Review: The Elder Scrolls Online

Game Reviews / Gaming / PC / Reviews

The official launch day for the PC version of The Elder Scrolls (TESO) has come and gone, and now millions of users are exploring the massively multiplayer online (MMO) world of Tamriel both alone and with their friends. TESO offers both familiarity and new experiences for seasoned MMO veterans, but TESO is actually quite accessible to newcomers to the MMO scene.

There are hundreds of thousands of players who have either never  played an MMO or have played very little of an MMO who are now stepping into TESO, drawn only by their love of previous Elder Scrolls games and fueled by the lore of this rich fantasy universe.

Let’s take a look at some of the core elements of The Elder Scrolls Online and see how ZeniMax Online Studios has delivered the new MMO.

Character Creation

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen13If you are to start anywhere, it should be at the beginning. Character creation is where you begin your journey in TESO, and it is a dual step process. First, you must choose your race, which corresponds to your allegiance to one of three factions – the Aldmeri Dominion, the Ebonheart Pact, and the Daggerfall Covenant. The customization options for each race are pretty intricate compared to some MMOs on the market.

This reminds me heavily of the customization found in Skyrim. You’re allowed to customize skin tone, height, weight, hand and foot size, angularity of the face, style of the nose, hair style and color, and another dozen or so other specifications like jaw height and neck width that will help you sculpt and fine tune your perfect adventurer.

Classes & Abilities

After creating your character, you must choose a class as the second part of the creation process. At first, the class system of TESO may appear to be uninteresting. After all, TESO offers only four player classes to use as a base:

  • Dragonknight
  • Templar
  • Nightblade
  • Sorcerer

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen1At the heart of each class, however, are multiple skill trees that allow you build your character however you’d like to play it. You don’t have to ascribe a specific role (e.g. tank, healer, damage, etc.) to your build if you don’t want to. That’s not all, though. The classes don’t have any gear restrictions, either, which means your Dragon Knight could be equipped with a destruction staff and light armor, and your Sorcerer could be equipped with a longsword, shield, and heavy armor.

These may not be the best builds for your characters because of stat bonuses granted by sets of armor, racial abilities, and class abilities. However, what’s so alluring about TESO’s character creation system is that you have true freedom when crafting your character, their combat skills and methods, and their persona in general as you progress through the game. You could play closely to the suggested parameters of your chosen class and be a tall Nord Dragon Knight tank wielding a two-handed axe, or you could be a ridiculously short Argonian Sorcerer support that uses a bow and totally ignores her magical abilities, for better or for worse – the choice is yours!

The spells and abilities of each tree are all a lot of fun to try out and all play differently. Some skills will passive increase your health, stamina, or Magicka. Some will temporarily buff up your damage or defense. Eventually you’ll find something that suits your play style. For me, the choice was clear; a Dragonknight wielding Ardent Flame’s chains that pull enemies from afar up close for a severe beating. The Ultimate Ability of the Dragonknight also allows me to deal extra damage to enemies within a certain radius, which is great for decimating weaker foes while my Dragonknight goes to town on a stronger enemy with his sword and shield.

Exploration & Questing

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen8Exploration in TESO is almost strictly story-driven. Players expecting the wanderlust filled, barreling freedom of Skyrim will be smote by the enemy creatures of these far flung lands in mere moments. Explore, but don’t leave the areas where your quests lead. TESO keeps you in an area until it’s ready for you to move on. This may seem a little counter-intuitive to anyone playing TESO as their first MMO, especially if they’re coming from one of the other Elder Scrolls games, like Skyrim, where freedom of exploration is a huge factor. Veteran MMO players will feel at home with this arrangement.

Where TESO does not conform to other MMOs is its ability to keep you engaged, and this may set veterans on their heads. The plot is truly engrossing, which is not something that we usually see in an MMO. A lot of MMOs have devolved into glorified fetching quests with minimal plot points in an attempt to keep the player halfheartedly interested.

This is where we see TESO’s true genius, and it is the melding of exploration and questing. The quests keep you constantly moving forward, finding new locations and experiencing new parts of the land at a quick pace. You won’t yearn to run free, because you’ll be so into what you’re doing and where you are at the moment. Before you know it, you’ll be halfway across a major map area with nearly two dozen unique locations discovered. All you can remember from the trip is the intricate story arc and epic scenery from that last quest which blew your mind. Some quests require you to solve puzzles and interact with creatures and the environment in certain ways, very much like Skyrim or Oblivion. The questing is very different in TESO when compared to other MMOs, and is a welcome change that will, I hope, spur some changes in attitude toward quests and how they’re carried out in future MMOs.

Professions & Crafting

Crafting items is a large part of just about every MMO, proliferated by World of Warcraft and refined, in my opinion, by TESO. There are six general professions:

  • Blacksmithing
  • Enchanting
  • Provisioning
  • Alchemy
  • Woodworking
  • Clothing

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen3Collecting materials and ingredients is important to progress in any profession. As you explore Tamriel, you’ll find ore veins, logs, wild flowers, magic runes, and other natural resources to gather. Gather them up as soon as you see them, as other players are often looking for the same materials!

Now, let’s take a look at Blacksmithing as an example profession. Blacksmithing is one of the more feature-rich professions in the game, and as you work in the profession, you’ll unlock more skill levels, recipes, and be able to unlock additional abilities that allow you to create better items. You can refine the raw ores you’ve collected and deconstruct weapons and armor to gain more of those resources.

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen2When constructing an item, you can choose the level to make it at by adding additional resources to it. This will allow you to create weapons that do more damage and armor that mitigate more damage. You can also choose its appearance style (Imperial, Argonian, Nord, etc.) if you have the correct minerals while crafting it. Once your piece has been crafted, you can then refine it with items like pitch. You can also sacrifice up weapons and armor for research, which helps you create finer items in the future.

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen5If it seems like crafting and improving a profession in TESO is a time consuming process, that’s because it is, but that is to its advantage rather than to its disadvantage. No other MMO gives you this sort of control over professions and crafting items. It is truly refreshing to feel in control of what my character wears, the buffs he gains from the food cooked or the potions created, and how much additional damage a rune causes his sword to do. As with most MMOs, however, it is best to choose two or three professions to focus on. Doing otherwise could result in far more time spent hunting for resources than completing quests. This story arc is long enough to keep you going for many hours without the time spent gathering.

Social Interactions

Although the best thing you can do is to play TESO with a group of friends or a guild, you can have a single player character and do a reasonable amount of the quests. There are some things that you just won’t be able to do alone, such as fight a unique over sized blue Mudcrab boss and its minions. There are several of these bosses scattered throughout each area of the world, and defeating them will require either a group of friends or a lot of back tracking on your part when you’re a higher level if you insist on running a truly single player character.

Remember that if you play a single player character, you will miss out on a lot of great quests and funny moments, so I’d suggest joining a guild at the very least. Guilds are full of friendly folks who will help you when you need it and usually supply their members pretty well if you need materials or ingredients.

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen12As with any MMO, social interactions can be hit-or-miss depending on the day, the time, and who’s in your play zone at the moment. I’ve at times found the in-game community pleasantly helpful, and at other times maddeningly introverted. There have been moments where I’ve asked if anyone wants to complete a particular quest area to receive absolutely no response. At other times, I’ve had two or three people want to group up and take on the evils of Tamriel with me faster than you can say “Lusty Argonian Maid,” a popular in-game book and the butt of many endearing jokes from fans of Elder Scrolls lore.

Player versus player (PVP) is available to characters after level 10 in something called the Alliance War. This is where the three factions of the game vie for control of the Imperial City of the province of Cryodiil through PVP instances. Whether you win a PVP battle doesn’t really rely on your class, but will depend on how well you play the character you’ve created. Of course, there are trolls – players who play solely to aggravate and madden other players. Generally speaking, however, players are respectful to each other and play the PVP encounters to have fun.

Graphics, Sound & Controls

The graphics are, hands down, some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. The quality rivals that of Guild Wars 2. This comes from a spectacular graphics team who hand-crafted every unique mug, leaf, and mace, then turned their intricate attention to detail to the overworld. There’s heavy smoke in the smoldering pits of volcanoes, patches of clouds obscuring the luminous stars of the nighttime, and scattered snowflakes in the cold wastelands of the north. Buildings are designed to reflect the race or group living in the area as well as different situations like ancient pipe-laden Dwemer ruins which have their own very unique style and (occasionally) steam powered elevators and magic-driven mechanical enemies.

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen7The soundtrack lends itself nicely to the gameplay, almost always playing the right music for the situation. As the day/night cycle progresses you’ll hear different melodies during the quiet hours than you would during the middle of the day.

The control scheme currently supports mouse and keyboard only. It’s a little hard to get used to if you’re new to PC games and MMOs in general. The direction of your character is controlled by combining the forward, backward, and left and right functions of the traditional WASD key bindings with the camera control of the mouse.

Your left and right mouse buttons are for attack and defend, respectively. You can interrupt certain enemy attacks when prompted to press the left and right mouse buttons consecutively. Spells and an Ultimate Ability, which is unlocked later on, are slaved to the 1-5 and R keys, respectively. This gives you quick access to your spells and abilities, which you’ll want to use more than your standard left mouse button attack, as that is far less powerful than your abilities, and your stamina and Magicka bars refill quite quickly.

Wrap Up

Elder-Scrolls-Online-Screen6I have to give credit where credit is due. ZeniMax Online Studios has spent years building the locations of the Elder Scrolls universe into this game, mapping every building and tree, and planting subtle lore in the guise of books and other interactive and recognizable items. The ZeniMax team has taken the small number of beloved locales that we’ve visited before and added them to a large hodgepodge of ones that we haven’t, and it’s glorious. The overarching plot line is enthralling, the side quests are full of character, and the world feels truly alive. Hell, even the PVP is downright dangerously fun, and I’ve never been a lover of PVP.

I always wanted to play MMOs, to join in the camaraderie with my friends, but the games were too monotonous and felt empty even though they were full of players. TESO is a game changer, especially for someone like me. Even if I weren’t invested in the Elder Scrolls universe, I’d have a very hard time turning away from this game.

I could never truly embrace MMOs, beyond very casually – until The Elder Scrolls Online came along.

You can pick up your own copy of The Elder Scrolls Online by visiting their website.


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