Reviewing an MMORPG is a big task to take on–the main campaign alone takes at least a good 100 hours to complete. I will be updating my progression and giving my impressions on various events of the game as I explore them further.
From the outset, Elder Scrolls Online’s (ESO) introduction starts off with an uninviting dull tutorial that takes place in a monotonous and bland world. I don’t have high expectations in regards to MMO as I do understand the genre’s limitations, but I did hope for some kind of variation in the color palette and overall aesthetic. It is regrettable, then, to partake in the alluring architectural design but only for it be degraded by identical textures and blurry terrains. Don’t get me started on the almost abysmal draw distance.
But this is an MMO, so let’s dive right into the grits of its offerings. The character development follows similar patterns to Skyrim’s leveling up system; you want to be an archer with a tanky, heavy armor build, well there is no stopping you even though it’s obviously not practical for a DPS build. However, such liberty would also allow you to create a dual-wielding mage as well, allowing you to enjoy the game exactly the way you desire. On the other hand, excessive experimenting, especially early on as you evolve your skill tress, may result in an unbalanced build, causing your encounters at higher levels to be needlessly challenging and frustrating. Don’t let this dishearten you as only experienced RPG/MMO players will themselves jumping skill trees. Novice and casual players may follow a set path of skills and build a capable character in the class of their choosing.
The world in scale is broad but feels small and empty. What is prominent about Elder Scrolls games is that everything can be looted, from tomatoes on shelves to picking up papers on a desk, to the most pointless objects in an area, something that is not an MMO staple. However, searchable items are usually empty or only contain a few ingredients which will eventually put an end to your looting sprees. ESO will try to keep you immersed as you hunt for secret items, but it will just fall flat and end up being a skin version of their single player, offline counterparts.
With such an expansive world to roam in, The questing structure is disappointingly built to offer you a linear path that directs you from one contained area to another. The main quest does have its captivating moments, but expect to be dragged down in between uninteresting main events with long fetch quests and your typical MMO-esque “go to this specific area to kill this many types of enemies or collect quest items.” This deprives you of the exploration that Elder Scrolls games tend to posses and is a missed opportunity as you end up running in a beautiful landscape with nothing to for you to actively do. While I’m on the subject of running, get accustomed with it because unless you’ve purchased the Imperial Edition that comes bundled with a horse, that is what you will be doing most of the time while questing. You can, of course, purchase your own horse in-game, but they are outrageously over-priced compared to the gold you earn especially early on. This makes the game more of a grind that it needs to be.
The number of group-focused quests feels thin, with only a handful of group dungeons that I found very difficult to acquire a team for. Adding insult to injury, the matchmaking queue system is scandalous and had me waiting north of one hour with no results. The only effective way I soon discovered is to stand in front of the entrance of the dungeon and team up with surrounding players. Making matters trickier, the console versions of ESO do not offer in-game text chat due to current limitations and coordinating with players who shy away from voice chat becomes all but impossible. Needless to say, said coordination is a must in PVE dungeons, especially that ESO offers a variety of bosses that require different tactics to be employed for their defeat, making it easier to just play with friends rather than try your hand with random players.
The sheer number of voice acting is stunning, easily dwarfing most other story games, but the actual delivery of the lines leaves a lot to be desired. Dialogue is very bland and feels as if the voice actors were given lines to read with parentheses to showcase the emotions of the situation, but this may be forgiven given the size and intended scope of the game.
MMO combats customarily tend to have a repetitive pattern of rotating hot key skills that requires muscle memory more than carefully input interactions, and in this regards, ESO more than delivers. I am fond of how tactical and calculated you must be when it comes to how and when blocking attacks should be executed to achieve stuns on enemies, or swinging the sword at the exact moment to land a satisfying blow that grants you a sense of achievement rather than simply waiting for a cool-down and pressing a key for an automated spell.
Playing in first person view immerses you even further into the action, specially against intense boss battles where you will find yourself wiping your brow quite a few times, so keep a towel next to you. The combat can get extremely fierce which brings much needed player skill, and is a breath of air in the MMO genre.
Of course, one must mention that playing an MMO with a controller severely tasks you with micro-managing your active abilities as you are limited with the number of bound buttons and you will face a challenge especially if you are used to playing MMO’s on the PC.
Keep a lookout for part two of my review where I will be will be covering raids, crafting and PVE.