In theory The Elder Scrolls Online has the potential to take all the greatest parts of the Elder Scroll’s single player experience and basically add a massive world full of people around it. And lets be fair if Bethesda know one thing it’s how to make colossal environments.
Another thing it’s fair to say is Bethesda have a pretty good handle on classes and abilities. So the first thing you’ll be doing is creating your character. There are three allegiances to pick from; the Aldmeri Dominion, the Ebonheart Pact or the Daggerfall Covenant and each has certain races assigned to it (unless you get a pre-purchase bonus which allows you to choose freely). After choosing a name for your character and sifting through the vast amount of customization available you’ll get to choose a class.
There’s four to choose from and I am pleased to say they are refreshingly different from each other. Without spoiling the surprise for those who haven’t looked yet each class has three disciplines which in turn have six usable abilities, one ‘ultimate’ move and four passives. And then if you level a move up enough you can pick a specialisation to add another effect to that move. Then there’s the usual Elder Scrolls single handed, double handed, bow, shield, three types of armour and many, many more. It’s ridiculous. I thought Skyrim had impressive class systems but it’s nothing compared with what’s on offer in Elder Scrolls Online.
And none that I have tried feel even vaguely similar. You really get a sense that each class is unique and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Even though you could potentially learn all of the standard Elder Scrolls abilities with one character each individual will still be different because of their class choice. Oh and did I mention that each race also comes with another set of unique passive abilities. It really is something to behold.
After I spent what felt like a week customizing my character I actually went to play the game and after a brief cutscene found myself in an environment familiar to any Elder Scrolls fan, prison. But have no fear! The prisons in Tamriel, or even on an Oblivion plane as in this case, are surprisingly lax. You’ll travel around, choose a starting weapon and get a feel for how things are going to go in general. Talk to this person, find this item, kill this thing and talk to someone else. It’s methodical and slightly generic but still satisfyingly progressive. Also Michael Gambon lends his voice which is always a good thing – although sometimes it’s difficult not to picture Dumbledore which is annoying. Also, was that John Cleese playing the mental old hermit sat on a bench?
Thankfully the prison section doesn’t take too long and your unleashed to go and explore the world at your leisure. Despite the usual MMO nonsense that is inevitable to the starting area things look nice – just look past the monkeys, horses and the odd rogue mage unsuccessfully attempting to set fire to a bush. But I didn’t get that feeling I got when I first stepped out of the vault in Fallout and my eyes adjusted to the harsh light. Or the unrelenting freedom that Skyrim imposed from square one with trees and mountains trailing off as far as the eyes can see, or at least as far as your graphics card can handle anyway.
For an MMO Elder Scrolls online looks great, really great. But had they made an offline experience for PC, PS4 and the X1 it would look vastly superior. It’s the first time I really felt that the fact I was online hindered my experience. And truth be told it’s only really a niggle because I’m sure any RPG fan will agree that some of the best ever haven’t been great lookers. And ironically the main reason I felt slightly underwhelmed is only because of how overwhelming previous Elder Scrolls games have been. Plus given the scale of the world and the amount of people running around without hindering my performance Elder Scrolls certainly doesn’t look bad.
Sadly the questing falls into the standard MMO trap of endless fetch quests but they are intertwined both with Elder Scroll’s lore and ever expanding quest trees. It’s never quite as simple as finding an item and returning it to someone. There’s always another task and another NPC to talk to. It’s what made questing offline in previous Elder Scrolls great and fortunately nothing has changed. The same is true for the dialogue of NPC’s too. It seems that everybody has a recorded line even if they really don’t need to. Combined with the menagerie of real people clambering around, Tamriel has never felt so populated.
But we mustn’t let that population grow too much so we get to the combat. On your travels there are more than enough random enemies spawning to quench your thirst for blood. Combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played Elder Scrolls before. The usual walking backwards as maniacal AI decides whether it should either rush you head on or cast an ability before rushing you head on makes a return. But there are so many abilities at your command that you have quite a few options in combat even if you’re fighting alone. Somehow even though it’s quite repetitive when you really look at it it’s fun, rewarding and addictive. And tricky too. If you get into a fight with more than two enemies at your own level you are likely to be in trouble. One-on-one combat is usually not very taxing but you have to stay on your toes to make sure you don’t get ambushed.
So I must come to a conclusion, which I found difficult. As an MMORPG Elder Scrolls Online is great and by far the best I’ve been on. It has a vast world to explore and every inch is packed with things to do. There are so many abilities and levels to earn that the impressive amount of quests is almost unnecessary. Also NPC’s are entirely voiced and even Michael Gambon makes an appearance as one of the key plot characters. Combat is the usual Elder Scroll’s affair but imbued with all the abilities and skills on offer remains interesting, fresh and highly addictive long into your journey.
The only problem I have is missing out on the things that a new offline Elder Scrolls would offer. But really the only thing that would bring is superior graphics and a world that isn’t broken up into manageable chunks. And less monkeys running about. Considering the advantages of being online I’d say its definitely worth it. As an exercise in blending the best of offline and online Bethesda have succeeded spectacularly.