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The Elder Scrolls Online

Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Media: Download/1
Players: MMO

Graphics & Sound:

Massively multiplayer online role playing games. They're tricky business. As broad as gaming companies claim that their audiences are, there's no denying that this particular genre is perhaps the most well-worn niche in the entire medium. So much that these games are, in and of themselves, platforms. It's mindblowing how much goes into making these user-sustained universes function the way they do. That being said, the MMORPG genre isn't a space that lends itself too well to sharing real estate. It has been a dog-eat-dog no-man's-land with a very clear victor throughout its existence. For a while, the spot on top the hill was claimed by giants such as Everquest and Dark Ages of Camelot. Then, Blizzard unleashed World of Warcraft, the juggernaut that has effectively shut down nearly every single MMO that has come since. Age of Conan. TERA. Rift. Warhammer Online. All have fallen. But here is Bethesda Softworks, bringing their modern fantasy phenomenon to this well-worn theater, hoping to replicate Blizzard's success. Heck, if Warcraft could make the jump, why not The Elder Scrolls? While this first effort is indeed laudable, I'm not yet convinced that The Elder Scrolls Online is the proverbial foot in the door that Bethesda was hoping it to be.

Bethesda's legendary open world role-playing games tend to start off with their best feet forward. They turn you loose in a series of magnificent persistent realms so wild and untamed that they confer a staggering sense of ownership upon the player. Remember the first time you left the sewers in Oblivion and absorbed the gorgeous panoramas of Cyrodiil? How did you feel when you scaled the heights of High Hrothgar in Skyrim? If you're expecting the same kinds of visual thrills from The Elder Scrolls Online, you'll probably be disappointed. Naturally, this is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game; it's not reasonable to expect this game to be the powerhouse that its single-player brethren were (and in a few cases, are). After all, MMORPGs are designed to be accessible to players of all types -- and that most definitely includes those whose machines lie at the weaker end of the horsepower spectrum.

The Elder Scrolls Online is pretty much flawless when it comes to audio. There's an absurd amount of talent at work. For starters, the orchestral soundtrack is a magnificent bit of sonic artistry that fits Tamriel like a silky glove... or a mailed fist, depending on what's going on at the time. This is a world that bleeds atmosphere, and though it's admittedly got less of an edge than its older brother, that doesn't mean that the sound necessarily has to fall behind. Rounding out everything nicely is solid voicework, which puts its best foot first by having us listen to the likes of Michael Gambon and John Cleese... and then giving us a slew of quest-givers who sound identical.


How do you make an Elder Scrolls MMORPG? I honestly don't know the answer to this, and despite their best efforts, I'm not sure Bethesda has cracked the code either. The question I find myself most often asked is "which is it, an Elder Scrolls game or an MMORPG?" And honestly, the only answer I really have is that it tries to be both, but in many respects, it ultimately feels like neither. The more I play of The Elder Scrolls Online, the more confident I am in the assertion that it is its own beast, for better and for worse.

One could go on and on about the extensive lore and backstory that Bethesda has created for its flagship role-playing series, and by extension, how all of these races and factions figure into the world of The Elder Scrolls Online, but underneath the swath of narrative permutations is a common narrative thread that ties everything together. That journey, as well as the hundreds of others you'll inevitably take, is best left to you to discover. All you need to know at this point is that the Daedric Prince Molag Bal is shoring up his power to transform the mortal world into his own private hell.

What I will divulge, however, is the strength of most of the PvE content. Player vs. Environment content is often viewed in MMO communities as a means to an end; a series of gates that block the way between you and the endgame, where you elevate your character to godlike status with mounds of loot and experience. This is not par for the course for most MMORPGs; most (Warcraft included) are filled with tedious waypoint-chasing fetch quests that involve special items and enemies. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you end up on a questline that is actually well-written and gives you a great reason to actually do it -- that is, besides the experience, currency, and items. Some of them are stinkers, but really, it's forgivable. The only misstep in this department is one that is shared by all other games in the series: the writing doesn't really do anything to make you feel invested and in touch with the goings on in Tamriel.


When it comes to difficulty, The Elder Scrolls Online is par for the course as far as massively multiplayer online role playing games go. That means it most certainly isn't par for the course as far as an Elder Scrolls game goes, and for that matter, any Bethesda-developed role-playing game I can think of. Enemies do not scale to your level; if you wander too far from the path you're designated to be capable of walking, you will end up dead. Often.

If you're a newcomer to MMORPGs and have experience with The Elder Scrolls, certain aspects of the gameplay may help ease the transition. Standard damage per second combat feels somewhat similar to the mad flailing that got everyone through Oblivion and Skyrim, though the ability mapping may only be familiar to those who played these games on PC. Chances are, the console players are holding out for the console release, so all in all, there isn't too much of a learning curve here.

Game Mechanics:

The Elder Scrolls Online attempts to strike a balance between the playstyle of previous games in the series and its MMORPG contemporaries. As mentioned before, the level of success is a bit dubious, though. But the good news is that it's definitely workable and quite often very fun. Present is the trademark first-person navigation that the series has been known for since Arena; it's kind of a no brainer, since most fans of the series might have taken a look at this game in strict third-person and decided it looked just like any other MMO. Navigation and communication are handled well, though some parts aren't as fleshed out very well; unfortunate, considering every single game of this type in this era should have these parts down pat, newcomer or not.

This complaint ties into the game's user-production mechanics; naturally, I'm talking about crafting. If you're going to invest heavily in these skills, know who your audience is. At the time of this writing, The Elder Scrolls Online features no kind of forum that you can conveniently ply your trade with the aspiring adventurers who might be looking for the exact kind of gear you created. The lack of an auction house makes these activities feel distracting and superfluous. Of course, every MMORPG is a work in progress until the day it is shut down forever, so there's absolutely no reason to worry at this point.

Things fare better in the meat of the experience: going out into various regions in Tamriel and getting things done. Make no mistake: the combat here is as willy-nilly and inelegant as it's ever been, and though the spontaneous (and often highly amusing) death animations of Elder Scrolls games past have been replaced with canned ones, it's still fun fighting the forces of Coldharbour.

The Elder Scrolls Online is a solid start, but with the waning influence of the genre it occupies and its lack of meaningful innovation, it's difficult to predict its trajectory. If you're a hardcore fan of massively multiplayer online games, you're going to want to check this game out on the merits of its legendary pedigree alone. Whether it stays with you or not depends highly on what you want to get out of an online Elder Scrolls game. Its heart is absolutely in the right place, but its head... not always so much.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows XP 32-bit, Dual Core 2.0GHz or equivalent processor, 2GB System RAM, 60GB free HDD space, DirectX 9.0 compliant video card with 512MB of RAM (NVIDIA GeForce 8800 / ATI Radeon 2600 or better), DirectX compatible sound card

Test System:

ASUS G74S Series, Intel Core I7 - 2670QM, 2.2 GHz, Windows 7 Premium, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M, 12 GB RAM

Related Links:

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