The Elder Scrolls Online is one of the best massively multiplayer online role-playing game's we've played in years. In many ways, it's the Elder Scrolls experience we've always wanted, following the basic MMO blueprint while maintaining faith to the franchise roots. ESO preserves and expands the series' focus on diversity, character progression and exploration, creating an exciting playground for you and tons of other players to enjoy together.
Before we go on, we should mention that we have not finished ESO. Such a vast game would take weeks to fully complete and review; however, we're judging the game based off what we've seen so far, and we've seen a lot.
With that said, ESO's new -- or old, technically, since the game is set 1,000 years before Skyrim -- version of Tamriel is a gorgeous world, filled with all kinds of fantastic creatures and locations waiting for you to battle and visit, respectively, as well as quests, collectibles and consumables at almost every turn.
Unfortunately, the game looks a bit outdated. Yes, we know it's an MMO, but since this is the sixth installment in the series and the first to tackle this genre, we have to judge it from all angles. And from what we've come to expect from an Elder Scrolls game, the graphics aren't all that impressive...well, at least not usually. At times, the visuals seem on par with a late PlayStation 2 title, which is disappointing, however, certain areas and dungeons can look gorgeous, especially for an MMO.
The story begins in a traditional Elder Scrolls fashion: your character is thrown into an unusual situation with no reason or circumstance leading to it and you soon find your way out to discover that you're no ordinary commoner. It's predictable, but it works. Besides, the story is never really the center of attention in an Elder Scrolls game, though ZeniMax Online appears to want to change that. It's a shame we couldn't finish the story before writing this review, since this is the first time it really stood out to us.
Character progression and customization is arguably the best aspect of ESO. While creating your avatar, you will have to choose a faction, one of three: the Daggerfall Covenant, Aldmeri Dominion or Ebonheart Pact. Each faction has a different starting point, with separate campaigns that could last well over 100 hours to complete. After deciding on a faction you will need to pick a class, either Templar, Dark Knight, Sorcerer or Nightblade. These classes don't hold many restrictions as in most MMO's, they're mostly set to generalize the direction of your character development. You will not lose access to any weapons or armor by choosing a class, which shifts your focus to the skill tree, where you will acquire and power up new abilities using skill points you earn from leveling up.
One huge problem ESO faces is that it still hasn't proven to us why it needs to be an MMO. There are hardly ever times when player interaction is necessary. In fact, our first, just about only, interaction with another player was when we asked someone where to find a horse and, well, that was it. We were pointed in the direction of the stables and off we went.
We still haven't joined a guild or teamed up with friends, we also just started reaching the higher level areas, so it would be unfair to right now say the game doesn't need to be an MMO, it just hasn't proven it to us yet.
What is has proven is that it finally learned its lesson about fetch quests, they're okay every once in a while, but ultimately tedious tasks. Fortunately, ESO has a ton of mission variety and many side quests turn into their own little stories in themselves, allowing seemingly endless tales to be told.
There is so much to do in ESO. With a plethora of content and an extremely vast world filled with beasts, hidden locations and items, online personas and needy NPC's, in no time you'll forget about the life you once had and accept your fate as an inhabitant of Tamriel.
+ Character progression: ESO offers a very in-depth character progression system, allowing players to decide on their faction and class without suffering from weapon and armor restrictions later on in the game.
+ Exploration: Tamriel is a big place, there are tons of hidden items and locations scattered all over the map, not to mention creatures.
+ Mission variety: No more fetch quests!
- Online player interaction: At least from what we've seen so far, the need for player interaction is slim.
The Elder Scrolls Online is what you would expect from an Elder Scrolls-esque MMO. Hell, it's probably what you were hoping for. While it doesn't always support great visuals it does offer an experience like no other: an incredible world filled with tons of extraordinary content. ZeniMax Online Studios really shows that they understand the world and what initially drew players into it. Dozens if not hundreds of hours can easily be lost into this game and it will absolutely be worth it.
A review code was provided to Examiner by the game's publisher, Bethesda Softworks. The Elder Scrolls Online released on April 4, 2014.