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The Elder Scrolls Online
The Elder Scrolls Online

PC | PlayStation 4 | Xbox One
Genre: Role Playing
Developer: Zenimax Online Official Site:
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
The Elder Scrolls Online Review
Review By @ 04:54pm 15/04/14
Upon entering the world of The Elder Scrolls:V for the first time, players are given the option of travelling almost anywhere, at any time, to hunt dragons, save villagers or simply wander the planes to discover hidden treasures, locales or dungeons. There are generally no arbitrary restrictions, as per previous Elder Scroll titles (at least since Morrowind) in terms of where you can go and what you can do. If you find a piece of armour that fits, you can wear it, and subsequently, wield any type of weapon or learn new types of magicka. There are quest lines, but you can ignore them, choosing to delay your avatar’s dragonborn destiny while you fill up your questionably sourced houses with old pots, chairs and books.

It’s within this paradigm that the existence of The Elder Scrolls Online becomes an enormous paradox. How can a game that was made so famous and so popular, especially amongst those who aren’t generally fans of fantasy RPGs, for it’s lack of restraint be boxed into a genre commonly known for the opposite? I have had the innate luxury of seeing the development of this game from an early stage - I was privy to the pre-alpha code last year in Maryland, where, frankly, there was very little to be excited about. The starting areas were stark and wooden, full of standard mobs and uninteresting quests. We were only offered a few hours to play before developers shut down our sessions and announced the now infamous first-person viewpoint.

The well publicised and patronised betas over the past few months showed the game had made some progress in attempting to salvage much of what plagued a fairly droll early game. But I still felt that while the cosmetic and systematic portions of TES were definitely stronger and sturdier than before, the conundrum that Zenimax faced regarding balancing freedom and structure was still the obvious elephant in the room. TESO was not designed from the ground up to offer the same “open” experience as Skyrim, and it’s important to know that if players are expecting their play to emulate that standard, they will leave disappointed. But that doesn’t not mean that this is a bad game by association - it’s just sitting in a very awkward limbo.

TESO does a lot of things right, and many of those modified mechanics are a huge departure from traditional MMO stalwarts. Class selection is not highly rigid, instead, alongside the standard race, gender and body customisation, provides a set of abilities that can be levelled or ignored at the players leisure. On top of this, choosing a race becomes a little more interesting -  some may provide stealth or archery bonuses, for example, or proficiency with healing. But largely, outside of a few specific skill options - a healing spec’d character can wear heavy armour if they like and dump all their points into 2-handed axes if they feel the urge.

This freedom is not entirely original but it’s a breath of fresh air when it’s coupled with ESO’s traditional, (and brilliant) system of natural skill progression. If you use a particular spell frequently, wear heavy armour and wield a bow, then the game will track that usage and level up the various abilities as appropriate. Over time, some skills can be “mutated” by spending skill points to fork the ability into a different, stronger, direction. For example, a spell that originally hit one enemy for 48 might now hit two for 48, or alternatively, hit one for 90. Progression is notified in the same way as Skyrim - with bold white text briefly gracing the screen as you get stronger.

I loved this touch, and I especially liked how it seemed to operate independently from the standard levelling system that still exists within the game. The UI is equally as slick, taking more cues from earlier titles by barely existing at all - health, magicka and stamina bars still manage the flow of skill use (with no cooldowns) and only appear when required. There’s a hotbar and map of course, but these are the only static elements, meaning as much of the screen as possible is available to absorb your surroundings. Zenimax Online should be applauded by stripping back the visual mess that overlays tend to have, flooding players with information that they generally don’t need.

Combat is where the wheels start to fall off the wagon however, and while a lot of work has been done to remove much of the latency out of the equation, it’s clear that some things just don’t translate well across from solo play. There is still a lot of animation lag in combat across all stages of action - clicking the left mouse button may not immediately initialize a quick attack, and even if it does, it’s far too slow to connect. Equally, blocking incoming attacks with the right button can be entirely hit or miss - the game offers up a helpful tooltip to prompt you when to block but even then, this still may not register. It’s also extraordinarily difficult to target attacks for multiple mobs and objects. At the same time, for Australian players, this can be even more extenuated by the extra 120ms or so of latency we have to deal with normally.

It’s frustrating since your opponents can move very fast in many cases, with zero lag in their actions and subsequent reactions to your movements. Some mobs have the ability to teleport or jump around you, meaning your delayed actions can not register at all against some of the more powerful mobs. On top of this, there is a dodge mechanic which is essential to survival… and almost impossible to use in the much touted first person mode. While it’s fun and cool to duel tet-a-tet with a sword wielding bandit, the lack of spacial awareness means you can’t see the his mate running up behind you nor can you see the tree to your left which is blocking your dodge-roll.

The much lauded first person viewpoint was added quite late in the development cycle, and it begins to show its limitations fairly early on. Most players I talked to ended up scrolling back to activate an over the shoulder perspective, particularly once they encountered multiple enemies that frequently utilised unblockable ground attacks. It’s a shame, because it’s one of a few, fairly significant drawbacks that pull you away from the TES framework. Many players will likely fumble their way through it anyway, but I advise against it for the sake of posterity. Especially when you’ll find mobs rubberband back to their original spots if you move too far away.

I have genuinely struggled with my attempts to define the PVE (Player Vs Environment) experience in TESO. On the one side, there has been a valiant effort made to reduce the “Go do this for me and come back” style of questing that tends to remove a lot of the flow from games with various story arcs. Navigation to quest holders is done via the icon navigation bar, also a TES staple, and in most cases it makes sense. Quest holders tend to begin a mini-cluster of events, ranging from finding items, to killing enemies, disarming traps and so on. Quite a lot of effort has been made to make many of these fairly grindy missions interesting by splicing in lore, flashbacks and old souls, and offering optional disguises to avoid combat.

The problem is that this experience is still not new, or exciting, especially if you aren’t deep into TES stories. Sure, everyone has dialogue trees, there’s some decent voice acting and whatnot, but you’re still just killing bandit after bandit, imp after imp. There’s usually only one way to complete or finish (sometimes two, although with little to no recurring consequence) a quest. Mobs roam around in their predetermined areas, clustered by level range, waiting to be killed. In a nutshell: PVE becomes dry, predictable, and grindy.

Exploration is similarly disguised in a layer of thin cloth veil - sure, you can roam around wherever you want… unless you wander into a zone where the mobs are too strong. There isn’t really much of an advantage to roam anyway - your quests are designed to be spread across the wider area of your level, and really aren't any easter eggs or cool areas to explore. It’s just a heap of zones - full of other heroes all running around, talking to the same people and setting off the same scripted situations.

Zenimax actually shot themselves in the foot by allowing non-instanced quest areas. As nearby players share the loot and experience of every battle, most of the time you can complete quests simply by turning up and firing off a single attack. Scripted situations occur one after the other, as players cluster and fight to trigger the event - like burning a boat or watching a flashback play out. It rips away much of the immersive nature of the situation when everyone’s a literally lining up to be a hero. I appreciate the active, visual population, especially in town, but the problem is the game doesn’t care about everyone else.

Groups are entirely unnecessary - most content is too easy and too short to be worthwhile finding someone else to play with - and when it’s not, it’s well out of balance and too late to find help. There aren’t many dungeons in the early levels and, as previously mentioned, the benefits of grouping are provided when solo. There’s fairly standard guild system that offers a bank and an internal store (there is no public Auction House), but unlike Guild Wars 2 there aren’t any bonuses or advantages as of yet to being part of it outside a feeling of solidarity.

It’s important to note that while, yes, TESO is an MMO and not a single player game, the title itself seems to forget that too. Unlike other MMOs it barely even mentions its group functions, nor especially tries to make sure you utilise them. As a result, it ends up being a lot like its predecessors in the manner that you tend to ignore anything and everyone else around you that isn’t part of your current objective. It pushes you back and forth across the map, into every nook and cranny, making it feel like you’re exploring - but there’s nothing cool hiding in the corners.

It isn’t until you enter the enormous Alliance War PVP (Player Vs Player) system that the benefits of playing with others begin to bear fruit. PVP takes a lot of cues from GW2 (and to a lesser extend Dark Age Of Camelot) with a wide system of siege warfare and builds on it by allowing more players to get involved with deploying weaponry and actively supporting your team via repairs and deploying forward bases for spawns. There’s a bunch of PVE content spliced into this system alongside a fairly robust reward structure for participation. It’s fun enough, but its design threatens the possibility for one particular side to become far too overpowered. After only a week, I could already see the tides turning towards a particular alliance. But at the same time, I enjoyed it, and just like some of the early 4-player raid content, the unique nature of character builds made group combat fairly interesting.

TESO is a strange beast. I have not played an MMO previously that is trying so desperately to be two things - a solo RPG with a fierce dedication to individual skill definition, mixed with a fairly traditional MMO theme park setting complete with scripted events, patrolling mobs and static dungeons. In some ways, it succeeds in carving out a lush, gorgeous world full of great locales and tons of lore.

There’s system tidbits like lockpicking and house harvesting to placate those who want to feel like they’re at home in TES. But at the same time I found much of the leveling content to be unimaginative in practise, regardless of its disguise, and gaining levels to reach the arguably more entertaining PVP and PVE Group content agonisingly slow. I didn’t see much of the clever mob AI I had been told about, nor did I feel engaged with other players or the world at large. Additionally, mixing hotkeys with real-time combat always tends to be an exercise in futility.

Much of this is complicated by the $15US/month subscription fee, which I personally think is far too high and subjectively irrelevant when server costs are now so low and content provisions are not as frequent or even free in many cases. In TESO’s case, this is compounded by the fact that the market has changed drastically over the past 5 years, alongside the plethora of MMOs that currently exist without a single monthly fee. At this point, I don’t think the brand is enough to justify such a high cost, especially when the endgame content itself is rare on the ground.

If you’re a diehard fan of TES lore, there is certainly more than enough here to keep your invested. But the lack of new mechanics, interesting side activities, buggy combat and generic PVE does not help its case. Under the surface, not enough has changed to the formula that separates The Elder Scrolls Online from existing free or established properties, and I would find it genuinely hard to recommend to anyone seeking an experience outside of a cosy, well presented, box.
What we liked
  • One of the best skill progression systems in any MMO, hands down
  • Fantastic presentation, UI and voice acting
  • Deep, very well written lore permeates every single quest
  • PVP is genuinely great fun
What we didn't like
  • Combat is laggy, glitchy and slow
  • PVE gameplay is uninspired and generic
  • Lack of interesting or new mechanics
  • Subscription fee is not justified
  • After a fairly hefty beta process, still lots of bugs
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Posted 05:44pm 15/4/14
PVP is great fun but combat is laggy, glitchy and slow?
Posted 06:26pm 15/4/14
Once you get used to the Combat, which you do, you can work with it. The PVP game mode is genuinely great fun, especially since you're fighting people who are using the same mechanisms as you.
Posted 07:12pm 15/4/14
Back to WoW.
Posted 07:22pm 15/4/14
Loving the combat, so refreshing from previous MMO's of tab target hit button. Latency isn't too bad on Telstra cable, get roughly 150ms (200 on a bad day) and haven't noticed it lagging per say. I think this game does really well in capturing the Elder Scrolls essence of the single-player games, and by god does it capture the amazing feeling of exploring Tamriel.

Also, this is definitely a game you want to play with friends. I have about 15 of us all together and its way more fun than anything else.
Posted 07:46pm 15/4/14
You know what else does really well in capturing the Elder Scrolls essence of the single-player games? Skyrim :p
Posted 07:47pm 15/4/14
except skyrim doesn't have multiplayer.
this is coop skyrim. somewhat.
Posted 08:50pm 15/4/14
I prefer the standard MMO type combat instead of the hybrid style.
Posted 09:31pm 15/4/14
Personally I think Age of Conan did first person better. Conan had a wow factor where TESO is an "oh yeah".
Posted 11:11pm 15/4/14
Harsh review, I personally would give this a 9/10 - I'm a big TES fan, love MMOs and find nearly everything about it fresh and brilliant.

The best character development in any MMO ever / Best story & acting (including SWTOR) / Best PvP (since DAoC)

Not sure how it merits a 7/10... an 8/10 would have been at least, fair.
Posted 02:36am 16/4/14
Wildstar..end of story :P
Posted 06:04am 16/4/14
Review score is fair, I get frustrated too by the PvE combat I also found the tutorial was a bit weak in explaining a few things about the game but after playing it for an hour you pick up on it really well. The community is fantastic for helping out, for a launch MMO I find it a really smooth experience I haven't had any issues to date, I can only hope it gets better and better.
Posted 06:31am 16/4/14
Yea I'm a Elder Scroll fan and I also think this review is a bit harsh tbh. Should of got at least an 8 for the lore and story alone. Remember its an mmorpg not a standard mmo.
Posted 07:23am 16/4/14
Eorl, what alliance are you guys in? I'm in the Dominion at level 20 I believe. I haven't really been teaming up with other people, just running around and helping the odd person here and there. I'm enjoying it too personally.
Posted 08:07am 16/4/14
I'm in Ebonheart Pact at level 26, we wanted to be dark and edgy :P Let me know your name and I'll send you an invite to my guild at the very least :)
Posted 08:10am 16/4/14
@meddek add me yo!
Tanaka Khan
Posted 09:59am 16/4/14
@Tanaka-Khan - Ebonheart Pact, level 48 Dragon Knight
Feel free to add me!
Posted 10:34am 16/4/14
@taggs AD 39 templar
Posted 11:05am 16/4/14
What PvP campaign are you guys playing on? We've all gone Auriel's Bow as that seems to be the most "balanced" compared to others.
Posted 11:08am 16/4/14
you guys level up fast! :D or maybe i just go real slow ... more likely ;)

last 2 eso sessions i played i did no quests... just wandered around trying to find as much ore to mine as possible to boost my blacksmithing. atm i get more drive to create the items i want than to do quests :p
Posted 11:15am 16/4/14
do you get xp crafting/mining
Posted 11:40am 16/4/14
What PvP campaign are you guys playing on? We've all gone Auriel's Bow as that seems to be the most "balanced" compared to others.

I haven't done any pvp yet. I'm mainly questing and crafting with a bit of role play on the side. I'm on AD though and apparently they do well in pvp on the US server so i'm not missed anyway.
Posted 11:47am 16/4/14
When I was playing beta I found it most beneficial to set my home campaign to whichever campaign was massively skewed in favour of my faction, so you get maximum bonuses while doing pve. Then just guest yourself to the campaign you actually want to play in thats more balanced.
Posted 11:53am 16/4/14
do you get xp crafting/mining

it's typical elder scrolls where whatever you do most, it boosts the skill.. but i don't think that all skills count towards the overall level xp. not sure though.
the actual mining doesn't give you any xp.. just the resource. then you get skill xp for refining, creating, improving or research.

i also haven't done any pvp... it's just co-op elder scrolls for me too.

i'm on the north america megaserver too... i didn't even see any option to choose the megaserver... is it decided by where you bought the game or something?
Posted 12:30pm 16/4/14
I'm pretty sure your account isn't region locked, all you have to do is just switch to EU client through launcher. Though atm EU megaserver is located in NA while they finalise Europe database.
Posted 04:55pm 16/4/14
My account is @bob342, bloody Ebonheart scum ;)
Posted 06:23pm 16/4/14
@dkon lvl 10 khajiit
Posted 06:43pm 16/4/14
Actually this game should get a -5 since I can't play it due to the launcher being broken...
Posted 07:25pm 16/4/14
argh still dicing up whether to purchase this game or not. cant justify $50+ and sub...
Posted 07:47pm 16/4/14
You can get the standard edition for $48 through GMG by using a browser VPN, its what I did for the girlfriend.

Mosfx, if you are still getting the launcher issue delete Bethesda.net_Launcher.version from X:\Program Files (x86)\Zenimax Online\Launcher, that fixed it for me. It will pop up a repair button after you restart your launcher and should be good to go.
Posted 08:16pm 16/4/14
I've been in spindleclutch twice and almost finished it when everyone decides to friggin leave.

Apart from that, loving it.
Playing it as co op skyrim.
Posted 09:35pm 16/4/14

This fix worked for me to fix the 209 error.

Yeah that's what I used for the girlfriend, she had it constantly go in a loop but that seemed to fix it.
Posted 10:18pm 16/4/14
I would just like to run around mostly solo and still have a good time. I don't really care about excelling at PvP but I'd still like to be capable of defending myself. Basically what I am saying is that if I want a Skyrim like experience where the world is populated by living players, will I get it from ES:O?

Also just how big is the game world exactly? Apparently the whole of Tamriel is available? Does that mean the game world is the size of roughly 10 Skyrim maps?
Posted 11:25pm 16/4/14
Yeah you can easily get that experience from ESO, the only time you are "forced" to group is dungeons and even then you don't have to do them. Public events like Anchor Points and Public Dungeons may break that playstyle a bit, but you could just scratch it up to other heroes helping you out.

The world is pretty big, each faction gets their own levelling areas up until 50 where they all collect in Coldharbour. I'd say its bigger than Skyrim easily, though I'm not sure how big.
Tanaka Khan
Posted 11:35pm 16/4/14
Plus after level 50 you're able to quest in the other factions zones (Haven't gotten there yet)
Posted 07:38pm 17/4/14
Gonna wait for this on console, the beta seemed good but not great, interested to see if the novelty of playing an MMO on a console adds anything. As long as the interest hasn't died off since the PC release that is.
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