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The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited Imperial Edition

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Zenimax Online
Media: Download/1
Players: 2 - 99 (Online Play Required)
Genre: MMORPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

I like the Elder Scrolls series. Loved Skyrim; who wouldn't? Well, RPG geeks out there like me can prepare to "get their Nord on" with The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.

Graphically speaking, this game is all Elder Scrolls and fans of the series will be familiar with the environments, races, magical effects and yes, the sweet rolls. The Mudcrabs are here, too, but not as hostile as you might remember them. Well, that is until you attack them - and then they're all going to come after you. This is undoubtedly intended as a game-balancing change, but it is addressed in the lore; something is causing them to be less hostile until provoked. I love that about the series - so much work is put into the little things, such as the lore, the crafting and the multitudinous books scattered about the lands.

What will really start the rush of Elder Scrolls Nostalgia is the music. The beautiful, moving, orchestral scores do their best to support and reinforce the environment and context of the game, becoming tense and exciting during battles and being more serene when traveling across the countryside.

All of the in-game NPC dialogue if fully-voiced. To me, that breathes life into a game. I get annoyed at games that require you to read dialogue - even more so with games that have elaborate text to read and some short exclamation that the NPC says. (What is that about?) Tamriel Unlimited features a wide variety of interesting characters, with their own hopes, desires, motivations and positions, and with unique voices that, generally, fit the character well.


While The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is all Elder Scrolls, it's also definitely an MMORPG. This requires some trade-offs. There is a delicate balance between a game that celebrates you - the hero of the story - and the thousands of other players who need, at least from their viewpoint, to be the hero of their stories, as well. Not every soldier can be a five star general, and not everyone in the Star Wars universe can be a Jedi. However, if players don't feel like they're the center of the universe when they play a game, they very well might opt not to play.

To manage this, Tamriel Unlimited tries to present things a little differently to you than to others. When you engage an NPC, we cut away to an interaction view where you see the person as facing you during your conversation. Other players can approach during that time and they see their own interaction as having the NPC's full attention. Also, when you participate in killing a NPC enemy or creature, you have your own instance of whatever inventory they have on them. Other players can't pick up things that you have access to, doing away with the necessity of a Need/Greed or loot divvying system. In this respect, it's more like you're playing a single-player RPG in the same space as other people.

Imperial Edition Features:

  • White Imperial Horse
    • Note: Horses are really useful, given the size of Tamriel... and they're really expensive in-game.
  • Trusty Mudcrab pet
  • Access to Imperial Gear
    • Craft it or transform your gear to the Imperial Style(!)
  • Rings of Mara
    • Perform the Ritual of Mara and you and a friend gain an experience bonus when playing together.

The combat system feels much more Skyrim than MMO. You don't click on an enemy, then auto-fight or kick off actions; you're fighting just like in a first or third-person action game, much like Skyrim. This is a nice touch and fits the license nicely, however, I wasn't very pleased with the action mapping system, which seemed a bit restrictive, in my opinion. For some reason, I found it exceedingly too easy to accidentally attack a guard, thrusting me into a very short-lived life of crime. And, when I tried my hand at mass-murdering a single NPC who respawns really quickly (for the loot), I found myself with a 19,000+ gp bounty... which was considerably more gold than I had. The result of such tomfoolery? I am attacked (and killed) on sight in any of the civilized cities (which is any place not taken over by cultists and the like, really) and, when killed, any gold I happen to have on my person is taken from me to go towards my bill. Even wandering merchants in the wild won't deal with me until I've paid off my bounty. If you want to pay off a bounty without being killed first, you can sneak into an Outlaw's hideout and pay it, but you have to actually have the gold to pay off your bounty.

Oh, and whether it's the guards or baddies beating on you, your items take damage when you get hit. So, when you're on the wrong side of the law and merchants won't deal with you, it can be difficult to get your armor repaired and, eventually, it won't be doing much for you. So, if you plan on going rogue, you may want to stock up on some repair kits, pricey though they may be. Or, you could travel to Cyrodiil, where the merchants are more willing to deal with those in the same faction, even if they are of dubious morality. In the end, however, it seems like the old adage holds true: crime doesn't pay.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited stays true to the lore of The Elder Scrolls in the PVE quests, but they generally seem to fall short of the Skyrim mark, which might be largely due to the other players running around. The PVP gameplay, which becomes available when you reach level 10, has you fighting for your faction in order to seize control of Cyrodiil... and that makes for some fun multiplayer gameplay. (Note: That's coming from someone who generally prefers Story or Campaign modes over Multiplayer.)

Cyrodiil features an array of fortified towers interconnected with roads. Taking control of these towers and roads is the key to controlling Cyrodiil. It takes a guild to take command of a tower and, when it does, that tower belongs to that guild's faction and is listed as being controlled by that guild. However, a guild can only control one tower at a time, so it will take a lot of guilds to control all of Cyrodiil. These PVP skirmishes can be pretty big and highly chaotic, but ultimately... lots of fun as you talk back and forth with your fellow guild members and try to overrun a tower or strategize how to defend and retain the one you control. Anyone level 10 or higher can enter Cyrodiil and you'll belong to a faction, but when you're in a PVP war zone, you want players that have your back, are working with you and are willing to point you in the right direction. With practice, commitment and luck, a guild can provide this for you. For example, when I joined the Knights of The Blackblood, one of the players walked me through teleporting to the group's location and explained how to get around Cyrodiil via the Transitus Shrines. Oh, and you don't have to be overly selective when deciding to join a guild, since you can belong to up to five guilds at the same time.

As for the Imperial Edition itself, you get some perks that are pretty nice, making it a good deal... if they're things you'll use. First and foremost, there's a pretty decent horse. A decent horse will cost you quite a bit in-game - more than seems reasonable, actually, at over 40,000 gp. Given that, it's not bad to have a mount from the very beginning, so you can traverse the vast area that is Tamriel and make your way across the large Cyrodiil war zone to join your comrades on the fields of battle. You'll also have access to Imperials as a playable race. So, that's cool, if you get this version, but I don't understand why there would be a lesser version that excludes a single race from being playable. Also, I've heard that lesser editions of the game let you select your race and then it assigns a faction based on what race you select, whereas the Imperial Edition allows you to select your race and your faction separately. I don't see why these are "perks"... These aspects of the Imperial Edition feel like it should be the "base" edition and the lesser editions are somehow a "crippled" version. This one's mainly better because the other one has settings disabled.

The ability to craft Imperial gear is nice, but the ability to transform existing gear into the Imperial style is amazing! What magic is this?! Okay, it's not amazingly good or amazingly useful, but amazing in the "wait, you can do what?" sort of way. Don't think that you're going to go into business transforming gear into the Imperial style and then selling it, though, as the process binds it to your character. Still, you can change any gear you like into the Imperial style, which is pretty sweet, if you adopt that as your personal style. The Rings of Mara are pretty sweet, if you play with someone often enough that they're your in-game "significant other." I believe any two players' characters can be joined with this ritual, so same-sex Mara-iages shouldn't be a problem. And, one small ritual and you get bonus experience when you play with each other.


Now, while the guards will cut me down if I accidentally attack one, I generally found the fights I was supposed to engage in to be somewhere between easy and mildly challenging. However, this is in part due to the assistance of strangers. When players see another player who appears to be somewhat overwhelmed with their current fight, they often attack it, as well, which changes the difficulty dynamic instantly and usually ends in the quick death of the creature.

Sadly, these same unpredictable roaming bands of other players will occasionally come try their hand at the treasure chest you're trying to unlock (and finish it before you, making the thing disappear) or they may hang out around a boss (or even other NPCs) and just waylay them every time they re-spawn. (Spawn-camping is easy when there's only one spawn point.) These not only lower the difficulty, but can change it completely: the fear of the boss killing you is effectively eliminated, but you might find it challenging to attack it quickly enough to get a hit in before its dead, making it difficult to complete the quest... but for all the wrong reasons.

Generally, the difficulty I experienced in the game stemmed from not having enough inventory slots to carry stuff around, accidentally attacking an NPC while trying to dismount, or other players interrupting my quest. That is, until I ran deeply afoul of the law. Then, trying to buy and sell things became difficult and that made it much more difficult to get together the money I needed to pay my bounty. Don't break the law, kids; it's not worth it.

Game Mechanics:

One difference that detracts from my experience quite a lot is the inventory system. In Skyrim, I would collect, well, pretty much anything I could pick up. I am one of those types of players. You never know when a piece of string or a ruined book might come in handy. Yes, I know that sounds like it should be a joke, but I've thrown shields down on top of pressure plates in Skyrim to activate a trap, among other weird uses for in-game objects. I would collect so much that I would be over-encumbered and then just move ever-so-slowly about the world, drawing my bow and notching an arrow to get a very, very slight increase in speed. That was me in Skyrim.

Tamriel Unlimited, on the other hand, has a hard limit (ironically enough) on how much you can carry. This limit starts at 60 inventory slots, but you can "buy bags" to increase your inventory slots (10 at a time), at prices that seem to follow an exponential curve. These aren't bags you carry around, but when you "buy a bag," your inventory limit is increased by 10 slots. Even so, I would suggest picking them up as you can afford them, because you can't always get to a bank when you're out in the wilds, and it's not fun trying to select which of your hard-earned treasures you want to destroy to pick up loot off a body or even collect your reward to complete a quest.

Yes, I said destroy, not merely drop and then pick back up. Part of the translation to a massively multiplayer online world was the removal of the ability to drop items back into the environment. I assume that's so players don't bring a server to a standstill by simply dropping all of their inventory into the environment at the same place and time as a thousand of their friends. Another result of this "dumbing-down" of the item/inventory system is that each bookshelf, despite its appearance, has a single readable tome. Mind you, you can't take it with you, either, but you read it while you're there. There are still lore books a plenty and books that increase skills, but finding a bookshelf in Skyrim means a whole lot of chance for skill points or lore, while in Tamriel Unlimited, you're limited to one shot per bookcase.

Meanwhile, the extracurricular activities, such as cooking, brewing, crafting armor, clothes and weapons, enchanting items and creating potions are all here and, apparently, as in-depth as they are in Skyrim. However, with the limited inventory system, you are forced to pick and choose what to harvest and collect, even when you can gain information about newly discovered reagents, such as flowers and mushrooms, while you're exploring, which makes them useful without having to find a recipe. If you decide to do any crafting of any sort, the inventory system will feel restrictive.

I know it sounds like I'm harping on this whole inventory thing, but it really does skew the dynamic of the game, limiting your choices and forcing you to destroy things you could have used later or sold to a merchant.

One bothersome feature of the game is the area chat, which is on by default. The concept of being able to talk to other player characters just as easily and naturally as the guards greet you when you pass sounds great. And, it would be... if everyone played with that in mind, actually role-played their characters and played from inside a recording studio. However, since that isn't the case, what you get, instead, is white noise from the guy playing under a ceiling fan, some dude's wife yelling to him from the other room, a baby crying, some young delinquent loudly cursing for no obvious reason, the loudest parts (cutting in from time to time) of the dialogue from some movie which is playing in somebody's house... and music from this game being caught by the headset of some other player who must have his sound turned up really loud... all appropriately getting louder or softer as you approach and depart from the individual with the annoying audio problem. So, you'll want to disable area chat. But, since it's on by default, you'll need to do that every time you start a new gaming session.

Personally, I simply disable all chat, unless I'm playing with a group and then use group or maybe guild chat. Otherwise, there really is too much audio that merely serves to annoy.

Tamriel Unlimited is no Skyrim. However, fans of Skyrim who want a new Elder Scrolls experience and prefer Skyrim's action-based combat and first/third-person camera experiences might enjoy the game. There are issues, here and there, but there are hours upon hours of content, vast areas to explore and no subscription; you just have to have a subscription to PlayStation Plus.

If you're ready to jump in and help to take Cyrodiil, get on in here and Join the Knights of The Blackblood. I'll see you in Tamriel...

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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