The Elder Scrolls Online is a challenging game to review. It’s the reason why The Elder Scrolls VI still doesn’t exist, even if Bethesda is building a new graphical engine for the game.
Moreover, the game exists within the fantasy world of Tamriel, yet the Online RPG doesn’t feel like a part of the franchise it entails.
Many years after its launch, though, the game is indeed playable. The best thing about this persistent MMORPG world is how it doesn’t require monthly fees or additional payments. Check-in once, and your wallet will be safe to play the rest of the content.
If you want to play the next chapters, though, you’d have to pay for the DLC, albeit most of them carry plenty of extra content.
- Platforms:Windows 7/10 PC, macOS, PS4, Xbox One
- Publisher: April 4, 2014
- Developer: Zenimax Online Studios
- Genre: Bethesda Softworks
“Join over 13 million players in the award-winning online multiplayer RPG and experience limitless adventure in a persistent Elder Scrolls world”
The Elder Scrolls Online is also available through the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service.
What is The Elder Scrolls Online?
The Elder Scrolls Online is a persistent multiplayer open-world. Like the rest of the franchise’s games, you select a character class and immerse yourself into a lengthy adventure.
The results point out there’s something good about the game. Nine years after Skyrim premiered, Bethesda is still finding ways to keep the franchise alive and monetized.
After its 2014 release, TESO had negative reviews. Most fans despised the title because of its greedy monthly subscription system. Since then, the studio has included many changes and rebranded the game as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.
The game was full of bags, lag issues, inconsistencies, bad animations, sub-par scores, and overall inconsistency and lousy quality back at launch. That’s not the truth anymore, though. 2020 TESO is a quality game.
The Elder Scrolls Online Tamriel Unlimited - Gameplay Walkthrough Part 1 - So Much Has Changed
Let’s start by saying that I don’t consider The Elder Scrolls: Online an expensive game. The price is but a fraction of what a newer version of the series would cost and gives you tons of hours of experience.
It’s not a full TES game, but it’s still bigger and better than most MMORPGs in the market. What makes it a “bad” game is the standards Bethesda set with all the rest of the franchise. It was a high bar to beat, even for Bethesda.
That’s the tricky part, though. Bethesda Game Studios didn’t create the title. Instead, another member of its parent company ZeniMax took care of the online version.
ZeniMax Online did what it could to milk The Elder Scrolls universe with an ongoing stream of DLCs, micro-transactions, and add-ons. That said, you have to be careful when a big studio sends a new entry of their IPs to a third-party developer. Sure, there are exceptions, like Obsidian creating Fallout: New Vegas for Bethesda, but exceptions are not the rule.
I do have to say ZeniMax Online pushes new content very fast. For instance, Bethesda revealed the upcoming Markarth update as a free DLC. It will premiere in November 2020, mere months after TESO’s latest expansion.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Markarth - Official Trailer
Like Skyrim but with a simpler plot
If you’ve played Skyrim, you’ll notice how the campaign and the activities are a lot more straightforward. Or, let’s be honest, they are a lot…less, just less.
Skyrim made you choose between becoming a werewolf or not on the more superficial quest lines. TES: Online is just about being there, existing and doing stuff, fetching loot, and killing some villains.
Although the original storyline is not as good, the questing evolves and gets better with each expansion.
Still, there’s plenty to do either solo or on a co-op adventure. You’ll gain control of your character, weapons, skills, and decisions. And you can explore, battle, craft, siege, and discover the secrets of Tamriel as you experience the story in any order you choose.
As a multiplayer RPG, you can join other adventurers to complete quests, explore dungeons, and defeat powerful dragons. Additionally, you can participate in PvP battles against the other players.
Here’s the latest update they released, Greymoor. Each DLC has expanded the adventure across all of Tamriel. For example, Greymoor takes players to a new location, the city of Solitude.
The Elder Scrolls Online - The Dark Heart of Skyrim Launch Cinematic
Is there any plot?
TESO takes place during the Second Era of the Tamriel Continent, 1.000 years before Skyrim. That means the conflicts, characters, and cities we knew and loved are not present on this online adventure.
Four years ago (2E 578), an arcane explosion on Imperial City sent an aftershock across the continent. It killed nearly every mage in the continent, and the ones who survived went mad. Without them, demonic beats coming from the plane of Oblivion are roaming freely across the land. As the chaos spreads, three factions fight for control of the White-Gold Tower and the Imperial City.
You’ve seen why the progression follows two different conflicts happening at the same time. The first one has to do with the world’s fate; the second one has to do with a place of power.
The first plot points follow a struggle against Daedric Prince Molag Bal. He’s attempting to capture the Imperial Throne while three alliances are competing for the crown.
The game begins in Coldharbour’s Wailing Prison, where your soulless carcass lives as a slave. The Daedric prince stole your soul to spoil it in a magic ritual, and now your goal is to take it back.
After the main plot, the game keeps expanding towards new conflicts. For instance, Greymoor pits you against an unknown race of werewolves.
ESO Greymoor Starter Guide Gameplay (The Elder Scrolls Online SKYRIM Walkthrough Part 1)
Why is The Elder Scrolls Online co-op?
Being a multiplayer game is both the best and the worst part of the game. For instance, you can’t play offline, and you can’t play without a stable connection. That’s a bothersome gateway. Still, you can always go solo; it will only be more challenging.
On the other side, four players can join the party and travel across Tamriel together. Completing quests with a squad of warriors is both challenging and fun.
In particular, party synergy is vital. Mixing various classes in battle is the way to succeed versus the meanest enemies.
You can play the whole story quest and most side quests solo, but the best part of the game is co-op. That includes world bosses roaming freely, public dungeons, dungeons, arenas, and 12-player trials. You can check the full list of co-op activities.
Moreover, the game’s population is alive and healthy. Currently, it’s the 6th most populated MMO in the market. It has 16.4m total subscribers and about 624K daily players.
Oh, and, by the way, the Alliance Wars are full of PvP experiences.
The core gameplay
You could say the current TESO is far away from its early days, although the gameplay has remained the same. The game has a lousy reputation due to lags, glitches, and overall cartoony graphics. Nevertheless, Bethesda has released various graphic upgrades and patches to improve the overall quality of the game.
Yet, the gameplay stays much as you’d expect from the franchise. It’s no fast-paced Doom Eternal nor a super-powered Dishonored, both members of the ZeniMax family. Still, the battle is fast, colorful, engaging, and full of combos, synergies, and little nuances. I’d say it is an improvement over Skyrim’s system.
First and foremost, the main activity of the game is following the main storyline and the side quest. As you explore the world of Tamriel, you’ll also uncover new NPCs asking you for one thing or another. Furthermore, discovering new NPCs and doing special quests also opens the way to join guilds and follow faction-specific quest lines.
Another popular activity is gathering resources to craft gear, apparel, food, and potions. You can also enchant your equipment, create jewelry, brew drinks, and craft custom shields, bows, and staves with woodworking. Here’s one of the best points of the game with so many things to create.
You can trade items with other players through cumbersome menus as well. Otherwise, you can steal, assault, and even murder other NPCs for their possessions.
However, there’s a justice system in place. If another character notices your crime, the system will put a bounty on your head. Guards would bring you down and kill you in sight.
Lastly, there’s an end-game solo challenge called Maelstrom Arena. And as for end-game content, there’re tons of dungeons to explore in the game, not counting coming DLCs and expansions.
Oh, you can also turn into a vampire or a werewolf.
The good part about the Online “Skyrim,” though, is its character creation customization. There’re ten different races to choose from, each featuring different passive skills, attacks, and spells to tailor your experience. The customization is more in-depth than ever, I must say, so the game is quite replayable in that regard.
In particular, you choose gender, race, and alliance. The alliance determines the side you represent in the Alliance War, while your race represents your strengths, weaknesses, and overall appearances.
You also choose a class, which determines your starting skills and Skill Lines. There’re five different classes: Sorcerer, Nightblade, Dragonknight, Templar, and Warden. However, Wardens are only available for The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind owners.
Keep in mind that each class takes specific roles. For instance, Templars often work as healers with their restoring abilities. On the contrary, Nightblades are better as thieves and rogues because of their stealth abilities.
Finally, let’s discuss how the game works in terms of skill threes.
There’re Passive Skills, Ultimate Skills, and Active Skills. Skills are divided into Skill Lines, and you need to use a mastery of the line to progress on the three and unlock new abilities.
Passive abilities grant you a permanent bonus. You can unlock these bonuses by using an Active skill of the same line. Other times, you can acquire them by crafting or researching.
Moreover, becoming a werewolf or a vampire grants you a free passive skill. Joining the Alliance War can also give you passive skills through the alliance’s resources.
Then, you can place the Active Skills on one of the five slots of the Action Bar. At level 15, you learn Weapon Swapping, and the alternate weapon can carry a different set of active skills.
Active Skills have 4 Ranks, after which they can morph into a new version. There’re two Morph alternatives, each adding different effects to the skill and giving you four additional Ranks to level.
Lastly, the Ultimate Skill builds over time as you fight. When the Ultima bar is full, you can launch the attack. You can get them by advancing to the end of a Skill Line.
Ultimate Skills can morph and advance to Rank IV as well, just like Active skills. However, you can only slot one ultimate per weapon.
You can unlock over 300 skill points through leveling, loot, and quest rewards. That means you could access all of the skills, except those that are race and class-specific.
The skill lines include class, race, craft weapons, world, and armor. There are also guild skills depending on the faction you choose. Then, alliance skills have a PvP focus.
Lastly, the broader skill lines (like craft, weapons, and armor) are divided into categories. For example, you can level the bow on the weapons line and woodworking on the craft line.
ESO Guide - Character Customization (Skill System Overview)
Ultimately, everything we discussed makes for a great MMORPG game. Yet, it’s not the exact recipe for a great The Elder Scrolls entry.
TESO is a successful game on its rights, but it just falls flat against Skyrim, Oblivion, or Morrowind. The difference lies in its plot, storytelling, characters, and overall writing. The single-player experience has the level of…well, an MMORPG title.
Still, roaming across Tamriel with a squad of friends is a rewarding experience. Even if the combat is not very thrilling, the number of things to craft and create and the multitude of skills to explore make for an immersive experience.
Overall, I say The Elder Scrolls Online is a 7/10 game. It’s worth a try, don’t expect this to be an excellent single-player RPG. It is what it is. TESO is an online, ongoing experience with a comprehensive crafting system plus an okay skill system.
I have to close by saying Bethesda is planning to create an Xbox Series X/S version and a PlayStation 5 version. However, because Microsoft bought Bethesda recently, we don’t know if the title will stay on the PlayStation storefront for long.
Lastly, TESO is commonly on discount on the Steam store, selling for under $10. The classic game includes all of the content except for Greymoor. For that kind of money, TESO is worth it!