Before I start, I must preface that I did not play this game on PC. I did watch a few videos on YouTube to get an overall idea of the game but it’s nothing like playing it yourself. That being said, right off the bat, the jury is still out until I can put some seriously long hours into it.
Now, if you are still reading at this point, the question you might have is, ‘is it still worth playing?’ Bear with me as I treat this 1st impressions write up for those, who like myself, never played the PC version and trying this on a console, mainly the Xbox One.
Right off the bat as with any Elder Scrolls game, you get a cut-scene where of course there is a war between good vs evil, where the horde from below fight against the forces of right and…blah blah blah…and as with Oblivion and Skyrim, you wake up in a prison. Except in this case you are dead, being resurrected and you are the key to gaining the supreme power in Tamriel.
Still with me? Ok. So, once you have survived logging in (because as of now, the servers are still overloaded with people trying to log in and you could be in a queue for up to 30 minutes though I hope by this posting that is fixed) you can create your character however you see fit. I was pretty happy with the amount of control I had over this process as with most MMOs you get generic faces, hair and so on but for once I had more to work with. Dare I say, I even had more options here than I did with Dragon Age: Inquisitions and that is a single player game.
Once you are done with character creation, escaped from the prison, you are dropped into Tamriel and for my character, I was placed in Daggerfall. Once there you really get an idea of what you are dealing with.
As far as Daggerfall being like a hub city, it didn’t feel as full for an MMO like it could have been and yet, I suspect that with will change, but if you played Skyrim and any other Elder Scrolls game, this could be somewhat of a jarring issue as you try to figure out who are NPCs and who are players. By the way, a little tip, Don’t fire on the guards, because they are invincible!
Let’s deal with some of the technical aspects. Even though Daggerfall doesn’t seem ‘full’, there are still limitations that prevent this game from being smooth and you can tell early on that Zenimax Online is still dealing with trying to get this game running smoothly on their servers. There is a certain amount of lag and choppiness you may get that pops up randomly as you run thru the city. That is coupled with the fact that when you get near clusters of other players who have their mics on, you hear everything…and I do mean EVERYTHING. It took me awhile to figure out how to block someone who had their baby screaming their lungs out in the background while other players begged and yelled for him to turn his Kinect mic off. The other thing that I noticed that once you got rid of hearing people and listened to the game ambiance, that NPC sounds and surrounding sounds were very quiet. You couldn’t hear your own footsteps, and NPCs didn’t talk. Then somehow after I got dropped from the server and then logged back in, all of it kicked in and all was ok and the game felt more like an Elder Scrolls game.
Graphically speaking, it’s pretty decent for a next gen MMO game. Occasionally you do run across the random NPC whose costume takes a moment to load up but overall it’s not an ugly game. Daggerfall is decent enough to look at and once you leave to go to Stros M’Kai, you do get a sense that there will be enough variety to keep you from looking at the same mountains and forests for an entire session. There is a fair bit of pop in as well in some places and I wasn’t impressed with the draw distance like what we got with Skyrim. Again, I realize with an MMO there are limitations but it just seemed like something gamers could have gotten.
Let’s talk a bit about gamer progression. ESO does enough to pull you in to make you feel like you are accomplishing something in the opening hours and rewarding you with enough items to keep you going. One of my biggest beefs with MMOs is that as you play, especially in the early game, the items you get aren’t even worth jack and you feel a bit jealous seeing others who already hit level 15 or 20 with cool gear. With ESO, if you do just enough searching, hoarding and fighting, you can find some nifty gear early on. I am pushing level 10 and I have noticed a variety of my peers who all look different in appearances so that we all stand out. As far as the skill trees and everything else, you still have many of the same freedoms you have had in other Elder Scrolls titles. You aren’t stuck being a mage in light armor waving a wand. You can deal devastating magical damage, swinging an axe, while in heavy armor and heal those around you. At least that is what my character does. Inventory control at least to me, isn’t the mess that it was in Skyrim. I have a pretty easy time of finding what I need and equipping it. There are plenty of ways of hotkeying items as well. The only thing I ran into was for all the looting I did, I ran out of space really quick.
The biggest issue however, is how to translate a game in which we enjoyed as a single player experience into something we can all enjoy with friends and strangers worldwide and that is where I think this game misses its mark. Granted you get a lot of quests and side quests early on, from simple fetch quests to foiling assassination attempts but I still think in some cases, this game misses from not having enough instanced areas for those who either want to play solo or with their particular group. There is nothing more aggravating than heading into a dungeon that should be a solitary experience and seeing about 50 other people running around. It’s frustrating that while you are trying to sneak past guards and raise your sneaking skills up, another group of players run past aggro’ing said guard. Why? Because many of us are used to doing missions like this alone in the single player game. That happened early on when trying to do a jail break in Stros M’Kai and it took me 2 tries before I completed it the way I wanted.. Yet and still there are ways to avoid group dungeons and groups as well. By the way, keep in mind that anyone that you group with, when entering certain areas, the monster levels scale to whoever the leader is for that group.
That’s something else we can mention is combat. As I alluded to, combat in this game is scaled for players. As of right now, you won’t run across a level 15 monster if you are a level 3 player. Just like many ES games, the levels do tend to scale but that doesn’t mean you won’t run across difficult fights. Which by the way, leads me into talking about the controls for this game. Thus far, I haven’t had any issues which make me wonder why Zenimax couldn’t get this right for PC usage. It’s really easy to slot powers where you want then to go and keep it moving.
Overall, I still feel that it’s early to pass a bad judgement on this game. I think that many of us ardently want this to be Skyrim and it’s not. While the game lacks a certain spark that pushed us out into that world to go exploring, I do feel like that early on you get enough of the dangling carrot to taste to keep you coming back. I can honestly say however, I would not have gotten this game if I had to pay the subscription fee which recently has been dropped. I do feel there are better games that would have been worth paying for monthly if that was the case and with this, I would have gone back to Skyrim.
So for right now, let’s face facts, it’s the 2nd free to play (if you disregard the initial 60 dollar purchase) MMO on the Xbox One. The first was Neverwinter. So far, while it has a huge name to live up to when it comes to the Elder Scroll series, it’s not as disappointing as I was lead to believe. Yes, at times while it feels like a watered down version of older Elder Scrolls games, I do think that it gives enough to players especially those who are cautious about playing MMOs to make it worthwhile. The best part of course is, if you are like me and don’t always have friends to play with, the solo experience is decent enough to challenge you without forcing you to always group with random people to face those same challenges. So far, it seems like Zenimax worked out some of the bugs that broke the PC experience to make a decent enough jump to consoles. Some of us may actually be glad that it took a year to work out the issues. It’s a competent enough MMO in its own right and it may be enough to keep many of us busy until Bethesda details Fallout 4 next week.
PS: Don’t hold your breath for an Elder Scrolls VI announcement