My relationship with the elder scrolls series started back in 2008 when I tried the fourth game, Oblivion, on my flatmates Xbox 360. It was the game that got me back into gaming and reignited my love of fantasy RPG’s. The last time I actually owned a console at that point was a Gamecube and the last game I had Played was The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker; that was 6 years earlier. I never actively stopped playing games, it just sort of happened. But Oblivion changed all that. The game blew me away, from the sheer scale of the world to the story and lore I was fully captivated by the world of Tamriel and explored every inch of Cyrodiil. I became obsessed to the point where my flatmate removed the Xbox 360 from the communal areas and made me go cold turkey. I’ve never forgiven him.
Then came Skyrim in 2011, I owned my own Xbox 360 at this point and could not wait for another hit of Elder Scrolls. I was more familiar with the Bethesda style RPG having now lost days of my life to Fallout 3 and New Vegas With the former sitting at the top of my all-time favorite games list until very recently when a certain white wolf took the crown. Skyrim launched and exceeded my expectations in every way, it provided a richer more detailed world to explore, more lore than I could handle and a soundtrack to die for. This was everything I wanted it to be and I put thousands of hours on multiple platforms, in fact, even now I’m halfway through a save file on the Switch version. Yet if I could change one thing, it would have been adding co-op. Journeying across the frozen land of Tamriel’s northernmost province would have been a dream.
Enter Elder Scrolls Online…
Just watch this announcement trailer and tell me that would not have had you backflipping across the Golden coast:
The thought of being able to experience one of my favorite fictional universes with friends who share the same love for the series was too much for my poor little mind to handle. This trailer came just 6 months after Skyrim’s release and the hype for that game was still going strong, how could you not be swept up in the excitement for another installment, especially one that claims you could explore more than just one province like in previous games. The more they talked up this game the more I Bought into it. Then the cinematic trailers stated dropping, which are some of the best I’ve ever seen. I peaked, preordered the collector’s edition and prepared my body for the agonizing two-year wait from announcement to release.
If you had told me that an Elder Scrolls game would release and that I would hate it I would never have believed you. But there I was, first few hours into the game and just thinking that this isn’t Skyrim online… I should take most of the blame for the disappointment I experienced. I’d never played an MMO, I didn’t really think about how the game would actually work. It didn’t play like it’s single player brethren and the world didn’t feel as open or as detailed. It released to mixed reviews with PC Gamer giving a score of 68/100, writing that it is “an MMORPG of moderate scope with a few good ideas” but cautioning that “‘okay’ isn’t good enough when you’re facing down this much of a premium.” There were a lot of reports that players were unable to activate the 30-day complimentary game time included with their purchase until a subscription had been set up and—in “a strange state of affairs” and “most likely a mistake”—after a full month had been paid for. Which left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth of many. The game was mainly criticized for an excess of bugs, a “phasing” mechanic that separated players from groups, and its Veteran Progression System. It was harder to play with your friends due to this and the subscription service was a tough pill to swallow. There was a serious duplicate item glitch which could be exploited and made players incredibly wealthy. These players were then banned once the glitch was fixed. I abandoned the game pretty quickly and well before the time came for me to pay for another month. I put it to one side and it was left as a major disappointment in my gaming life.
How Tamriel Unlimited changed my mind
A few years later the game popped up on my Xbox one dashboard. Touting the new subtitle of Tamriel Unlimited not only that but they offered “free Playdays” allowing you to play the game for free with no purchase necessary. Not only that but the Tamriel Unlimited version of the game had scrapped the mandatory subscription model and replaced it with an optional paid membership. I’ll get into that shortly. I downloaded the game and started again, choosing the Dragon Knight class and starting in the Daggerfall Covenant. I’d been told the game was massively improved in the 4 years since it released so I went in with a weird kind of hopefulness mixed with weariness. This game had disappointed me once already, I wasn’t ready to love again.
After a few hours, I was surprised to find I was enjoying the game, and quite a bit too. It was never going to feel like a single player Elder Scrolls game but I wasn’t playing it like one anyway and It scratched the itch. The opening desert town of Stros M’Kai was an interesting locale and I much preferred it over Bleakrock Isle which is where I started many moons before. It wasn’t long before I was thieving and murdering my way around and being chased by the guards just like the good old days. I took side quests, some of which were really good and others that were just fetch quests but the thrill of levelling up and new loot kept me engaged. The more I levelled the better the combat became, playing on an Xbox controller might not sound ideal for a hotkey MMO but actually, it made for more interesting combat than Skyrim, sacrilege as it may be to say. Rather than just having Spells set to L & R you have them set to A, B, X, Y, LB, RB, L & R and when you unlock the secondary weapon option at level 15 you can press left on the d-pad and then have completely different abilities mapped to those buttons. This allows for combat customisation unseen in previous Elder Scrolls games. with the exception of the bow almost every skill feels better than in Skyrim, and that is the most surprising thing.
After fighting pirates and playing around with the crafting mechanics it was time to head to the mainland. I never got this far before and maybe if I had then things would have been different but walking up and into Daggerfall was exciting. We haven’t seen Daggerfall since 1996 and whilst ESO doesn’t boast amazing graphics it’s a hell of an improvement. Daggerfall is a big city and feels alive with all the NPC’s and players running around. Its also at this point that the main quest story picks up. The story follows the fallout from when Emperor Varen Aquilarios tried to become a Dragonborn in order to light the Dragonfires in the Imperial City, thus legitimizing his claim to the Ruby Throne. The sorcerer Mannimarco was able to convince him that he knew a ritual that could accomplish this, but that it required the Amulet of Kings. Unfortunately, Mannimarco was a bit of a dick and an agent of Molag Bal, and the ritual, in fact, destroyed the barriers between Nirn and Oblivion in an event known as the Soulburst. This event allowed Molag Bal to initiate the Planemeld, a forceful merging of worlds. It’s the player’s job, after being murdered by Mannimarco and then resurrected for reasons, to assist the prophet (voiced by Dumbledore himself, Micheal Gambon) and repair the damage done.
The main questline and story feels like an Elder scrolls campaign, full voice acting by well-known actors helps sell the story and anyone familiar with the lore will get plenty of kicks out of some of the story turns but I don’t want to spoil it too much.
I’m glad I took advantage of the free play days and gave this game another chance, whilst it’s not the perfect Elder Scrolls game its good enough until the next full title is released. I even went so far as to subscribe to the optional subscription model., the subscription gives you a crafting bag allowing you to carry more crafting material and not clog your inventory up. More importantly, it allows access to all the DLC such as the dark brotherhood and the clockwork city which are meaty quest lines to further sink your teeth into. The subscription doesn’t include the Morrowind expansion however and will not include the recently announced Summerset expansion but considering the base game is always on sale there’s plenty there to get started and I think now is the time for any Elder Scrolls fans who missed it to give ESO another look. In the meantime I’m going to head back to Morrowind!
Elder Scrolls Online is currently available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC with a new Expansion coming June 5th.