If you've turned on a computer in the last week, you've probably heard the news: Zenimax is finally pulling back the veil on Elder Scrolls Online. Beginning with the lifting of the press NDA last week and now the total opening of the floodgates, MMORPG has been on the cutting edge every step of the way. First, Bill Murphy gave us the Comprehensive Good and Bad of ESO, then Gareth gave us an Alternate Opinion, and most recently Michael Bitton chimed in with an an incredible breakdown of Alliance vs. Alliance warfare. We have made it our mission to bring you the latest, most comprehensive content there is to find. And yet, I have remained silent, a member of the weekend betas and an occasional visitor to the 24/7 internal test. That time has come. Read on to see my personal take on the good and bad of ESO.
You want to know a secret? Reviewing an MMORPG is hard. There are more moving parts than virtually any other type of game and each needs to be considered. An MMO is, as wiser men than myself have put it, multiple games rolled into one, each requiring their own kind of magic to be fun. I approach games from a review mindset and throughout the beta, this is what I've come to: ESO is a fun game but a flawed one, composed of many parts good and many that underwhelm. As I sat to compose my thoughts, I found that many of my positives has caveats and that many of my negatives were subjective.
In short, this may be one of the most divisive MMOs in years. This is what I thought.
1) Beautiful, Expansive World
There is no question, Tamriel is a stunningly gorgeous place to spend your time. There are moments when the sun shines through the trees just so and you have to pause to catch your breath. I often consider MMO worlds as if they were places to live; which game world would I transport myself to if I absolutely had to choose. It is a question of life, character, and sheer imaginative potential. Tamriel is just such a world.
It is also startlingly large. Zones in ESO stretch and sprawl far beyond expectation. Within their hills and caves and valleys are hidden treasures. Sometimes it is a special spawn, other times a bit of lore. Sometimes you will come across a public dungeon or maybe an NPC to enlighten you to the area and the trouble he's currently in. Critics have lambasted the game for not being worth exploring and all I can do is disagree. There are treasures to be found in Tamriel, if you're willing to find them.
2) Next Generation Voice Acting
When I think of MMO voice acting, it is usually with a cringe. Star Wars: The Old Republic shattered my illusion that voice acting in and of itself is a good idea. There, it was tired and purposeless, devoid of meaning outside of main story quests. Here, full voicing goes much further and draws the game firmly into Elder Scrolls territory. Getting into a conversation with an NPC usually means having the option to dig in, discover lore, and really feel the “C” part of “Non-Playable Character”. Are all the quests good? No, and neither is the consistency of delivery, but when I think of voicing in ESO, it feels at home right alongside Skyrim.
3) Alliance vs Alliance is a Blast
Michael Bitton really hit the nail on the head with his breakdown. Elder Scrolls Online features the best RvR since Dark Age of Camelot. Cyrodiil is just massive – maybe a little too massive – and the scope of the battles is astounding for how the game performs. But here's the thing, the mechanics line up for an experience that is just plain fun. The zerg is alive and well but small-group players can turn the tide of huge battles by taking out support points and flanking their enemies. It is a system of armies and support squads, single men and women turning the oil pots and loosing the trebuchets, that makes the battlefield feel more alive and dynamic than even Guild Wars 2. Hardcore PVP-players may bemoan that battles are fought outside of the game world but it doesn't much matter. Alliance vs. Alliance is surprisingly great.
4) Newfound Freedom
Elder Scrolls Online is one of very few AAA MMOs that allows you the freedom to really craft the character you want to play. Want to be a plate wearing battlemage? Then do it. How about a dual-wielding wizard who's a pluck with a bow? The world is your oyster. There has been some discontent, in fact, because there may be a little too much freedom early in the game. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that Zenimax allows you to truly gimp yourself, players can really craft the character they want, for good or ill.
5) Public Dungeons and Pick-up Friends
I've wanted a game to bring back public dungeons for years and Elder Scrolls has finally done it. It is totally possible to enter a dungeon and find another player already there. Well-timed respawns and some clever safeties prevent grief tactics such a mob training, leaving only the essence of cooperative play. Public dungeons can be soloed but it's tough, so if you're struggling and another player comes along to be your saving grace, you might just have a new friend.
In fact, all throughout the game, Zenimax has built in numerous opportunities for players to come together, not because they need to, but because it benefits them and is a whole lot more fun if they do (unless you’re friends looks to group together, but we’ll get there soon). Perhaps as a result of this, I have found Elder Scrolls to have one of the most helpful communities in recent memory. We can only hope this translates into the retail release.