The Elder Scrolls Online PC Review
by Zachary Bridge on May 4, 2014 at 09:00 AM EST

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Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release date: April 4, 2014 (PC, Mac), June 30, 2014 (PS4, Xbox One)

The Elder Scrolls Online screams mediocrity. There’s some good gameplay ideas, but almost everything that The Elder Scrolls Online does has already been done better by another MMORPG. Most new MMORPGs have at least one feature that sets the game apart from others. New MMORPGs try to either develop something brand new or at least improve on things other MMORPGs have have done. The game gives off the impression that it was developed under the assumption that the simple fact that it’s called The Elder Scrolls would attract players.

When I look at MMORPGs, I want to know whether the game will keep me interested for years at a time. The Elder Scrolls is not a game that meets that criteria; most of the developments effort seem to have been focused on the single player experience.

The single player experience is not a bad one. Fans of The Elder Scrolls series will probably not have a bad time leveling up their character. ZeniMax did a good job of transitioning some of the standard Elder Scrolls gameplay elements to the MMORPG platform. Though, if the highlight of The Elder Scrolls Online is the single-player experience, it probably would’ve been better off as a single-player game.

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Leveling Up

The player spends most of his time leveling up in The Elder Scrolls online by himself. Sure, there’s other players running around completing quests, but the most interaction a player is likely to have with another player while gaining levels is hitting the same enemy. Even these minor interactions will likely dry up as the game gets older and players stop leveling new characters. There’s some four-man dungeons while leveling up, but there’s not much reason to do them.

As a single-player experience, The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t even as good as other Elder Scrolls games. The story is mediocre. Progression and exploration are pretty linear, so you’ll be running around completing mundane quests for quite a while, rather than powerleveling your blacksmith skills so that you can kill dragons in one hit.

Here’s the problem: The Elder Scrolls games aren’t known for their spectacular gameplay. They’re ridiculously easy for many players. So, in an MMORPG where players can’t easily make their characters overpowered, there’s not much fun in grinding quests for hours.

Sure, there’s some more complicated mechanics in The Elder Scrolls Online’s battles than other Elder Scrolls games. Enemies use attacks that are indicated by red marks on the ground that players have to dodge, similar to games like Guild Wars 2. Enemies can also charge up skills that the player can block or interrupt. Of course, with the server lag that the makers of The Elder Scrolls Online haven’t yet mastered, attempts to dodge, block or interrupt frequently fail due to circumstances outside of the player’s control. That doesn’t matter too much, though, as the majority of enemies the player kills while leveling up die in two or three hits with damage skills, so players won’t actually have to dodge, block or interrupt anything outside of boss fights.

The story in the quests isn’t very compelling, either. It probably has something to do with the fact that the player is whisked between so many different quest hubs that the player doesn’t have time to appreciate the fact that he just stopped a bunch of cultists before he has to go save a town from werewolves. There’s so many of these quest hubs that none of them stand out as memorable, and there isn’t much reason to go back to them after completing all of the quests they have to offer.

Unfortunately, the leveling-up experience seems to be where The Elder Scrolls Online got the most attention.

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The Multiplayer Experience in The Elder Scrolls Online

Multiplayer gameplay is why most people play MMORPGs. So far, there’s nothing unique about the multiplayer experience in The Elder Scrolls Online.

There are some four-man dungeons while leveling up. Players can group up through a group finder, choosing a preferred role (damage dealer, tank or healer). The enemies in dungeons are tougher than regular enemies, so players actually get to engage in gameplay that’s more complicated than pushing the same button a couple of times until the enemy’s dead. In group dungeons, there may even be some dodging involved. In dungeons, combat actually has the potential to be fun if your companions are competent, but players can go to almost any MMORPG for group play like the dungeons that The Elder Scrolls Online offers.

There’s also some player-versus-player content. Players are divided into three warring factions that meet on the battlefield. Again, this setup is pretty standard for MMORPGs.

One cool thing about The Elder Scrolls Online is that everybody plays on a megaserver, meaning that everybody who plays the game can interact with everybody else who plays the game. The megaserver should keep some life in the game’s areas for longer than games with separate servers.

Pros:

  • Players can build their characters many different ways. There’s only four classes in The Elder Scrolls Online, but each class seems to be able to perform healing, damage or tanking to some extent. Of course, some classes are better at specific roles than others.
  • ZeniMax translated some of the recognizable Elder Scrolls gameplay to the MMORPG stage well. Lore books are spread throughout the world and the player gets to make some decisions that have noticeable story-related implications. ZeniMax realized that the first-person view that many players use for the single-player Elder Scrolls games was probably not the optimal way to play The Elder Scrolls Online, so the game works in third-person view.
  • There are actually some quests that require the player to think about more than simply following a waypoint around. The first quest I noticed that didn’t have a waypoint was a treasure hunt on Stros M’Kai, one of the starter islands. I had to actually read the quest description and find landmarks described by the treasure map.
  • The megaserver system means that everybody who’s playing the game can interact with everybody else. It should keep the game world feeling alive for a bit longer than usual.

Cons:

  • There’s numerous bugs in The Elder Scrolls Online. There’s quests that can’t be completed, buggy animations and server lag. I watched an interaction between NPCs in which one NPC was supposed to kill another. The animation for the interaction had the murderer walk up to his victim, the victim fell down and then the murderer drew his weapon. The same animation problem happene din two different quests. There was even one quest where all of the dialogue spoken by certain characters was in German, which seems unintentional because the characters provided essential information to complete the quest. The bugs have become standard operating procedure for single-player Elder Scrolls games, but it doesn’t work so well in an MMORPG.
  • The Elder Scrolls Online uses high-quality voice actors. The only problem is that it spreads some of its voice actors over a huge number of characters, so there’s a similar problem as there was in Skyrim where it feels like every other NPC speaking in a populated area has the same voice.
  • Movement and animations feel very clunky.
  • The leveling experience is pretty boring. Quests that require actual effort like the treasure hunt on Stros M’Kai were a rarity, so most of the leveling experience is walking from point to point, killing a few enemies in two or three hits and moving on to the next quest.
  • Server lag killed me quite a few times. The game would lag, and an enemy would stop taking damage. After a few seconds, the enemy would teleport a few feet away and my character would be either near death or dead. This kind of lag is unacceptable in any kind of game.

Conclusion

The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t a bad game. It just isn’t a very good one, either.

There’s very little innovation, if any. It feels like ZeniMax went through a list of features that MMORPGs have and checked off each feature. Dungeons, check. PvP, check.

Of course, being an MMORPG, there’s always the potential for improvement through content updates, but right now, The Elder Scrolls Online is pretty average. GamerFitnation gives The Elder Scrolls Online a 5/10.

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