Elder Scrolls Online Review – Read Before You Buy

Elder Scrolls Online 2018
The Psijic Order: Taking Souls since 2018

Video Games are like relationships. It’s best if you know what you’re getting yourself into from the start. This article will give you the good, the bad, and the ugly of the recent decisions Zenimax Online Studios and Bethesda came up with concerning ESO. Let me help you have a long, healthy, and committed relationship with the Elder Scrolls Online based on my own experiences and those who have been playing since it launched.

About ESO

Elder scrolls Online takes on the familiar medieval fantasy feel of Skyrim in a MMORPG (Mass Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). The original ESO, Tamriel Unlimited, was released April 4th,2014 on PC and June 9th, 2015 on console. Developed by Zenimax Online Studios (ZOS) and published by the ever so popular Bethesda, 5 million players had registered for the online BETA testing alone. Fans of Bethesda’s previous work with Skyrim and Oblivion were excited for ESO’s release.

ZOS had boasted 10 million players as of today! Previously, they had announced 8.5 million in 2017 which was a 1.5 million increase from 2016. 10 million is the number of units that have been sold, not players who log in daily. Bethesda has since reported that they have an active player base of over 1 million consistently. Which is still fantastic for a MMO.

There is plenty of room for the volume of players. The game features a large open map so that it never feels overcrowded, unless you’re trying to squeeze in to the crafting stations in major cities. This map is split up into 9 zones, not including DLCs or the new release of Summerset expansion, giving tons of quests and content. Now comes the most recent launch, Summerset (May 21st,2018 on PC / June 5th, 2018 to console).

ESO Story

Facing off with Daedric Prince Molag Bal for the last time

In your first few hours of gameplay, ESO gives us an interactive story driven tutorial. Every new player’s story starts the same. With Summerset, Bethesda has placed their focus on the Psijic Order, an ancient mage guild sworn to unlock the secrets of Magicka and are capable of manipulating time. Your character begins by escaping a spectral plane that turns out to be a mind trap by a “dark entity”. During the tutorial, you are taught to equip gear and how to maneuver with the basic controls. P.S. Summerset’s tutorial doesn’t teach you how to Lock Pick or Sneak. Good Luck!

Following the main storyline, Elder Scrolls Online takes place about 1,000 years before Skyrim V. Now, the Imperial throne is under siege by 3 competing sectors: The Ebonheart pact, The Aldmeri Dominion, and The Daggerfall covenant. All three groups vying for power against the remaining Imperials. The Imperials accepting that they are outnumbered ask for help from a powerful necromancer, Mannimarco. Mannimarco does what is requested of him and raises the Imperial dead.

Instead of giving this undead army to help fight the war in Cyrodiil, Mannimarco hands them over to the Daedric Prince of Domination, Molag Bal, to take over all of Tamriel. When you begin your quest, your soul is brutally taken by Molag Bal and you are dropped into Coldharbour. This is Molag Bal’s Oblivion, a plane of soulless and shriveled slaves. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to escape Coldharbour, obtain your soul, and defeat Molag Bal!

I personally found the main quest to be action-packed. I feel that it could be improved by beginning the tutorial in Coldharbour initially and introducing the main quest. The coolest part is at the end of the main quest when you face Molag Bal and he picks you up to bring you closer to his face. At this point, you really get to see the incredible size of a Daedric Prince and how small you really are in comparison. A real David and Goliath moment.

ESO Gameplay

Incredible interactive combat during quests

Besides questing, you can expect solo and group Dungeons which enable you to gain levels and pick up tons of loot. Moving up to Trials, there are normal and vet with a plethora of bosses. Trials pull groups up to 12 players but other players will be very upset if you are below Level 50 CP 750. Keep that in mind. ESO also offers PvP content with battlegrounds, fighting for the Imperial throne in Cyrodiil, and dueling other players all over the map.

During your travels, you can take part in destroying Molag Bal’s dark anchors that rotate all over each of Tamriel’s sectors! Dark Anchors, or commonly referred to as Dolmans, are anchors dropped into preset locations and will explode with all sorts of enemies. Once you have defeated these enemies and you, along with other random players, destroy the anchors, a final boss will appear. Once the anchor disappears into a black hole, a treasure chest with awesome loot will appear. Dolmans are also a great way to gain levels and make friends while waiting for its return.

The level of playability is phenomenal. You can literally know nothing of the game or its context and catch on quickly. ZOS is strategic in allowing any player with any background to pick up a controller and easily learn ESO basics or pick up where they left off.

ESO Character Creation

What does every new player spend their first 3 hours doing after popping in that disk? Character Creation. Bethesda has become well adept in offering substantial character creation. Fans of Fallout and Skyrim rave about the excellent detail and the freedom players are given. ESO’s In-depth character creations allow gamers to live out their Elder Scroll fantasies in a personal matter.

ESO offers 5 different classes, 9 races (10 if you include Imperials), and 3 factions. You have 8 character slots available to you without any additional purchase but you can buy more slots in the crown store. Characters progress to level 50 and then start earning what ESO calls Champion points (CP). CP allows players to further build upon your skills in Magicka, Health, and Stamina. The CP tree has 3 constellations, per the three skills, that replicate the same mundus stones that gave you buffs in Skyrim. Yes, they also exist in ESO and still give you boons.

My main issue is with character build expectations. Other players will tell you how to build your character to satisfy their requirements when you join their group. It’s a “you must be this tall to ride the ride” situation. You will need to immediately figure out, before even creating a character, whether you want to deal damage as DPS, be a Healer and revive your party, or be that guy who stands in front of the bull with a red flag to draw attention and be the Tank.

Deciding this early will save you time in the future reconstructing your attributes and skills. It’s easy to search for what skills and traits to invest in based on your race, class, and dungeon role. Some guilds, and I emphasize some, are very helpful and will group up to physically walk you through the steps of setting up your build. Goodbye playing for fun.

ESO NPC

All of the present Non-Playable Characters (NPC) have their own personalities which keeps the game interesting. Naryu Virian, the dark elf, is a pretty cool character because she is immediately distinguished by her sassy attitude. Later, you will work closely with the cocky Razum-Dar, a Khajiit loyal to Queen Ayrenn. You get to know Queen Ayrenn very well as you help her keep her crown over, and over, and over again.

As far as major NPC, the protagonist The Prophet from the main quest is by far the coolest of them all. Not because of his personality but his voice is none other than Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter)! Other big names like Bill Nighy, not to be confused with “the science guy”, voices Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean series portrays King Emeric in ESO.

ESO Combat

ESO combat style is free aim. It can be tricky when in combat because if you happen to be backing up while planting arrows into your enemy, you could fall out of range and their health bar will reset.  Your character will gain skill morphs and level up by dealing damage and surviving. You will earn levels much quicker in the beginning, once you hit level 15 is when it starts to get more difficult. That is all made up for once you hit Level 50 and start earning CP (Max CP 750) at a quicker rate.

Once you reach a certain level in a specific skill, you can decide how you want to morph it. Earlier on in the game you are given 2 bars to swap between. This enables you to use a long-range weapon and quickly switch over to a close combat weapon. Each bar can be set up separately with 1 heavy attack and 5 light attacks per bar. With these bars, you can create a series of attacks with your active abilities to constantly be dealing damage to your enemies. These active abilities are specific to your race, class, and some are picked up along the way with guilds.

Weapons are the same as in Skyrim with options for staffs, swords, daggers, shields, maces, bows, great swords, axes, and battle axes. ZOS has given players even more style options for weaponry. At first, you can only make armor and weapons according to your race. Throughout your travels, you will have access to motifs. By reading these books, your knowledge of other races will grow and you will be able to craft even more styles of gear. This has expanded to styles that are not an option to players in character creation such as Ancient Elf, Spriggan, and Daedric armor.

Combat animations and sounds are nostalgic for Skyrim players. What concerns me is the lack of excitement from active abilities. Some attacks aren’t even noticeable when you use them like Hidden blade and Twin Slashes. Other than that, I have never had a glitch while in combat since I started playing. The free range of attacks that you can plant on enemies and area of movement you are allowed in battle makes it exciting. If you are a fan of target based combat similar to Final Fantasy, then you may be skeptical of ESOs capabilities.

ESO Quest/ Mission System

The adventure of ESO is super involved for players. There are tons of quests to pick up at any time which means if you don’t want to complete the main quest right away, you are more than welcome to wait. Once you complete the main quest, you are still able to carry on with side quests, dungeons, and any other activities you wish to pursue.

The ESO quest system is awesome for both players who play daily or set the controller down and pick it back up months later. There is a log of all active quests that you pick up on your journey. The capacity you can hold is 25 quests at a time. So that guy chasing you down trying to find a lone hero that will help him find his missing dog, sorry, but I’m at 25 quests so I might remember to come help you later.

Questing doesn’t require any level requirements and a lot of the quests have other people running them simultaneously. Therefore, if you can’t kill that one boss at the end and you’re sick of resurrecting yourself, hold tight and wait for another player to come along and tag team that boss! You can also ask for help in Zone chat and people in the area are usually super helpful and will come to your aid.

I basically enjoy all of the side quests, except the ones where you have to fight off numerous groups of invaders to help some Queen or King get their city back. In these quests, the city is considered a “public dungeon”. Public dungeons mean large clumps of enemies, usually a mix of necromancers, assassins, and a berserker. The problem is these clusters are everywhere and close together so you are constantly being attacked by hordes. It is very easy to get lost and turned around and fight enemies that you could have avoided if you knew where you were going.

ESO Graphics

ESO graphics displays amazingly detailed game features

Overall, the graphics are all-inclusive and playable. I feel that the quality is up to par as far as other MMOs. The culture that ESO displays is unique to each sector. By populating Hammerfell with primarily Redguards and Grahtwood with Bosmer, creates the credible environment that TES players have come to expect. Every city has guards and the gear they display is unique to their environment.

The newest addition of Summerset island, was a bit of a letdown graphically.  The lore of High Elves describes cities of glass, crystal towers and island like elements. We were given grey, stone structures placed in cities with confusing staircases that overlap one another. Although the Summerset landscape contains vast greenery and beautiful cherry blossom trees, I would have to say ZOS missed the mark on that “WOW” factor.

ESO Developer

I have been mentioning Zenimax Studios a lot because they happen to be the developers of Bethesda’s published Elder Scrolls Online. ZOS does a pretty good job of frequent updates and letting the public know what is coming with each update. The problem? ZOS makes updates based on ZOS, not ESO players.

I’ll just give you some examples of why I had to put the controller down after only playing Summerset the week of its release to console. When you mount, the game drags the camera under the plane from one side of the map until it focuses in on you. Strike one. The load times have become ridiculously long and I have heard of complaints of waiting for up to 7 minutes on loading screens. Strike two. It doesn’t matter what I was doing, after only about 30 minutes of playing I would get kicked for all kinds of things like “running scripts for long periods of time” while I’m in the middle of combat in a dungeon. Thank you, ZOS. Strike three.

Did I stop there? Nope. I was determined to play through the brand new Psijic Order quest line that dropped with Summerset. Once you meet the Psijic Order and they send you on your merry way, you obtain the Psijic Order skill like which you can invest skill points in. One of which is reversing time in a chosen location for 10 seconds. Sounds cool right? At the time, I didn’t have access to this skill but I was reset 10 seconds every 5 minutes after only just meeting the Psijic Order. Do you know how annoying it is to unwillingly run twice as long to get somewhere? Strike four.

ZOS makes a lot of little fixes to quests and skill lines but their inability to look at the bigger picture is frustrating. I don’t really care if you changed the red on the black widow’s back to black so that it wasn’t distracting to players! Yes, that is really an “improvement” that was made to PC/MAC in patch v4.0.5 Update 18. I would prefer to have the 20-minute dungeon wait and the frame drops fixed.

ESO Price

For PC/MAC there is no subscription fee for ESO. Console however requires a PS PLUS subscription ($10 month to month) and Xbox One users will need Xbox Live GOLD to play ESO ($10 month to month). At this point, you could go out and buy the base game Tamriel Unlimited for about $12.00 - $15.00. I recommend stopping at your nearest GameStop and picking up a used copy for less than $10.00.

A bundle of Tamriel and Morrowind is available for only $20.00 in the Microsoft and PS store. Summerset on the other hand, is fairly new so you will find it for about $40 for the basic addition and about $30 for the upgrade. Crowns are available in the crown store for purchase, I highly recommend that you keep an eye out for deals. Crowns are used for in game purchases such as DLC and non-combat pets as well as housing.

ZOS likes to push ESO+ frequently with trial events. You can get 500 crowns just for signing up for the free trial and this event usually lasts about a week. Coming from an apprehensive person who does not do extra purchases as far game subscriptions updates more than the bare minimum, ESO+ is so worth it. It is an additional $15 a month so PS4/ Xbox One players you are looking at $25 now month to month.

What comes with ESO+? You will receive a 10% experience gain, free access to all DLC that you can start at any time, and 1,500 credits monthly. But wait, there’s more! Unlimited craft bag. Doesn’t sound like much but it is a game changer. When you can only hold up to 50 items at a time, it gets old fast. You can purchase bag upgrades from certain merchants but then you are spending 500 Gold for 10 extra slots, it adds up and you will never feel like you have enough space. The craft bag separates materials (runes, wood, iron, insect parts, etc.) into a craft bag.

PROS:

Tons of multiplayer content available
In depth character creation
ESO holiday events
DLCs available

CONS:

Boots you in the middle of gameplay
Loading times
Frame drops around Wayshrines

Verdict: 
8/10
Jordan is a sole survivor in the desolate waste of the Alik’r Desert. She is an avid Bestiary Seeker, Dark Anchor Butcher, and Mother of Black Lab Puppies.
Gamer Since: 1993
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Top 3 Favorite Games:The Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Bioshock Infinite