I have to admit—going into the beta, I didn’t expect much from The Elder Scrolls Online. Even as I’m a big fan of the franchise, I’ve never been particularly invested in MMORPGs. However, I was offered a chance to try out the game and since I had nothing better to do over the weekend, I decided to give it a chance.
While the The Elder Scrolls Online didn’t exceed my expectations, it also didn’t fall beneath them. Simply put, I can only describe my experience with ZeniMax’s MMO with a wholehearted “meh.”
For my starting class, I choose a Wood Elf because I’ve been using an archer in Skyrim and figured I’d see if the class transfers over into the world of The Elder Scrolls Online. After endowing him with the name “Chumplord,” I dove straight into the gameplay with a fairly short amount of login time. I’ve heard reports of player’s experiencing long login times, but I had no such issues.
The gameplay is familiar enough at the start, carrying on the first-person perspective of the series, but with noticeable changes like input lag and larger hitboxes. It seems like the developers put a fair amount of effort into transitioning people from Skyrim’s controls to the new layout. Since it’s an MMO, you’ll soon be filling out your number keys with devastating spells and skills. Unfortunately, once you learn to properly allocate your skills, using the basic attacks just becomes time-consuming and almost redundant. Light attacks are pathetically weak and heavy attacks are only useful if the target is at a distance or stunned—they’re useful for chipping away at enemies while your magicka refills, but little else.
With my archer, I made my way through the introductory area and into the wide-open expanse of Tamriel. The world design is where the game really shines, presenting new and familiar Elder Scrolls locations with a consistent visual aesthetic. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore where you can find locked chests, collectible skyshards, and world-building texts.
I wish I could say the quests were approached with as much attentiveness, but they really aren’t. Most of the quests in that first area followed the cliché mold of MMO missions: Go here, kill this enemy, collect this item from its corpse, and bring it back to me. Then there are some other truly baffling quests that only require talking to someone without encountering a single enemy along the way, whatsoever. Sometimes they’ll throw in a puzzle as an obstacle, but the ones I encountered were overly easy and only served to halt my momentum for a few seconds. And sometimes it was clear they just didn’t care at all—some quests only require you to “activate” a few magic something-or-others and that’s it. Despite the relative simplicity of the quests, they last way too long before you actually receive a reward for them.
Stealth returns, though I should mention it’s in name only. Activating the crouch required for a sneak attack is a total crapshoot, often requiring multiple button presses before the delay kicks in. The benefits from landing a sneak attack are high, but it’s rare you’ll find a place where there are few enough enemies around that you can actually get away with it. I certainly hope this is improved by the time the game releases, because stealth is one of the most valuable options in the series and I would hate to see it nerfed.
After finishing all the quests in the first area with Chumplord, I became bored with the Elf and decided to try out an Orc—so I made a modest pirate-lady-Orc named “Nacho Bell Grande.” Using a more melee-intensive class allowed me to try out more close combat weapons. I could never quite achieve a comfortable combination for dual-wielding and the sword-and-shield option just wasn’t appealing to me, but I found myself quite fond of the two-handed mace. My session with Nacho Bell Grande was probably the most enjoyable time I spent with The Elder Scrolls Online. The close-quarters combat felt pretty gratifying and the skills available within her class made it great for hitting hard and hitting fast, which is generally how I prefer to play.
Unfortunately, I quickly became frustrated by a treasure hunt quest with unusually obscure directions that sent me in circles for a good hour before I finally reached the end. All for the reward of a measly 70 coins.
Disillusioned with Ms. Bell Grande, I decided that instead of making a lot of progress with one character, I’d just get a taste of the main classes available. As such, I created Spaggle Dad, a chubby, old Dark Elf mage, and headed back into the midst of things. The first thing I noticed was that I seemed to be dealing the most damage with the mage class. Granted, I was using a frost staff against Flame Atronachs, but despite the elemental advantage, I still seemed to be dominating against most types of enemies. By far, Spaggle Dad seemed to have the most diverse range of skills. However, the Skyrim region he was placed in was pretty inhospitable to his class—at my low level I didn’t have many crowd control options available, so I found myself in a desperate bid to try and kill three to five enemies from 30 meters away before they could reach me. Rarely did I succeed.
This may very well be just because I suck, but the game is so beginner-friendly otherwise (it allows you to respawn right where you died) that I have a hard time believing that. Skills are doled out so slowly, I couldn’t exactly plan a long-term build for any of my three characters. This, of course, is just a constraint imposed by the short length of the beta, but nevertheless, it implies that this is going to be a game of slow progression.
Admittedly, I didn’t try out many of the social features, but the ones I did worked well enough. Interacting with other player characters in your proximity is finicky, so if you want to talk or trade to anybody, it generally requires you to memorize their username within a split second to quickly open up a whisper chat with them. I did end up starting my own guild within 2 hours before the servers went down, named “Armenian Embassy” because I was feeling quite tired and silly. I started inviting everyone who crossed my field of vision and I’m happy to admit that we numbered about 15 strong before our untimely disconnection.
So there you have it. I spent most of my time testing out skills and searching the environments for random collectibles. I explored little of the regions outside the starting areas, I didn’t spend much time crafting, and I didn’t go too in-depth with the character-building systems. What I can report is that the variety of races and classes allows you to play just about any way you want, but that alone may not be worth the boring quests, fidgety animations, awkward hit detection, and slow rate of progression.
Still, the PvP sounds promising, and there is a certain sort of imaginative novelty to exploring the vast expanse of Tamriel without arbitrary borders. The game, for all its faults, is at least engaging—if not particularly fun. What The Elder Scrolls Online had to offer didn’t inspire me to put down the $60+$15/month fee, but there is definitely a crowd for this game. If I had to guess, I’d think that Elder Scrolls fans who are new to MMORPGs will quite enjoy it. But if you’re looking for something deeper and more put-together, there are plenty of better offerings you could pick from to get your Elder Scrolls or MMO fill.
The Elder Scrolls Online is currently in closed beta and planned for release on PC and OSX on April 4th, with a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One released planned for sometime in June.