On June 16th, The Elder Scrolls Online officially released on Stadia. To entice players to subscribe to the Stadia Pro service, a free copy of the legacy version of Elder Scrolls Online is available for free for Pro subscribers, and Google has even gone so far as to give a free trial month of the Pro Service for curious gamers. Many gamers question whether there is any value to getting ESO on Stadia today. To answer that, we are pitting Stadia against another renowned streaming service, Shadow, to see which cloud service, if any, is worth it for Elder Scrolls Online.
Cloud Gaming is on the rise, and I, as an early adopter, look forward with every release to the benefits that it can bring to gamers like myself. A cloud gaming platform should be accessible to many devices, be easy to use, and provide performance above what an average PC can provide. In that way, Stadia and Shadow could not be more different than one another. Both of them have their benefits and drawbacks when playing Elder Scrolls Online, and I’ll touch on many of them briefly in my Stadia vs Shadow Elder Scrolls Online battle.
The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t a new game by any stretch of the imagination. It has had many updates over the years, but visually, the textures, lighting and effects aren’t going to blow anybody out of the water when it comes to seeing visually stunning scenes. Stadia and Shadow handle the way they process visuals differently. Without getting too much into the services themselves, Stadia, and Stadia Pro by extension, elicits a more simplistic approach to gaming. As Stadia is run through a browser, in most cases, it can detect what you are running, with options in your account settings to downgrade your service to 720p, or, hardware permitting, upscale you to 4K.
While these options for Stadia are satisfactory, as many gamers are likely playing on a 16:9 1080p display, it is still quite limiting if your display falls outside one of those resolutions. I tested Stadia’s ESO version on several devices, and on devices that weren’t a 16:9 aspect ratio, I was left with black bars on the top or bottom, with no way to change or manage those options. When it came to the in-game settings related to advanced video options like shadows, view distance, anti-aliasing, texture quality and so on, these options weren’t even available in Stadia. In addition to the fact that Stadia has locked frames per second to 30 FPS, it appears as though they’ve woven a very find balancing act between visuals and performance, for better or for worse.
On the opposite end, Shadow is a service that gives the player as much freedom as they have on their own PC. Shadows cloud gave me every option that I have if I were to run the game on my local high-end gaming PC. I was quickly able to set everything to Ultra or High settings, and the FPS weren’t limited to just 30, so the game in motion looked quite a bit better. I also wasn’t locked to a 16:9 aspect ratio, and was able to get a full screen on a 3:2 aspect ratio device. Mobile device support for both services looked about the same, running a 16:9 aspect ratio at 18:9.
Once we move past the resolution issues between Shadow and Stadia, the games actually look pretty similar. The issue with Stadia is, we don’t know to what degree the visuals are set at. Whether they are on all high settings, or if Google cherry picked which settings got the axe and which ones are set to their highest, one thing is certain – between Stadia and Shadow on 1920 x 1080, they were nearly indistinguishable. On a side by side visual comparison, it was hard to tell the two apart, at least initially. When it came down to moving around and battling, there were times where the colors seemed a little less vibrant on Stadia, and you could really see a big difference on how fuzzy the 1080p resolution looked in comparison to the higher resolutions that Shadow provided.
Visuals Winner: Shadow
We briefly touched on performance as sometimes, performance and visuals go hand in hand, and that is multiplied exponentially when you get into Cloud Gaming. For Cloud Games, you not only have to think about how the game itself is going to perform with the settings you have, but also how the game will perform while streaming through your network.
During my testing, both Stadia and Shadow performed admirably, as my network is pretty stable, and very fast. Whether I tried them on a wired PC or on a laptop through my wireless, I did not experience any massive latency, lag, or disconnections that would signal an issue either with my network, or theirs. Shadow has a pretty comprehensive network and throughput monitoring interface that not only gives you the option to see how your connection to them is performing with speed, latency and frames per second, but they also give you the ability to manage your maximum throughput on the fly. This gives gamers the opportunity to scale the amount of compression shadow uses, which affects both visuals and performance.
Stadia, on the other hand, has a rudimentary connection icon, that tells you whether you’re getting a good connection, or a not so good connection. The lack of metrics provided with Stadia’s interface is a little disappointing, as issues with cloud gaming could range anywhere from a very mild latency issue, to heavily dropped packets, all of which could ruin your performance. When it comes to latency in game play, both Stadia and Shadow were close enough that there were no discernible differences in movement or activation of skills.
When it comes to loading into the game, I found that repeated attempts to load into the same areas actually performed a few seconds faster on Stadia than on Shadow. If we don’t take into consideration that Shadow is set to High and Ultra settings, the speed at which Stadia loads into the game is quite fast. In my tests from the character select screen to loading into the world, Shadow took 15.03 seconds on average, compared to Stadia’s 13.58 seconds. When it comes to actual gameplay performance though, Shadow ekes out the win here, with very smooth and concise looking play, with Shadows Metrics never showing that it dipped below 50FPS.
Performance Winner: Shadow
Last, but certainly not least is accessibility. Cloud gaming is great, because your games can be accessed from many different devices. For many gamers, they are used to working with a gaming laptop, or desktop, but with Cloud services, any screen from your cheap hand me down laptop, to your iPad and even your cell phone, can be used to play your favorite games. While not all of those scenarios are ideal, accessibility goes beyond simply where you can play each game.
Shadow is a great service. If you currently own a game, you can log into Shadow, and install it. On the surface, this is a fantastic option, because that means you already have a library at no additional cost to you, and there are rarely, if any limits on the games that you can play. The downside, is that some games, like The Elder Scrolls Online, can be very large, which means they take up a lot of space, and require a substantial amount of time to download, setup, and log into.
Stadia streamlines this entire process. Once logged into stadia, all you need to do is simply press play. You aren’t required to install or update the game, nor are you required to fiddle around with settings or different resolutions and video settings. Googles Stadia has adopted the mantra that has been adapted from consoles that, “it just works” and Stadia can be fired up in just minutes from logging in. On the flipside, I had to wait over an hour for Shadow to complete my ESO update before I was able to play.
When it comes to other devices, Stadia makes it very easy, as all you need is a browser and you are ready to play. Shadow requires that you download an application, and sometimes, starting up your shadow cloud will result in it stalling out, as your cloud machine runs windows updates. When you want to just jump in to The Elder Scrolls Online, the last thing you want is to wait for windows updates to finish on your cloud system.
When it comes to playing on mobile devices, Stadia does have iPhone and Android applications, but they appear to still be largely experimental. The touch controls on both Stadia and Shadow are not ideal, but both services also have great controller support, which would undoubtedly be necessary if you expect to play ESO on anything apart from a traditional PC.
Accessibility Winner: Stadia
Verdict: Shadow Wins
Stadia has come a long way from the last time I tried it in 2019. The performance is a night and day different, the visuals for The Elder Scrolls Online are very close in a toe to toe screenshot contest, and Google is now providing some games, MMO’s included as part of their Pro service. With all of that being said though, the visuals and performance were way better on Shadow, to a very noticeable degree. Most people who would consider playing ESO on a cloud service would do it either because they want more accessibility, or more than likely, they can’t run the game on max settings at a good framerate and really want to. Stadia sadly falls short on providing various resolutions, locks the games FPS to 30, and doesn’t give gamers any options to customize their visual experience, and because of that, they just don’t measure up to what Shadow offers.