announced a game by ZeniMax Online Studios called The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG set in The Elder Scrolls universe. ‘’What have they done?’’ Those were the words that came out of my mouth when I saw the announcement. The Elder Scrolls has always been about you being a hero exploring the forgotten parts of the world. But now you would be doing that with thousands of other people who are doing the same thing right beside you. Almost two years later the game was released and I have spent many hours exploring the game. The question is - has ZeniMax Online Studios made a game that gives you an The Elder Scrolls experience worth your time or did they shoot themselves in the foot with this one?

The Gates to Oblivion are opening up all over the world of Tamriel, spewing Daedric demons that plague the land. The Daedric prince of domination and enslavement of mortals, Molag Bal, a demon god; seeks to make the world his own and enslave its inhabitants to do his biddings. Only you, a nameless prisoner without a soul must venture out to find the amulet of kings and use it to stop the Daedric prince from merging the two worlds.

If you played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006: Bethesda Softworks) you will notice that The Elder Scrolls Online ripped-off its story straight from Oblivion. The story itself is a pretty standard fantasy story where the world lays in turmoil and a hero must rise to save it. The main story is quickly forgettable and won’t leave you craving for more. However, there is more story to this game than the main events of the game.

I've seen that tower somewhere before...
I've seen that tower somewhere before...

The Elder Scrolls Online lets you explore numerous locations across Tamriel and each quest you find has a story of its own. All the quest in this game are found by exploration. If you walk in a certain direction of your choice you will soon find that an arrow appears on the compass. When I came to one of these arrows I was greeted by a man. He told me that his husband was sick and that he had taken him to a village where it is said that any disease could be cured. But it came at a price... The person who had been cured could never, for the rest of his days, leave the village. I later found out that all the people in the village are actually werewolves whose power is contained by a strange artefact. I could choose to leave them to their fate and the two men would never get to be with each other again or I could destroy the artefact and they would live happily together, man and wolf. This could be the whole plot for a werewolf movie but instead this was just one of the many quest I found on my journey. What my point with all of this is that if you are a person interested in story in games you will find the most interesting part in the side quests and exploration, not the main events.

The gameplay is where the game gets more exciting though and there’s a lot to talk about. The Elder Scrolls Online plays like other games in the Elder Scrolls series. You left click to attack and you right click to block. If you hold down the left mouse button you will do a hard and slow attack, but if you just click it will be weaker but faster. But that’s about it for the similarities to other The Elder Scrolls games.

You get five hotkey skills and one ultimate ability that charges after doing damage to enemies. The skills depend on what class and what weapon you choose. My character was a Templar wielding a two-handed sword. With the two-handed sword I unlocked abilities over time that only worked when I had a two-handed weapon equipped. The class abilities were powers that I could use with all weapons but it consumed a different source of energy than my weapon abilities did.

There are three main attributes to the game: health, magicka and stamina. The health is your survivability, while the magicka is the source for your class abilities and the stamina is for your weapon abilities. The more magicka you have the more damage you're capable of doing with your magicka abilities and the same goes for stamina. This is an interesting design choice because it led me to do something different with my character than originally planned. At first I was going to be a big brute with heavy armor, dealing heavy damage on my opponents. But there are benefits with using medium armor if you want greater stamina, so I ended up using medium armor because I mainly made use of weapon attacks.

You choose the way you play.
You choose the way you play.

The class system is also a bit different compared to other MMORPGs. When I say Dragon Knight you might think a big warrior leading the charge in heavy armor. But the Dragon Knight could be a healer as well as a warrior. The class you choose when you create your character does not determine your role. It only gives you three unique skill lines that the other classes don’t have. The role you play depends on the weapons you wield and the armor you wear. There are many skill lines to choose from and opening up the vampire or werewolf skill line (yes, you can become a vampire or a werewolf) leads to many interesting possibilities and it is rewarding to see the result of the class you created.

Where the game really shines is in its crafting system. It is a deep system where you can craft items to an equal quality of the endgame gear. There is more to the crafting system than just collecting resources and then crafting the item. If I want to create a good sword I first need the materials. The more material I spend the higher level the item requires to use. When I press “craft” the weapon becomes a normal item. I can then spend a special kind of resource that increases the quality of the weapon. That means I can make a normal weapon into a fine weapon and a fine weapon into a rare weapon. The higher the quality the better the weapon becomes. But at this stage you are not done. You can later apply enchants that makes the weapon do 25 fire damage. You go through the same process for creating armor but instead for the 25 fire damage you apply enchants that boost one of your main attributes. There are also other crafting professions like alchemy where you collect plants and mix them to create potions.

It might be a long journey but it sure is a beautiful one.
It might be a long journey but it sure is a beautiful one.

Levelling in The Elder Scrolls Online is a long process and even longer if you follow all the story on the way to level 50. The way you level is by doing public events and quests. Quests are the standard: go from point A to B or pick up X and use it on Z. But this is masked by the story presented and you feel like you are actually helping the people and not just doing their chores.

The public events consist of public dungeons, dungeons, dark anchors and world bosses. Public dungeons are mini dungeons that you can complete by yourself but at the same time they are open to other players that will either fight beside you or do their own thing. You complete a public dungeon by making your way through the groups of enemies that are in your path and then killing the boss who is standing there just waiting to be slapped in the face. Dungeons are similar to public dungeons, the difference is that you need a group of four players to do them and to complete a dungeon you must defeat numerous bosses until you reach the end. Dark anchors and world bosses are events that happen around the world and you complete them by killing all the enemies at the event location.

The problem with these events is that it does not take a long time for them to start feel a bit stale. Because there is almost no variety to them at all. Marking the events off your map starts to feel like a chore. The locations on your map start out as black markers and when you complete them they turn white. This made me feel like the entire map was a chore list, where I had to make the whole map filled with white markers. If it weren’t for the interesting side quests, I don’t think I would have stuck around as long as I did.

So what is the endgame content in The Elder Scrolls Online? When you hit level 50, you still haven't quite reached the max level of the game. You achieve Veteran rank number one which gives you access to Veteran rank content. The Veteran rank content consists of doing the other two factions zones. (There are three factions, each with their own zones.) Doing quests in these zones gives you Veteran rank experience. There are ten Veteran rank levels and there are ten new zones to explore. So basically what you are doing is levelling an extra level for each zone. Veteran rank levels grants you access to stronger gear that you can use in Veteran rank dungeons. Veteran rank dungeons are harder versions of the normal dungeons that are only interesting the first few runs, but they can easily get repetitive.

The stronghold is safe, for now...
The stronghold is safe, for now...

The Player versus Player content has a more fascinating concept than their exploring content. In the middle of Tamriel there is a whole zone dedicate for PVP. The three factions must battle each other through out Cyrodiil and take over the various forts and strongholds. Armies charge the battlefield and sieges forts with catapults. It all looks and feels cool in concept but in reality you are mostly staying back trying not to die. Because dying can be very punishing in Cyrodiil. The map is so big and the forts are so spaced out that if you die you will have to walk from one of the forts you own just to be able to join the fight again, and these runs to the battle are by no means short. This can take away the feel of an epic battle for you, because if you die you miss out on the rest of the battle. I spent my first few hours in Cyrodiil running from point A to B more than doing big scale battles.

However I did enjoy my time in The Elder Scrolls Online. It is one of the most beautiful looking MMORPGs I have experienced. The snowy mountains of Skyrim gave me nostalgia and the mysterious deserts of Hammerfell left me wanting to explore more. The soundtrack is amazing and I never once got tired of the looping songs all those hours I played the game. They nailed The Elder Scrolls look and sound and that won’t leave you disappointed.

The game is still in an early stage but I can’t ignore the fact that there were so many progression blocking bugs in the game. Some quests were so bugged out that I couldn’t complete them, leaving me having to wait for the next patch so I could continue on my journey.

The first time I played The Elder Scrolls Online was during the beta and I did not enjoy the game at the time at all. The reason for that was because I came in as an Elder Scrolls fan and the game felt like a half-assed Elder Scrolls game. But at the release I decided to come in as an MMORPG fan and I found that ZeniMax Online Studios had created a very good game that is enjoyable. Sure, it has its problems and the Player versus Player content could use some tuning. But it is safe to say that I will that I will be looking forward to spending many more hours exploring the future content ZeniMax has promised.

Review by Erik Baker

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