MMOs are a wondrous thing. They always live on the fine edge, there is no middle ground between a good MMO and an abhorrent MMO. I am a picky person, and that means each MMO I play has to tick certain boxes to make it worth my time and in general, successful. The trouble with Massively Multiplayer games is that they have to appeal to a wide number of players and be packed with content. You have to keep all different types of players of different levels productive and active. You need to provide them incentive to keep playing, be it in gold or level-based glory. I can’t even fathom explaining how often I’d fire up an MMO to give up on it a week later.
With The Elder Scrolls Online, that’s not the case. Many months ago I would have scoffed at the very name. A subscription fee and a triple A price? Insanity. Lessons were learned, and a few months later we have a new and improved title with no monthly fee at all. The Elder Scrolls Online launched in the biggest land of uncertainty, a console MMO launch with an already tarnished name. What emerged was an MMO which ticked all my boxes and smashed my expectations. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is both an MMO I feel is worth any player’s time, and a great success as an MMO on the PlayStation 4.
Foremost, I think I have to give a special mention to the community behind The Elder Scrolls Online and its wonderful Reddit and forum personnel. One thing I learnt from the get go of character creation to completing quests, is that things get confusing. An MMO does a great job when it overwhelms you with options and information. It’s a gift and a curse. Tamriel Unlimited offers you seamlessly unlimited options to contemplate. What race/class should I try? What provisions should I take on? Where should I start? How do I make money? These are all very complex and difficult questions. It made me branch out onto reddit and the forums to ask questions, and I was delightfully met with a proactive and helpful group of people.
It also doubles as an additive to the game. I wanted to learn things to be the best I could be, and TESO as a game makes you do your own research and plot your own path to become the best you can be. I found myself in a few instances where the community came to the rescue. Researching things also let me delve into the lore of The Elder Scrolls more, which was quite enlightening. For example: I found a very rare “Racial Motifs” book used for crafting. This item was incredibly rare and had high value, I had no clue and nearly sold it for pennies. Thankfully, one reddit post later I got a quick guide and an idea of what to do. These Redditors and forum guys certainly deserve a hand in this review because they become a huge part of the game experience.
Building a character for me I feel is vital to a personalized MMO experience. The Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t allow for much movement in terms of actual character modification, as it’s limited to sliders. But the overall effect is fine, you can build a player in pretty much any way you wish. One nice touch was being able to see what your protagonist would look like further down the line in badass gear. There are multiple races available in TESO, and they are all divided into factions. Each faction has three races to choose from. If you picked up the explorer pack, you can choose any race to suit any faction. There is also an external Imperial race which is only available as part of a pre-order. My first real annoyance came from this, hiding races behind a paywall left a sour taste in my mouth. It didn’t really matter, because I chose the Dark Elf, which was one race available in the Ebonheart Pact faction.
Dividing races behind factions plays a role in the main plotline and lore of the game. The factions (Daggerfall Covenant, Ebonheart Pact, Imperial and Aldmeri Dominion) are all at war with each other for the “Imperial throne”. Multiple races formed alliances against their enemies, said enemies formed their own alliances, and thus three factions are born. The fourth faction, the Imperial faction, have control of the throne and have made a deal with “Molag Bal” (Basically the Devil, who has an undead army) to allow them into the realm if they retain the throne. Your choice of race and faction plays an abundant role in all aspects of the game, from story-line, to PVP. I appreciated the sense of belonging, being a part of a cause in the game, and being an up and coming hero for the Ebonheart Pact.
The map is the entire content of Tamriel, and it’s absolutely massive. Though not all parts of it are available, all the main areas from previous Elder Scrolls games are fully playable in the game. All factions have multiple zones they can explore and venture into. Each zone is packed with activities, such as areas to venture into, small villages, farms, cities, boss battles, Dark Anchors (Undead mob spawn) and just general adventuring. To put it into a little context, by level fifteen, which took a long time to get to, I hadn’t even considered leaving the first zone I was in. There was still so many quests, so many things to explore, and so many things I wanted to do! Exploring the zone led me to find so many wondrous things, my fondest being collecting materials such as wood and iron scattered around the map, finding chests to break into, and entering caves to take down the bosses inside. I had invested so many hours into the game without even exiting a single zone.
The best part about the map was that I rarely traveled around and felt bored, there is always something to look for or something to do. I have dropped so many MMOs because tediously travelling to quests was boring. The zones themselves aesthetically all have their own character, “Stonefalls”, my first zone was a combination of shores and volcanic action. My second zone, “Deshaan”, was creepy and eerie with darkness. I do have to admit that Tamriel Unlimited isn’t the prettiest of games, but you expect some graphical sacrifices for the MMO aspect. I noticed the occasional pop-in, but beyond that the artistic style eventually grows on you. I remember travelling up the edge of a volcano and thinking “Damn, this game is beautiful sometimes.”. An entire zone called “Cyrodiil” is dedicated to PVP in the game, the total of playable zones right now is twenty-two. They all vary in shapes, sizes, activities and inhabitants. It really makes for an overwhelming but enriched experience.
From what I could adsorb, the story of the game is broken down into four main strains: The main central plot is based around your character taking down “Molag Bal” (The evil devil like guy) and it splits up a little based on your alliance and race. Next is your faction based quests — your choice of faction will determine quests on restoring your local war-torn provenances and defeating the enemy alliances. The next quests are based on the actual area you are in. Each zone will have many areas, such as small towns which are under attack from the undead or enemy factions and require your help.
Finally, you can join both the fighters guild and mages guild, they too have quests for you. The main plotline has level requirements, there is a five level gap between each main story quest, and I was always just off of proceeding the main story and therefore indulged in my faction and zonal quests to become able to continue my venture. Five levels is enough for you to enjoy your surroundings, but not stray from the central story. One thing that always aggravated me about multiple MMOs is that the central plot is always either missing or incredibly easy to drift from. In TESO, it’s prominent and the pinnacle focus of the game.
Another tick-box for me is the quality of quests — I hate doing something that feels completely tedious or irrelevant. Thankfully, about 90% of the quests you do actually have relevance. You are always either taking down a foe, restoring the zone you are in, or defeating an enemy alliance. It made questing feel a lot more rewarding, and at some points when passing distraught villages it gave me a sense of responsibility as an alliance soldier. One thing I have to tip my hat to is the fact that all of the quests are actually voiced over and animated completely (Believe it or not, this isn’t standard for all MMOs). Quests clearly have been dedicated to not be pointless, and have a good amount of idiosyncrasy. One thing that became pretty obvious to me is that quests are quite diverse too. They always attempt to push you into new places, and do new things which I am quite grateful for. Certainly, not all quests are perfect, some can be painfully boring. You always have that goal in the back of your mind to get to the next level though, that keeps you going. I have also had the strange issue of invisible quest NPCs. Zenimax have announced that they are aware of the problem and are fixing it, though.
Progression as a player is very compelling in The Elder Scrolls Online. There always is something you want to achieve, maybe you want more damage, more gold or better abilities — it’s all achieved through leveling and skill trees. They too are broken down into different segments. In The Elder Scrolls Online, whatever class you choose doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use said class. You can be a sorcerer and whip out a sword and shield if you wish. I like freedom like this. It also means you have an entire collective of abilities you can mess around with. You can dedicate your earned skill points (leveling up obtains these) to your character directly and upgrade your health for example. You also get skill points to dedicate to your weaponry, race, class skills, and provisions such as woodworking or blacksmith work. Essentially, if you can do it in game, you can upgrade it.
I began grinding out my class skills to make my sorcerer based abilities as strong as they could be to inflict as much damage as possible, and be a great healer. I then dedicated some time on my first provision, woodworking, to build cool and upgraded staffs that would be of use in the future to attack with and sell. Provisions are quite important in game. You can commit to one that will assist your class in the future, or commit to making a lot of money. The crafting system in the game is very advanced, with lots of options. The more powerful an item you can build and the more rare, the higher you can sell it for. What I liked about this system is that it gave you more than just killing things to think about. It made you focus on building to get money and building to improve your player.
The crafting system also blatantly encourages adventure too. You will have to venture around to find specific materials. It took me about a day to find a material called “Turpen”, which is used for wood-based upgrades (thank you reddit for explaining how). The crafting/provision system kind of reminded me of Runescape in a way, which is a good thing. The skill tree and progression tree adds just another layer to the overall experience. You commit yourself to improving in the game financially, or in terms of skill, and it certainly adds incentive. It wasn’t too long before myself and a friend dedicated roles to one another and traded useful materials. I focused on woodworking and enchantments, whilst he took up being a blacksmith and alchemy. We adventured and searched together and exchanged items. I can only imagine what a fully organised guild could manage.
Speaking of which, Guilds and groups do exist in The Elder Scrolls Online. You can set up a group to provide a shared questing and dungeon experience, or create a guild for your friends and the masses to join. You can have up to five guilds, which is important. Trading in The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t traditional. There is no “Grand Exchange” or “open market”. Buying and selling comes from “Guild Stores”. Yourself and 499 other players can join a guild to trade within that guild (you can also trade by interacting with people around you). Eventually I had joined one main guild for me and my friends, and four trading guilds. This system makes sense. Open markets on most MMOs tend to be exploited, and before too long you have tons of sites selling in-game currency. TESO maintains a steady economy through this method. It isn’t over-saturated with too many products either. The trading guilds also provoke you to be sociable and go onto reddit and forums to join one. I found my four trading guilds through those very means. It can make selling products tough, but ultimately ss worth it. The reddit for TESO also allows for trading posts weekly to make sales. The guild and group system is nearly perfect. I found when doing group questing, that I often had to wait for friends to complete an objective I had just done because it doesn’t share the progression. I would have preferred a system where quests got progressively harder based on numbers and levels involved, and shared the overall resultant XP and rewards.
As for dungeons, The Elder Scrolls Online has sixteen group dungeons to choose from. They can be completed in normal or veteran mode. A veteran is a player who has progressed beyond level 50, therefore providing replay ability with the same dungeons being amplified in challenge and reward. They implore tactical roles, you are going to want two damage based players, one healer, and a tank to adsorb the damage. There is quite a bit of tactical play surrounding dungeons, which I like. There is no hand holding when you enter one. You are given a task and the game basically says “Get on with it, oh and don’t die.”. I agree with that type of gameplay, because it means the more versatile and able of teams are rewarded for their fine efforts. These dungeons also give you tons of experience points, if you are looking to grind through as fast as you can.
Player Versus Player, I feel, is pretty vital. Flexing your internet muscles as you pummel an opponent to the floor matters. What made me smile when I opened up TESO’s PVP is that it isn’t the typical slash here, shoot here, and bang you win. It’s a warzone. There is a zone called “Cyrodiil”, which essentially is an almost Planetside 2-like map. There are specific points of interest to attack and gain total control of to diminish the enemy alliances. These PVP battles are called “Campaigns”. You can join one, and they range from 7 to 30 days in length. You are thrown into the battlefield, where you and fellow alliance-mates are tasked with assaulting specific fortresses or castles and gates. You get an entire array of siege weapons to use to break down their walls too, as the enemy deploys countermeasures to stop you. It’s immense fun.
Dying and fighting is intense, and you want to avoid death at all costs to win the battle. Teams that communicate effectively and battle well are likely to completely wipe the floor with the opposition. You can also accept specific capture or scouting quests from NPCs on the battlefield to assist the war effort. NPCs at strongholds also sell incredibly advanced gear to provide players with PVP incentives. The player who is the most talented on the battlefield becomes the leader of the faction, there is a complete ranking and leaderboard system for each alliance in each campaign. One can only dream of being the top dog one day, by slaughtering enemies in other alliances.
Next up, in game purchases. The dreaded statement. There is a crown store in game, which lets you buy certain items. You can purchase a horsem or costume, or even a pet. These aren’t vital to your experience, but they make it a bit more interesting. One could argue that horses are quite essential to travel. You can buy these items with in game gold, but it would take ages. It isn’t a case of pay-to-win, let me make that clear. You start off with 500 crowns which can buy nothing, but if you buy a few more for £4 or $5, you can pick yourself up a horse to use. I am totally against the concept of microtransactions, but at least 98% of them are not particularly useful.
Finally there is “ESO Plus”: This is a monthly subscription fee add-on. You get an allotment of crowns to spend in the Crown Store based on your membership period, access to all DLC, and a 10% bonus to XP and gold gain and crafting research. For a 30 day period you get a massive 1500 crowns, 4500 for 90 days, and 9000 for 180 days. Now, initially I looked at this and thought, “Really, these money grabbing…”. Then after delving god knows how many hours into it, I realized that if you really love this game like I do and invest a bunch of tim,e this is a very fair and reasonable subscription. All the DLC alone would be enough for other MMOs, TESO gives you some crowns to buy aesthetics and a small perk too. I think for once, it might actually be an optional fee worth considering. I stress again, it really doesn’t add much, if not any kind of pay-to-win component.
For a Playstation 4 title, The Elder Scrolls Online is doing well with an active and growing player base. We saw Final Fantasy XIV Online do well as a PS4 MMO previously. The genre is being widely adopted by the platform, which is really positive to see. There are some issues that need addressing, servers go down once in a while (put back up within an hour or two usually), there are some graphical issues here and there, there are no subtitles, and there are a few network based hiccups which really break immersion. I wish that Zenimax implement a network filtration system. The game runs on megaservers, and randomly places online players in and around you to populate where you are sufficiently which works perfectly. My problem is that players with terrible internet and lag glitch all over the place and cause stutters. I hope to see this improved upon.
What I do have to say though is that Zenimax have been wonderful at communicating with the community through social media and reddit. They are a very proactive development company. Overall, my experiences on The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited have been absolutely wonderful. It’s the first MMO in a while that I feel I can solidly invest myself into, and enjoy for a long period of time. I haven’t really delved into an MMO with such commitment in a long time. Its great community, progression system, fun quests, and huge map make it a solid investment for anyone interested in MMOs.
A press copy of The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited was provided by Bethesda for the purpose of this review