I’ve participated in two The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) beta sessions which was held over two weekends. I’ve created three characters, a Khajiit, Orc and Bosmer. Although I have three characters, I’ve only managed to try out two of them extensively. I ended up liking the Orc the most but more on the reason why later.
Before I start giving my opinions about ESO, I thought I should talk a bit about where I am coming from.
I am a solo gamer, preferring to play alone and offline. The multiplayer options in games seldom appeal to me. I’ve only played two MMOs so far and each of them lasted a few months of play. I eventually stopped playing them as I am unable to invest the time in playing them often. As you can tell, I am probably not going to like ESO. But I am a fan of TES series, having played two The Elder Scrolls (TES) games – Oblivion and Skyrim, and thought that I should give ESO a try to see whether it can change my mind about MMOs.
I will call him Cruuush because he crushes things and is not good at spelling.
In a nutshell
If you like MMOs, then you will probably like ESO. There are many features available for the MMO player. You can form guilds, participate in multiplayer dungeons or fight for your alliance.
However, if you are like me, then you may find that as fascinating and fun as the game may be, there is really nothing new that will make you sign up for a monthly subscription.
Impressions from a Skyrim player
Still reading? Good. I will talk in more details about what I like or don’t like about the game. Sometimes I will talk about it in comparison to Skyrim. I play Skyrim a lot so that is the TES game that I am most familiar with. To avoid confusion, I will be using TES to represent the series in general and ESO to specifically mean the online game.
This is a random Khajiit decked out in Nightblade novice gear. I would show you the veteran gear except that it covers his lovely face.
You have more options to customize the appearance of your character than in Skyrim. There are a few race-specific limitations. Each race can choose from a palette of colors allowed for that particular race. I also cannot find any way to change the colors of the tattoos, which are mostly black color. So dreary.
There are three alliances in the game – Daggerfall Covenant, Ebonheart Pact and Aldmeri Dominion. Each alliance includes the members of three races. So depending on which race you choose, you will end up in either one of the alliance (unless you pre-purchase). Now I know what some of you are thinking, three alliances and three races each equals nine races but TES has ten playable races! You’re right. Give yourself a pat for doing really good mental sums.
There’s only nine races in the alliances because the tenth race, the Imperial race, is special. It is only available if you buy the Imperial edition and an Imperial character can join any alliance they wish.
New in ESO is the class system. There are four classes – Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Nightblade and Templar. Each class offers unique skills so you do have to pick the class carefully as there is no way to change them after you created your character.
The biggest baddie in the game makes a guest appearance in the tutorial.
As in all TES games, the player start off as a prisoner. This time, you are a prisoner in Molag Bal’s realm called Coldharbour. Under the guidance of an old man known only the Prophet, you break out of your cell, pick up your first weapon, rescue him and escape back to Nirn. In my first beta, there are racks of different weapons for the player to choose from but in the second beta, only a sword is available.
This portion is the tutorial so things are pretty easy, there are little enemies and they are not difficult to fight, although you can still die here. In fact, my first death was in this area by jumping off a very tall cliff. So don’t jump off tall cliffs, it’s bad for you. I did it so now you know.
You will also get your first boss fight before you return to Tamriel. Even if you get hit, there is nothing to worry about the boss fight as the Prophet will heal you if you take damage. This is the tutorial area after all. In the my first beta, the boss was a Naga-like creature but it has been changed it to a Child of Bones which looked more intimidating and is tougher to beat.
Daggerfall city in Glenumbra. Time to get some new clothes.
After the tutorial, new players in the latest beta ends up at a major city in their alliance, rather than having to go through a string of starter islands. And guess where you will end up if you choose to be a Nord?
TES or MMO players will find the controls easy to grasp. Leveling up is similar to TES games, especially in Skyrim, where gaining XP will let you improve either magicka, health or stamina. While the class will determine what skills you can gain, there are so many skills available that you will have no lack of choices. In addition to class skills, there are racial skills, weapon skills, armor skill and guild skills, just to name a few.
Nobody bests the Mad God.
Quests are a bit different in ESO. Most quests form part of a bigger quest line so you have to complete Quest A which will then activate Quest B and you complete that to activate Quest C and so on. Although the quest lines can be long, the quests are fairly short and I manage to complete a few quests during one sitting. There are also some fairly short quest lines, involving one to three quests. I find the quests and the stories they tell interesting and they are pretty fun to play through. Some of the characters you encounter in quests are memorable. I must confess that I am so affected by the sad fates of the Silvenar and the Green Lady that I have to stop playing for a while. Because each quest does not take long to complete, it always feel like my character is making progress.
Dungeons, on the other hand, are short. The dungeons in Skyrim feels much bigger and I can spend around an hour in each dungeon. However the dungeons in ESO feels small as they only consist of a few rooms. I am done with them in less than half the time I took in Skyrim. NPCs can tell you about a place so treacherous that few made it out alive but later on, you find that it actually is just a short walk in a not very long corridor. Definitely disappointing. Do these people have very poor survival skills or what?
The boss for the tutorial area. Despite the intimidating appearance, it is only level 2.
Fighting is quite fun but it depends on your preferred combat style. I play a sneaky Khajiit in Skyrim so I created a similar character in ESO. But I quickly find that there is little point and benefit in playing a stealthy character. When I tried to sneak in dungeons, other players just keep running past me, which just spoils the tense atmosphere. It also makes me feel a somewhat stupid. If everybody is running through dungeons, what’s the point of slowly sneaking around? I take longer to complete quests. And it’s not as if I can do my beloved backstab and instant kill.
Some quests lets my character wear a disguise but there is little point in that too. There is always a group of enemy in the area which can see through my disguise. I find it hard to gauge their detection range and their reaction time is pretty quick. Fighting destroys the disguise so I have to find another one to use. I quickly find that it is easier to just fight my way through area.
So after a while, I abandoned the Khajiit and went with the Orc which is more fun to play. I just rush at enemies and pummel them to death. More straight forward this way.
Most weapons work about the same in ESO as it did in Skyrim. However, I think it is no longer possible to have a fighter and magic combi as the classes pretty much limits who can play with magic. One of my favorite weapon in Skyrim is the bow but in ESO, archery sucks. While each bow now has infinite arrows, archery on a whole feels restrictive and limiting. In ESO, you have to get rather close to the target to be able hit it. Too far, and the arrow just disappears. I miss the feeling of excitement I get in Skyrim when I managed hit a target only a few pixels tall from across the gorge. In ESO, I have difficulty even hitting a target from across the pond.
I have yet to do a one hit kill in ESO so I’m not sure if it is possible. After I successfully fire an arrow at an enemy, he immediately rushes towards me, which makes using a ranged weapon useless after the first hit. It’s not easy to quickly switch weapons (until you are level 15) as the enemies will still be able to attack you even when you are in the menus. While I can back away when the enemy runs towards me, there is only a limit to how far I can go. If I back too far away, the enemy goes back to his default position and his hp resets to full.
Doing a quest with a bunch other players running around trying to complete the same quest as you can be both helpful and frustrating. There are times when I am glad for the help other players give me in fighting off enemies. Not that I can’t deal with them on my own but having more people hitting the same enemies makes them die faster. But there are also times when everybody is trying to find the same limited resource or task, so I have to be patient and wait for it to spawn again.
Crafting in ESO is more complicated than in Skyrim. When you first access the crafting menu via the crafting table, windows will pop up with long explanations of how crafting works. It feels a bit daunting to have to read so many words when you just want to get on with some crafting. I wish that there is a brief tutorial to teach the basics of crafting instead of having to read lengthy instructions. But once you get the hang of crafting, it becomes more interesting. I feel that crafting is one aspect which ESO did better than Skyrim. I like is that weapons and armor can take on the appearance of each race’s style. I know, I know, this is mainly a cosmetic difference and there are no differences in the specs of the equipment. But helps to make each piece of weapon or armor you’ve forge feels unique. And I get a kick each time I see “Created by Cruuush” in the equipment’s info panel.
Enchanting works differently from Skyrim. You create glyphs at the enchanting table which you then attach to an item. You don’t have to attach the glyph at the enchanting table, just right-click on the item and select “Enchant”. Pretty convenient.
Both crafting and enchanting requires raw materials which you can collect in the wild. They seem to appear randomly but frequently. There are so many raw materials to collect, from wood to metal to alchemy to food ingredients, that I frequently run out of empty inventory slots to store them all.
Cruuush, the inventor of backward night fishing.
You can also do some fishing in ESO at specific fishing spots. Fishing is pretty simple. First you select a bait, then you cast the line and wait for the float to disappear below the water surface to reel it in. There isn’t much use for the fish caught except to sell them for some gold.
I am a visual person so how good a game looks matters to me. Of course pretty graphics do not make a game good but TES have always looked beautiful so gotta maintain a certain standard right? ESO manages to fulfill that with detailed textures and some nice animations and effects.
Lens flare in the morning. Or maybe it was the evening.
My favorite time of the day is in the mornings or evenings when there are special effects like sun rays streaming through the trees and lens flare. It does not happen all the time so don’t worry if you don’t like it. Of course at other times, the world looks good too. I love how they animate the water, especially those along the beach. The water look so clear and inviting, like what you see in a travel advertisement.
Cheesemonger’s Hollow, a place in the domain of the Mad God Sheogorath. You will visit this during a quest.
Locations in ESO are beautiful to look. ZeniMax really put a lot of effort into creating detailed environments. There’s the mighty stone fortress of Daggerfall city, the tropical island of Khenarthi’s Roost or the sandy deserts of Stros M’kai. And of course the strange places in the Oblivion planes.
The elven sisters: Bosmer on the left and Altmer on the right.
Characters look good too. I just want to point out that elves look very different in ESO as compared to Skyrim. In the beginning, I didn’t quite like the change even though I’ve always thought that the elves in Skyrim look rather ugly. The elves in ESO are like the popular view of what a elf looks like. I understand why ZeniMax decides to go with this look. After all, nobody wants to play an ugly character. But I feel that they look too generic, as if they have the same faces, just different colors. Although towards the end, the ESO version is starting to grow on me.
Just a thought. Since ESO takes place hundreds of years before the events in Skyrim, and the ESO elves are prettier than the Skyrim elves, does it mean that the elves evolved into uglier beings?
Another thing I’ve noticed is that some characters looked like they have their clothes painted on them. But this is really me nitpicking and at higher graphic quality, this is not so obvious.
Tasting my cooking. Yummy yum.
I’m more of a visual person so the audio part does not matter as much to me. But I want to say that the voice acting for the characters are good. Every NPC in the game is voiced which makes it a joy to talk to them. There are also a lot of sound effects in the game which makes the world feels more alive. I am quite tickled that depending on what dishes I’ve cooked, the accompanying sound is different. For example, if I am making a soup, there is a sound like water pouring into a bowl.
I didn’t get to try out any of the social features during my beta sessions. I do know that there are multiplayer dungeons meant for groups of 2-4 players. Once you reach level 10, you can also participate in the alliance campaign and fight against other players.
Because this is a beta, there are a lot of bugs. Some are pretty funny like sometimes my Orc would fish with an invisible fishing pole or enemies would remain standing long after they have died.
When is a quest bugged? When you see a bunch of players milling around waiting for something to happen.
But there are also game breaking bugs which prevent me from completing the quest and continuing with the quest line. During the last beta session, I found five quests which are badly bugged. Judging from the game chat, I’m not the only one to encounter them. Let’s hope ZeniMax will be able to iron out most of the bugs before the game officially launches.
Would I sign up for it?
I’m sorry, but this isn’t the game for me. It could be for you though!
The game is fun and I enjoyed myself during the beta despite all the bugs. There are so many things to do and some people will sink many hours in the world of ESO. But fun as the game is, I cannot see myself putting down the money to pay for a monthly subscription. I just cannot commit the time to playing it. Because I don’t have much time for gaming, I know I will not be able to play this frequently, not once a week and maybe not even once a month. So the subscription model isn’t worth it for me. Now if there is an offline TES game that does not need subscription, I would buy it.