Over the past few days, many here at Quest Gaming Network have written on The Elder Scrolls Online. We’ve had impressions from an Elder Scroll’s Purist, as well as a breakdown of graphics, starting area impressions of the Aldmeri Dominion, The Ebonheart Pact, The Daggerfall Covenant, and even a few looks into game mechanics like our lockpicking guide as well as a peek into crafting mechanics. Do all these things really cover what makes an massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMO RPG) what it needs to shine? What are the factors that go into making an MMO grip you and keep you playing for months or even years? As someone who’s caught the World of Warcraft bug a few times, taken Star Wars: The Old Republic as far as it could take me, closed way too many rifts, and sauntered through countless other MMO titles through the years, let me highlight a few of the big factors that we’ve not taken a gander at from the viewpoint of the MMO Veteran.
The Elder Scrolls Online is not doing anything new when it comes to taking a video game of a single player nature and translating it over into an MMO, in fact, this is almost overly common for franchises these days. We’ve seen this come from the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, leading to the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic as well as the Final Fantasy Franchise with the release of Final Fantasy XI as well as Final Fantasy XIV. These are only a few examples, I assure you, the list goes on and on. Even the big bad of MMOs, World of Warcraft, isn’t original in its creation as it grew from the popular series of Real Time Strategy “Warcraft” franchise, which some would say is a warhammer knockoff but that’s another story for another time. What I plan to do is break down what we know from other MMOs, what worked and what didn’t, and take a long hard look at The Elder Scrolls Online to see just how well it took the transition from single player to massively multiplayer.
While many who look at MMOs, even many who play them, believe that “The second M stands for Multiplayer” and that’s the end all, be all of MMOs, I can assure you that it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of proper MMO gameplay. An MMO should range in play, but it has to start somewhere. Every MMO wants to put its best foot forward, the starting area is often to judge for that. The Elder Scrolls Online does it right in the terms of the “Starting Area”. You are immediately thrown into the game, yes, but it takes a special effort in teaching game mechanics through gameplay and not through text tutorials. The best MMOs do this, teaching through interaction and not simply text. Quickly upon entering the world after the short tutorial area of Coldharbor, you’ll enter the starting area for any of your three factions. This is where you receive your first real taste of the scale of the game. The starting island is not too big that a newcomer to the game can wander off and get lost, but it’s not so small that it feels like a guided tour. It is, in fact, teaching you all about how the gameplay and questing in the game works. Now that you have your foundation built, it’s time to rise into the game proper and move into the much, much larger main faction areas starting just before level 10.
Level 10 is where the magic happens. Player Versus Player (PVP) opens up, dungeons are at your disposal, and countless quests are laid out before you spanning different directions in a huge landscape. It quickly opens up to a number of possibilities. Group content is easy to hop into, all the regular MMO systems are in place to help you find those you want to play with including guilds, pvp, group dungeons, and a fully functioning social system and chat system. As sad as it is, yes, I do have to mention all this as many MMOs release with issues in these aspects that we come to expect. From my inspection of each, I can not find any major flaw. The guild system is straight out of Final Fantasy XI, allowing you to join as many as you so choose and stepping away from the dictatorships that often form in MMOs that allow only one guild per character. Grouping systems are in place for things that you may not want to walk to, games such as WoW and Rift did not release with a queue system for their dungeons. The grouping system of Elder Scrolls Online is much more than just a queue, it’s a full fledged “Looking for group” system that allows you to get a group together for nearly any activity, from dungeons, pvp, open world quests, anything that you can imagine. If you can’t find the people to get you where you need to be, this simple interface will quickly gather people of a like mind to help you. Compared to any MMO I’ve ever played, this is the most extensive, least intrusive, and easiest group finding system I’ve ever experienced.
So a big question remains. Is this game fun? Can I put in 5 minutes and have a good time? Can I put in hours and still keep coming back for more? The answer is what you make of it. This game is crammed full of content, you are absolutely encouraged to explore and just get lost. That was one of my favorite parts of World of Warcraft: getting lost and finding a special little something over a ridge or behind a mountain out of sight. The Elder Scrolls caters to that sort of gameplay style by putting up skyshards in hidden and hard to find places which act like Legend of Zelda heart pieces, rather they grant a skill point for every few you find rather than a health bonus. You’ll also find quests that can only be found by being stumbled upon or even cross the path of someone lost out in the wilderness. On top of all of that, you can even stumble upon your storyline quests without even knowing it, accidentally walk into a public dungeon and come out victorious and rewarded just the same as if you intentionally went into it with a quest in hand.
This is absolutely the game for the MMO fan that likes to just get lost but what about the fan that enjoys a little more structure to their gameplay? As much as The Elder Scrolls Online is praised for its ingenious take on the quest hub. Yes, they still exist, but not in the overwhelming fashion you would expect from nearly every other MMO on the market. Quest hubs are occasionally optional though they do add a lot more to the storyline and help you find out where you need to go. You do have to head back to town on a few occasions to turn in quests or advance the story to open up the world even more, but it isn’t so drastic that it’s immersion breaking. You do not see all the quest givers standing in a room looking around at each other as you do with other MMOs on the market. Non- Player Characters (NPCs) have their own lives in this game and should you kill off an NPC or anger one to the point they never want to deal with you again, they’ll be gone from your storyline and your story will be contoured to your choices and advancements. This does not stop you from playing with your friends. Much like in games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, you can pick different paths and different outcomes but the quest objectives will be similar enough to play along with your friends.
The Little things
Content isn’t just leveling though, nor is it dungeons, or only PVP. The little things count in an MMO and can absolutely make or break it. Normally MMOs separate these side functions as just a game mechanic, a skill, or a form of “crafting and gathering”. Speaking of crafting, let’s dive right in. We at QGN have previously spoke on crafting HERE and while it’s a lot and much isn’t completely new, the way it all comes together as something to behold. Crafting can be picked up immediately from the starting island and unlike nearly every MMO out there, you can pick up all the crafting skills at once. This, for me, is a breath of fresh air. My biggest dread in MMO crafting is actually the material gathering aspect that goes along with it. I love gathering anything and everything I come by and have a deep dislike for games that limit gathering capabilities. The Elder Scrolls Online not only allows you to gather everything, but if you work at it, you can become the ultimate crafter and make everything too. Racial styles only add more options to the game and why carry a weapon if it isn’t sexy? The more options, the better. You have the ability to break down items to learn aspects of their benefits, much like in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The crafting system in The Elder Scrolls Online is highly customizable and the “tempering” system rewards you based on how much effort and research you’ve put into crafting, rather than how many times you make a crafting progress bar fill up.
Other systems in the game such as the lockpicking system (Guide HERE) are a little minigame that may be a bit too much in the long run. There’s no way to do lockpicking right, it’s either too much of a nuisance in a minigame that quickly grows old, or it is so trivial it’s useless, like in World of Warcraft. Knowing this, The Elder Scrolls Online thought ahead and included the ability to take a chance and break the lock instead of picking it. While this may not be the perfect solution, it’s better than only having the lockpicking minigame that would honestly grate on my nerves in quick fashion.
Finally, when it comes to the little things, there’s always one thing in MMOs that I look forward to: fishing. That’s right, I am a fisherman and proud to say it. I’ve maxed fishing in both World of Warcraft as well as Rift multiple times over on a range of alts. I can say without a doubt, if I were anything, I’ll give up my titles of MMO Vet, Hardcore Raider, Min/Maxer, I am Dave Dienforce Adams, Master Fisherman. I am in love with fishing in Elder Scrolls Online. You can absolutely just relax and enjoy fishing, sit on a shore and cast a line. You can use bait gathered from enemies you’ve slain and gutted along the way or butcher fish you’ve caught for even better bait for your lures. Sometimes you’ll come across special fish or goods that you can fish up, keeping up with the trend of fishing in other games. Fishing in The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t overdone like World of Warcraft’s fishing quest hubs and neither is it too thin of a system, I’d say it’s right on the money to not only be enjoyable and calm but with the right skill, you can take it farther.
Class and Usability
How information gets put into the game and comes out of the game is of the utmost importance. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter what character you choose to play, The Elder Scrolls Online has to make one thing right above all else. Starting from the ground up is the character itself and how you, the user, control the character. Nearly every MMO on the market use a control scheme where the character and your mouse on the screen are independently controlled, this isn’t the case when it comes to The Elder Scrolls online. Directionality of your character is controlled by your mouse, as well as your base attack and the block system. Keep in mind that while this control structure is very similar to the single player Elder Scrolls games and very unlike most MMOs, it is not unheard of in this genre. Phantasy Star Online 2 shares this control scheme. Abilities are controlled by hitting 1-5 on your keyboard, keeping abilities quick at hand instead of thrown all over the screen on “quickbars” as we would come to expect from other MMOs. Your skills as well as your health and other resources can fade off screen when they are not in use. This keeps the user interface very minimal while in control of your character.
The class system is very reminiscent of a much beefier Diablo III, where skills can be unlocked after reaching a certain level and any of your unlocked skills can be selected to be used on your ability bar. Of course, this doesn’t count for passives as they are always active. Your skills are independant of your currently equipped gear but may have requirements such as the use of a certain type of weapon to allow the skill to be activated or compound a bonus based on the use of a certain type of armor. This allows you to mix and match skills from a range of sources with no limitation on which skill trees you pick skills out of to mix and match. Want your sorcerer to use two one-handed swords, heavy armor, and summon an imp to follow you around? Go for it, the options are near limitless. Just to make things easy you can optionally claim yourself to be one of the holy trinity (DPS, Tank, or Healer) if you so choose when queuing in the Dungeon Finder.
The user interface outside of controlling your character is highly intuitive. You can seamlessly swap between your character control scheme and your settings or other useful on-screen menus without just adding clutter to your screen. You are given access to detailed information of your gear, abilities and statistics to the point where those who like to compare and maximize stats will be well pleased. At the same time, the setup isn’t too difficult to navigate and is easily digestible for those who do not want to delve so deep into the inner workings. Unlike nearly any MMO, you are given statistical attributes you can distribute each level in the form of Health, Magicka, or Stamina. Unlike other top MMOs where the stats of any class at max level is a carbon copy of any other character of that same class at the same level,The Elder Scrolls Online allows specialization on your own terms.
My Final Word
The Elder Scrolls Online is absolutely an MMO worth trying. Without a doubt, the developers go in and try to reinvent a lot of things and, in practice, their hard work comes out right. This is not one of those carbon-copy WoW clones. This isn’t even Skyrim MMO. ESO has a life of its own and you can tell from the very beginning that this game is far more than just a game, it’s a labor of love. Every aspect in this game is made to make you want to keep coming back for more and will absolutely grip you and keep you from wanting to leave. There are no hoops to jump through to please the game, it merges the best of both worlds between the single player MMO standpoint and the multiplayer interactions at every turn.
From the viewpoint of the MMO Veteran, The Elder Scrolls Online is done right.