Bethesda Softworks has a proven record of creating fantastic RPGs. The Elder Scrolls franchise has been turning out Game of the Year candidates for about two decades. The newest inclusion in the legendary franchise is the upcoming MMORPG, The Elder Scrolls Online. Much like when Bioware announced Star Wars: The Old Republic, gamers across the world turned their heads when the game was announced. Blizzard’s legendary World of Warcraft may have a stranglehold on the MMORPG market, but when a company as respected and admired as Bethesda throws their hat in the ring, it’s immediately a contender for the crown. Many of The Elder Scrolls games have all the makings of a great MMORPG already, including expansive quest lines, strong character progression, and immersive worlds. Like many others, I hoped The Elder Scrolls online would essentially be The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with multiple players. My experience with the beta tells me that, for the most part, it is. Unfortunately, it seems to be a better plan in theory than in practice.
Perhaps it’s because it was a beta in which everyone was logging in at the same time, but my first impression with The Elder Scrolls Online was that it was too crowded. The starting zone appears to be ubiquitious, at least within your faction, meaning that at least three races share the same area. I will say that the opening quest line was perhaps the most epic and intense opening quest I’ve seen in any MMORPG, but it’s hard to become invested in what’s happening when everyone around you is completing the quest first and spoiling all of the cool effects. This isn’t really a fault so much as a warning: if you’d like to experience the game in the glory that it was meant to showcase, wait a day or two after release.
I’m not going to mention bugs or oddities that are likely the symptoms of the game being a beta, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty to criticize in The Elder Scrolls Online. It played very much like Skyrim with multiple other people running around, but the reality of that idea is more horrifying than you might expect. As I traveled around the gorgeous landscape of Tamriel and participated in numerous quest lines, I couldn’t shake the feeling as though I were an intruder. Every house I entered had been ransacked, the cabinets and drawers opened, the chests looted. It feels like playing Skyrim as though you’re playing the game with your best friend who’s already beaten it, and while you’re trying to appreciate all the aspects of the game, your friend is simply blowing through it and leaving you a cleanly picked carcass of a world. That said, the character creation system is just as in-depth as you would expect it to be.
The fact that you’re essentially getting every other players’ leftovers can be forgiven. After all, The Elder Scrolls is not all about looting things. There are still fantastic quest lines and amazing events that make The Elder Scrolls truly unlike any other game, quests that keep players entertained for hours, days, months without even coming close to finishing the main quest line. I quit playing The Elder Scrolls Online after less than 48 hours. While I don’t have the exact metrics, I played probably 5-10 hours and fought a grand total of about 20 enemies. I was playing with a friend of mine and we literally agreed with one another that if the next three quests we did were a simple “go and talk to this guy” quest, we would quit. I spent more time running and talking to people than I would at a job fair. Only two of the numerous quests I completed featured any amount of fighting and seemingly meaningful progression. Perhaps the “go and talk to this guy” quests would’ve seemed less mundane if they could be broken up by some amount of fighting, but there simply were not enough wild enemies running around the landscape to make optional combat a feasible choice.
It’s possible that these types of quests may be amended in the future, or that more enemies may be added upon release, but I don’t get that impression. I may be wrong, but my experience with The Elder Scrolls Online made me question whether or not the franchise is really a viable option for the nature of the MMO. What has always made The Elder Scrolls franchise different than its contemporaries was the absolutely unrestricted freedom that it introduced. If you wanted to walk into a town and go on a killing spree, you could do that. If you wanted to pick the lock of a merchant shop and rob it blind, you could do that. Because certain NPCs are important to quests that others may want to do, you can’t slaughter people with reckless abandon. Much like fishing, you’ll have to wake up pretty damn early to get to all the loot before someone else beats you to it. The game still has a long way to go before release, so any number of things could happen, but in the game’s current state, I don’t think it will last long.