Returning to Tamriel – The Elder Scrolls Online

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Battle Against Inventory Space is Real

 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Elder Scrolls Online Review

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 A thousand years before the Dragonborn was summoned to the Throat of the World and around 800 years before Uriel Septim was slain and the gates of Oblivion opened up around Cryodiil, there was you, caught in the events of the Elder Scrolls Online.

The Daedric prince Molag Bal is realising his machinations of world domination and will combine both the hells of Oblivion and Nirn. The Imperial City is in the middle of a battle between the three factions, each forced to coexist in an uneasy alliance to fight evil as they wrestle for control. After escaping prison (Elder Scrolls cliché number one), you awake to find yourself in the world of your faction. Your only guide on this journey is The Prophet, an observer you helped free from prison, who is trapped elsewhere and that only you can see and hear. And so you find yourself leaping from quest to quest, putting things right that once went wrong, hoping that the next… No, wait. That’s Quantum Leap.

People that played the beta realised that the introductory story arc was long and fairly uninteresting with drawn out moments of conversation with little to no action. So in the full release, this has been cut down and altered to get you into the action quicker. Like most Elder Scrolls games you start in an attempt to flee your incarceration, for reasons never to be explained, and end up in a town ready to go literally anywhere in an expansive and lonely world. Except it isn’t that lonely anymore. The story arc however doesn’t really collaborate with everything in the right order and the secondary characters and hours of questing that you start doing first is in retrospect completely unimportant and counter productive to the progression of the main story. So much so that once you get around to it, you’re confused by both strands and really don’t care.

the elder scrolls online review 3In a RPG like Skyrim, you want to spend time immersing yourself in the story and take note of every character’s narrative and impressions. In an MMO you want to raise yourself by levelling and get the best loot to do the hardest dungeon challenges and PvP battles. And so you really do just find yourself clicking through all the carefully scripted and expansively voiced dialogue with wooden characters and acting to get to it and really, you give up caring. I say carefully scripted, at some points, you don’t even get that. I’ve seen an NPC quest where you must avenge a man by slaying a creature that ate his foot, whilst he clearly still has both feet. Also (in a horrible hodgepodge of editing to facilitate the introductory story cut) the great Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon, who voices The Prophet, has to be substituted for an audibly poor voice-alike to accommodate the change in narrative.

It is written with a complete onus on the solo adventure, and as the word ‘online’ suggests, you are far from alone. With the online universe, it’s very hard to sell that story with a level 6 Wood Elf jumping up and down beside you like a hyperactive child who’s snorted ten lines of pure sherbet. My disappointment stems from the fact that it feels like a substandard Elder Scrolls game and the core ideal of the lonely player in a huge world discovering their story, and that true sense that you are changing things in that world with your actions, has suffered with the leap to MMO. It sadly means that questing can feel quite laborious and unenjoyable at times.

That being said…

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Once you have stopped caring about the game’s failing as an Elder Scrolls title, and comparing to its predecessors, you realise it isn’t those Elder Scrolls games  you enjoy and that this is a totally different beast. For all the narrative criticism I have, as a game it’s actually quite enjoyable to play. You need only look at the visuals to see it.

As far as MMO’s go, they need to be easy to run but also visually appealing and not a complete recycling of textures in the various places. The world itself is beautifully realised and if you can run the higher graphics, you will not find a better-looking MMO. There are early points where you are around an area for a while and the textures begin to bleed their familiarity into your eyes but other than that, it is a wonderful place. I’ve been playing it on a Mac. I started with high graphics and it worked well and looked stunning. I’ve since reduced the setting to give myself a better frame rate and it still looks good in comparison to its contemporaries.

I’ve not had any problems at all with bad clipping, lag spikes or any such connectivity issues in the game, apart from the launcher being pretty sketchy about any errors and log in fails. Clearer information that the login has failed due to your subscription elapsing would help enormously. To play however, it is incredibly smooth and the gaming experience is all the better for it. The first person view is good, but really doesn’t lend itself to the MMO environment that well when facing multiple enemies. The third person view however is great, easily adjustable and the HUD is brilliantly designed to allow for easy ‘hack and slash’ attacking without character boxes and inventory disrupting the view.

the elder scrolls online review 2Once you learn the HUD and get into the levelling system, which is a hybrid of Elder Scrolls basic Magic/Health/Stamina and the WoW style attack skills system, you realise that this game is actually a very good MMO. The learning curve is incredibly easy and the world design, unless you just wander off like an idiot, is very careful to level you correctly and keep you in areas that don’t make you lose enjoyment by going in too deep. The fact that there isn’t a Player to Player trading system like an auction really does help to keep you more on top of your inventory and stops people getting too overpowered due to their economic nuance.

The inclusion of the crafting system inspired by Skyrim is also very welcome. Food is much more MMO-based and useful as a tool than other Elder Scrolls games and the combination of that, drink and such as Provisioning is excellent. The ability to make your own weapons is also very well executed and whilst you don’t really think of it as much as you do in other MMO’s in looking for ore, you will occasionally spot an ore and you can casually level yourself as a blacksmith with very little change to the overall progression of your game.

In fact The Elder Scrolls Online plays so well that my only grumbles about the gameplay are very minor ones. When you find an enemy, their body will have a small red aura about it to indicate that it is an enemy. However the health bar of that enemy is red with white text displaying what it is and what level. Unfortunately every single character and player has the same health bar and white writing. I’d much rather have enemies more clearly indicated in their health bar as, as soon as I get to two or more around me, along with fellow players, it can be confusing.

The only other grumble I have is that sometimes the hit box is a bit glitchy. Especially if you are all up in their face or visa versa, you seem to lose the hit box of the enemy but you yourself will take damage. So you need to have an amiable gentlemanly distance about your melee combat. The same goes for accessing crates/boxes/etc. The game feels like the view point has been designed for the first person mode so when you spend all of your time out of it, it can be a tad annoying to find the right position to access things.

The combat is actually quite good though. You never feel too over or underpowered and enemies will only punish you if you’ve been stupid and run headlong into a throng. Resurrection wayshrines are also decently interspersed. Sadly my time flying around on different quests means that I haven’t experienced dungeon raids or PvP first hand. But from what I’ve seen, it is a good system. Cyrodiil is the setting for the entire PvP arena and you end up naturally gravitating towards joining a group and experiencing the collective battling. Despite it being a game of attrition rather than level or strength, there is a lot of reward for creative tactics and smart coordinated assaults as you attempt to take the Imperial City.

You have to argue with yourself a bit over whether it’s worth the money and if you’ll keep it up. One major sticking point, especially compared to its competitors, is its cost, as it is the most expensive MMO and PC game at the moment. I’d say it’s worth the try for 30 days, although unless the subscription costs come more in line with what is affordable in reality then it may not keep a large enough player base. When it comes to around the console releases however, this may be a very different story and I’m sure that will affect the pricing of the PC version massively. Especially given the relative failure of other MMO’s at higher prices like Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, the console market may force the price to be more competitive. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Elder Scrolls Online fails to live up to the hype created by the title when it comes to telling a story which sadly detracts from that fact that, if you can stomach it, it’s a very good, easy to learn game that rewards your faith in it.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]- Excellent learning curve and gameplay system.

– Great graphics.

– Runs very well regardless of system.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Very expensive.

– Horrendously constructed narrative.

– Doesn’t live up to the name.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 7?”]Because the game itself is not bad. Sort out the cost, stomach the failure of an introductory story and you’ve actually got something quite enjoyable.[/tab]
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Screenshots

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