As a gamer, my passion for video games can be traced back to the Elder Scrolls games as the series that ignited my interest in video games. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was the first game I played that I became utterly enamoured with. After playing it for the first time, on my younger brother’s PlayStation 3, I was left astounded from the moment the game opened up from the sewer exit. Whilst I was originally drawn to the game for its character creation, I discovered a whole organism of a video game that left me in love with every aspect of it. It made me move on from my old PlayStation 2 and embrace a new era of video games from which I would discover franchises like Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed. From these my passion for video games exploded into life amassing a collection of over 300 PlayStation 3 games. So it would be a fair assessment to credit the Elder Scrolls series to video games turning into my passion. Putting it bluntly, I fucking love the Elder Scrolls, listening to countless podcasts to get me through work, constantly imagining new characters to build, trying to decipher lore of the series and creating theories for where the future games will take us.
Contrast the above with the one genre I have never been able to adapt to; MMOs. I hate MMOs. Not because they are inherently bad games, I have enjoyed MMOs as purely video games (I fucking love Destiny at times) but my defining characteristic as a person, if you ask my friends, would be my absolute intolerance to other people. Real life is a struggle enough, but for me video games are sacred and the intrusion of other people desecrating my passion, taking me out of the world I love and forcing me into the world I despise negates all of the positive aspects of MMOs I have played before.
However, The Elder Scrolls is something special for me. With over 3000 hours in both Oblivion and Skyrim, and having watched countless Let’s Plays and streams of the previous games, it would be a fair assumption to make that if any MMO could change the tune, surely it would be The Elder Scrolls. So I jump into The Elder Scrolls Online full of hope, but with the apprehension that my holy grail series could be tainted forever if this little experiment were to fail. So, enough with the backstory, onwards with the quest, and welcome to my first impressions of The Elder Scrolls Online (insert heroic Elder Scrolls like music.)
The game is split into three factions and eight races (nine if you include the Imperial race that’s available with certain editions of TESO). The character creation is fantastic, the best the series has provided yet. It has a number of voices for your character to choose from and an increased degree of customisation for the body including height and a more robust customisation of limbs and body part sizes and styles. Facial customisation in TESO is easier than in Skyrim or Oblivion and creates a nicer final avatar for character although there doesn’t seem to be as much variety. You will certainly come across a fair few characters who look like your own. Nonetheless the character creation is stellar and was an encouraging way to start the game, helping to settle into the idea of this being another Elder Scrolls game.
On the surface the gameplay is recognisable to those who are familiar with the Elder Scrolls with a number of changes to make it more suitable for that of an MMO. However this is due to the iconic altering between first and third person returning and is a vital edition to the gameplay, without it would be unrecognisable as that of an elder scrolls game. Fortunately another great feature of the TES games returns in the form of the levelling of skills through use, it’s a great system that is iconic of Elder Scrolls games and a welcome addition to the online form of Elder Scrolls. The skills take a different form in TESO compared to that of the single player series. There are less skills than ever, however the perks from Skyrim comeback. The skills are lacking the variety of the single player skills but having skill trees for the guilds is a great idea and almost makes up for the lack of the other much loved skills of the Elder Scrolls series. The combat feels floaty, it doesn’t feel as if there is any impact to your strikes, however this is ultimately something that has to be chalked up to being part of an MMO. The ability bar whilst definitely there for MMO players as opposed to Elder Scrolls players makes more sense as it is needed for effective player collaboration and the traditional Elder Scrolls form of combat simply wouldn’t be as effective in MMO form, so this is forgiven in my books.
Crafting is done superbly well and is a massive improvement from previous Elder Scrolls games with every armour and weapon type having unique racial styling. It is absolutely one of the most positive aspects of the game and I’m looking forward to getting to explore the crafting mechanic further in the game. Bringing back leg armour and adding shoulder armour and belts is something that Skyrim was missing and it feels like a nice little addition that gives the player even more to customise regarding their character.
On the other hand, classes. They’re a mainstay in many a RPG however it’s a shame classes have been forced into the game, in what feels like an attempt to appease traditional MMO players. I feel the strides Skyrim made in breaking down the traditional and restrictive ideas of classes should have been built upon instead of broken down.
Working with other players is not as painful an experience as I had feared going into Elder Scrolls Online but it can grow tedious after a time with other players killing the big bad guy for a quest for which, until that moment, you had done more or less on your own. The opt-out voice chat is annoying. Every time I log into my character the first thing I hear is some shitty pop music or some child screaming their head off or heavy breathing into the microphone. Fortunately the system in place isn’t as bad as it could have been and it is something that does not really detract from the overall experience.
Graphically the game looks some way in between Oblivion and Skyrim. For every texture that is of an acceptable standard there is one that looks like it comes from the PlayStation 2 era. The art style, which is reminiscent of Oblivion, is enough to make up for it though. The sun glare in particular looks very impressive when gleaming past trees, mountains and buildings making for some picture perfect screen shot moments in the game. Whilst the graphical fidelity is far superior in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the art style is superior and carries the game to be the best looking Elder Scrolls Game so far.
The UI takes liberal inspiration from that of Skyrim. It doesn’t work for the game. It looks cheap and lazy considering the game is almost a fresh interpretation for the series. The UI is one of the first things the players see and it’s a shame they couldn’t do their own thing.
The soundtrack is again excellent, as we should expect coming from an Elder Scrolls game and is reminiscent of Oblivion for me. The soundtrack feels more like it’s an accent to the beauty of the game world rather than a heroic feel that was more prevalent in Skyrim. The sound design is fine, there’s not much more to say about it, however it is frequently let down by lag in the game. The voice acting is again improved from the previous Elder Scrolls game as Skyrim was to Oblivion. My only issue with it is there are numerous examples of the voice acting not fitting the race or personality of the character you are speaking to in game.
The quests are fairly standard Elder Scrolls and MMO style quests and I don’t really have much to say about them. It would be cool to see more quests that integrate the lore of the Elder Scrolls series. I feel so much of the series law is held in books within the games and not enough people playing the games have an inclination to read them and it is to their loss that they don’t. There are a fair number of quests around the game, I do wish there were more but due to the size of the game and time constraints the development would have been under I feel it can be forgiven, especially when considering there is going to be more and more quests added throughout the life of the game. Speaking of lore, it is incredibly frustrating to not be able to pick up lore books. The game doesn’t pause so it is simply not practical to have books you cannot pick up, this says more about me than the game but this one of the most frustrating game design decisions I can recall. Unfortunately when you see ten other players doing the same quest as you, the quests lose a degree of the epic feel you expect from the questing in an Elder Scrolls game.
On the whole I am thoroughly enjoying The Elder Scrolls Online. Is it perfect? Far from it, but it isn’t the embarrassment to the series that I feared it could be. It feels like an acceptable interpretation of the Elder Scrolls in an MMO format and hopefully it will only improve in the future. This is only my first impressions, and I have only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer and hopefully I will enjoy playing it for months and possibly years to come in the time I wait for the next single player Elder Scrolls game. I have yet to join a guild or adventure into Cyrodiil and have only experienced two of the three alliances so far so expect to see a more rounded and final review of the game in the future.
The Elder Scrolls Online is a good game, and one worth playing for even hard core single player Elder Scrolls fans such as myself. Have you been playing the Elder Scrolls Online? Let me know below, whether you have or haven’y for whatever reason I’m interested to know your experiences regarding the game and the series in general.