IT’S AN MMO YOU SAY?

The El­der Scrolls On­line

HWM (Singapore) - - Test - by AdePu­tra

It’s an idea we’ve all con­sid­ered: ex­plor­ing the vast lands of Tam­riel with a friend or two by our side, loot­ing Dwe­mer ru­ins, pluck­ing Nirn­roots and fight­ing mud­crabs. Though valiant in their ef­forts, the mod­ders never came close, leav­ing this mon­u­men­tal dream to newly-minted stu­dio ZeniMax On­line. Now here they are with The El­der Scrolls On­line – megaserver, party quests, PvP and all.

Is it any good, though? The an­swer largely de­pends on what you’re look­ing for, as this game isn’t ex­actly clear on what it wants to be. As an El­der Scrolls fan I find the ex­pe­ri­ence more trou­ble than it’s worth, re­in­forc­ing the urge to go back to my sin­gle-player havens in­stead. The ex­pe­ri­ence is far bet­ter af­ter con­stant self-re­minders that this is an MMO, and even then I needed the aid of mods to sort things out.

One of my main sources of frus­tra­tion with The El­der Scrolls On­line is in its ex­e­cu­tion. We’re treated to the same first- and third­per­son views we know and love only to be jarred out of our reverie by the re­al­i­ties of la­tency and MMO-de­signed com­bat. Those dis­crep­an­cies made ev­ery­thing feel off – hence my need for the re­minders – and it’s a feel­ing that never goes away.

My so­lu­tion was to make it look less like The El­der Scrolls and more like an MMO. Keep the cam­era zoomed out, have float­ing dam­age num­bers, in­stall a multi-quest tracker; so much so that vis­its to Nexus Mods be­came daily rou­tine. I ad­mit it’s con­sid­er­ably meta as half the fun of the fran­chise is in mod­ding, but this oc­ca­sion was mostly ne­ces­sity rather than fun.

With that out of the way, I had to come to grips with the re­stric­tive game­play. I lamented the ab­sent stealth sys­tem, for Night­blades op­er­ate more like dam­age-vom­it­ing rogues than sneaky as­sas­sins. Melee com­bat isn’t too en­ter­tain­ing or ef­fec­tive with­out a shield, and ranged com­bat’s lock-on sys­tem feels out­dated. That leaves the magic-wield­ing Sorcerer, a class I ul­ti­mately set­tled for.

It’s re­stric­tive in the sense that choos­ing a class means get­ting locked into cer­tain play styles, mak­ing freeform choices an un­vi­able de­ci­sion for group con­tent. That is, of course, on top of the Al­liance re­stric­tions al­ready lev­elled against play­ers. If you love be­ing a Kha­jit (Ald­meri Do­min­ion) but your friend wants to be a Nord (Ebon­heart Pact) then tough luck – ei­ther make a sec­ond choice or pay more to get the exclusive, Al­liance-free Im­pe­rial race.

Now that we’ve got­ten char­ac­ter cre­ation out of the way, things are chug­ging along and we get our first quest to de­feat a named char­ac­ter post-tu­to­rial. Splen­did! Time to see how hard we get our asses kicked, ex­cept this time we didn’t.

CON­CLU­SION If you lean to­wards PvP and are look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent to Guild Wars 2, you could give El­der Scrolls On­line a shot.

In fact, it was the boss who was al­ready ly­ing face down in the dirt, sur­rounded by a mob of play­ers wait­ing to beat him into obliv­ion in the mo­ment he respawns. These non-in­stanced ar­eas are the most dis­ap­point­ing of all, killing all no­tion of risky ad­ven­ture and leav­ing only mere check­points that feel like a to-do list.

To give credit where it’s due, The El­der Scrolls On­line lives up to its prom­ise on lore. There’s plenty of con­tent to im­merse in, be it books (re­mem­ber some of them give free ex­pe­ri­ence!), quests or the var­i­ous lo­ca­tions. Pay at­ten­tion, and chances are the game will elicit a few chuck­les or nods of recog­ni­tion out of you.

I’m not fond of the main story as they went with the hor­ri­ble mis­take of in­volv­ing prophe­cies and thwart­ing daedric princes. Yes, its se­ries tra­di­tion that the scrolls foretell these things, but when ev­ery other player also hap­pens to be the Soul­less One you can’t help but won­der whether this is an im­pres­sive mys­ti­cal scam or a very des­per­ate prophet.

There’s also the sec­ondary story re­volv­ing around the three-way PVP Al­liance War for the Ruby Throne in Cy­rodill, which is where the fu­ture of this game prob­a­bly lies. Fight­ing for the Em­peror’s crown and all the ben­e­fits that come with it? ZeniMax On­line, dou­ble down on this!

The Al­liance War is con­ducted via cam­paigns of ter­ri­to­rial con­trol, re­ward­ing the fac­tion that man­ages to cap­ture all six keeps sur­round­ing the Im­pe­rial City. It in­volves siege weapons and var­i­ous oth­ers ways for play­ers to con­trib­ute, mak­ing this the lifeblood of the game at the mo­ment. You can par­tic­i­pate upon hit­ting Level 10 but I’d rec­om­mend con­sid­er­ing it late-game con­tent.

I’m con­scious of the fact that con­ces­sions were needed for de­vel­op­ing an MMO, to which I counter: Did we re­ally need to chase this model in the first place? What we ended up with is some­thing that does nei­ther “The El­der Scrolls” nor “MMO” par­tic­u­larly well, and I can’t help but won­der if a co-op af­fair in the style of Border­lands would have fared bet­ter. Granted I’ve barely scratched end-game con­tent but if the jour­ney is al­ready this te­dious then clearly some­thing is wrong. As of now there’s lit­tle here that com­pels me to stay. Not to men­tion ZeniMax On­line shoot­ing them­selves in the foot re­quir­ing new users to buy the game plus an additional month sub­scrip­tion, mak­ing it an ab­surdly high up-front in­vest­ment.

The lifeblood of El­der Scrolls On­line at present seems to be the Al­liance War me­chanic.

For all its game­play medi­ocrity, its graph­ics is top notch for an MMO ti­tle.

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