Returning to Tamriel brought some mixed emotions to me. Originally, I was going to review The Elder Scrolls Online again, a year after I last did this with its original release on PC, with it’s new Tamriel Unlimited moniker. Surely enough had changed and moved in that year on that I could go back and almost revise my review, I thought, but as the hours I was sinking in to it became longer and the reviews from other sites started coming in, I realised I couldn’t do that.
That’s because, despite improvements, nothing has really changed and the games positives and negatives are still exactly the same. It was actually quite nice to see so many people pointing out the exact same issues I had last time out, and even one of my friends I’ve been accompanying on our MMO adventure making reference to a major frustration of mine. So, instead of a review (because to be honest I’d be giving it exactly the same score this time around) I thought I’d give a brief summary of what I’ve learned now that I’ve spent much more time in Tamriel, and how ‘unlimited’ it really is.
Money is Pointless
On the one hand, TESO has solved one of life’s biggest problems with the overly wealth-biased capitalist oligarchy that we live in. On the other hand, it does it at the ‘expense’ (pun intended) of any mercantile or crafting activity, save for a few well-subscribed guilds. Money is really quite insignificant in The Elder Scrolls Online. You need it to buy a horse and to increase your inventory space (more on that later), and that’s pretty much it.
Since the abilities of the mounts all got normalised to be the same with no advantages, there’s no point saving 40,000 coins as opposed to 10,000 coins for the cheapest yet identically able horse. Other than that you can craft things and sell them to the merchants for an infinitesimal amount of money compared to the time and effort you have put in to scrounging for the crafting components. I have brought Starmetal so I can craft in my native style from a merchant but only at the start. Now I find everything while adventuring so my only reason to spend money with merchants is gone. There are guild traders so you can buy and sell items, a little bit like an auction house, but to even access them you need to have a guild of fifty active people which, if we’re honest, is bloody stupid if it’s a game you’re going to play with a few of your mates. I’m pretty sure if you’ve got ten friends then chances are 4 of them don’t even play video games and two of them probably don’t even like fantasy games or MMO’s so you’re bollocksed really.
Of course the lack of the auction house does stop people completely ruining the economy of the game, but the complete lack of it and the lack of incentive to actually do things which turn in to financial gain equally cripples the economy. It’s incredibly communist in its workings how the foraging and set prices for all commodities means that, whatever amount of gold you may have, you actually have no advantage or disadvantage whatsoever. Of course this is the way of the Elder Scrolls games, money is relatively unimportant to the world where everything is outside. But it is very relevant to an MMO.
The Battle Against Inventory Space is Real
It’s weird how “over encumbered” is a struggle we never really fully deal with. We want all the things so having to mercilessly scrap, sell and destroy things seems like a sad process. Much like when you’re going through all the old band T-shirt 21 year old you brought and 31 year old you looks at with envy at how thin 21 year old you used to be.
But MMO’s have their version of this problem and The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Limited inventory space is and obvious thing for any game but the limits in TESO seem to be far too small. You have two storage spaces in your bank and your own inventory (and a Guild bank should you be lucky enough to have one). This fills up on average 4,867,308 times per gaming session. Here’s the process:
Go explore/visit dungeon > Search crates/boxes > Pick up crafting items (jewels, provisioning ingredients, etc) > Fill inventory > Destroy things to get actual reward for mission/dungeon > Empty in to bank > Repeat.
Then there’s this problem:
Get items > Deconstruct everything for crafting > Fill inventory > Empty in to bank > Repeat.
Or there is:
Construct items for crafting writs > Fill Inventory > Bank Full > Scavenge for items to compete writ > Unable to refine items as inventory full > Scream > Repeat.
This is quite literally the only use for money and, because there isn’t really an economic system so you can actually be good at getting money, it takes a lot of time to make enough to unlock the extra spaces in either your own inventory or the bank. It’s a slow process filled with lots of frustration that can either be cured by not picking up anything (which feels a bit soulless) or by visiting the main city every 15 minutes to unload and consolidate what you have over and over again.
There are a few other ways to get around it like training horses but pretty much every way to increase your capacity and therefore your skills involves money. There’s also only one bank per area and the areas have between three and four towns. The lack of that accessibility really hampers the game and the exploring experience unless you’re loaded. And there is one sure fire easy way to get rich quick…
Plunder Thy Booty
Stealing was “nerfed” very early on in the game’s life, but really it is quite stupid. I have almost every racial motif and a load of recipes, not to mention trinkets that I can pick up every 15 minutes or so from the boats at the docks. A lot of these things have come from my friend who is now a master thief. He has spent so long levelling up through stealing and making money by fencing stuff that he’s actually missed a lot of story.
The annoying thing is that it’s very addictive and you can regularly make something like 1,500 gold per day at a minimum. There are obviously a few issues to hamper your experience like the stolen items taking up inventory space (they don’t stack with normal items) or the fact that getting caught can be a chaotic experience of running away followed by a lonely experience of avoiding anything resembling an NPC that can hurt you. But once you’ve done it a few times and got used to it, it’s the easiest way to make guaranteed money.
In fact it’s so easy, it’s overpowered. You can go down to the city’s docks at any time to see two or more people sneaking around checking every crate and barrel to sell everything, just to make a quick buck. The reward for stealing far outweighs the rick and it feels like a lot of measures that have been taken to stop people ruining the game have in fact helped to ruin it in some places.
It’s not all frustration though. The console version is a very impressive conversion of the game. The controller has been very well adapted to the hotbar MMO design (a bit like Dragon Age Inquisition has, to be honest) along with easy to locate sub menus, which are well designed. My only gripe is that jump and action are combined but you can change that at the sacrifice of another button in the options.
Graphically the game is very nice. It’s a very different world to Skyrim but is definitely at a higher texture resolution. There’s the occasional lag for the texture streaming but it all works rather well. The only issue there has been the occasional downtime and PSN issues that have occurred. The game still suffers from being a single player story/quest system in a MMO environment but the group events like the Dolmer’s and boss battles make you feel rather grateful for the appearance of others. It’s also a world that makes you want to explore it and methodically complete it, much like its Elder Scrolls cousins.
I’m honestly glad I’ve returned to Tamriel, despite what might look like a typically British spat of moaning. For a console MMO it is the right mix of non-subscription and casual Elder Scrolls fun whilst still having the dynamics of the franchise and lots of playability. If you’ve got a lot of people or make a lot of friends in game then I’m sure the dungeons and guilds are a much better experience, but even for a small group, it’s a lot of fun. If you haven’t visited before, you probably should.