I’ll be perfectly blunt. It’s freaking hard reviewing a MMORPG! Hours and hours of play, and I feel like I’ve just barely scratched the surface. Can I really give it a fair, critical score? I’ve invested over 25 hours, only reaching level 15 of the possible 50. I believe I am at least entitled to an opinion, but keep in mind that this review reflects my own experience, something which did not extend to the late game.
The game kicks off much like any other RPG. You spend some time choosing the avatar in which you will invest hundreds of hours of your life into. There are four classes to choose from; Dragonknight, Nightblade, Sorcerer, and Templar. The classes are pretty diverse, allowing for a player to customise their play style and fulfil more than one role if they desire. The Templar class for example can choose to be tanky, opting for a shield and sword combo, or they can focus more on supporting, staffs being their weapon of choice. The races will be familiar to anybody who has played an Elder Scrolls game before. One can choose from the likes of a high elf right through to an Argonian or Khajiit. Each race has certain benefits or buffs that compliment the chosen class. If a player wishes to do so, they can really branch out into whatever the heck they want to. On top of all this, a player needs to choose to be part of one of three alliances. If you did not pre-order the game however, your class will predetermine your alliance.
Irrespective of which allegiance the player chooses, the game will kick off in Coldharbor, a realm that is ruled by the games main quest protagonist, the Daedric prince Molag Bal. Gasp! You are a prisoner and you must escape! Plot spoiler, you escape. Doing so took me to Mistral, a teeny tiny noob island off the coast of the main continent. Progressing through the main quest here eventually took me to a much larger island called Auridon. It was here that I spent most of my time in the game. See the red circle in the image I’ve attached? That’s how small it is in comparison to the rest of the world. Only the darker parts of the continent can actually be visited, with the other parts more than likely to be added with updates or expansions. No matter, the available areas are vast and just waiting to be explored, filled with quests which require an able hero.
During my questing, I couldn’t help but notice that the game seems to have some sort of identity crisis. Is it a single player affair or is it truly meant to be a MMO? There is obviously the main quest, but also dozens of side quests on offer . The problem is, if one chooses to do so, they could complete most of these on their own. The Elder Scrolls series has always been about you being the unknown hero, willing to explore and perform quests for the people in need and becoming an ultimate badass along the way as you get stronger and stronger.
I couldn’t help but laugh at some points during my time with ESO. I chose the Nightblade class, stealth specialists who rely on their stealth and speed. This was all complimented by my choice to be a Khajiit because they too excel in stealth, and are great in dealing out some damage. Imagine my shock when I, the village hero, decide to take on a quest which involves cleansing a shrine of sorts from an enemy presence. I’m sneaking along nice and quietly when a group of random people rush in and kill the nearest enemies. It’s not so much that my stealth class now appears to be completely null, but more the fact that the immersion is completely gone. There are certain dungeons which give you your own instance, making you the only player in it, but this does not happen all the time. Most of the dungeons I visited were frequented by every other local hero, running in out like they would at their local grocer.
The quests themselves aren’t too bad. I expected the usual stuff which suits Fido, but those were sparse at least. If I ever found that I ran out of things to do, I just ventured into unchartered territory and there was more than likely an NPC who needed something to be done. The problem in taking a quest is that you have no idea what level it is until you have taken it, or what your reward will be once completing it. Taking a high level quest isn’t such an issue, as you can always come back to it when you reach the appropriate level. The real headache comes in the reward you get for performing your heroic deed, which in my case left a horrible taste in my mouth most of the time.
Most of the quests are made up of several objectives, so one almost expects a pretty solid reward on completion. I honestly believe that the reward should be something that is tailored or at least applicable to your chosen class. Just so you know, my dual wielding assassin really has no need for that staff of healing or that heavy armour breastplate. This is not the only place where loot bothered me. Fighting some of the random NPC bosses or quest bosses had me drooling over the sort of loot they would drop. I would be happy knowing that they dropped whatever they were wielding, even if it is something that my class could not use. I just killed that tough sorcerer, maybe I can grab his staff and sell it for some kind of profit? Oh, a two handed sword! I thought he was just happy to see me. Rewards appear to be generated randomly off a loot table. Granted, you might be lucky, but I hardly was.
One of the games highlights for me was certainly the atmosphere. The music just screams Elder Scrolls, and it as epic as one would expect it to be. Like your lore? Don’t worry, there are tons of bookshelves where you can find lots of additional reading. The world of Tamriel is something that I can really credit the game for too, as some of the locales are incredibly beautiful. This is one of the reasons I kept wanting to play the game really. All I did was open up my map, set a waypoint, and off I went. What made this even more enjoyable was the random world events that occurred. I nearly fell of my horse the first time a tear in the sky opened up and enemies fell to greet me. Any nearby players dropped everything to go destroy these creatures, as doing so spawns a mini boss of sorts who has some decent loot to grab (a shield this time, that’s no good on me!) Those are pretty awesome, but what really nearly made me fall off my chair was the first time dark anchors appeared in the sky. The Daedric Prince, Molag Bal periodically uses these anchors to try drag Tamriel into the realm of Oblivion. The skies open and anchors plummet to the ground, digging in and taking hold. This is true MMORPG stuff as tons of minions spawn and you rally up with other players to give them a warm welcoming with your offensive capabilities.
Defeating these creeps was manageable, even though I appeared to be slightly underleveled in comparison. The other high level players kept them at bay and I managed to get some attacks in. I did however find that the difficulty seemed a bit erratic in other parts of the game. I can completely understand getting destroyed by a creature that is a few levels higher than me. This all depends on your quest and location of course, but I found that I could still just as easily die to a group of creeps that were slightly lower or the same level as me. Solo enemy? No problem. Two of them? Now I’m breaking a sweat. Three or more? I’ll just wait here for a group of players to wander past so they can help me take them down! Perhaps my gear was ill equipped, perhaps my levelling was wrong, or perhaps I just wasn’t grinding well enough, but the difficulty is something that just felt slightly off to me. This could have just been my experience though, and maybe I’m just not cut out to be the next hero of Tamriel.
Once the player hits level 10, they are free to start one of the many PvP campaigns which take place in Cyrodiil. A character will be scaled accordingly so that they do stand a fighting chance versus any higher level characters, but there is still a disadvantage in the fact that you may not have as many skills available or loot as good as theirs. This part of the game however, is where the true MMO experience exists. Players can team up and fulfil daily quests such as scouting a nearby castle or simply killing a certain amount of enemies. The main purpose of this area is to capture key points and to take control of the whole map. Even with the supposed level scaling to even things out, I as a melee character did not have the heart to storm that castle willy-nilly while everybody else hung back to cast spells. I’d imagine if I were better equipped or a higher level, I would have enjoyed these grand battles a lot more. Instead I resorted to doing scouting missions, something much better suited to my skills.
There are many more aspects to the game, but I think that just about covers the general bits. However, I can’t not talk about the elephant in the room. The game suffers from an immense amount of bugs, bugs which really had me scratching my head or rage quitting. At one point, I somehow got stuck between a tree and a wall. Using the /stuck command didn’t simply pop me out, it killed me instead, reviving me at a Wayshrine far back from where I needed to be. I can’t even begin to count the number of times an NPC just didn’t appear, or a quest just refused to progress unless I logged in and out. I sometimes spawned inside a few other people, and we all sat there unable to move. Logging in and out didn’t even fix that problem, so I was forced to quit and carry on playing a little bit later. I lost a lot of time thanks to these and other problems. These issues will more than likely be patched as the game ages, but they really should have been ironed out in the open beta.
For those of you skiped through and arrived at this paragraph, let me describe the cycle I went through each and every time. I had an itch to explore Tamriel, because gosh darn it’s just the prettiest place filled with nice areas to explore and quests to do! Let’s do some quests! What the… why am I stuck here? Where is the NPC I am meant to talk to? Where the hell is the map marker? These creeps are absolutely destroying my face! I need to go back and grind more. Oh, STUCK AGAIN? I usually quit at this point. The cycle repeated itself a few hours later, as I felt the urge to explore Tamriel once more…