When The Elder Scrolls Online went live last spring, the general reception wasn’t exactly what you’d call favorable.
The game had an frustrating amount of issues, ranging from frequent glitches to a general lack of activities to keep players hooked, along with an expensive price tag and a vastly different learning curve from your typical MMO. The animations were clunky, the skills were missing text or not activating properly, and aside from reaching veteran level status after the main storyline was finished, there wasn’t much to do in terms of endgame. Even when these issues got patched out, it almost seemed as if people were advocating for the game’s failure – and the $15 subscription fee wasn’t exactly bringing players to the game. It was almost blasphemous on the Internet to say you actually liked the game in spite of its problems.
By the time it went free to play March 17th, most, if not all of the former glitches and bugs had been patched out, and the game underwent several heavy content overhauls and additions. There’s much more to do at endgame, and a lot of people who’d been waiting for the game to
go free now drop subscription fees [Editor’s note: You still have to pay $60 for the game initially. All further mentions of the game being “free” have been edited to reflect the truth and correct our error. Thank you.] have an opportunity to check it out for themselves. I’m not entirely sure how well it’s managed to overcome the steady torrent of negativity that affected its popularity in 2014, but it’s improved significantly.
Let me add that I’m not just trying to sell a game to you. There’s just something about The Elder Scrolls Online that kept me hooked to the point where I almost dropped another $15 in March because I couldn’t wait for it to drop subscription fees. It’s a very, very different MMO that dared to take risks that others in the genre decided not to take, and the dev team’s done an amazing job of riding through the storm.
The questing is immersive, and the world is most definitely alive.
The Elder Scrolls Online completely redefines the the typical “run here, kill this guy, fetch me 20 caterpillars” style of questing. The quests have an incredible amount of depth, and I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a quest that simply had me murder thirty of something and come back for gold and experience. Each quest branches off into another quest, and whatever seemingly simple problem a character needs your help with is usually expanded upon in great detail. Notable quests include:
- Coming across a hanged skeleton in the woods and finding out how the person died
- Becoming an official spy for the Queen
- Figuring out the mystery of a town in which people may enter, but can never leave
- Hunting down a kidnapped prince
- Becoming a member of a specific group (e.g., being added to the ranks of an elite group of Valenwood hunters)
- Saving or dooming several relationships
I’ll be honest – this is the first game in which I find myself thinking, “Gee, I want to go quest.” The stories are rich, with characters that have unique personalities and goals. Most MMOs simply throw a few named characters in a city and call it a day, but these NPCs might be carrying on a conversation or walking around musing about something. Some allow you to participate in whatever they’re talking about, and others might be important later for the bigger part of a quest. You’ll even meet several homosexual characters, some of which may ask you to play a role in their relationships in a way that isn’t trying to pander to a specific audience. It’s an immensely refreshing change from flat, unmemorable characters with flat, “kill this” fetch quests. Each thing you do in a quest leads up to something much bigger, and it’s up to you whether or not your character would do a certain quest.
Aside from all that, the game is just beautiful. The forests, deserts, and other environments are amazingly well done, and I don’t think I’ve stopped taking random screenshot trips since the game started. You get the feeling that you’re not just playing a game – that you’re in a world that’s thriving and changing. One of the game’s loading screen tips suggests that you pick a direction and run, which is some of the best advice that could be given for a game with environments this extensive.
This is currently the only game with a developed justice system.
Let’s face it – the game wouldn’t be Elder Scrolls if it didn’t have a chance for you to foster your inner kleptomaniac. As of the last update before they dropped subscription fees, certain NPCs are marked for killing or pickpocketing, and most items have their own ‘steal’ option now. The system works pretty much the same as it does in Skyrim, and it’s the only MMO that allows players to interact with the environment to this extent. The system even came with its own skill line solely reserved for criminal activities. It’s a decently profitable skill, and I’ve spent hours skulking around the city simply because of how addicting it can be.
You can literally do whatever you want.
Bethesda already laid down the foundation for a game that lets you wear heavy armor as a mage, but Zenimax managed to incorporate it into an MMO – and did it quite beautifully, if I might add.
The idea of the “holy trinity” style of armor and weaponry (mages get staves and robes, warriors get swords and heavy armor, rogues get daggers/bows and leather armor) is an outdated concept, especially in games. ESO allows players the ultimate freedom in classes and crafting, something no other MMORPG allows. There’s a number of builds for various character combinations – by all means, if you can figure out how to build a decent tank wearing medium armor, you can do it, and you’ve got the option to respec at any time. Unlike many games, there’s no real ‘preferred’ crafting system for each class, and you can have every single one of the crafting professions in the game leveled up to max on one character if you’re so inclined. You can also be a vampire or a werewolf, with the option to switch to one or the other.
For once, the dev team is listening.
Zenimax has to be one of the most attentive game development companies I’ve ever seen, especially in regards to customer service and interacting with the players. They’re active on the game’s subreddit and the official forums, and actively encourage people to communicate with them and give them feedback. They’ve done a few Reddit AMAs, and are constantly running podcasts to tell the players exactly how the next few patches are progressing and what might show up in the next one. They’re even in the process of removing the veteran leveling system due to player frustrations with how the leveling curve slows even more once those elite levels can be attained.
Obviously, we can’t expect a company like Blizzard to be constantly on top of things regarding player communication, but they and other MMORPG devs occasionally seem like invisible overlords that only show up when a game change needs to be made. The developers of Perfect World Entertainment are pretty well known for this, allowing players a discussion forum but rarely, if ever, acknowledging anything in it, even if the suggestion isn’t particularly outlandish. I’m not saying the dev team needs to be at our beck and call, but it’s definitely nice to see a company that seems to know its players aren’t all just demanding things to make the game easier.
As I mentioned above, the game takes many risks that other competitors in the MMORPG genre haven’t. World of Warcraft was successful, and (as is typical of video games) the devs of other companies saw that their approach worked extremely well in terms of drawing player interest. We’ve seen our share of WoW clones, and it’s what we’re used to because we weren’t really offered anything much different until ESO came along.
Is it an absolutely perfect game? Hell, no – that kind of game doesn’t exist. But it’s laid a pretty big foundation for MMORPGs to be constructed much differently in the future. The Elder Scrolls Online could change the MMO genre as it currently stands, encouraging other companies to try something new instead of following in WoW’s deeply rooted footsteps.