We’ve spoken a fair bit about The Elder Scrolls Online on Google Stadia recently – and with good reason. It’s the first major MMORPG to hit a dedicated streaming platform – and while other MMOs might be technically “streamable” using services like Shadow and GeForce Now, ESO on Stadia is a bespoke experience for the platform. So just how does it perform under pressure?
Disappointingly, we learned last week that The Elder Scrolls Online on Stadia is locked to 30 frames-per-second. As a result, the experience is jarring if you’ve been playing the PC version like I have for the past few years. However, if you’re coming from console, you’re not going to feel too jarred by the switch, given the console is also locked at 30 fps.
I do like that the Stadia version of ESO feels bespoke to the platform you’re running Stadia on, whether it’s a Chromecast Ultra or playing it on a Chrome browser on your laptop – the setup can feel fundamentally different. Where the Chromecast version, only playable with a Stadia controller, feels like a true console experience, using a keyboard and mouse on Chrome makes it feel like I’m launching the game from Steam.
The in-game UI is different too based on controller input – which makes sense as well thanks to the gamepad support in the normal PC version already. However, when you finally get into the game proper, it’s a bit alarming at how the experience looks.
While the version of ESO running on Stadia’s machine renders at 1080p, that doesn’t mean your stream quality is going to reflect this. Multiple times I’ve played since the launch and the feed has been blurry and pixelated, even though Stadia reports no issues with my connection whatsoever.
If you’ve played ESO on PC, good news – you can link your Stadia account with your ESO account and pick up where you left off. This is especially convenient if you’re looking to knock out some crafting or daily challenges but don’t want to turn on the PC, or even be home. One of the weirdest – yet coolest – aspects of this was playing The Elder Scrolls Online on my phone.
It’s actually here where I think the best Stadia experience is to be had – on the smaller phone screen it’s a lot easier to miss the pixilation or even the low quality graphics settings (Stadia’s graphical quality is on par with the base consoles, according to ZeniMax). It makes researching the next trait at a crafting station or knocking out a few Antiquities pretty convenient while you’re waiting on coffee or a show to start.
There's something inherently cool about playing a full-fledged triple-A MMO on a device that fits in your pocket. It's this feeling that I think really sells Stadia to some people - when it works it feels awesome. Elder Scrolls Online on the go is something I could see myself really getting into - and while it would never replace my PC experience (gotta have my extra frames-per-second) I could see myself hopping in and doing some dailies if I get bored while waiting for food at a restaurant or sitting at a park just getting out of my office.
Actually playing Elder Scrolls Online on Stadia isn’t much different than any other platform. During my coffee break I was able to knock out a few delves and take on some world bosses with the help of my PC compatriots in Western Skyrim. During the evening as I laid down in my bed being able to just easily log in with a controller only and knock out a few quests before bed was rather nice – at a bit more relaxing than sitting at my PC where I spend most of my days.
And while the ability to play a game like ESO literally wherever Stadia is available is nice, Stadia itself still feels like it’s more of a beta than a full platform launch. Half a year in Stadia is still falling flat on some of the features that they sold their product on. iPhone support is still nonexistent, being able to use any controller with a Stadia-enabled device isn’t there – hell, I can’t even use a wireless keyboard and mouse on Chromecast yet to play games that would benefit from them (like ESO or Destiny 2).
My biggest gripe though is the performance. ESO was worked on “closely with the Stadia team to find the best balance between performance and visuals,” according to ZeniMax. 1080p at base console settings, at 30 frames per second feels thoroughly last-gen – and on a system where you’re already fighting your internet to maintain a constant video feed, having a pared back experience compared to a PC is a real shame. Stadia boasts video feeds up to 4K60 – yet many of the games on its platform, ESO included don’t hit those metrics at all, instead streaming a 1440p upscaled image if you’ve got Stadia Pro, and your device is hooked up to a 4K capable device.
It really is a shame too as ESO can look incredibly visually attractive when its at its best. Stadia is not the place for that, I guess.
Playing it on Stadia, when the connection is solid, feels much like playing ESO on console. If you don’t mind a lesser experience than even a mid-range PC, you’re not going to be disappointed with what you’re getting here, especially when you consider if you’ve a compatible phone or tablet you can take one of the best MMOs out there on the go with you wherever.
In fact, that might be Stadia’s biggest selling point with this game. All you need is your controller and a compatible screen and you can dive into Tamriel wherever you have a stable enough connection. And if you really don’t mind a console experience knowing that this is a stop gap for when you can hop back on your PC to play, Stadia is a decent alternative.
While I do wish players needn’t buy yet another version of the game, especially with the cross play and cross save functionality with PC that Stadia’s version offers, it is nice that you don’t need a separate ESO Plus subscription. However, this need to purchase it on a new platform might explain why Stadia is the only place you can really stream a bespoke version of the MMO. Originally you could access The Elder Scrolls Online through GeForce Now, using your existing version purchased through Steam and what not. However, Bethesda pulled all their games from the service, and now Stadia is the only place you can really stream Bethesda games officially (though you can stream it via Shadow still as established before).
To some this might make sense – Bethesda wants to ensure the experience players get is a decent one and by putting it on Stadia and controlling the version players stream it can help ensure and control that. To others it feels like a cash grab, forcing you to purchase it on another platform just to play a game you already own once over if you’re returning to the game.
It’s the latter reason that if you’ve got a PC and you’re not looking to play more ESO when you’re not around it, you might want to pass on Stadia’s ESO. Taking a lesser experience for the sake of convenience sometimes might not be worth it to some – and paying another $60 for the Greymoor edition, or at most $80 for the Greymoor Collector's Edition might simply be out of the realm of possibility for others.
However, if you’re looking for a way to play ESO on the go – or even just get into it and don’t have a console or PC capable of running the MMORPG, Stadia is just good enough to sate that desire. It’s not the best version out there and the experience is incredibly dependent on your connection, but it’s playable when it works and can scratch that MMO itch until you get back to your dedicated machine to pick up where you left off.