The Elder Scrolls Online Review

By Robert Settle on 23rd June 2015

What is the Elder Scrolls Online you ask? Is it Skyrim but with human players running about? It’s the first question I am asked about the game. Well partly yes and partly no. There is no question if you start as a Nord and frolic around in the snow it does indeed look and feel like you’re happily back in Skyrim. Such a start inspired me to grab my iron helm with goat horns and biggest piece of metal hardware I could find. But I kept seeing other players running around getting smacked by enemies and feeling that urge to jump in and save their bacon. There’s strange characters dancing and using social emotes in the towns and friends speaking to each other over the area voice communications. Head near a cave and you get an invite to group up from someone else looking to go in there. Here’s the change. Skyrim was a solitary place where I was born to be a dragon amongst men. Here I am just a dude without a soul who is running around helping a load of other dudes without souls.

I didn’t find any of the glitches, bugs, and general computer code mayhem that afflicted the original PC release. In fact one of the greatest challenges for the console versions of this game will be to buy back the trust of those who were exposed to the PC version in its original state. I can say here and now – it’s a lot more polished and finished. Obviously there was the first week server implosions that no one should be surprised to see. Everyone wants to play and right now at the same time. It has been terrible at times. But since the online subscription for this game was dropped, the number of people interested in it grew exponentially. The 15 GB day one patch took me two days to download on my pretty decent internet connection. I read that it took some people 100 hours or more. Even after all of that patching, and messing about waiting for my server to log me in, I ran into latency that has been unplayable at times. Too many people in one tiny area and boom you are down to framerate zero and characters lag skipping here and there. But there is something about expecting it that makes more bearable. The fact that I saw it improve during the course of the week also calmed my nerves about it. Now that I write this, those issues are all but resolved.

Passing the test of godly patience with the internet I landed with a bump in the wicked Wonderland of Coldharbour. It’s blue and I mean over the top ugly blue. Nothing at all like I would decorate an evil Daedric hell prison. Some spikes maybe, a dash of red, a few gibbets for styling. I mean not overdo the red but enough to set the mood. True, it’s not Elder Scrolls unless you start as a prisoner and here you are bang right in the middle of one. If you know your Elder Scrolls, being in Coldharbour is similar to going through an Oblivion gate. If you don’t know your Elder Scrolls it basically a prison in another level of existence that exists as your starting tutorial area. It belongs to Molag Bal – a properly evil Daedra (read evil god or prince) who has literally sunk hooks of destruction into the living Tamriel. I mean there are literally giant hooks from his world dug into the world of the Elder Scrolls. Just to reiterate his evilness – I had to slaughter innocent civilians in previous games just to get this guy’s attention. In the story of the Elder Scrolls Online, you’ve been killed in Tamriel and now exist as a soulless fiend in his play dungeon. Obviously it’s time for a prison break from Bal’s fifty shades of blue.

Back in the real world, there is a massive war going on between three factions or alliances as they’re known. They also go by fancy names like the Aldmeri Dominion, Daggerfall Covenant, and the Ebonheart Pact. Each faction is made up of three races. If you want to play a certain race you must be a part of that race’s faction (unless you buy Crown Store content to override this but I’ll get to that later on.) In addition to Molag Bal, the story (or main quest line as is more the case) is pretty straightforward and more than a little bit similar to Dragon Age Inquisition. A king wanted a god’s approval to be Emperor. He performs a ritual that creates a breach in the sky between his world and Oblivion. This allowed Molag Bal to launch his attempt to merge the two realms and become its ruler. You meet a guy called the Prophet in Coldharbour who believes you have some form of destiny to stop all the destruction and world merging. So you venture out, do quests for people, level up and every now and then check back with the Prophet for what to do. I totally ignored the Prophet for ages and got more involved in the main quest. This is pretty standard for the way most people play the game. But obviously completing the main quests will unlock more areas and content while the other quests serve to fill out the areas you already have unlocked with more activities.

I’m pretty sure most console gamers will not be all that unfamiliar with the subtle witchcraft that underpins most MMOs. Forgive me if I’m being condescending. I know for a fact that some people will see Elder Scrolls, think Skyrim, and fire up the most confusing experience of their lives. It starts out slow but there is so much to do here. You may even dislike the game at first. The launching areas in MMOs are generally very bland. Sure MMOs have been on the consoles for more than ten years but none of them have managed to stick around long enough to get a foothold in console player’s imagination. The Elder Scrolls Online is a traditional PC MMO that only looks and controls like it might be a Skyrim or Oblivion. Under the bonnet things get interesting. You have a fully-fledged crafting system that goes beyond mere forge toil and has whole skill trees for cooking, tailoring clothes, and enchanting items. Don’t have what you need? Trade items with human players and get involved in a market economy in rare goods.

Another key change you’ll find is that you have an extra string of commands across bottom of the screen. A string of six extra spells or attacks can be added to a bar that stretches across your HUD. Any of these abilities or powers can accessed quickly rather than having to thrall through endless menus. While not as deep as many PC MMORPGs this system is fully customisable and if you get fed up with one ability or power you can swap it for another. Keep using a certain spell more than the others? Map it to a new button that is easier for you to use more often. You can also chuck one consumable item into your action bar so you have everything you need ready to go. All in all players used to normal single player Elder Scrolls gameplay should find their experience expanded and that they have much more options in a fight. This becomes particularly interesting when later in the game you get the option to fight human players from other factions. The player versus player element is deep and takes part in the central part of Tamriel. Outside of this region rival human players cannot fight each other.

The Crown Store is something that console gamers should be more familiar with. Although free to play and not requiring a subscription, The ElderScrolls Online does offer premium content for purchase through an online store. You need to buy Crowns with real money in order to be able to buy things from this shop. There is an optional subscription service that gives you Crowns each month but most people will opt for buying the odd Crown pack now and then. None of the content in the Crown Store can be unlocked in the main game so it’s premium content only.

On the consoles I have to say it’s not a pretty game. It takes a beefy PC to run the game at beautiful level graphics and the consoles settle for relatively ugly but playable. Never, and I mean never play Elder Scrolls Online after playing The Witcher 3. Your eyes will not forget this transgression. But look past the subpar visuals and you have a game you can sink your teeth into here. It’s not an Order 1886 where it was pretty to look at but then again looking at it was all you could do. I mean hundreds of massive quests on multiple different progression lines, skill trees like forests, collectibles, areas to unlock and dungeons to complete, and just so much more to see and do. Throw in a deep different leveling system based on actual hundreds of hours of sustained gameplay, passive abilities, and the option to use any weapon you want regardless of your class or race. This game will take up much of your spare time, if like Molag Bal it gets its hooks into you.

Overall, the Elder Scrolls Online is a very good PC MMO that has come to consoles. Throw in the console community elements and playing this with friends or strangers alike is easy and a blast. I highly recommend it if you like The Elder Scrolls, or MMOs, and want that experience on your console.

Review copy courtesy of Xbox