Fourteen months on from its launch on PC, The Elder Scrolls Online finally arrives on console with its subscription fees dropped and a new business model. This leaves us with two questions on our minds as we fire up the PS4: how well has TESO survived the transition, and how well is it holding up? On the first count, pretty well. And the second? We’re not so sure. A year is a long time in gaming, and while cheap eso gold for sale remains a solid MMO with a few odd quirks, it now looks and feels weirdly dated. Meanwhile, the tension between the solo RPG roots of the series and what we expect from an MMO isn’t getting any better. We still like ESO – don’t get us wrong – but we don’t like it quite as much as we did last year.
So what does the transition to consoles mean for the MMO? First and foremost, ditching subscriptions was easily the best decision Bethesda could have made, specifically for console players too. Expecting console players to pay $60 for the game, with many already paying for a premium service like Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus, and on top of that pay a monthly fee just to play the game would be absolutely absurd. So naturally, now players have a much smaller barrier of entry. Sure, the game still costs $60 new, but that’s all the money you’ll have to spend to actually get access to all of the content. Unlike EA and Bioware’s The Old Republic which retroactively blocks users from accessing a bunch of content unless they pay for it or subscribe, The Elder Scrolls: Tamriel Unlimited gives players unfettered access to the entirety of the world, and all of its quests. So kudos Bethesda on making that move.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a game so titanically vast you could lose yourself in it for hundreds of hours and still stumble across new places. The fact that Skyrim is just one region of Tamriel tells you all you need to know about the mind-blowing potential of The Elder Scrolls Online, which splices this scale with a population of thousands of real players. While the landmass is just as intimidatingly endless as you’d imagine, the experience of playing Tamriel Unlimited lacks the atmosphere and solemnity of the earlier single-player games. Wherever you go you’ll find players running in all directions, swarming enemies and standing in loose gaggles around important points in quests, blasting immersion-breaking drum’n’bass over voice chat or talking loudly to other people in the room with them. Mechanically things fair slightly better, its relatively dull quests underpinned by solid combat and complex, hard-won upgrade paths. It’s not pretty, never coming close to last month’s Witcher 3, and can feel a little monotonous as you trudge between similarly structured busy work, although it is very early days for a game designed to be played for months on end.
At the beginning of the game your character escapes from prison in the daedric realm of Coldharbour. Your soul has been stolen by the daedric prince Molag Bal, and with the help of some new allies you return to Tamriel as the Vestige, a Chosen One among a great many other Chosen Ones. From there you are looking at around a hundred hours of questing to reach the level cap of 50, with competitive play available from level 10 and story-advancing special missions occurring every five levels or so. This is an MMO of the prescriptive, content-driven sort: where Morrowind might have spurred you on with the promise of the unknown, The Elder Scrolls Online furnishes you with an experience you’ve already had if you’ve played a fantasy MMO in the last couple of years. Its happiest players will be the ones who are looking for a new leveling curve to surmount, and that’s fine in principle – but execution matters too.
The solo experience doesn’t always fare much better. While Elder Scrolls Online’s combat certainly captures the feel of a game like Skyrim – especially if played in first-person mode – that feel is squishier and less precise than what I’ve come to expect from MMOs. Using ranged weapons or abilities and trying to switch between multiple targets only worked for me about half of the time. It wasn’t until a dozen hours into the game that I realized the reason for this: It uses a traditional MMO lock-on targeting system but just hides the lock-on.
It’s tempting to write off subscription MMOs completely, but there are some signs of life in the sector: Final Fantasy 14 is doing quite well, and the forthcoming WildStar is in the final stages of a persuasive charm offensive with the MMO community. But there are only fleeting signs of life in The Elder Scrolls Online gold itself – and few of them have anything to do with The Elder Scrolls. Maybe this grand project sounded like a good idea in 2007, but now it feels like a leftover obligation: a game no-one really asked for, and a flawed premise from the start.