Elder Scrolls Online is a game that’s been my radar since before it launched. Which is a bit odd because my history with the Elder Scrolls franchise is virtually nonexistent.
I am for all practical purposes an Elder Scrolls virgin. I did buy Skyrim on a Steam sale a year or two back, but it failed to impress. I’m sure for a certain kind of player it’s a great game, but after four hours during which a rough estimate of nothing had happened, I just gave up.
Despite that less than stellar experience, though, I remained curious about ESO. Elder Scrolls name aside, it seemed to be doing a lot of things that I appreciate in an MMO. The wide variety of options for customizing one’s build holds a lot of appeal, and while ESO’s reputation as a “single-player MMO” is a stain on its name for most people, it’s a mark in its favour for me.
I had hoped for a free trial, but none was forthcoming, so when the game went on sale for $12, I decided to take a chance.
After a few days of exploring Tamriel, I’m still not entirely sure what I think. I should also mention that I wasn’t able to delve as deeply into the game as I normally do before I write these posts, due to a combination of my limited time before resuming my apartment search in Toronto (which is probably where I’ll be when this post goes live)* as well as ESO’s quirks.
But I’m not sure whether I’ll continue playing or not, and even if I do, it won’t be for several weeks, so I figured I should write up my first impressions now.
A plethora of options:
The odd thing about ESO is that it has very few significant flaws — at least so far — but also very few exceptional qualities. Despite this, I will do my best to highlight the game’s strengths and weaknesses.
By far my favourite thing about the game so far is the amount of freedom you’re given in how you build your character.
ESO does have classes (four, to be precise), but they make up a fairly small part of your character’s build. Every class can use every weapon and armour type, and similar to Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World, your weapon provides much of your active abilities.
I’ve been playing a sorcerer, but I’m using mostly leather and plate armour, and I’ve been shifting back and forth between a greatsword and a bow for my weapon. I’m sure this is a terrible build that would get me laughed out of groups, but I’m enjoying it a lot.
Well, sort of. To my surprise, despite having a quasi-action combat system (again, similar to GW2 and TSW), ESO seems to follow the WoW model of combat difficulty. That is to say most enemies drop dead after about two or three hits, and fights are often over before I even take a single point of damage.
This is by far my biggest complaint about ESO so far, and it’s sucking a lot of fun of out of what might otherwise be an interesting game. What’s the point of this deep build system when most enemies die after one or two ability uses? What’s the point of all the game’s intricate block, dodge, and interrupt mechanics when you can just burst mobs down almost immediately?
Someone in chat said it gets harder once you leave the starting zone, but I have my doubts. I find most MMOs generally maintain a fairly static difficulty level for open world content.
On the plus side, something else I appreciate about ESO is that it is a very detailed game. The world is not lifeless and sterile as you would see in WoW and its clones. There are books and notes to read everywhere (though most of them are pretty boring), and there’s loot scattered everywhere (though most of it’s not that valuable).
Where this gets interesting, though, is that some of that loot already has owners. The game has a full theft and crime system where if you’re sneaky, you can rob NPCs blind. But get caught, and the NPC guards will begin hunting you, forcing you to hide lest your ill-gotten gains be confiscated.
Goody two-shoes that I am, I only steal from the NPCs who deserve it… but there are a lot of those, so I’ve spent my fair share of time dodging the guards. It’s surprisingly fun — again, it makes it feel more like a world and less like a game.
I’m a little on the fence on the quest design in ESO. On paper, it’s exactly what I like: fewer, deeper, more story-driven quests. It’s a bit like The Secret World that way.
But the quests still aren’t that memorable, ultimately. They certainly beat the stock standard “kill ten rats” fare, but there isn’t a lot of mechanical originality, and the story-telling remains largely unimpressive, with incredibly predictable plots, a generic setting, and mostly uninteresting quest-givers.
Except Razum-dar. This one likes Razum-dar. Razum-dar is good Khajiit.
Story is usually the largest factor in determining whether I stick with an MMO, and while ESO’s story doesn’t bore me as much as, say, Rift’s or Neverwinter’s, it’s not exactly grabbing me, either.
It’s another thing I feel mixed on. On the one hand, it’s a good reward for exploration. Reminds me of Guild Wars 2 a bit. But it also feels a bit unnecessarily obtuse, and if I hadn’t already known to look around from reading about the game, I probably would have missed out on a lot of content.
Taking it slow, and other thoughts:
Another issue with ESO is that the leveling is probably the slowest I’ve ever seen in an MMO. Before even hitting level ten, each level takes about as long as leveling 89-90 did back in Mists of Pandaria. If not longer. It’s crazy.
I’m someone who feels the journey matters more than the destination, so this isn’t a gamebreaking issue for me, but going so long without any gear upgrades, or new abilities, or any rewards at all is a little wearing.
Due to the snail’s pace of leveling and my Toronto-related deadline, I haven’t had a chance to try dungeons, or PvP, or really anything but questing. My understanding is that ESO is another game to make the incredibly backwards decision not to include a dungeon finder, so I may never experience its group content, and I think the PvP is just open world faction war, so that holds even less appeal to me than MMO PvP normally does.
ESO also still doesn’t have anything resembling an auction house as far as I know, which I find baffling. I guess that “single-player MMO” thing isn’t entirely a good thing even for me.
The one good I can say on social matters is that at least ESO has open-tapping. Which is good because the zones are incredibly crowded, even at low levels.
One final thing I should mention is that I very much like the business model ESO has adopted. No mandatory subscription, and the cash shop is so pure in its devotion to cosmetics and minor convenience that it fills me with wistful sadness, for I know no cash shop can remain this utterly harmless forever.
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After several days of playing, I’m still not sure how I feel about Elder Scrolls Online. It rarely excels, but it also doesn’t have a lot of major flaws. I’m not exactly thrilled with it, but I keep logging in.
As a result, I’m also not sure whether I would recommend it or not. It’s a lot like The Secret World, but with much lower difficulty and a lesser quality of story-telling. Whether or not that appeals is up the individual.