Case For/Against – The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

The concept was pretty cool: take the massive role-playing experience provided by the likes of Skyrim and convert it to a MMO in hopes of creating a more narrative-flexible MMO in a genre that’s typically inflexible. Much like Star Wars: The Old Republic tried this last, and Elder Scrolls Online tried to cash in on a single-player franchise and apply it to it’s total opposite. It’s was a gambit that fell relatively flat quickly, despite early praise, and (also like Old Republic) quickly went free-to-play surviving off initial purchases and its atypical in-game store.

Tamriel Unlimited is among the first (Neverwinter having the distinction of being the first MMO on next-gen consoles) in likely many more console-headed MMOs. It controls and plays admirably on a controller, especially in a genre that features many nuances requiring key-logged macros, but things work pretty well. I can’t speak for the experience as a whole. Full disclosure I’ve never been a huge fan of MMOs. The last two I voraciously consumed were City of Villains and the first Guild Wars. I found myself chronically wanting to assault people in real life during my very, very brief stint with World of Warcraft, and after that effectively gave up on the genre until my next very, very brief stint with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach talking about this game, so I’m just going to do this in the most simplistic way I can:

Pros

On the plus side, if you’re a big time Elder Scrolls fan whose been playing since the days of Dagerfall, it’s a treat to finally explore the whole world of Tamriel. Finally getting to see the likes of Elsweyr or Black Marsh was pretty cool. Especially after just having only read about them in in-game lore for several years. Maybe these will also be locations I’ll one day fully explore in a single-player setting since playing online felt like a non-stop chore.

I digress, to Elder Scrolls Online’s credit the world looks really good and true to Elder Scrolls’ fantasy design (though generic it might be anyway). Also the character creation system is pretty damn flexible. From the character creator itself, which allows very detailed avatars, to the build of the characters themselves. Instead of investing points into a general pool, Elder Scrolls Online tasks players with developing the character through repeated use, much like in the singe-player franchise. Want to wield a greatsword? In true form you must use one over and over in order to specialize with that weapon. Unfortunately, I also have beef with this system which leads me to the…

Cons

… of the specialization system. I get what the game wants the player to accomplish. Become good through use. Instead of waiting to level up to use something, you just use that weapon type from the start and keep with it. Instead of investing general points into pools, like being good at all swords or staves or bows, you have to invest in specific weapon types of those weapons. Meaning there are multiple types of the same magic staves to invest points in. So say when you invest in restoration staves, those point buffs don’t match to the other staff types like the destruction magic staves. It’s way specific as even the mainline games don’t do this. This means you must at times knowingly stick with weaker weapon options because that’s what you invested points in. Did that all read a little confusing? Good now we’re both on the same page about it.

As for the rest of the game very little of it feels like anything but the same MMO archetype I’ve experienced for decades. Sure, there are some occasional lines in a side-quest that check to see if I’ve been paying attention to the story but generally I’m not. I’m trapped in an eternal loop of fetch quests running around like a dumb bitch. Might as well make it mandatory to name your character Gopher, because I’m constantly going for other people’s shit. There’s nothing particularly engaging about the plot. A Deadric lord stole my soul, that alone should lead to a badass revenge story, but instead it’s, “Our nation is at war! Oh by the way, you have no soul, did you know that?” And I suppose that’s the fundamental problem when it comes to these story-focused MMOs.

The story wants you to suspend your disbelief and ask you to believe your unique (you’re not, ever) despite seeing an endless supply of new characters join you in your seemingly pivotal moment. It’s like being nominated for an award, onto find that every single person who was nominated won anyway. What the fuck is the point of this. As for it’s basic MMO elements, it’s grouping system also sucks to boot. It’s faster and more efficient to just spam, “LFG, LFG” over and over than trying to use the built-in system. So there’s that too.

MMOs are a dime a dozen now. There are some games that are worth your time and others that simply aren’t. Elder Scrolls Online, in my humble opinion, isn’t. Exploring Tamriel with friends might be cool, and the experience system makes it flexible enough to make whatever build your mind comes up, but that’s where the fun ends. There will be two minds on this game as long as it exists: the fans of the singe-player games disappointed with how unrecognizable the MMO is, and MMO fans who have been so inundated by other MMOs that they don’t give a shit anymore, it’s another fix.

Mandatory Score: 6/10

The nicest thing I can say about Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is that it’s decent. But decent isn’t enough. Not when there are plenty of better, and subscription free, MMOs out there if you’re desperate to fulfill your OCD needs of eternal character grinding. Granted, it’s not all bad but it’s hard to want to invest in something that invested little in itself.

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