Elder Scrolls Online

Anne and I started playing this game fairly regularly about one month ago and I think we are nearly done with it having finished the single player campaign. We had first played it in Beta and were rather disappointed and underwhelmed by a largely unfinished game with pretty boring mechanics and only a surface feel of Elder Scrolls. The finished game is quite a lot better with a fair degree of polish, descent core mechanics and a pretty strong Elder Scrolls feel.

What I liked

The setting for the game feels pretty strongly of an Elder Scrolls game and that’s something I’ve come to like over the years. It has lots of lore which is always front and center and while it has common threads of fantasy it mixes them up in very unique and interesting ways.

The character building and combat are decent. I very much like that any class can play nearly any roll. Characters are comprised of 3 core abilities (Health, Stamina, and Magicka) along with a side selection of active and passive skills you can invest in combat and crafting. Class only informs a minority of your skills while others come from the type of armor chosen, the weapon type you use, the lines of quests you follow, your race, and a few that everyone has available. You have a range of choices and you can switch it up in fun ways. Race and class are the only elements you can’t change once set.

Combat involves picking 6 active skills and one active consumable (potions normally) and then having at your enemies with them. At level 15 you can set a second set you can swap during combat though I rarely did so. Between fights you can change the skills out for any you have trained and for a fee you can change the skills you have available to select from.

When fighting there is a fair bit of moving around and reacting to enemies. Special attacks are telegraphed a bit so you will want to dodge and move around or block at the right moment to avoid them. This makes combat always pretty engaging and active rather than a stand and click snooze fest.

The quests are almost all story driven so there is a lot less of “collect X whatevers from random critters”  and a lot more, please go kill those orcs burning down my house then find out where they came from and defeat their leader. It is rarely all that innovative but it is also almost never straight up lazy quest writing. There are multiple story threads as well as side quests galore. Honestly it worked pretty well as a single player RPG game I could play with my wife which is exactly what we wanted.

Finally, crafting is decent. It is not a huge money sink, in fact you can make money at it right away. It is also not a horrible grind. Just chewing through the stuff you find is enough to level your crafting up at about the same rate as your combat abilities. When you finish the main story quest if you used your chosen crafting skills you should be top  tier. Mind you they do take skill investment so you must either limit your combat options or just pick a couple crafting skills to specialize in. Between my wife and I we were able to cover them all. Most importantly, the gear you can make is pretty good, often a little better than the quest gear but only with some planning and effort. Honestly I think its the best crafting I’ve seen in a game that is not at its heart a crafting game.

What I Didn’t Like

Honestly there wasn’t much that was straight out bad. The most sticking point for me was the some of the writing, especially in the dialog options my character is given. In this game there is no voice for the main character or prescribed personality which is fine by me as I can pick my own, its role playing after all. But many of the dialog options for your character are either “Goodby” or “Random statement to continue dialog.” Often the continue dialog choices, which you must select to continue the quest, are really inane things to say that make your character sound like an idiot, a coward, a depressive, a braggart, a jerk, or a robot designed to ask inane questions to forward the plot. It can really suck the role playing out of the RPG at times.

Its biggest sin is the old trope of telling your character how they feel. “I see the look of worry on your face.” says the NPC. Sorry pal but my character wasn’t the least bit worried, he was looking forward to the fight! This kind of thing is just sloppy/lazy writing.

On the Fense

The dialog and voice acting is pure Elder Scrolls, and if you have played it you know that is a blessing and a curse. Its full of flavor and humor and all things interesting, but it also falls painfully short at times. While they have broadened the cast, some voices come at you again and again, undisguised as the same guy voicing the last 10 quest givers you interacted with. Repeating characters sometimes go wildly out of character because the plot calls for it and some pitching of voice acting feels utterly out of tone with the situation its taking place in. Honestly though its now part of what makes an Elder Scrolls game recognizable.

Combat is pretty fun but ultimately not as engaging as I’d like. It is not strategically deep, nor is there a great deal of variety. You only have 6 actions you can take and for my character 2-3 of those were buffs I use before combat so I’m spamming 2-3 attacks over and over while dodging enemy specials. Most combat  was of trivial difficulty provided I payed attention to avoiding enemy specials or aggroing multiple encounters at once. Overall fighting was amusing but not deeply engaging. Better than most MMOs but weaker than most single player games.

While I can’t really fault the designers for it, the thing that often was most annoying was the presence of other players. You could be in a relatively tense combat when some other guy comes through and wipes out the monsters with their ultimate attack. You could be listening to some NPC exposition while some yahoo is standing right next to them fighting a monster. If you and your friend are at different points in a quest you will see very different environments around you which can be confusing. Honestly among games I’ve played this one minimizes these issues but its one reason I’m just not generally a fan of RPG MMOs as story telling games.

Summary

Its a well crafted MMO that is well worth playing for the story missions, but probably doesn’t have a lot of legs beyond that unless you really get into the PVP. You could easily play if for a few months at a casual pace, or rush through in one month. If you want an RPG to play with a friend or lover, its a very good choice as very few support it. If you play solo then many other single player RPGs are probably a better choice.

As an MMO where you play with many other people I just can’t say. Its not what I wanted when I played it and we mostly avoided interacting with anyone else. I never went online to see what the community is like nor engaged in the faction vs faction PvP.

All in all I judge it a Good game that clearly took a lot of effort and love to make. 7 of 10

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