Over last weekend I was able to take part in the console beta for Elder Scrolls Online. Now, I’ve never played MMOs before – the idea of a subscription fee, on top of the cost of the game turned me off. But now that MMOs are turning more and more to free-to-play models, I’m finding myself thinking about them a bit more. Elder Scrolls Online was always there in my mind, just because I am a big fan of the series in general. Of course, free-to-play doesn’t exactly mean free, and I’m sure in the full game the pay options make the grind easier. But I went in this weekend relatively open minded, more interested in getting a feel for the mechanics and maybe make my mind up about picking up the game when it launches this summer.
What ESO has going for it best is the universe. The world of Tamriel benefits from over twenty years of games, with an incredibly in depth lore that’s been crafted. The action/gameplay has also evolved over the last 10 years or so to be a really nice, refined RPG system – especially following Skyrim. Ultimately though, those same strengths really kept me from being super engaged in ESO. I found myself playing faster than I normally do with Elder Scrolls games, just so I could get to the public zones to see what the MMO aspects were like. In the end I didn’t really want to worry about other people in my game, I was more interested in going slow, reading everything, exploring every corner of every room, and in the end, I wanted this to be a single player experience.
There is plenty to like here – the action is pretty solid, the game looks good, and there’s still the same level of detail that we expect from Elder Scrolls Games. The story seems like it’s one of the stronger Elder Scrolls entries in recent memory. The main quest in Skyrim was never really the main draw for me, while Oblivion did grab me, once I actually started playing it. I think by telling the story of the three warring factions has potential – but, again, I think telling it in the context of the classic Elder Scrolls style game would be a stronger experience. It puts more freedom in the player’s hands – from a role playing perspective, you can play multiple roles within the scope of the story. For example, the Aldmeri Dominion only features the High Elves, Wood Elves and Khajiit as playable races. But I think playing as one of the other races, within the context of the Dominion opens up other interesting options for story-telling.
Ultimately, I don’t think that Elder Scrolls Online has made it’s way into my list for this summer. It’s solid, but I’m already overstocked with RPGs – Dragon Age, Diablo III, Borderlands and Destiny – as it is, adding an MMO is a major timesink. It’s something that I would probably recommend for new comers to RPGs, since it does a pretty solid job of explaining everything, but in the end, I’m more interested in other games this year.