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The RPG Files:  How Skyrim Sold Me On Elder Scrolls Online

Columns By Christopher Coke on January 20, 2017

 How Skyrim Sold Me On Elder Scrolls Online

When The Elder Scrolls Online came out, one of the most common critiques on social media was that it made players want to go back to Skyrim. And let’s face it, the TESO that released back then is a pretty far cry from the game we have today. It was still zone locked and faction limited. Features didn’t work right, veteran ranks presented a grindy endgame that was less than appealing. But most of all, it lacked so much of the freedom that makes an Elder Scrolls game and Elder Scrolls game. I was one of the people that came at launch and returned to my single player game. Things have changed.

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On Black Friday, I splurged and picked up Skyrim: Special Edition on PlayStation 4. Even though I’d beat it on PC and sunk in dozens of hours exploring the world and loading up every graphics mod I could get my hands on, I couldn’t resist buying it again for my PS4. It got pushed back and pushed back in my playlist, but this last week, I booted it up and dug in again.

I love Skyrim. Love, love, love it. But this time around, some of the magic just wasn’t there. Even with the fresh coat of paint of the Special Edition, it’s still the same game I’ve played over and over again since 2011 - and on PS4, still nowhere near as gorgeous as a modded PC install. For the first time ever, I found myself wishing I was playing The Elder Scrolls Online instead.

Over the last two years, I’ve followed the ESO pretty closely, even if I wasn’t actively playing it (two toddlers will do wonders for your multiple MMO habit). It’s changed in major ways. At this point, it is far closer to an Elder Scrolls experience than the generic MMORPG it launched as. Even as I’d come back to dabble in the different faction’s starting zones, it seemed like every time I was returning to some new Elder Scrolls-centric change. Combat revisions, a justice system, the freedom to skulk and steal with the thieves guild, champion points instead of veteran ranks, and perhaps most importantly, the level scaling, faction barrier eradicating goodness of One Tamriel. At this point, Elder Scrolls Online provides the online, multiplayer Elder Scrolls experience so many of us wished it launched as.

Put another way, ESO feels like Skyrim, but alive. Now yes, there are MMO trappings. Certain regions feel overrun purely because a side-quest necessitates it, for example. Production values aren’t quite there like you’d see in a single-player experience. There are less sophisticated scripted events and player balance is an ongoing issue, which means exploration is more inherently limited and less likely to net you excellent upgrades (but can!). Most meaningfully, the Kill Ten Rats quests do at times change the feel of the game from what we might expect from the single-player games. It’s not a 1-to-1. This is an MMO, after all, but one that’s finally found a balance between Franchise and Genre.

And some of the storylines are really good! One of the early side quests in Glenumbra really typifies what Elder Scrolls Online does well. Nothing lead me there. I was simply wandering around searching for skyshards for extra skill points when I came across a crumbling estate overrun by imps. The inheritor is fretting nearby and what follows your conversation is a great, dark bit of storytelling that reminded me of a certain Bloody Baron quest in The Witcher 3. Nevermind that the voice acting was excellent, but at two separate points in this short quest you’re given the opportunity to make choices that change how the quest plays out. That’s the kind of RPG gameplay more MMORPGs need.

It checks most boxes you’d want checked. It feels like an Elder Scrolls game now, brimming with other players no matter what platform you play it on (the gamepad controls are some of the best out there, by the way). I haven’t tried any of the group content yet but a sincere part of me wonders if single-player fans could simply ignore all of that structured content and simply play the game as the most alive, single-player Elder Scrolls to date. I won’t be playing that way and you’d be missing out if you did, but I’d bet you could, and that’s important for convincing the anti-MMO crowd that this is still worth a try.

I’m under no illusions about knowing what may come. There may be a sharp left turn where it turns into a grind fest not in keeping with how I play single-player Elder Scrolls. Somewhere along the line it may turn that corner, but it hasn’t happened yet. As a lapsed newbie, I am impressed that the Elder Scrolls franchise finally has an online entry that lives up to the rest of the expectations of the single player game. If you gave up at launch, it’s time to check in again.

Quick Hits

Darkest Dungeon’s bloody Crimson Court DLC is being delayed to make way for the the Radiant Mode update. In a blog post, the team at Red Hook acknowledged that this news may disappoint fans; however, Radiant Mode looks to make meaningful improvements to the game to make way for that larger DLC. Along with the expected quality of life improvements, the titular Radiant Mode aims to decrease the time it takes to complete the existing content without making it easier to actual conquer. The update also brings with it an update from Apprentice Dungeons to Veteran Dungeons with new boss monsters.

Marvel Heroes is making some big changes with their latest update. Bill wrote up an excellent preview highlighting all of the changes on the way. Watch the trailer below and then give it a read.

Viking: Wolves of Midgard released a new trailer this week. The focus is on the action gameplay. Look closely and you might spot a severed limb or two!

The console editions of ARK: Survival Evolved are getting a big update. The patch will add a slew of new dinosaurs as well as new underwater caverns to explore and bring it concurrent with the PC version. If you’re on PC, download this mod before Nintendo pulls it down. Modder, Mystic Academy, has brought Pokemon to the world of ARK. Instead of gathering resources, you’ll kill Pokemon and earn credits. It’s also compatible with VR.

The Persona 5 team has released a new trailer highlighting combat and exploration in the game’s Metaverse. It’s a great look at how combat works but the little snippets of voice over also give great insight into how certain features will work. For example, cornering enemies to get them to give over money or items, sneaking into the cathedrals of the metaverse to steal their creator’s plans, wielding multiple personas, and more!

Lastly, if you find yourself short on time but in need of an RPG fix, Suzie has you covered. Check out her list of Five Great ARPGs for Busy People.         

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.