The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited Review – Castles Built of Sand and Fog

The massive world of Tamriel makes the transition to a persistent online realm in the Elder Scrolls Online. Is this a world you should be invested in?

Posted By | On 06th, Jul. 2015 Under Article, Reviews


With the increasing popularity and proliferation of online worlds, however, it seemed almost inevitable that Bethesda would answer the call and bring Tamriel to the online world, capturing a new generation of online gamers, while enticing those familiar with its world to return, if only for the promise of a fully realized Tamriel, with new quests, adventures, locales and enemies, just begging to be explored.

ESO features a fairly robust character creation system, with a plethora of aesthetic options. On the flip side, if you’re just looking for a quick, decent looking character, the randomize button can adjust all these settings at once, on the fly.

There are nine distinct races that players can choose from, each with their own passive racial bonuses and abilities. One race may have an inherent boost to magic, while another may have a resistance to hostile spells. Like other Elder Scrolls games, these passive racial abilities are helpful, but since character progression can basically let you overcome any weakness, they aren’t nearly as important as in other role-playing franchises.

While having only four classes seems a bit limited, especially in comparison to other modern MMO’s, the character progression system is equipped to handle the missing workload offered by additional classes. Similar to most MMO’s, you complete quests and take down enemies to level up. The twist here is that any skill can be leveled up, the more you use it, in true Elder Scrolls fashion.

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" Most of the quests you’ll run across are multilayered, requiring you to perform a series of objectives, this makes the quests seem more involved than simple fetch or kill quests."

In a sense, raising your skill levels is more important than upping your player level, as your skills can be improved or new skills can be unlocked only after meeting certain skill level prerequisites. There are also “ultimate” skills that function like finishing moves, allowing you to more easily take on large groups of foes or boss class monsters that have oodles of hit points.

For example, blocking with a shield and then swinging a sword will slowly increase your one handed and shield skill. Want to snipe enemies from a distance? No problem, just equip that maple bow you found on that skeleton archer, and start firing, and your bow skill will increase with every hit. Want to fry an enemy with some fireballs? No sweat. Just pick up that nifty fire staff and launch some burning goodness their way. Your destruction staff skill will increase, making you a better destruction staff user, no matter which class you are.

Presumably, in MMO terms, at face value, the four classes represent tank/healer, ranged damage, tank/melee, and ranged/melee damage, however roles in a group can be, (and frequently are) rotated on a regular basis.

Your main source of experience is completing quests. Most of the quests you’ll run across are multilayered, requiring you to perform a series of objectives, this makes the quests seem more involved than simple fetch or kill quests. In regards to character progression, it’s a far more methodical pacing than most MMO type games. This may be familiar to gamers who are experienced with the Elder Scrolls series but for those who prefer a faster paced game, in terms of progression, they may be put off.

You also get a skill point per level up. These can be placed into any skill line you prefer. Any class can basically place a skill point into any of their class skills, weapon skills, armor skills, or crafting skills, as well as faction only skills that can be found and joined throughout the game.

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" Graphically, everything looks rather well done. In true Elder Scrolls style, almost every surface in and around towns have an intricate, well worn quality, as if wizened by age and the elements. "

Story quests become available every so often at specific levels and reveal more of the story, though the decision to do these is completely up to you, as you can make your way through the world without ever touching upon the main story, outside of the tutorial level, if you prefer.

While you’re out adventuring, you’ll invariably come across many staples of the Elder Scrolls, like monuments, which can be used to fast travel to zones you’ve visited previously.  The crafting system is about as in depth as any MMO out there, featuring a wide range of professions, materials and player created items.

Most crafting professions include skill lines as well, that you can improve with spare skill points, enabling you to be a better craftsman. Most of these come in the form of passive improvements to your crafting abilities, like small percentages increases or an improved ability to find raw materials.

Graphically, everything looks rather well done. In true Elder Scrolls style, almost every surface in and around towns have an intricate, well worn quality, as if wizened by age and the elements.

In terms of player interaction, social interaction in ESO is handled mostly though voice chat. Even without a compatible headset, there are on screen icons that enable you to manage group invitations and friend settings. A wealth of emojis can also be used from the menu, indicating if you’re taking a lunch break, need healing, or presumably, someone just stole your car.

From a psychological perspective, ESO presents a unique case. It features the addictive quality found in most MMOs, in regards to that reward based gameplay, however, whereas other MMOs dole out these incentives on a regular basis, ESO does so only incrementally.

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" This creates a strange disconnect between the player and the world, almost as if you’re a wandering spirit, never truly part of the larger, living, breathing ecosystem."

As a result, as you travel the lush landscape of Tamriel, taking down enemies and completing quests, you become more powerful, but only just so. Even though you save towns and avenge restless spirits, and take down tyrannical leaders of hidden cults, none of it feels weighty or meaningful, as if you’re a member of the world, but ultimately detached. This extends to the game’s variety of dungeons too, which can be stumbled upon in the world or accessed via the dungeon finder. This creates a strange disconnect between the player and the world, almost as if you’re a wandering spirit, never truly part of the larger, living, breathing ecosystem.

Whereas the previous Elder Scrolls games let you make world-altering decisions and embark on seemingly epic quests, such as ridding the land of slavery, closing the doors to Oblivion, ESO seems content in its mediocrity. It’s formulaic to the point of being spectacularly unremarkable.

In the end, ESO is a bag of mixed messages. For every gorgeous landscape and picturesque vista, there is also tedium and meandering. For every multi-layered quest, rich in Tamrelian history and lore, there is the uneven pacing, and comparatively slow progression. For every in depth narrative found by obsessively searching bookshelves, there is the capricious dungeon raiding, sidelined by any rhyme or reason. ESO is at its best where it has always shined, as a rich single player experience, with a world steeped in myth and lore. Ultimately, that’s what ESO is, a rich single player experience, you just happen to be playing alongside other people.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.

THE GOOD

Massive world to explore; Graphics have some nice touches here and there; Voice chat is much easier than a virtual keyboard; Insane amount of in game lore to digest.

THE BAD

Actions have no feeling of weight or importance; Crafting system is tedious; Has the look and feel of an MMO, but the gameplay of a single player experience; Classes aren't terribly original or exciting.

Final Verdict

The venerable Elder Scrolls series survives the transition to an online game, minus the online aspects that are actually enjoyable.

A copy of this game was provided by developer/publisher for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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  • xravishx

    I have to disagree a bit with the “wandering spirit” description. Not totally because that’s how all Elder Scrolls games play. You definitely wander around a lot doing things that may or may not have an impact on the world as a whole. However, the world changes a lot more than I expected. Each change is actually very slight where sometimes it’s a matter of characters placed differently or maybe it’s a town full of people who have been turned to stone that now walk around. What I think ESO does particularly well is making you believe that the changes are more grand than they actually are.

    The one thing I almost fully agree with the author on is the idea that players play what feels like a single-player game, but with other people. I think, though, that’s what people wanted as far as ESO goes in general. People love the single-player experience. But, I can say how many times I’ve thought or said that it would be cool to play the game with others. Now I can!

    The one thing I almost fully agree with the author on is the idea that players play what feels like a single-player game, but with other people. I think, though, that’s what people wanted as far as ESO goes in general. People love the single-player experience. But, I can say how many times I’ve thought or said that it would be cool to play the game with others. Now I can!

    • Heartwarmedtoothless

      That last paragraph right there sums it all up for every ES fan and FALLOUT fan… With Skyrim I just wished I could see random people online roaming about doing their own things and that’s what they did with ESO

    • Allison Miranda

      You’re quite right that since voice acting has come to the
      Elder Scrolls series, it has increased the depth and level of immersion in
      regards to suspending our disbelief that Tamriel is this massive world. That being said, however, I certainly think
      it’s possible to get that feeling without having voice acting. Take Morrowind, for example. I can’t tell you how many hours I lost in
      what was arguably a smaller piece of Tamriel as a whole.

      A number of small changes may occur over time in ESO, but I
      was referencing a bigger picture, whereas comparatively, previous Elder Scrolls
      titles have world altering events that are both immediately visible and
      sometimes historic. Referencing
      Morrowind, you can literally end slavery.
      This not only has lasting consequences, but also significantly affects
      the social and cultural norms of the entire world.

      Sort of like when you finish Oblivion and defeat Molag Bal,
      it has a lasting impact throughout the world that is immediately visible and
      world altering.

      I suppose I was just hoping ESO would have some signs of this
      holistic approach rather than a series of smaller scale events.

      In the end, reviews are going to be subjective anyway and
      none of us is ever going to agree with every aspect of every review out there,
      but our shared passion for gaming comes through in every post !

      Thanks for the comment !

  • Zewp

    “This creates a strange disconnect between the player and the world, almost as if you’re a wandering spirit, never truly part of the larger, living, breathing ecosystem.”

    So exactly like Skyrim then?

    • Allison Miranda

      Oh, be nice.


 

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