The Elder Scrolls Online


Review by · May 5, 2014

I was a late bloomer in The Elder Scrolls franchise; I played Oblivion before I played Morrowind. To this day, I have not touched Arena or Daggerfall. It didn’t take me a lifelong following to become a huge fan of the series, however, as I found myself eagerly anticipating Skyrim upon its release. When it was first announced, I was excited for The Elder Scrolls Online, but something changed between the announcement and the release. The closer I got to jumping into the beta, the more and more worried I got. Surely the game was built for greatness — populating the world with real players would certainly amount to something, right? It took a lot for me to accept the fact that this is a game that a large population of other players are going to be enjoying, not just me. Was it selfishness to be disappointed that I would have to share these experiences with other players? I couldn’t stop looking at TESO as a single player experience with a multiplayer function built in. ZeniMax did a lot to quell those fears, though, and after mere hours in the game I felt like I was right back where I left off.

I was beside myself with the number of options when it came to character customization. There is an obvious enough assortment that makes each and every character inhabiting the world unique in some way. This is nothing new to the series — they’ve just added more and refined what was already there. There are nine races to choose from, all of which have appeared in previous Elder Scrolls entries. From the Redguard to the Khajiit, players familiar to the series will feel right at home, and new players will find something just for them. There’s a tenth race, the Imperial, for those who purchase the Collector’s Edition. There are currently three factions to choose from, which plays a heavy role in PvP later in the game. The Aldmeri Dominion seeks to dominate Tamriel, the Daggerfall Covenant seeks to restore order to Tamriel, and the Ebonheart Pact seeks freedom the Empire. There are currently only four classes to choose from. The Sorcerer, no stranger to MMOs, is a mage class that can use damaging spells or summon power Daedra to help. The Nightblade functions as a DPS class that specializes in stealth-based attacks. The Dragon Knight is an interesting blend of tank and DPS, and is similar to the Templar, which can tank and support groups. Once players set out and explore the world, they’ll find that most of the questing system is pretty straightforward. Players find NPCs that offer quests for players to take up, which will be rewarded with items and experience. A good number of these are fetch quests, but there are also a large number of exploration-based quests. Leveling up and acquiring more skills is also pretty straightforward. Players gain experience from killing monsters and completing quests, which in turn awards them skill points to invest in abilities or stats, thus making the player stronger. After a certain amount of time, players are able to seek entry into a number of guilds located in Tamriel, from familiar faces such as The Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood to the newly added Undaunted Guild.

One of my biggest thrills throughout the entire Elder Scrolls series is exploration. For a vast majority of players (of both the MMO and the single player entries), there is nothing more satisfying than tearing through every single nook and cranny of a room in search of whatever secrets it may contain, and this has not changed in the slightest in TESO. Exploration can (and most likely will be) your greatest source of time loss throughout the game. From lock picks to crafting materials, players’ inventories quickly fill to abundance, often with seemingly useless crafting materials. Every area contains at least one “Skyshard,” and collecting three of these grants players a skill point, thus encouraging players to seek out and discover this addictively fun way of progressing their characters. Exploration doesn’t just take place on foot, however — there is also the vast amount of lore you can discover by simply locating a book shelf. These pieces of history are scattered throughout every inch of Tamriel and provide a deep and interesting backdrop to players both new and experienced in the series. Players are encouraged and rewarded to explore everything. I know I’ve found myself on more than one occasion thinking, “Did I check that room over there?” and gone back to make damn sure. There are virtually no level restrictions to the areas, so players may venture forth and explore whatever they happen to find. There are random events that are completely irrelevant to the story that may occur throughout the world for players to witness, but they may spell potential doom for underprepared players who find themselves in areas in which enemies may be tougher than they are accustomed to. While the PvP-focused multiplayer content is seamless and sturdy, multiplayer interactions that take place while out in the open in the world are lacking. If a player has already completely a certain quest, they are unable to assist another player doing that same quest. Instanced dungeons that are public find themselves overrun with players, and lose their challenging appeal, although this could have much to do with the game being new. MMOs generally find a balance after the initial rush.

I am a staunch believer that combat makes or breaks the player experience in any MMO. My favorites have always been fast and furious, though admittedly, some are more simplistic than others. Combat, in essence, will keep players invested long enough to get better gear and abilities — an arms race of sorts to satiate a player’s need to improve. This is where TESO takes a step in a different direction. Combat functions in almost every way identically to its single player predecessors, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Combat is fought in real time, using an active system of blocking and attacking. This simplistic system requires skill more than anything else, and is deviously punishing if you can’t hold your own in any encounter. There’s a certain gratification that comes when you see your sword or axe actually make contact with whatever combatant you’re facing, and conversely a unique feeling of peril when you inevitably miss an attack. The same is true when you are on the defensive, as the active blocking of attacks (and preventing a terrible demise) feeds a sense of accomplishment when you emerge victorious from a tough opponent. There are returning concepts developed and perfected throughout the series, such as wanting to reserve enchanted weapons and recharging the ones you end up using. As a long-time fan of stealth and a hooded practitioner of the art of backstabbing (at least as far as The Elder Scrolls goes), I couldn’t help but feel incredibly underwhelmed by the ranged combat. In earlier entries, I felt deadly with a bow, but in this latest installment, that feeling has all but evaded me completely. However, the unique combat in The Elder Scrolls Online has provided me with a fresh experience overall, and I appreciate the challenge of perfecting skill over fancy gear.

All of the above applies to PvP combat as well, although fighting other players proves more difficult and satisfying than fighting the AI. Some players focus their sole attention into this one aspect of an MMO. I was guilty of it for a long time, whether it was through instanced battlegrounds or encounters whilst traveling the world, and I made it my mission to kill (or at the very least bloody) whatever opposition presented itself to me. In a weird way, I have TESO to thank for humbling me. Before learning the lessons noted about combat, I found myself getting pummeled every time. Realizing that the combat system was largely focused on skill made me painfully aware that I needed to “get better” rather than acquire better gear or abilities. I’m not saying gear doesn’t make a difference, since it surely does, but the game is sculpted to put people on a somewhat equal playing field. Opening up at level 10, the player receives a message that they may make their way to Cyrodiil (yes, that Cyrodiil, albeit a bit larger) to begin their PvP endeavors. Seasoned veterans in experience, stats, and gear will plague players who are fresh to the slaughter, so players should prepare themselves to be simply outmatched for some time.

The PvP format in TESO is a battle for territorial control, and players of each alliance chosen during character creation battle another faction over control of each territory. Since the entirety of PvP takes place in Cyrodiil, the land is split between the three factions. Combat starts easily enough: if you see someone, kill them. Groups rule in PvP, and teaming up is always an advantageous strategy. Since combat is real time, expect other players to react the same way. This includes retreating to be healed or trying to sweep a weakened foe. While killing other players is all well and good, one of the biggest objectives in PvP is capturing points for whatever faction you’re allied with. Buildings and Keeps can be taken control of and used as bases, and other points can be captured to provide valuable resources during combat. Once your faction has gained those points, it is able to acquire weapons and tools such as Rams and Catapults in order to aid the onslaught. There a variety of other factors to PvP as well, from quests focuses on PvP interactions to buffs granted by the Elder Scrolls themselves.

Crafting has never been a huge focus point for me in MMOs. A shame, I know, but we all have our faults. Personally, I normally go for “kill everything that moves” while others lean towards something a bit more productive. I suppose it depends on your definition of “productive,” but that’s another topic altogether. ZeniMax obviously placed a huge emphasis on the importance of crafting in TESO. Using the same skill points that they could spend on combat abilities and stats, players can instead choose to progress in trees stemming from each of the crafting disciplines. However, crafting in a certain profession enough times will also allow players to put skill points into whatever craft they’re working on, thus increasing their proficiency. There are other sacrifices to be made during the crafting process; players risk losing a piece of equipment during an upgrade, not just the items used for the advancement. That said, crafting is not actually complicated: you go into a town or area that has the necessary station and just do it! There are multiple ways to obtain ingredients. Players can kill enemies and loot their bodies, locate items by searching every square inch of the rooms they come across (see: exploration), or even break down their unwanted items into ingredients. There are currently six crafting professions available, with a debatable seventh. Alchemy allows players to create potions. Provisioning is essentially cooking meals that buff whoever consumes them. Woodworking is used to craft, well, things that are made from wood. Heavy armor and weapons are crafted with Blacksmithing, while its lighter wardrobe counterpart is crafted under the Clothing profession. While it’s not technically “crafting,” Enchanting allows players to upgrade and enchant items.

With every MMO launch, there’s the potential for a myriad of problems, and The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. There are persistent bugs that plague players. Some bugs simply glitch the player in an area, causing them to be stuck (I experienced this particular one a handful of times) and some actually prevent players from finishing a quest line. ZeniMax has made it clear that they are attending to these issues as quickly as possible. As far as the actual launch goes, I had virtually no issues with logging in and playing, with only one seemingly random disconnect to date. This in and of itself shows a stability that a lot of MMOs and online-only games find themselves lacking upon launch. It needs to be said that, while the game bears the Elder Scrolls name, this game is an MMO first and an Elder Scrolls game second. A majority of the freedom (outside of general exploration) rightfully had to be hindered to keep the game running smoothly. You cannot simply run into a town and start massacring its occupants. The lack of a console command feature has also been a point of contention. ZeniMax has allowed for the modding of the game, which is thankfully not limited to the UI, but it does not have the same allowance for modding as the previous entries have, for obvious reasons.

The Elder Scrolls Online bears its namesake with pride, and it shows throughout every inch of Tamriel. With the exploration, its seemingly endless story, and the many callbacks to the previous games, players will feel right at home with TESO as a whole. However, those who are not a fan of the MMORPG genre will probably find themselves taken aback by all the differences, minute as they may be. A majority of players may even argue that this would’ve made an excellent addition as a numbered entry, if it were to exclude the limitations set by multiplayer focus. I myself am one of those people who found that the things I enjoy the most about TESO are the same things I enjoyed in Skyrim, Oblivion, and Morrowind. I did not need a foray into the MMO genre to pique my interest in picking the game up; I would’ve played this if it was a single player experience just as easily. If you are a fan of The Elder Scrolls and of MMOs, then you may find some semblance of peace while playing TESO. There is an astonishing amount of content on release, with an endgame veteran system that will have players investing as much time as they did progressing through the first 50 levels. Players will have to actively try to find themselves with nothing to do, and that is a rare accomplishment in MMORPGs as a whole. The Elder Scrolls Online is available now for PC, with subscriptions starting at 14.99 USD a month.


Combat is skill-based and fun, exploration is addictive, game-enhancing modding, large amount of content for a new launch.


MMORPG aspects not fully realized, difficult solo content, quest-hindering bugs.

Bottom Line

From story to scale, The Elder Scrolls Online does its single player predecessors justice while at some parts struggling to find its own identity.

Overall Score 82
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Brian Tomlinson

Brian Tomlinson

Brian was part of RPGFan's reviews team from 2013-2014. During his tenure, Brian bolstered our review offerings by lending his unique voice and critique of the world of RPGs. Being a critic can be tough work sometimes, but his steadfast work helped maintain the quality of reviews RPGFan is known for.