With only about a month and a half until Early Access, many of us are waiting with baited breath for release. However, just like anything in this world, there are nay-Sayers. Evil trolls seeking to destroy all that is good in this world and Elder Scrolls Online is no exception to this. Some of us are reading these bad reviews from some guy that played the game for fifteen minutes, or maybe the review comes from a guy that knows a guy that played ESO months ago. Sound familiar? Well guess what? I’m here to fill you in on a little secret. You already love Elder Scrolls Online. It’s true, you just don’t realize it yet. Take a little journey with me and I’ll show you how much in love with ESO you are. So much of the ESO content is familiar enough to provide a nice security blanket for players of the franchise or MMOs in general, but is disguised enough that it may not seem so apparent right off the bat.
Let’s start off simple: It’s an Elder Scrolls Game! Let me confess: I am an MMO fan before I am an Elder Scrolls fan. But do not get it confused, I still do love Elder Scrolls, and ESO is a near-perfected Elder Scrolls game and offers more for the gamer than any other game in the franchise could. So let’s start with the basics: you are an unknown prisoner with no skills, no weapon, but by some divine providence you escape and start your journey for greatness. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Of course it does, it’s a paradigm of the series!
Now I know what you’re thinking: “But we have to choose a class. I’ve never had to choose a class in an Elder Scrolls game. That sucks and I hate it and I don’t want anything to do with it.” Okay, calm down! Let’s think about it like this: You know your play style. You know if you like to cast spells, sneak around or swing a giant axe. So let’s take a look at the classes: Templar, Dragonknight, Sorcerer and Nightblade. What do they even mean? I know a sorcerer is probably yelling “Lightning bolt” in the corner, but what is a Dragonkight? Some kind of warrior archetype?. Or a Templar? Something like a Paladin, right? They are just skill lines, but they provide nothing that is a complete game changer (Yes, it’s true.). In fact, weapon and armor skills provide just as much, if not more, variety and options than class skills. And since you know if you like to swing an axe, you probably want the Dragonknight, because maybe he has skills that benefit that. But who says you cannot be a sorcerer swinging a giant axe? No one!
But don’t fret! You want a warrior type character that wears chain mail, carries around twin axes and casts spells? Yeah, you can do that. There are literally over 100 skills any character can learn, regardless of class. Honestly, I think we can live with that. But what about all those guys that come from EverQuest or World of Warcraft that want a straight class build and want to be defined by their class? They want that security of knowing “I am a Dragonknight and these are my skills!” Don’t worry, you can do that too. ESO has tons of options for all you crazy guys out there that want to make some really awesome unorthodox builds and just enough structure for all you out there that want a classic MMO feel.
Let’s stop worrying about classes real quick and move on to some game mechanics, namely Player vs. Player. Let’s face it, the PvP in ESO is awesome and you love it. Oh, you don’t agree? Alright, do you like Lord of the Rings? Or how about Game of Thrones? Maybe the younger crowd is more akin to Harry Potter. What about Star Wars? You know what all of these franchises have in common? Epic Battles. When I watch Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I literally fall in love over the battle of Helm’s Deep. Or I love when I watch (or read, for you bookworms) Game of Thrones and the main characters run into vagabonds or marauders out in the world and they have to defend themselves. I think most fans of fantasy can agree that scenes like that help make the fantasy genre intriguing and fun. And the PvP in ESO offers that kind of experience. The only difference is, instead of reading or watching the battles unfold, you’re in them. YOU decide what happens next. So you want to lay siege to a keep? You can do that. You want to just roam the hills looking for a fight? You can do that. You can be involved in some of the most epic player vs player battles I’ve seen since Shadowbane (Yeah, remember that game?). Or how about the day long, all out wars of Alterac Valley in WoW? Now, you might be thinking “But I love open world PvP and they don’t have that in ESO and so I hate the game!”
Okay, before you have a hernia, hear me out: You can open world PvP in ESO! But how, you ask? Sure, it’s not exactly open world, but it’s pretty darn close. Cyrodiil is a huge zone, so huge, in fact, that you can quest there. You can harvest resources there. You can do a ton of questing in Cyrodiil, all the while running into enemy alliance members and laying some waste. And when you just want to have a nice quiet evening alone, quest a little bit and run some dungeons? Just leave Cyrodiil and go about your business. I do think Battlegrounds are a good idea, but Cyrodiil is like a 24/7 battleground and that is near-perfect for launch. Remember when WoW was released, there weren’t even Battle Grounds? I do and I didn’t complain. So now you have a Battleground on steroids. Which you’ll love. In fact, you already love it.
Now let’s break away from the stereotypes of MMOs and get onto to some great and unique ESO content. The entire world is up for exploration. Every nook the map is useful for something. After spending several hours in the beta just exploring, I was gaining experience, finding crafting resources and discovering chests to unlock. I could find bookshelves in seemingly abandoned shacks and read them for lore, experience and maybe even a skill boost. It gave me a sense of a living world. Sure, quest givers must stay in the same location, which I understand, but other NPCs are moving and bustling about. I think about the original Star Wars films. The scenes are gritty and dirty and it looks like the equipment has been used and overused. The space ships don’t look brand new. Even Han Solo is smacking the dashboard of the Millennium Falcon, much like I did with my old ’89 Cadillac in college. ESO is on the same page as that. The houses are rustic and ancient looking and the artwork is gritty. When you are killing bandits you are getting blood on your blade and your armor looks practical, it makes sense. The game is living and absorbs you right into it. When I log in, I don’t want to think of myself as that nerd behind a computer pressing mouse buttons. I want to think of myself as the great Nord Dragonknight protecting his allies and slaying denizens of Tamriel and ESO’s environment delivers that full immersion.
Sure, there’s a chat box (turn it off!) and the draw distance isn’t as far as single player games (that’s just something you’ll have to deal with and I really don’t know what kind of videophile you have to be in order to get offended by that). But with the fantastic musical score, beautiful artwork and incentives for exploring, skyshards, experience, loot and resources, complaining about immersion is like complaining about a dirty hundred dollar bill: it’s just nit-picking!
“Well, how about that PvE experience?” Oh, are you asking about the incredibly intelligent AI? The fact that you can’t just run into a dungeon, pull a couple mobs at a time and run through the instance without even thinking? For the first time in an MMO (yes, I really do mean first time) you are required to think during a dungeon (not a raid, a dungeon!). A low level dungeon, at that! Fungal Grotto is the first instance I was able to do and I felt like it had the complexity and strategical elements of some late game dungeons and early raid bosses of the greatest MMOs to date.
Let’s just think about it from a different perspective. If you were a villain of Tamriel and you were plotting world domination from a cave when a bunch of adventurers busted through the door, would you stand idly by and watch as they beat up your buddies that are standing 15 feet away? No, of course not! You are going to run over and start attacking. Would you focus your attacks on the guy with the big armor? Probably not. You would have no real “aggro chart” and just attack mercilessly anyone that got in your way. That is what ESO provides: realism!
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Overall, this game provides exactly what MMO and ESO gamers love. For some reason (and I am victim to this as well), MMO gamers like feeling comfortable and like a good sense of security when it comes to their games. Game features that are too ambitious often create a niche market and shut out out long time MMO gamers. Something new and fresh can be good, unless it is too new and almost before its time. ESO is coming out at a perfect time in the MMO market. ESO is not trying to reinvent the wheel. It is not creating a game before its time and is not overtly ambitious or pretentious. Zenimax perfectly mixes classic MMO staples with revitalizing ideas that provide a fresh, new contender to the MMO market that we (whether or not realize it) already love.