Bethesda Softworks released The Elder Scrolls Online on Sunday, March 30, of this year. A highly anticipated MMORPG set in the popular Elder Scrolls storyline, Elder Scrolls Online is Bethesda’s foray into the subscription based game format.
It’s a better than even chance some of you will not like this review. Though it is based on beta impressions alone, and not the full game, it is because of the subscription based content that I will not look into it any further. I gave an honest shot at the beta, and found it to be good, but the price tag associated with continued enjoyment made me back away from it.
The Elder Scrolls Online is set approximately 1000 years before the events of Skyrim, and nearly 800 years before the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. You begin the storyline shortly after becoming a sacrifice to Molag Bal, and winding up in Oblivion. There, you take part in a small insurrection, eventually winding up again in Tamriel. As the Soulless One, you embark on a crusade to defeat Molag Bal in his plan to pull the world into his realm in Oblivion amid the chaos and struggle between the Aldemeri Dominion, The Daggerfall Covenant, and the Ebonheart Pact; three factions of which you may join.
As a storyline, The Elder Scrolls Online presents us with the sort of epic, world saving crusade adventures we have come to expect from Bethesda. The Elder Scrolls Online has a fairly open and nonlinear design to it that encourages exploration, along with side quests and minor storylines to keep you interested (and sidetracked).
I have been strongly discouraged over the years by Fantasy MMORPGs and the overall level of graphics I have seen. Mainly this is due to the requirements that the game be playable on a number of systems with different specifications, but they have always been disappointing. The Elder Scrolls Online is definitely a step in the right direction. While not to the level I generally enjoy, the level of graphical detail almost reaches that of Skyrim, with a familiar UI and controls that make it easier to transition from the Single Player storylines into this new Multiplayer aspect. You will have to adapt somewhat, but overall you will find yourself enjoying many of the things, graphics wise, as you have with Elder Scrolls titles in the past.
With an impressive array of voice actors, and an already well established library of sound effects, there is little lacking here. Still, some of the things that made games like Skyrim and Fallout so great are left out. It seems the quality of sound gave way to something a little less spectacular. The music, effects and voice acting are meant to get you in a sort of zone, but simply are not as immersive as they could be. So many of the same creatures appear in the first portion of the game, as you escape back to Tamriel, that it becomes somewhat boring.
With The Elder Scrolls storyline, and in particular Skyrim, exploring all the areas is encouraged. Opening containers and searching bookcases may all bear some benefit, including loot and skill books. Just as in previous games, a sensible encumbrance system is in place, making it difficult for you to become a walking Fort Knox. As you progress in levels, your skills increase and you are able to unlock greater special abilities and attacks, which can be further enhanced by any number of special items you find. When I say “kinda like Skyrim, only different.” that explains it perfectly. The idea and the mechanics are very similar, with the main difference being the presentation.
The character creation at the beginning of the game is very well balanced, with the ability to customize your character in numerous ways. Again, if you liked the character creation found in Skyrim and Fallout, you will like this one too.
There is a lot to keep you interested here, and you can easily become lost in the exploring and side quests. Skyrim took me nearly two months of playtime to complete the entire game with all the quests, and the DLC added more time on that. I can easily see The Elder Scrolls Online becoming a similar addiction to many.
Here is where it gets bad; for me replayability is directly tied into Value. The continuing monthly subscription model is not for me. I played the beta, and liked it a lot. I saw the associated price tag with the full release, and said no way in hell. Similarly, this game is online only; if you are not connected to the Internet, you cannot play.
Again, no way in hell. To be fair, I play no games with a monthly subscription requirement, simply because I know that I have more important things to do with my money, like buy food for the family and clothes for my children. The basic edition of The Elder Scrolls Online is 60 bucks, with the Digital Imperial Edition costing 80. For that price you can play the game for 30 days, after which you have to cough up 15 bucks a month. In the first year, you will pay 225 USD to play this game, with most other games and their associated DLC costing half that. After that first year, you will continue to pay 180 USD.
I understand Bethesda’s reasoning behind the price, however. Continued development and content does not come cheap, in addition to paying the staff who are working on the game, there is also the cost involved in networking and infrastructure. To be fair, this pricing is very similar to World of Warcraft. If you have the funds on hand to spend, and this is the type of game you go for, then it may well be the thing for you.
The long established Elder Scrolls storyline gives players a chance to dive into a game world they already know they like. Of any of the Fantasy MMORPGs out there, this one has the greatest chance of knocking World of Warcraft from its high perch; then again, I won’t play that one, either. Now if you excuse me, I have a utility bill to pay, which just so happens to easily reach in a single month what this game will cost me in three.