First off, Elder Scrolls Online starts off like any other Elder Scrolls game, which is testament to the detail of this game, with your character, nameless and a powerless prisoner of Molag Bal, the main evil protagonist of the game. You are left forgotten in his Deadric prison, your soul removed and now just a husk, but you are caught up in a break out, assisting a strange woman in freeing a blind sorcerer escaping your bounds and being transported back to slightly friendlier lands of Tamriel. For what is touted as a huge MMO the focus initially is on your single player experience, setting you up with the basics in fighting and evasion techniques which those who have played an Elder Scrolls game before will find all very familiar thanks to its real time first and third person fighting mechanics, although the game will also show off its new and improved inventory and powers system.
After the initial prologue your first foray in the world of Tamriel is when you really start to notice the new elements but also what is missing. The NPC (Non Player Character) that is across the road patiently waiting for you to chat to them is obscured by the heavy flow of traffic of other online avatars in all sorts of shapes and sizes, instantly creating a hustling and bustling world, each player running around carrying out whatever quest or errand is on their to-do list. With so many people on screen at once it can be a little confusing and this occurs throughout the game, with certain hub NPCs like banks or crafting tables often over crowded but with some decent waypointing (though no onscreen mini-map as yet) it is easy to find your way round this huge world. As you wander around Tamriel markers will appear, conversing to the locals and unlocking plenty of quests that tend to be the standard fare of defeating certain baddies or collecting items, but credit to the designers as the stories and characters that you interact with make them feel constantly fresh and exciting, feeling like you are really making a difference, especially when you overhear crowds of people chatting about your great deeds.
Initially, even though the world you participate in is crammed with other online players, the quests you carry out are yours alone, with you earning experience and loot with every kill you make. That’s not to say you are on your own though as for the majority of the game at any time other players can work side by side with you or a wandering hero may just throw in a couple of fireballs before making their own way. It is in this open online world that the most of the fun can be had early on, helping out one another and questing and adventuring to slowly unlock all of the goodies available.
The initial experience is quite a patient one, having only a few skills to use and a handful of weapons, but as ever, levelling up is a vital part of Elder Scrolls with level points being spent on magic, stamina or health and then skill points which can then be spent on creating a very unique character. Aside from your basic weapon attacks you also have a few special power slots that you can unlock with your skill points; with myself playing as a mage I was able to unlock summoning powers, cast lighting and also project a shard of crystal to knock over enemies. It is not all offensive and defensive as these skill points are vital in your character progression in crafting, with alchemy and blacksmithing amongst others requiring skills to unlock perks.
As you level up more and more will become available to you, with a couple of milestones opening up the game even more, the first of which is at level 10 where The Alliance War first appears. Now this is most likely to be the area that will keep people coming back for their subscriptions in the future as it is a huge real time battlefield set in the capital of Tamriel, Cyrodiil. With three army’s battling for land, each has their own corner of the map, with their own Elder Scroll which is the source of their powers and scattered in-between are castles and farms. The goal of each army is to siege the enemy strongholds and eventually take their Elder Scroll, though this is no easy feat as you can have up to 200 online players battling over land, which is a real spectacle to behold, especially when you also have trebuchets and other siege weaponry to lay waste on the castles, though all is not lost as defenders can also call in boiling hot oil to pour on raiders using battering rams below. Though you can enter at level 10 you are massively at a disadvantage, with most players ranking well over you but there are a few helpful side quests to carry out like scouting and bounty hunts, earning you extra cash to spend at your barracks so you can bring siege equipment in and purchase specific PvP (player versus player) armour and items. Just the sheer scale of the battles that you participate in here are fantastic and are a real draw once you have levelled up enough.
Back in the more friendly side of Tamriel and after a bit more levelling up there are even specific team dungeons you can raid, earning specific weaponry and armour. These dungeon raids allow four players to take on specific missions as a team and this is where the classic Trinity of MMO’s appears, with players fitting into three specific roles, damage dealers, healers and tanks who can take loads of damage and steer clear of the other players and even though these overused MMO terms are used here I have found that they are not totally necessary and are more of a guide as any player can be either at any time, utilising their own equipment, with my personal experiences completing early raids without any tanks and just relying on good team work.
Though I enjoyed this title thoroughly and still am, I have to make buyers aware of an issue that I found rather annoying, as even if you purchase, be it digitally or retail, the game comes with 30 days in game time, however before playing you still need to input either your bank details or redeem a code for the following month. Even after being told this is the norm for MMO’s I feel this is a bad business choice, not being able to access your game time without buying more is a bit off to me, however credit to the help team, I issued a complaint ticket and within a few hours not only did they reply but also sent a rather longwinded way of getting around this. On a further positive note to the behind the scenes team, with such a heavily anticipated launch I am very impressed with the quality of the servers you play on, with none of the waiting times or lag that I have experienced in the past, this launch is the perfect example of how to do it properly.
Having only just come away from Skyrim there was a little adjusting to do to the new gameplay mechanics but overall this is an Elder Scrolls game through and through, from familiar lore to even more familiar voices. This is the online version that we have been waiting for so long. I find it funny that in the past we used to act suspicious of free to play games as they slowly took over the market from more traditional subscription based titles, but now the tables have turned somewhat and at present it is refreshing not to be bombarded with messages stating I need to pay for this or that before progressing, however even after dishing out around £50, is the £8.99 per month (there are better deals if you buy in bulk) worth it on top of the initial retail price? I will be totally honest, even some two weeks in I am playing this game full time but still unsure of the longevity and replayability, however the support from the team so far has been stellar and I can only hope that there will be some impressive additions on a monthly basis to tempt players to part with their hard earned cash.
+ Looks fantastic
+ Steeped in lore
+ Crafting is enjoyable and rewarding
+ Plenty on offer for solo or group players