Review

The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited Review

  • First Released Apr 4, 2014
    released
  • PS4

Walking in Narsis.

There are few metaphors more persistent in gaming than the massively multiplayer role-playing game as an amusement park. World of Warcraft sets players loose in a playground not dissimilar to Disney World. You're let loose in zones with varying themes, and you mark the checkboxes of all of the fun things you're supposed to do: slay Arthas, ride the Tower of Terror, collect six rabbit's feet, get your commemorative photo, and so forth. Disney World in particular always felt like the logical extension of that amusement park analogy. You wait your turn to take part in your own hyper-condensed version of a bigger story.

But what happens when that ride breaks down? What happens when you're stuck in your log and you see Br'er Bear pop out of his hiding hole for the fourth time on Splash Mountain? What happens when the Rock 'n' Rollercoaster breaks down and you can see the party in the car ahead of you? The magic is gone, the illusion is shattered. Without just enough visual distractions to take your mind off of it, you're reminded that you paid exorbitant gobs of money to wait in a line all day. With The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, ZeniMax Online Studios has crafted a virtual playground of great scale and beauty, but you're always one second away from seeing the skeleton beneath the game's shimmering fantasy facade.

An adventure begins.
An adventure begins.

The game was originally released on PC last year to mixed responses. Of course, a lot can change in MMOGs over the course of a year, and while ZeniMax Online Studios hasn’t branded the console release as a Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn-style re-invention of the game, the steady stream of major patches represent somewhat of a course correction. And while many improvements have been made to The Elder Scrolls Online, they only serve to remind us of how inconsistent the game's base structure is.

The Elder Scrolls Online is set 1000 years before Skyrim. I won't delve too much into the plot (the game is committed to telling a sweeping fantasy tale); suffice it to say, you play as the Vestige, a soulless adventurer killed by the servants of Daedric prince Molag Bal--think Snow Lucifer--who has been given a second chance at life. You scour the continent of Tamriel fighting demonic invasions and the political upheaval of the continent's three major military alliances. Your time is spent undertaking three major activities: questing, fighting, and exploring. On each of these core fronts, The Elder Scrolls Online is, at best, a glorious and inviting facade of the fantastic game it might have been, and at worst, a tedious tour of the relics of MMOG and RPG design that we've moved past in the last ten years.

Did I accidentally make Snake Plissken, the Wood Elf?
Did I accidentally make Snake Plissken, the Wood Elf?

That inviting facade is key to the whole experience, and what kept my several score hours with the game from being actively miserable. The Elder Scrolls Online does away with quests in which you're asked to perform an endless chain of "kill X enemies" or "collect X items" quests. The Elder Scrolls Online's quests are inviting, often extending further and deeper just when you think a quest has reached its end. Right out of the gate, my Bosmer Nightblade in the Elven (and Khajiti) Aldmerri Dominion was thwarting royal assassinations by radical hate groups, building alliances with island nations, and uncovering Daedric plots to infiltrate the government. The actual actions involved are standard RPG fare ("beat Boss A," "talk to Characters B and C," "work your way through Dungeon D to find MacGuffin E"), but I can remember the quests in The Elder Scrolls Online, which I simply can't in other MMOGs.

Unfortunately, the effort the developer puts into making these quests memorable, large-scale undertakings begins to work against itself at every turn. The Elder Scrolls Online has the personality and expressiveness of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World (to return to my original metaphor). It's a fun distraction at first, but the second you pay any real attention, you notice that characters have the emotional range of a lower-tier soap opera and that every line of dialogue is pure exposition devoid of spark. There is enough voice acting to make Star Wars: The Old Republic jealous, but the stale dialogue invites you to zone out every time a character begins to speak. So while I can remember each of my thrilling adventures in Tamriel because the active engagement payoff is so high, I remember snatches of character names here and there but too few details of my ultimate purpose. Even characters who make promising introductions fall flat when the game keeps insisting on telling you about them instead of showing you who they are.

I could move past that. That's nearly Bethesda's whole metier at this point. It was much harder to move past The Elder Scrolls Online's inability to reconcile its single-player roots with its newfound MMOG playground.

 ESO's cherry blossom game is on point.
ESO's cherry blossom game is on point.

It's 2015 (even if the base game was released in 2014), and MMOGs have discovered that phasing is an effective way to deliver the immersion of single-player- and/or small-group-centric storytelling without sacrificing the larger social experience. The Elder Scrolls Online uses phasing. It uses phasing a lot. If you clear a village of marauding pirates or reverse the curse that has all the forest's woodland creatures attacking you, the problem is fixed forever. You can traverse these portions of the map in peace--although that is often less "phasing" than "all these enemies are now corpses on your visual of the map" or “all enemies’ aggro meters have been set to neutral.” It is hilarious to see wolves that were just docile with you attacking a new player who comes wandering into the area as you're leaving. The more glaring problems arrive when you see multiple versions of the same NPC wandering around (or one alive version and another dead one lying by his feet) or you're fighting enemies that only you are meant to engage for very specific plot reasons but dozens of other players are swarming around you. That suspension of disbelief is part of the genre, but the game goes so far out of its way to make you feel like the star of the show that dealing with other "stars" constantly draws you out of the experience.

In combat, The Elder Scrolls Online falls into the same rut. On paper, a traditional The Elder Scrolls combat system in an MMOG seems like the perfect antidote to the stale "memorize your hotkey ability rotation" nature of MMOG combat. Unfortunately, that's just what this game becomes, and when it's experienced from the first-person perspective (a mode I stuck to for the game's undeniable strong suit: exploration), attacks have little impact. You can fill an enemy full of arrows, but unless the stated effect of that attack is to physically move the enemy, you'll barely be able to tell whether you hit them without seeing their health bar drain. Combat animations have improved dramatically since launch, but combat still boils down to draining the health of one cluster of damage-sponge enemies after another with little thought or tactics needed outside of larger boss fights. And God forbid you experiment too much with the game's open-ended skill system because, early on, failing to stick to a single, solid build will make your character utterly ill-equipped for the most challenging combat encounters.

The good news about combat is that the The Elder Scrolls Online's transition to consoles should finally lay to rest the tired notion that MMOGs can only work on PC. Because the game limits your ability rotation to only a handful of active powers at once, using a controller is a painless process, and a first-person, open-world experience like this one translates nicely to the range of motion and view of analog sticks. Wandering Tamriel and fighting enemies with a controller in hand is a natural process, presuming The Elder Scrolls Online isn't getting in its own way in other respects.

If you stripped away the sluggish combat and hollow questing, you’d be left with the most gorgeous fantasy hiking simulator this side of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

If you stripped away the sluggish combat and hollow questing, you’d be left with the most gorgeous fantasy hiking simulator this side of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Whether you investigate the jungle Khajiti ruins of the island of Khenarthi's Roost, the vaguely Aegean coasts of Auridon, or the swampy, great forest of the Grahtwood, wandering across Tamriel is a transportive experience. The Elder Scrolls Online embraces a vibrant, warm color palette that is in stark contrast to the muddy browns and muted greens that make up so much of fantasy gaming today, and the various little details--the way in which each town's torch sconces are centered around different themes, the intricate lattice work in the art of the tree homes in Grahtwood, the room of a deranged Misery-esque murderer in the forest set up as a skeletal performance show--create a world in which you constantly say to yourself, "I have to see more."

But, even in the game's greatest triumph, the half-cooked shell makes an appearance. Interiors are repeated ad nauseum. If you've been in one large manor estate, you've been in them all. Your Ayleid ruins are the same corridor, antechamber, looping corridor, antechamber, looping to entrance corridor design. Watch towers are all one room and a viewing area. For a game that makes such great effort to create an external world full of endless wonder and a never-ending supply of things to do (though there's a good chance you'll have to enter player-versus-player regions to level properly because of the scarcity of XP rewards), entering dungeons, homes, and castles is a consistently tepid experience.

Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him.
Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him.

Speaking of PvP, The Elder Scrolls Online's approach is one area in which the game nearly gets things completely right. Utilizing a siege system similar to the one in Dark Age of Camelot--whose former devs make up much of the development team--the PvP focuses on interfactional warfare on the enormous map of Cyrodiil. How big is this map? This is the entirety of Cyrodiil--not individual regions; it spans the overworld space of all of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If you want to capture the lonely adventure of a single-player experience, pick a direction on the map and ride off into the distance. You likely won't see other players for long stretches at a time. Cyrodiil offers PvE content in addition to PvP, but there's not enough of it to justify the map's enormous size, which becomes PvP's fatal downfall.

If you haven't purchased your mount yet, getting anywhere on the PvP map takes ages (and mounts don't greatly reduce the tedium of travel, besides). Fast travel locations are limited to the keeps your faction controls, and if you have an objective on the other end of the map, you'd better hope you have a good thirty minutes or so to ride in one direction until you reach it. And if five minutes before you reach your destination, you stumble across a higher-level player who then murders you--because this is war after all--you get to make that long ride all over again. Does it add tension to the PvP experience? Absolutely. But when you often have to return to that portion of the game just to properly level up, it becomes a hair-pulling time-sink.

That can't be good.
That can't be good.

Maybe I'm a masochist, but I suspect I'll continue to return to The Elder Scrolls Online in the months ahead. Without a monthly subscription, my inner-Magellan is willing to weather the troubles just to see more of Tamriel. At no point have I thought to myself, "Alright, I've seen enough of this world." If exploration doesn't speak to you at some primal level, The Elder Scrolls Online is an easy pass (Final Fantasy XIV, WoW, and Guild Wars 2 are all much better uses of your money), but, to paraphrase a certain Jack Twist, Tamriel, I wish I knew how to quit you.

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The Good

  • Enormous world is overflowing with gorgeous locales to explore
  • Score transmits the energy of a grand epic fantasy even when the rest of the game fails to
  • Quest design strays away from tired MMOG conventions

The Bad

  • Characterization and dialogue are bland cardboard cut-outs of emotion or personality
  • Combat is often a slog and devoid of weight and impact
  • MMOG elements still feel glued on to a single-player shell

More Platform Reviews

About the Author

Don bought his Xbox 360 specifically for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and he's lost hundreds of hours between it and Skyrim. He spent circa 60 hours with The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited for this review.

Other Takes on The Elder Scrolls Online

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.
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darkfree

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This is one of the best games ever and I am on it each and every day now for three years and discover something new each trip into Tamriel , Morrowind , Vardenfeld , Orsiniom , and the like. I feel that exploration and new rewarding discoveries is what brings the best gaming not the dumb constant Battles . The battles can become boring after a while but new discoveries never lose there charm !

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Schwacko77

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I would like to see an updated review since they released One Tamriel. I've been playing mmo's since the first eq, and even though I chalked this one up as a mediocre attempt to create a beloved game world on top of a generic mmo I'm really happy I reinstalled the game and gave it a shot after the patch in october. They fixed a lot of the things that I hated, and the game combat feels a lot more responsive and fluid. I still think this game provides more of a challenge than wow or any of the other popular mmo's especially the vet dungeons, and since that patch they allowed cross faction play which to me makes it so much better because now I can play with friends that I met from other factions during dungeon runs and no longer have to wait forever for a dungeon queue. To me this game is an 8/10 and I will keep playing it because imo it's the best mmo out there and it's free to play

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Herdist

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This game is awesome I love playing it and it's quests. This review is wrong, he can't address a bad thing about the game as you see because It's awesome!

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Aussiegamer86

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I'm at level 38 and have become very frustrated by the game. Too many errand boy quests ie go there, collect that and come back. The crown store is full of over-priced crap that is moderately useful. Sorry, but I don't believe a horse should cost 42,000 gold. But the most frustrating thing is enemy respawns. I'm doing the Final Assault quest and enemies are level 50, so its pretty hard. You might get a fair bit through the quest, then die, and have to fight your way through enemies that you already killed. Despite its bugs, Skyrim is a much better game

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Gw23162

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Edited By Gw23162

I can't disagree with much of what the review states. There's a huge, beautiful world. Lots of content. A million things to do, and yet I can't get excited about doing any of it. I would go with a 5-6/10 rating, and not buy this game.

If you compare this game to World of Warcraft (which I played off and on, but never loved), Age of Conan (which I really enjoyed the story, combat and soundtrack of) or even Everquest (a 16 year old game), you're not going to be thrilled. Those old games play better than ESO.

The game play is so stale and robotic, it just leaves me with the same question every time I try to like this game, "why am I bothering with a game that has 5 buttons and next to no gaming entertainment?" If it wasn't a beautiful version of Tamriel...this game would be a total loss.

Destiny is a better mmo, if you want one on a console. (I got bored of that...after 8 months)

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Tr4newreck

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damn this game is gawdawful

it removed everything that made TES single player games fun, and replaced it with antiquated wow-like mechanics from 8 years ago!

id sooner go back to wow than play more of this utter trash... hope it dies, and hope somebody at bethesda learns from this tragic mmo

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yeknomdab

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I know a guy who recently picked this up and says he LOVES it. But then, we're talking about someone whose tolerance for shallow whack-a-mole MMOs far exceeds my own. I did promise to stop by and give it a shot, but I'm still going to save my money for the next true Elder Scrolls. Before any fanboys start flaming me out of impotent rage, I will say that if I WAS going to play another EQ/WoW/etc.-clone, it may as well be the one sporting an ES-themed paint job.

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yeknomdab

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Edited By yeknomdab

@yeknomdab: Okay--after wandering about for 20+ hours, I can say that ESO is almost exactly what I expected. It's a slightly uglier and clunkier MMO based upon the lore of TES.

There is absolutely no room for the unscripted emergent storytelling for which the solo games are are known. Immersion is rendered nearly nonexistent as you move towards your tedious quest's seemingly epic confrontation with a boss NPC, only to have it die and respawn shortly after as gangs of other players plow through their own checklists.

Crafting can be useful, but you are limited by the exorbitant cost of slightly-increased storage space. The voice-chat-only feature is a mixed blessing as well. Interaction with the environment is limited to looting containers, but that is not a huge issue because there are so few things worth looting in the first place. Unless you're a thief--which 90% of the players that I encountered are, due in part to the lack of meaningful consequences of being caught.

Combat is a button-spammer's paradise, and the moronic AI is infinitely exploitable. Exchanging blows with an enemy lacks impact, and it is often impossible to determine who or what is attacking who when caught in larger skirmishes.

There are any number small or significant issues that contribute to what is ultimately a derivative open world MMO with an Elder Scrolls theme.

However, if you suppress the desire to compare ESO with it's more sophisticated solo counterparts, there is a lot of fun to be had in this version of Nirn. Just don't expect anything mind-blowing or even particularly novel. Grab some friends, form a party, and enjoy an above-average and casual MMO theme park.

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McGuirex3

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Edited By McGuirex3

@yeknomdab:

"I'm still going to save my money for the next true Elder Scrolls"

Meaning?? Offline i.e. ESVI? You know their deving it right now for XB1!

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yeknomdab

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Edited By yeknomdab

@McGuirex3: It may be a while before we hear anything concrete about a sixth TES game. I'm sure that it will be on both consoles as well as the almighty PC. Hopefully, Bethesda doesn't just crap out something like Fallout 4--which is good fun but formulaic and uninspired. Perhaps this time around, they'll try and push the envelope a little.

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alexubel989

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@yeknomdab: Why would they want to do that, I'm not disagreeing with you, just saying. "If it ain't broke..."

People will buy the next ES game even if it was just Skyrim again with a new story. Case in point ESO. Sold lots of copies of the game, but its not ground-breaking in any way.

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Alan06

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6/10?go **** your self

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yeknomdab

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@alan06: It's a slightly above-average score--no need to get so worked-up.

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McGuirex3

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@yeknomdab:

Indeed!

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AlexL225

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Edited By AlexL225

@alan06: Ikr, more like... 11/10. Lol. The reviewer was actually quite horrible at this game though, which is why they rated it lower. I read that in a gameinformer magazine. So I wouldn't trust this rating that was given.

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yeknomdab

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@AlexL225: I'm not sure how anyone can be "horrible" at playing a theme park MMO. Hmm. Anyway, I wouldn't worry about review scores if you are having fun--that's what matters, right? Besides, 6/10 is an average score. Not terrible, but not great.

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AlexL225

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@yeknomdab: It's simple for someone to be "horrible" at any game. Sometimes there are players who are good at a certain game and sometimes they flat out suck at others. I'm not worried about this review score or any other review score. Just thought I'd mention how this one was a little bias on the reviewers end.

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yeknomdab

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@AlexL225: I understand. Maybe he's played too many MMOs--that would certainly cause me to be a little jaded.

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ValensBellator

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Edited By ValensBellator

It will forever make me sad that this opportunity for a multiplayer elder scrolls seems to have been wasted. I've long felt they should have taken a Diablo II/III approach to this, with 4-8 players. They'd need more zones, but that's a small price to play...it just wasn't meant for a large population.

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Schwacko77

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@valensbellator: try it again, they really improved the game a lot.

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jonjees

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i have over 100 error history for this game in my ps4.

it just crashes so much and online pvp play in cyrodiil is so laggy that its as good as unplayable.

i would advice players to skip this game.

its an mmo that does not have communication in text chat.

group finder for dungeons is a painful experience too.

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ravenbeast

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Edited By ravenbeast

They took a beautiful Elder scrolls' RPG formula and turned it into this MMO garbage!! These publishers wanna milk every single titty they can get their hands on. If it hasn't worked the first time you tried it. Why would it work this time around??!!!

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bruta

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same garbage, different package

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santinegrete

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" Combat is often a slog and devoid of weight and impact". Isn't that a standard of MMO? That's why I skip them.

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hypnotika25

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I'm amazed ESO is still alive. An ambitious plan that failed to execute successfully.

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sploitz85

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" But, even in the game's greatest triumph, the half-cooked shell makes an appearance."
This is what happens when you try to sound like a good writer but you really aren't.

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MigGui

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the thing that annoys me the most on gamespot nowadays is the apostrophe in "it's". almost all gamespot reviewers mistake the "its" (possessive pronoun) with "it's" (contraction of straight pronoun with verb). the error in this case is in the preview of the review, at the reviews page:

Despite it's vastness and beauty, The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited's halves never unite to form a consistent whole.

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nomaskedhero

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@robertdriscoll: Although I do not agree with MigGui's irrational reaction towards your comments (I do not agree with your offensive response to him eiter), I should agree with what he said. I believe that game review, blog or whatever, people who write has a responsibility to its readers as the grammar is like a disease, it spreads... These reviews are read by people of various ages, from 7 to 70, who like playing games.

This is where this matters. If we or writers ignore grammar, then it spreads and everyone will start using it wrong. You and I do not need to use it correct, but I believe they should as they are addressing thousands of readers.

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Hamartia208

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Edited By Hamartia208

@nomaskedhero: either* correctly*

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WhisperingDeath

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@robertdriscoll:

Well said my good man well said. I can't stand pompous little pinheads that are grammar Nazis.

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MigGui

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@robertdriscoll: they're paid to write. it's not like I'm picking on someone who's making grammar mistakes in the comment section. I've never tried to impress you, and I don't give a **** if you think it's peevish or I'm a douche. I said this 18 days ago, yet you needed to answer. by the way, it's not written anywhere that the comment section below an article is only to discuss a game. save your breath, go answer someone who's talking about the game instead.

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MigGui

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Edited By MigGui

@robertdriscoll: I'm not looking for a job, I don't live in the US (neither in UK) and english isn't even my mother language. I'm not insecure, I'm not pursuiting anyone's ego, and I'm quite capable of extrapolating the context of things. you aren't grading anyone's thesis either, and you're literally wasting 4 times the space I wasted with your useless, self-congratulatory remarks. your very own criticizing of my criticizing is, as you can see, very much the same thing you're criticizing: a tangential pursuit of whatever, useless thing that no one cares about, yada yada brigade yada yada waste of space yada yada nothing that adds to the conversation about the game. congratulations on being the asshole you don't want other people to be.

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cwy

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@robertdriscoll: As long as there is a whole subculture of professional writers (who should know better) who keep making grammatical mistakes, there will always be people who complain. I think we all want to see good writing here, especially from the pros. If you don't like the complaints, don't read them and don't reply; very simple, isn't it. If you turn them into tiresome argument like the one you are engaging now, then YOU are the one who is "tangential" and insecure.

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AlexL225

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@cwy: I think you couldn't be more wrong. robertdriscoll is absolutely correct and 10/10 people will agree with him hands down. MigGui should just move on with his life and go back to using strictly his own "mother language" as he put it. Hahaha.

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BruceWayneJr

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@AlexL225: I absolutely agree with cwy and think that robert's the douche here, so your average is way off.

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AlexL225

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@BruceWayneJr: The only problem with that Brucy is that you are wrong as well. You need to move on with your life like MigGui and give up on things like math because I didn't take an average. It's was a statement of point. Also I know of a great couple looking for a rich kid to adopt if your looking to have parents again Mr. Wayne!!!

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timmerous

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@MigGui: I think most people have given up on using apostrophes correctly these days. There was an argument in Britain not too long ago about using apostrophes in street names with the idea being that we shouldn't since it might confuse the emergency services when looking for streets. It is unfortunate that billions are spent on the education system to teach people how to pass exams rather than to get them to understand the material they are taught. On a related note does the same issue occur with yours?

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MigGui

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@timmerous: in Brazil all schools are basically places for students to memorize all the content of the ENEM exam, which is used as entry system for most universities. so not only students are trained for exams, they're trained for exams that prepare them for one specific exam, which they'll do once in their life.

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spikepigeo

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I have never read an MMO review that made the reviewer appear more... um... shall we say, lacking... in facilities or skill to conduct said review.

In other words, it's clear that this reviewer is not very good at the game he is reviewing or doesn't understand it. This game kicks ass now, plain and simple. You people want numbers that actually matter? How about that it was the second best selling game in the UK this last month.

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Tornoctis

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Edited By Tornoctis

So many things in this review i disagree with. I would say out of all the reviews i have read on gamespot the last decade this one misses the mark the most...by far. This is easily one of the best mmo's i have played. Its at least 8/10 in my opinion.

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factory_666

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I don't agree with a lot of things written in the review, but the worst "offense" is the complaint about the necessity to stick to one Build from the beginning. That is just false. You can level four different weapons and your entire Class Skill trees and be able to switch on the fly in the End Game and be more than just effective.

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Rodro

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Final Fantasy is dying little at a time since Hironobu Sakaguchi left Square, i think mature players deserve a good MMORPG with a deep obscure story that can be enjoyable with friends.

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The Elder Scrolls Online

First Released Apr 4, 2014
released
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4
  • Stadia
  • Xbox One

The Elder Scrolls Online will be the first Elder Scrolls game to allow gamers to explore the Elder Scrolls world with others.

6
Fair

Average Rating

652 Rating(s)

6.9
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence