On the eve of The Elder Scrolls Online’s release about two months ago, I wrote a generally optimistic first impressions preview on this very website about a game that I was pretty excited for. The Elder Scrolls Online showed great promise as a new heavyweight contender in the arena of MMORPG’s. It has a lot going for it; a rich lore-filled world beloved by many, the popularity of Skyrim to push its name out to the masses and some unique features to help it stand out from the crowd. As a subscription MMORPG, it had the “premium” tag slapped right across it but this wasn’t a barrier to hardcore Elder Scrolls fans like myself. Yet, since its launch two months ago, many people have been throwing their hands in the air and cancelling their subscription, myself included.
So what went wrong?
Firstly, allow me to sum up the amazing experiences I’ve had with The Elder Scrolls Online. As noted in my original impressions, exploring the world of Tamriel is one of the game’s strengths. Much like Skyrim, you’re encouraged to wander off the beaten path to find public dungeons, side quests and items known as Skyshards which grant you a fresh skill point for every three you find. Wayshrines are dotted across the countryside/swamplands/active volcanoes for you to quickly fast travel, or you can save up your coin and gallop around on horseback. Many of the quests and dungeons you’ll find are copied across the three factions, but they’re designed so you’ll probably never notice or care. The characters and story have some high points and each race’s unique area really digs deep into the lore, but chances are you’ll skip through most of the chatter in a eager rush to see what comes next. When you realise that Bill Nighy is the voice of the Daggerfall Covenant leader, you’ll probably want to pledge your alliance to him though, and for that I can’t blame you.
Gameplay, as previously described in my impressions, is a hybrid mix of Skyrim’s first person combat and traditional MMO skills and abilities, although you can choose to play in third person. At level 15, you can swap between two weapons but you can only equip five skills at a time per weapon, which makes your choice of active skills quite limited. This can be a problem if you have many skills, and that’s one thing that the Elder Scrolls Online does well; there are many skills you can unlock and use. You choose a class, like most MMORPG’s, but from there you can decide where to assign your skills. Class skills use Magicka and are separate from weapon skills, which use Stamina. Separating them means you can master any weapon you like for whatever class combination you desire. Other skill trees can be found by joining guilds, which also open up more quests, and even by becoming a vampire or werewolf. There is a lot of freedom and re-specing skills is as easy as one-two-three.
Crafting becomes necessary early on as simply buying and repairing armour costs too much, but crafting itself is incredibly addictive, with some crafting types such as alchemy and enchanting varying enough from blacksmithing etc. to keep it interesting. I found gathering items to be easy and fun early on, although levelling up my crafting skills became more of a grind on the higher levels. But simply join a trading guild and you can partake of their guild auction house. There is no world auction house in The Elder Scrolls Online; instead, individual guilds can set up their own. This may seem a bit odd at first, but you can join up to five guilds at a time.
And so, we move on to the combat. See, I find the mix of Skyrim-like first person action and skills enjoyable. I was really enjoying sneaking around with my bow and shooting people in the back as the Nightblade class, or swapping to my two daggers and slicing people into satisfying pieces within seconds. Well, I was enjoying myself until I discovered that my class was fundamentally broken and many of my skills didn’t actually work.
You see, the beta had a lot of problems – and it had a lot of bugs. These problems and these bugs were not fixed. In fact, much of the Elder Scrolls Online feels incomplete as Zenimax ran out of time to finish the game and push it out of the door for the fabled release date of 04/04/14 that they advertised everywhere. And that’s really the biggest problem…
The Elder Scrolls Online never left beta.
Now, as the hardcore fan/complete idiot I am, I gave up a chunk of my own gold to purchase the Imperial Edition of the game in the expectation that I was buying a full game. Of course, a MMORPG is never truly finished, there will always be updates, patches, new content and the like but so far most of the patches and maintenance periods seem to have been spent on putting bandages over the broken bones of the game’s beaten body just to hold it in place, and Zenimax still haven’t finished yet. My class skills are still not working as intended, and many other skill trees have similar issues. The game still hasn’t been finished for release, two months after release.
So, other than broken classes, we’ve also got broken quests. Admittedly they’ve fixed a lot of these, but often, the amount of bugs you encounter feels like a game of Wreck-It Ralph’s Hero’s Duty.
But the bugs aren’t as noticeable as the bots. Again, to be fair to Zenimax, the number of bots is slowly being eradicated, and well, what MMORPG hasn’t had problems with Skynet’s gold-selling slaves? In The Elder Scrolls Online you get bots selling their wares, bots sending you polite in-game mail, bots camping dungeon bosses, bots appearing from UNDER THE EARTH ITSELF to steal that Nirnroot you just found, bots running around wearing that hideous level-1 default armour… BOTS EVERYWHERE.
I had just reached level 50 and unlocked the Veteran stages before I quit. Now, in pretty much every MMORPG I’ve ever played, there was a level cap and some end game content, and then you waited for the next update for the level cap to increase and add in some more content. Not so in The Elder Scrolls Online. Once you become a “Veteran” you get the chance to switch to one of the other factions and work through that faction’s storyline and quests whilst also grinding through Veteran ranks 1-10. This effectively means that you can (and are expected to) play as all three factions with just the one character, but then… What is the point of factions? Again, in every MMORPG with multiple factions you generally stick to one and build up a sense of comradeship with your allies. Some people may enjoy being able to do everything on one character like Skyrim, but to me it feels like there isn’t any point in fighting this war for Cyrodill when we’re all just EXP-hungry mercenaries at the end of it.
Zenimax are working hard to deal with these problems, even though sometimes the new patches cause more problems and they randomly take the server offline without announcing it in-game. Before I quit I experienced random roll backs which, at worse, erased 20 minutes of game time. In their defence, I did receive five days free game time on my subscription. A nice gift, but I just want them to finish their game to the gold standard I expected upon purchasing the game.
Which brings me to my next point; Craglorn. Craglorn is a whole new area introduced to the game full of exciting new quests and adventures. Free DLC, if you will. At any other time, such fresh content would have been welcome… But maybe finish the original game first, guys?
And that’s why I, an avid Elder Scrolls devotee, decided to cancel my subscription; for now. I fully intend to return to the game once most of the unfinished content has been polished off, the bugs squashed to a minimum and my beloved Nightblade elevated to a competent status. The fact is, if I had known I was buying into one of the many alpha/beta games on the market these days, I may have been more forgiving, but I’m spending almost ten of my British pounds a month on a game which should not have been released yet.
It’s telling that the Xbox One and PlayStation Four version of the game has been delayed for up to six months and I wonder if that’s how long it will take to finish off all the console version, as well as the PC version currently on the market now.