Elder Scrolls Online finally arrives on the PS4. Our Review;
How do you possibly go about making a follow-up to Skyrim? The 2011 fantasy RPG set a new bench mark in terms of immersive game play and quality. It is considered to be one of, if not the best open world games ever created. It must have been a daunting task to create the next entry into the Elder Scrolls series but Zenimax Online have created a deep, impressive and engrossing MMO that falls short of the standards set by its predecessor.
Before you can go adventuring in Tamriel, Elder Scrolls Online puts an incredible array of character customisation options at your finger tips. Through a simple system of sliders, you can create a character to your liking, tweaking the forehead slope, eye angle, skin colour, hair colour, markings, eye colour, height (the list goes on) and even hand size. During your character creation, you have to pick an alliance from one of the 3 factions – Daggerfall Covenant, Ebonheart Pact and Aldmeri Dominion. This choice is one of the most important you will make in the game as it will determine your starting location, available races and the group you fight for in PvP. Unlike Oblivion and Skyrim, the choice of race doesn’t have an effect on your stats. You can have an Orc Mage who is as adept at magic as the Elven equivalent.
Once you have spent an hour perfecting the ear lobes and arm thickness of your adventurer, you can finally get out into the wilds of Tamriel…
At the start of the game, your character is dead. Yes, dead. They recently received a serious ass whooping and he/she awakes in Oblivion having had his/her soul ripped from its body and imprisoned in the Wailing Prison, a tutorial section to get you used to the games mechanics. Thankfully, there is a prison break in progress and a new friend busts you out. It’s not long before you meet your guide and mentor for the game, the blind and knowledgeable Profit, who has also been imprisoned in Oblivion. Your hero and The Profit manage to escape Oblivion at a great cost and you are sent out on a quest to stop Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement, from taking over Tamriel using his Dark Anchors. It is a quest that only you, the soulless Vessel, can complete…
…except that’s not quite true. You are almost never alone with people attempting the same quests, buzzing around you at all times. The Elder Scrolls Online is an MMO that attempts to bring the strong writing from Oblivion and Skyrim to a multiplayer setting and the two aspects often clash. It’s hard to immerse ourself in this deep, MMO world when a Aldmeri Queen tells you “Only you can help us” and she is surrounded by 20 other people, one guy is tea bagging another that he just killed and someone is fighting a guard that he tried to pick pocket. It’s rare to battle any of the CPU enemies without a random human passer-by trying to get involved, sending a volley of arrows your way. Attempting to stealth attack an unaware strong enemy when a Level 49 player rides in on their flaming steed and hacks them down in a single strike happens all too often. Elder Scrolls Online does cater for solo players by limiting the number of quests that require multiple players but with everyone running around, it’s all very distracting.
Thankfully, there are places in Tamriel where you can get a moment alone because the game is so big. It’s huge. Broken down into 21 free-roaming areas (as well as all the internals for the houses, caves etc) that are as big as the entirety of most similar games. While these areas are not as populated as those in Skyrim, there is plenty to explore and do – quests, caves, roaming groups of enemies, mines, towns, ancient ruins and more, waiting for you to discover them.
The myriad of quests in Elder Scrolls Online have some very memorable moments. Across Tamriel you will be solving murder mysteries, foiling assassination attempts, breaking the face of some Skooma pedallers, battling your way up the ranks of the fighters guild, dispelling ancient evils that have awoken, recovering cursed objects from long-lost ruins and much more. The vast majority of these quests are linear with no failure conditions although some have multiple endings which change the loot you obtain on completing them.
As you complete quests, explore, fight and gain experience, your Elder Scrolls characters will level up. As with most RPG’s, leveling up becomes harder the higher your level becomes, forcing you to complete more difficult quests and take on more deadly beasts. Each level up grants your character 1 attribute point and 1 skill point. Attribute points can be added to Magicka, Health and Stamina, increasing their respective gauges. Skill points are used to unlock new abilities. These abilities differ depending on what class you choose and what guilds you join – Dragonknights have an array of melee attacks that do fire damage while Sorcerers can unlock dark magic spells and can summon familiars. Some skills that are related to all classes like those based on armour and weapon types are available to all types of character and have the same unlockable powers. Once you have unlocked a skill by spending a skill point, these abilities level up as you use them, eventually allowing you to morph them into something new and more powerful. This combination of attributes and skills feels shallower but more accessible than the systems used in previous Elder Scrolls games with a few glaring emissions. Hand to Hand combat stats, an approach I prefer to use in my RPG’s, is missing entirely as is the ability to upgrade your stealth, strength and lock picking prowess.
Crafting has taken a big step up in Elder Scrolls Online however. Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Clothing, Enchanting, Provisioning and Woodworking all now have their own skill trees. Building and upgrading your gear has a very large presence in the game with the vast majority of loot you acquire having some part in the crafting systems.
Strangely, I have managed to put 55+ hours into the Elder Scrolls Online and have not once felt the need to craft anything. The game is packed with enough gear and pick ups that are more than adequate to get you through the scraps you will get yourself into that it makes the crafting almost redundant.
Zenimax have done an excellent job of porting the PC control scheme over to the PS4 and Dualshock 4. I feels instantly comfortable to those who have spent time with Skyrim but with tweaks that still feel intuitive, especially when it comes to combat. The L2 and R2 trigger buttons are used for blocking, attacking with your main weapon of choice and bashing (which will interrupt an enemies special attacks). Spells, special attacks and abilities can be mapped to the circle, square, triangle, L1 and R1 buttons with X reserved for jumping an interacting. It’s a simple set up that solves the issue of not having a keyboard.
Visually, Elder Scrolls Online is a mixed bag and is never ground breaking, at least on PS4 anyway. In a large portion of the game there are some detailed textures and pleasant lighting effects on show. Walking around in a forested area, the sun breaking through the branches can be quite breath-taking at times. It is a shame that not all of the game looks as good. It can range from this…
Flat, uninspired and bland.
It’s during PvP that the Elder Scrolls Online really comes to life. Once your character reaches level 10, they can travel to Cyrodill (who some of you will remember from Oblivion) to join the PvP front lines. The three factions each inhabit a corner of the large triangle-shaped map and the aim is to defeat the other 2 factions and to take control of their keeps. The mode is similar to Dynasty Warriors 8 but rather than faceless minions, each of the enemies on the battlefield is a human combatant. It’s a tense set up, attempting to capture territories while defend your own, and it can be incredibly exciting at times.
During one match, my lowly level 11 Sorcerer managed to team up with 2 level 50 players who orchestrated our strategies. “Wheel around them and attack them from the side while we take them head on” one confidently commanded and rode off over a hill before quickly retreating, shouting “Guy, run, there are loads of them here”. He was followed by an army of Ebonheart Pact warriors who tore me to pieces in seconds.
Much like any online game that releases these days, Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited has its issues. During my time with the game, it has stalled several during loading screens for up to half an hour. In fact, my first video play through (embedded below) ended with a 35 minute freeze with the message “This may be an unusually long load time” displayed periodically. Restarting the game removed the issue and it loaded the next map within seconds on the second attempt. During periods when there are numerous enemies and fellow players surrounding you, there is some occasional stutter on-screen too.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is a different type of Elder Scrolls game. Compromises have been made to the immersive game play and in-depth stat orientated progression that you might be used to from the series in order to make this a balanced MMO and for the most part, Zenimax Online have succeeded. You always have an interesting quest of the appropriate level to complete and creatures and enemies are never too over powering unless you stray too far from the beaten track. The game is huge with some incredible locations to explore. The social aspects have been well implemented making it easy to talk to and team up with other players. The PvP is a great twist on a classic offering some tense game play and memorable moments.
Approach Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited expecting more Skyrim and you will be disappointed. Go into Tamriel Unlimited with the knowledge that it is a decent MMORPG based around the Elder Scrolls lore and locations and you will find an expansive and enjoyable experience that will keep you busy and engaged for a long time to come.
Elder Scrolls Online: Tanriel Unlimited
Available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One and PC.
Developer: Zenimax Online
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were given a review copy of the game by the publishers.