Reviews// The Elder Scrolls Online

Posted 15 Apr 2014 09:50 by
I’m writing this opening as the download client for The Elder Scrolls Online furiously goes to work. Hopefully this will allow me to get my initial thoughts on this whole thing down before the game has a chance to woo me over.

This shouldn’t take long, because I honestly didn’t have many thoughts towards this MMO instalment of The Elder Scrolls until now. When the game’s initial announcement was met with a predictable wave of outrage from the thus-far strictly single-player series’ hardcore fanbase, I watched in apathy. Sure, it didn’t sound like a very good idea to me either, but objectively worse things have happened in the history of mankind.

But I’m sure there were some people looking forward to this. Anyone who played Skyrim - or Oblivion and Morrowind, but for the sake of brevity (and at the risk of rousing hipster ire) I will mostly be referring to the more recent and mainstream Skyrim during this review - for a considerable length of time probably thought at some point that it would be pretty cool to have a friend or two join in the adventure. I think where that idea became a problem for many was when it went from having a couple of people join in to having a world populated by thousands of other players. Like a party that got really out of hand.

The biggest strength of the Elder Scrolls games has always been in providing the player with a massive playpen of a world to explore. It’s not hard to see that many people - and I admit that I should probably be included in this generalisation - might not be too happy with the idea that other people might be going wild in said playpen, making a mess and breaking all the toys. Clearly those people will have to do what I did and deal with it like grown-ups.

Of course the other strength of the Elder Scrolls series has always been a robust character creation process, and it’d be a hard argument to say that TESO doesn’t really nail this one. It’s essentially an expanded version of Skyrim’s character builder with some slightly different face tweaking options and brand new body customisation. This lets you tweak your character’s muscle mass and proportions for the first time in the series, allowing you to make your character as flabby and out of shape or as massive and ripped as you like.

It’s at this point you can also choose your character’s class and - if you’re a proud and presumably enthusiastic owner of the Collector’s Edition – faction alliance. Without the freedom to choose granted by the Collector’s Edition it will be your choice of race that decides which of the three impressively fancy named factions you are assigned to. There’s quite a bit of lore behind all three, but to the casual player being aligned to the Daggerfall Covenant, Ebonheart Pact or Aldmeri Dominion simply changes your starting location in the game, with each offering their own set of quests to be taken and NPCs to be met.

The inclusion of actual set classes is a bit of a departure for the series, which has always opted instead for letting players build up whichever skill and ability combinations they liked. This time the class you choose gives you three unique skill trees – something I’ll go into more detail over a bit later on. While the four choices on offer – which again come with fancy names and lore but essentially boil down to Fighter, Wizard, Rogue and Paladin – might seem a little restrictive, but with the skill tree options you’ll later develop there’s a lot more variety available than it would first seem.

An area of particular interest to me is the vastly improved editing available for the game's beast-men races, which have always been my favourites and yet always seemed to have gotten the short end of the stick in the past. This time round the new options make it much easier to mix up your Argonian or Khaajit’s – that’s lizardman or catman in normal talk – colour scheme and patterns. I of course utilised all of this creative freedom to make the shortest, most muscle-bound blue striped lizardman I could and gave him as many golden horns as possible. Thus T-Wrex, the greatest adventurer of our time, was born and set lose on the world of Tamriel.

In retrospect, my first mistake might have been to side with the Daggerfall Covenant during character creation, which landed me – after escaping from the otherworldly prison of the prologue shared by all new players – in the fairly bland ye olde medieval town of Daggerfall as opposed to the swampy marshlands T-Wrex would normally have found himself in. This is an area where TESO does feel pretty uneven. There are some quite creative and pleasantly exotic locations to be found in Tamriel, but there are seemingly even more dull and sometimes ugly ones.
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