Other Take

The Elder Scrolls Online Review - Familiar World, Strange Territory

  • Game release: April 4, 2014
  • Reviewed: June 23, 2014
  • PC

Lonesome traveler.

Our Other Takes present alternative opinions on games from unique perspectives. Click here to read our Featured Review!

After pouring hundreds of hours into the Elder Scrolls franchise over the years, Shaun McInnis used The Elder Scrolls Online as an opportunity to finally take a shot at the MMO genre. With his Nord Dragonknight, Shaun made it to level 22 before beginning this review.

As a fan of role-playing games and open-world sandboxes, I've long held a special place in my heart for the Elder Scrolls franchise. Since I was first introduced to the series with Morrowind back in 2002, I've spent countless hours exploring Bethesda's immense fantasy worlds in search of loot, adventure, and gorgeous views of the surrounding landscapes. It's that love for the series that inspired me to spend time with The Elder Scrolls Online despite one very embarrassing shortcoming in my gaming career: I had never played a massively multiplayer online game before, or at least not for any significant length of time.

I honestly couldn't tell you why that was. There's nothing about MMO games that I necessarily dislike; I just tend to prefer the freedom of solo adventuring over group raids and guild life. But I'm happy that I gave the genre a shot, because after 40 or so hours in The Elder Scrolls Online, I rather liked--though not exactly loved--my time with the game.

Much of that appreciation stems from the overall feel of the world. The Elder Scrolls Online does a great job of capturing the joy of existing within Tamriel, all those sights and sounds that make up a vibrant fantasy setting. My journey began on the bustling medieval streets of Daggerfall, though I quickly found myself exploring the windswept sand dunes of Stros M'Kai, the eerie swampland of the Glenumbra Moors, and the picturesque coastline of Stormhaven. And those are just some of the early-level areas. Even as I proceeded across the world map toward more challenging sections of Tamriel, I always felt like there was some fresh chunk of terrain to explore or some beautiful vista to take in.

The Elder Scrolls Online goes out of its way to immerse you in its world. It's not just the geographical diversity, either. A lush soundtrack provides a stirring backdrop to your adventuring, and a fully voiced collection of non-player characters bring each city and backwater hamlet to life. Sure, there are echoes of Oblivion in the repetition of voice actors, and the dialogue can feel a bit wooden at times, but the overall presentation goes a long way toward delivering a world full of characters rather than quest-giving cardboard cutouts.

The Elder Scrolls Online does a great job of capturing the joy of existing within Tamriel, all those sights and sounds that make up a vibrant fantasy setting.

And yet, throughout all my travels, I always felt a vague longing for the serendipitous discoveries of earlier Elder Scrolls games. Enemies always respawn in the same place, and there are no hidden cabins full of clutter to rummage through, no armor waiting to be discovered at the bottom of some lake--this just isn't a game that gives you much of a reason to wander off the beaten path.

That's something that took a while for me to come to terms with. The unpredictable exploration of Elder Scrolls games has always been one of my favorite trademarks of the series. The Elder Scrolls Online does give you plenty of interesting enemies to tangle with and the occasional treasure chest to happen upon, but compared to a game like Skyrim with all its environmental storytelling and unpredictable encounters, the world feels static. It's a beautiful place, but a sterile one.

So while I struggled to create my own adventures, The Elder Scrolls Online had plenty of its own exciting tales to tell. Rarely do its quests feel like tedious fluff; quite often, you're asked to navigate labyrinthine stories of backstabbing and political intrigue, fantastical creatures and bloodthirsty cultists, or cursed souls and tormented dreamworlds. What makes these quests interesting is that they're often complex, multipart sagas. You might take on the task of rescuing a kidnapped duke only to find yourself embarking on a murder mystery involving scheming werewolves, supernatural rituals, and the ripple effects of time travel.

The main storyline is a bit of a mess, but it provides some lovely backdrops.

The best quests are the ones that use just enough of the series' established lore to paint a vivid picture of the task at hand, though there are some--like the messy and ultimately forgettable main storyline--that tend to resemble overzealous fan fiction. But such missteps are infrequent and easy to forgive; for the most part, The Elder Scrolls Online delivers a broad and engaging collection of tales that mesh nicely with its fantasy landscape.

If only they meshed better with the game's fundamental structure. I lost track of how many times I was called upon to perform the esoteric tasks necessary to unseal some long-forgotten chamber, only to discover a parade of player-controlled characters already running about within. These are moments when the quest design and multiplayer nature of the game butt heads, taking any sense of immersion the game might have established and hurling it out the window.

It's a shame, because there are some good group quests available in The Elder Scrolls Online--they're just more the exception than the rule. Some of the most fun I had in the game was teaming up with a group of strangers to make it through the harrowing gauntlet known as Spindleclutch, a creepy dungeon with a relentless assault of arachnid enemies and one very imposing boss fight. But it's rare that The Elder Scrolls Online takes full advantage of its multiplayer structure. Most of my interactions with other players were simply running by them out in the wild, like two ships passing in the night who might occasionally team up to kill a trio of bandits.

There are some lovely sights to behold out in the wild.

There is a guild system, of course, but in my experience it felt more useful as an economic tool than a means for players to come together as a team. With no auction house, guilds are what allow you to trade items with one another. As a result, you tend to see a lot of guilds that players have forgotten about once their barter is complete--making it tough to find the truly active ones.

It's rare that The Elder Scrolls Online takes full advantage of its multiplayer structure.

And so, without much of a meaningful connection to the player population around me, I often found myself defaulting to my old Elder Scrolls ways of wandering alone like some wayward ronin. But don't pity me too much. I was perfectly happy to keep plugging away, leveling up my dragonknight one quest at a time. The Elder Scrolls Online gives you a deep and flexible progression system, one that allows you to tinker around with different builds without ever feeling like you've completely pigeonholed yourself. After beginning the game as a brutish damage-sponge of a tank, I found myself gravitating toward more of a hybrid role where I balanced my sword-and-shield tactics with elemental spells and defensive powers. With a broad selection of active and passive abilities--the former of which can evolve in interesting ways as you level them up--there's a lot of room to mess around with your chosen style.

Those abilities go a long way toward enhancing the combat, which at its core is nothing remarkable. Sure, I enjoyed using my shield bash to stun an enemy mid-cast so that I could knock him to the ground with a powerful heavy attack. But most melee strikes feel limp and sluggish. Layer in those abilities, though, and battles feel a little more lively. I never tired of seeing flaming spikes burst from my character's back as I triggered my razor armor ability, then closing the gap on a distant foe by dashing toward him with a quick and devastating shield charge. Factor in the game's propensity for generous and meaningful loot drops, and I rarely skipped the chance to take on some new group of enemies.

Fully voiced NPCs add a lot of immersion, even if you tend to hear the same people over and over.

So most of my enjoyment with The Elder Scrolls Online came not from its MMO structure, but from its decent approximation of the games that came before it--that sense of wayward adventure, of gazing out at beautiful landscapes as you explore a lively fantasy world. But for as much as it struggles to reconcile its single-player heritage and multiplayer ambitions, there is one area that makes an awfully convincing argument for its status as an MMO game, and that's player-versus-player combat.

Having never spent any significant amount of time with an MMO before, I went into The Elder Scrolls Online's PvP expecting some form of arena combat--perhaps a matchmaking system that pitted a handful of players from the Daggerfall Covenant against another handful from the Ebonheart Pact. What I found was something much more complex and fascinating.

PvP in The Elder Scrolls Online turns the whole of Cyrodiil into one great big board game, a giant web full of keeps and strongholds that you are constantly fighting for control over. There are resources to consider, siege weapons to employ, and all manner of strategic possibilities. It's a great showcase for the game's combat, which becomes much more exciting when you're pairing complementary abilities together as a team.

Dark Anchor events are a neat concept for drawing players together, but it's far too easy for players to steamroll each wave of enemies.

But there is one flaw to the scope of the PvP, which is that the map is too big for its own good. Combat was exciting when I could get to it, but I found myself spending the vast majority of my time simply getting from one place to another. I can handle and even enjoy riding around on horseback for 10 straight minutes while questing, but when I'm doing it over and over again each time I die in a pitched multiplayer battle, it becomes tedious.

And that's The Elder Scrolls Online right there: a game that does a lot of things well, but stumbles to get the most out of them. In the end, I was happy to spend time in this version of Tamriel, but it just wasn't the gateway into the MMO genre that I hoped it would be.

The Good
Expansive, immersive world full of pleasing landscapes
Many intricate, involving quests
Complex but rewarding PvP
The Bad
Multiplayer rarely feels like a crucial aspect of the game
PvP map is a bit too big for its own good
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for The Elder Scrolls Online

About the Author

After pouring hundreds of hours into the Elder Scrolls franchise over the years, Shaun McInnis used The Elder Scrolls Online as an opportunity to finally take a shot at the MMO genre. With his Nord Dragonknight, Shaun made it to level 22 before beginning this review.

Discussion

60 comments
NeoGen85
NeoGen85

I had some friends who bought ESO expecting more of a traditional Elder Scrolls game verses an actual MMORPG. After having sometime beta testing Destiny, I can actually see a future iteration of TES or even Fallout provide some drop-in/drop-out multiplayer experience. Skyrim was such a big deal, and it's that game that really effected the player's decision in leaving The Elder Scrolls Online.


I still think there's a lot to like here in ESO, but there are some problems that need to be addressed. The biggest one in my opinion isn't the combat(which many would have you believe), but it's actually the questing experience. Zenimax Online Studios doesn't use phasing or "instancing" to create events for a party or group; but rather a single player. The result is being separated from your party entirely sometimes. It's hard to be a complete MMORPG if you don't live up to the "multiplayer" aspect of the game.


In my opinion, many MMORPGs lack any type of commitment to cooperation. Mainly because the time-sink and downtime which made interaction a necessity doesn't exist anymore unless you're playing EVE Online or maybe Archeage. But much like any recent MMORPG it is still better to play The Elder Scrolls Online with people or friends.


Shaun hit it right on the nail. The world of Tamriel is very immersive and looks beautiful. I have to give it up to the world builders because there is a level of detail in the design that I do not see in MMORPGs too often. I am also one of those people who enjoyed the questing experience in this game in comparison to some other titles in the genre. Plus the game being fully voice acted does help. Much like The Secret World having it's investigation quests that stand out, you'll run into some stories in ESO that have alternative outcomes based on what you select.


My only other major complaint is the veteran rank grinding. Unlike Wildstar and the upcoming Archeage; you'll still be grinding 12 additionals "VR levels" once you reached level 50. To do that you'll go through the other two factions' zones. By the time you complete 1 zone you should have gained 1 veteran rank level. While changes have been made to make this faster and the system will be phased out completely; it still feels unnecessary.


While there are some exceptions to recommending this game; you still might enjoy it especially if you love the lore of The Elder Scrolls, Tamriel, and MMORPGs.

Sethalos
Sethalos

Bought the Imperial version, was so stoked to play the game. Played for two weeks, and never played again. Hated the combat, it felt slow and unresponsive, travel on my horse felt slow and cumbersome often getting stuck on rocks and cliffs. It was just not very immersive for me and I just couldn't get drawn in. Once the new patch hit, I subscribed again for a month hoping beyond hope that the company would have fixed the issues...nope.  Quit again after a week. Very very unimpressed.

sa_frogfoot
sa_frogfoot

What are the small purple dragons? Haha can someone explain that to me. Do you conjure them to fight for you? Or are they a pet/companion

koraykorac
koraykorac

wow and again wow, Shaun you r realy great man. This score is just wht ESO is deserve. Congrats.

Anteares
Anteares

I played the Beta.  The questing was fun and not grindy at all, which I liked, although it felt slightly detached from the game unlike the other elder scroll games.  The dungeon I did play was pretty good.  The gameplay = meh.  I really thought they would make it feel more like the ES games but the controls were just a little...'off' for what I was expecting: It felt more like a mix of WoW and GW2 than  ES.  The PVP was fun for a while, but it's basically Wintergrasp from WoW which is just a big zergfest...there's little strategy or tactics involved other than amassing a ton of players with siege weapons and storming in.

Its a decent game, and I might recommend if not for the subscription cost which is way too high imo.  I like the idea of subscription cost compared to f2p, but from what I heard this is both, and there's apparently a pay wall which really turns me off from getting into it.  I saw enough of the game to realize its not what I wanted...which was more of a co-op type of Elderscrolls rather than an MMO.  RIP dedicated servers.

hitomo
hitomo

just for people who dont know ... eso did the greates thing of all mmos ... there are no fetch and kill quests ... everay quest is a story, fully voiced, often with decisions ...


and thats the Problem typical mmo Players will have with this game, its too sophisticated, you cant just mindlessly grind those quests ... you have to listen, watch, wait, listen ... like you are doing normaly only in offline RPGs ...


there is simply no grind ... dang


the main Story line is forgotten soon in this game, and all the story quests are bringng the world to live and making you a serious part of it like in no ohter MMO


I often run into enemys cause they look like Player caracters and I often try to interact with Players while I thought they where NPCs, no other game achieves this


I am playing this in german and its by far the most professional voicing of any game so far ... the german voice of captain picard for instance and serious voice actors from TV and Cinema


those facts alone makes this game so superior to every other mmo


you really cant describe the System of caracter customisation/build in this game, you have to experience it ... you can almost mix every calss with every waepon and armor ... and it all makes sense


you dont work on stats like might, agility or fate ... you build you cahr by choosing passive skills, active buffs, gear perks, gear enchantment, potions, food, upgrading gear through crafting ... all These aspects are mandatory to your char build and not just open world goodies tehy through in cause every mmo needs those


after all these years of MMOs, the Designers of ESO deserve all the respect that can be given for creating this true Vision of MMOs 2.0


really, those low scores are 100% made up in favour for promoted games like wildstar or evolve ...

hitomo
hitomo

its the best MMO of all times ... stop denying it fake.spot and join us ... this game is defined by multiplayer and one of a kind character Progression System ... keeping People away from this is a crime

MigGui
MigGui

I read the review and it looks like the reviewer enjoyed the game pretty much, much higher than a "regular six" from gamespot...

RevLux
RevLux

You have our permission to use either "E.S.O." or "ESO" after the first mention of the "Elder Scrolls Online" title. Unless, of course, you have an innate fear of acronyms...

hastati4
hastati4

Pretty good MMO.

Poor excuse for an Elder Scrolls game.

AzureBonds76
AzureBonds76

If this game would be 60 bucks with no sub fee I would be all over it. But I don't want to buy it..play it for a bit... 3 months would be 45 bucks...only to put it away and have to spend another 15 $ just to play it. Destiny is going to show that an MMO can be successful without a sub fee. Not that sub fees are bad; I played EQ back in the day for 2 years and didn't mind the fee. I guess it's due to the fact that ES is a single player immersive experience that to me other people bring me out of the immersion.

hamza345
hamza345

When this game is going to be free to play?

thehollowones
thehollowones

First off, love the Other Take thing GS.


Second, I think what people wanted from ESO wasn't an MMO, I find that the "MMO" portions are why its always given such a bad rap including that gouging full price + sub nonsense. I believe what the people want, well, maybe just what I want, is not a MASSIVE multiplayer but just, multiplayer. Just Skyrim or Morrowind with Fable style world sharing. Having some other dude's character be able to come into my own for some Co-op action or maybe 3 or 4 even. And when that happens, simply have the game toughen all enemies or have them come in bigger droves depending on the number of players. And then have some quests only available in multiplayer mode so that the people in my world feel important too (where NPC's acknowledge my party and the quests demand greater team work) and not just my lackey (but they'd still totally just be my lackey). 

I'd like this kind of experience combined with what's already been promised for current ESO such as smarter enemies that work together, more spells that encourage team work such as Support spells (heals and buffs), CC (stuns, slows, AoE) and debuffs (like bleeding, burning, freezing, poisoned, etc) and having such things be required to defeat some enemies...So basically I'd like an ESO that wasn't so massive but still very much multiplayer, kinda like Borderlands but with more team work involved than just cluster f.ucking a group of baddies with a hail of bullets and 'splosions (not that that isn't totally awesome). An ESO that is 90% ES, 10% O, ya dig?

Jd1680a
Jd1680a

Hey Shaun,


Did you know could eat food in Elder Scrolls Online to buff up your health points? As a dragon knight your health is more important then magicka.

bfa1509
bfa1509

They should have just made Skyrim multiplayer like Just cause 2 multiplayer. Let hundreds of people freeroam for some fus ro dah fun.

scraper2k
scraper2k

Think ill deffo give this a miss then, gutted as i was looking forward to it. But theres to much missing for a Subbed MMO.

ndev222
ndev222

I've really enjoyed my time so far in ESO. It's gotten a bad rap by a lot of people, I believe, because they were expecting TES VI. Obviously, the MMO aspect forced the devs to make changes that weren't universally adored. Regardless, I still get that "feeling" of being in an TES game even if all the bells and whistles that made the first 5 games so memorable weren't all packed in. In any event, I still love the game and hope it's around for years to come.

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

I wonder how ESO would have been received without its predecessors. SWTOR too. I just can't look at them objectively, having embraced both TES and KOTOR. Some of ESO's conflicting identity issues no doubt remain true even if ESO were the first TES game, but I can't help but feel it hasn't gotten a completely fair hearing. Maybe it doesn't need to. Maybe it is fair to judge ESO in the shadows of its great progenitors. Still, I wonder.

DeadorRock
DeadorRock

I was willing to give it a try, but they lost me on the price. I'm better off playing ARR anyway.

WereCatf
WereCatf

Meh, just call me when the next non-MMO TES-game comes around.

noah364
noah364

I'm really loving this "other take" thing. Two opinions is always better than one. Keep it up, Gamespot.

hoyholyhoy
hoyholyhoy

Yet another 6 for this unfinished disgrace of an incredible series :\

hitomo
hitomo

@Anteares  co-op type of Elderscrolls rather than an MMO <- this makes no sense at all ^^ massive multiplyer online ? ... megaservers ? ... there are exactly 2 eso Servers, one mega Server for europe, one for the us ... you will never be alone in this game ... dang

DrizztDark
DrizztDark

Brother this game is far from sophisticated.. That made me laugh when I read your first paragraph... What a chump you made yourself out to be...

grove12345
grove12345

@hitomo walks like a duck, looks like a duck, but instead of going quack it goes quackk. Nothing really new to see here kidies. This is like MMO V 1.0002A. And it only took 15 years to get there

Dareitus
Dareitus

@hitomo you're obviously entitled to the opinion but I'm sure you will find you are in the minority. I couldn't even make it through the free month with this steaming turd of a hybrid. None of it feels polished. The combat is worse than the pretty terrible combat in Skyrim, the community is a mixed bag of noobs and elitists with nothing in between, the story makes no sense (1,000,000 "Destined Ones" running around saving the world single handedly but with a bunch of other people...) and most of the quests and mechanics are extremely derivative and better implemented in other MMOs. 

As a Skyrim fan I was disappointed  by the world.
As an MMO fan I was disappointed by the lackluster questing and mechanics.
Sure there are some unique things here and there but a 6 is the highest this game should ever get.

MigGui
MigGui

@AzureBonds76 you kind of said that you agree to pay $60 up ahead, but not $60 split in four months. although it is kind of irrational, I understand why, and agree with you.

Diegoh1212
Diegoh1212

@zeca04 damn, that far away trees do look ugly. there are better examples of modded skyrim to show.

xantufrog
xantufrog

@zeca04 my friend was telling me about how amazing it looked - better than Skyrim he said. After seeing the screenshots I realized he only said that because he played Skyrim on 360 and this on PC. So to HIM, yes, it looks like an upgrade. To me it looks 'eh'.


But that's the typical story with MMOs

nathanmaxtro
nathanmaxtro

@ndev222 

I believe that people were hoping for TES VI and unfortunately it became obvious that it's not what they were getting.


I did ESO for the free month and that was enough for me.

liquorun
liquorun

@ndev222 No one was expecting it to be TES VI. Why on earth would they? 

dnmt
dnmt

@ndev222 I came into the game having not played any previous TES titles and still think it's crap, expectations have got nothing to do with it.

grove12345
grove12345

@hitomo @Anteares makes no sense at all? and this is why MMORPGs will all be boring grind fest and play exactly the same for another 10 years.


Lack of co-op and working together. Its just another game designed to cater to how spoiled and narrowed minded some MMO players are. Companies dont want to take risk and players cant live without the idea that Wizards and Fighters must always be equal in PVP matches.


Ill take a hardcore 6-8 player dungeon explorer over a 5000 player EQ/WoW clone any day.

hitomo
hitomo

@Dareitus @hitomo  you really trying hard to find things that you can hate the game for


I come from Lotro never played Skyrim ... and I just tell you, ist the perfect MMO ... I dont like teh company or Elder scrolls, but I have to admit it ... this game is superior in every aspect


it removes all knowen boundaries from classes skills or armors you can use, combat is strategic, the gameworld is always fuel with People ... you dont Need to Group ... ist like a big co op expereince


crafting is awesome and I hate crafting, everything is so well developed and polished ...


and I am someone who has to hate this game, but I simply cant


regards

notorious98
notorious98

@crawleyz @thehollowones I told my wife that I don't like playing Elder Scrolls by myself.  I'd be more than willing to forgo the subscription of ESO in order to play co-op Skyrim or Oblivion.


While I like ESO, I only like it as a multiplayer, not as a single player.

zeca04
zeca04

@xantufrog @zeca04 Huum, that would make sense. But still, i played skyrim on ps3 too and imo, even the ps3 version look better than elder scrolls online. 

Dareitus
Dareitus

@hitomo @Dareitus Okay coming from LOTRO that explains a lot. LOTRO is pretty bad. If you've played a lot of MMO's you know ESO and LOTRO are pretty much bottom of the barrel. I've played em all MMO's are my thing, from EQ1 to EQ2 then DDO, WoW, Guild Wars, Aion, Rift, Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, ESO and now Wildstar.

Almost every game on that list is better than ESO.

DrizztDark
DrizztDark

Cool story... This comment explains why you actually like this sub par experience of a game...

hitomo
hitomo

@Dareitus @hitomo  TERA, Age of Wushu, Firefall, DragonsProphet, Mortal Online, eve Online, various betas of games never released, Age of Conan, Fallen Earth, Planetside2 ...


eso will replace wow ... bold Statement, but ist already happening

gamemaven
gamemaven

@hitomo @Dareitus I agree with you it's pretty good, it has its shortcomings, but they update constantly and I think it has a great future. The thing is, most mmo players are assholes. Whether people agree or not I don't care. They're jaded, don't give a fuck and are spoiled self entitled assholes, that really want a game to fill the void that's been in their life for the last 20 years. Most of them are in there 30s now. It's really like porn, the more you watch porn, the more desensitized you are. So what do you do, you look for something more hardcore and you realize nothing really does it for you anymore. It's pretty sad that's exactly what's going on with these so called elitist mmo players. Solution, stop playing mmos.

The Elder Scrolls Online More Info

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  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
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    • PlayStation 4
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    The Elder Scrolls Online will be the first Elder Scrolls game to allow gamers to explore the Elder Scrolls world with others.
    7
    Average User RatingOut of 418 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
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    Bethesda Softworks
    Genres:
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    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
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    Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence