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Game Review: The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited
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The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited
Xbox One l PS4 l PC
DEVELOPER: ZeniMax Online Studios
PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks
RELEASE DATE: June 9, 2015

I was very intrigued when The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited was announced back in May of 2012 for a couple of reasons. For one, I’m a massive fan of the Elder Scrolls games Bethesda Game Studios makes…as millions of other game fans are. There is simply no match for them in terms of fantasy worlds you can spend countless hours in to escape boring everyday real life. The amount of time most spend in these worlds might baffle and confuse some people, but those people simply do not understand. Unlike some of the series’ biggest fans who have been playing since the very start (or at least The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind), I was introduced by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. A little late to the party, but that’s the great thing about the series: each new title brings in a new group of players who also develop a deep and lasting passion for the games.

The other reason is that I’ve never, in all my years of gaming, played an MMO before. Why so many others devote so much time, effort, and money to them I totally get; I just never had any interest in them personally. There’s multiple reasons for why that is, but mainly it’s because games that never really end (and dreaded subscription fees) don’t appeal to me. If I was ever going to dive into an MMO it was going to be one set in a world that meant a great deal to me, and when it was announced that The Elder Scrolls Online was dropping subscription fees I decided it was time to step over that line. So now the question is, was it worth it?

I’ve seen quite a bit of negative comments toward The Elder Scrolls Online since its initial release and since its recent arrival on consoles a few weeks back now. Most of this negative criticism doesn’t seem to really specify what they dislike, only that they dislike it. It made me a little nervous when it came time to finally begin my own game. But now, after many hours playing, I have a great deal of trouble figuring out what exactly there is not to like overall.

I was surprised by just how much like an Elder Scrolls game it felt like I was playing. Sure, it’s not EXACTLY like an Elder Scrolls game—obviously some things were going to be changed and tweaked to make it work as an MMO as well—but it still looks and feels a lot like you’re playing one. Just with lots of characters controlled by real people running around in it and a few new things to adjust to. I think that’s where a lot of the negativity comes from: some people wanted it to be identical to an Elder Scrolls game, and that’s not what it’s meant to be.

It’s the characters controlled by real people part of the game that’s taken the most getting used to for myself, the MMO newcomer. After spending so much time alone in previous games in the series, stepping into this world and seeing so many player-controlled characters running around doing their own thing was a bit of a shock to me. Just being able to player watch from time to time adds an interesting and often times unpredictable new layer to the series, and one of the most entertaining things to do is sit back and observe from time to time. Just now, while taking a quick break from writing this, I trotted by a large group of people on my horse—perhaps 20-30 players—many of whom were wearing as little clothing as possible and doing sit-ups, playing instruments, shooting off fireballs (’tis the season!), and so on. It’s that sort of wacky, somewhat surreal randomness that I can enjoy while trying to sell items, unload things from my inventory, shop for new goodies, and so on before heading back out for more action and adventure and exploring (with a death or two sprinkled in to keep me humble).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Bethesda has never taken the leap and added multiplayer to their numbered games (another reason I think some people have been hating on this game: fear that Bethesda might start adding multiplayer elements to their single-player titles—remember this is not made by Bethesda Game Studios, who makes the main games in the series and is currently polishing up Fallout 4 for us, but by ZeniMax Online Studios), but that’s what makes ESO so perfect: it offers fans of the series the opportunity to share and explore this world and its fantastical locations and creatures and mythology with friends, family, and even total strangers, while still leaving us to excitedly anticipate the next in the numbered series we’ll have all to our own whenever it’s released.

Given the sheer size of the game, I thought for sure it would have its fair share of glitches and bugs and all of that fun stuff you expect from big games (or most games, these days). In fact, I was quite prepared for a lot of problems and was more than open to accepting them as the developer figured issues out and fixed them through patches. And while there have been some small problems, as is to be expected, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how few I’ve personally encountered in my time playing.

That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses, though. There are some things that have detracted from my experience a tiny bit, but these are mostly just nitpicky things worth mentioning.

In games like these I am a chronic hoarder. I take everything…at least until I figure out what’s worth taking, keeping, and selling, and what’s best left where it’s found. In every Elder Scrolls and Fallout game by Bethesda, I’ve become over encumbered within the first hour or so of beginning my game. That’s how bad it is. I can’t help it; even if I sell things for one or two coins/bottlecaps, it’s a bit of profit to get things rolling until I get deeper in and start really finding the good stuff worth keeping and selling.

In those games there’s a weight limit, and in the most recent releases even hitting that limit still allows you to move, albeit very slowly. In The Elder Scrolls Online, you have an item limit. 60 items to start. And when there’s an abundance of items worth collecting—whether it be weapons and armor or the many materials and ingredients used in crafting items, potions, enchantments, foodstuffs, and so on—it’s easy for anyone to hit 60 quickly (which I, in keeping with tradition, did within an hour or so of starting). They allow you to deposit items in the bank, and smartly give you access to crafting items from any crafting stations instead of having to withdraw what you need every time. They also let you purchase additional storage space in your personal pack and bank, but after the first addition of 10 more spaces (which also easily fills up), it becomes unbelievably expensive to add more. Because of this I’m constantly told that my inventory is full, forcing me to find something in my possession to get rid of just to replace it with something else more worth having. This is especially frustrating when completing a quest, as you’re not allowed to accept the reward offered until removing something from your inventory.

On top of all of this, many of the items you find are worth little to nothing at all. Even plenty of larger items like weapons and armor you would expect to be worth a decent pay day when added up aren’t worth a single coin, meaning your only options are to destroy them for nothing or deconstruct them in hopes or gaining materials (which often results in nothing helpful being recovered). It takes a lot of the fun out of hoarding and selling all I’ve collected for a nice profit at the end of a quest. I’ve already gotten used to this dilemma, and it’s something I can deal with, but the amount of time spent figuring out how to manage the inventory can really take away from time spent actually playing. It would be so much more appreciated if every player had their own little house where they could store as much as they wanted to keep or save for the future as you do in other Elder Scrolls games.

Going in to The Elder Scrolls Online I had only one goal, and that goal was to acquire my very own Chicken Dragon. The Chicken Dragon (more formally known as the Bantam Guar) is a tiny lizard-like chicken creature I first saw in video previews of the game. This may sound like a silly goal, but because I had no idea what to expect from the game itself it seemed like a reasonable enough thing to aim for. I mean, just look at the little fellas! Knowing the game had pets, I had to have one.

Tragically, I soon found out that acquiring the company of this adorable little rascal as a pet was not possible in-game. In order to get it, I would need to visit the game’s Crown Store to purchase a pack that included it. I understand this is an MMO and they need to keep making money in order to keep the servers running, especially since they dropped the monthly subscription fee. But if I want this one little digital pet, it would cost me $15 for a specific pack, which does come with other things but nothing else I want. My fingers are crossed that in the future most of these small items will be available individually for a lot less. I’m much more likely to spend a few bucks on a single digital item than spend the $15+ it costs to get a lot of the offerings available in the store. That includes a totally bad ass horse called the Nightmare Courser, which will run you a little less than $25 all by itself. Again, I’m new to MMOs and that might be the norm, but it seems like an absurd amount for one digital item when the entire game costs $60. Another option is to pay $15 per month for a premium membership, which includes $15 worth of crowns per month plus future DLC and perks, but then you find yourself drowning in the subscription fees you were so excited to avoid once again.

All of that said, none of these things are necessary; they’re just there if you want them and are willing to pay extra for them. You can still play 100% of the game without them, and that’s the most important thing to remember here. These are simply minor things I’m not so fond of. They should most certainly not be enough of an issue to prevent you from trying the game for yourself.

If you’re not someone who enjoys playing and especially talking to others while you play, never fear! I too am not at all fond of social gaming, another reason why I’ve never played an MMO before this. When it comes to multiplayer, I really only play with family. I’ll never be running around chatting with whoever wants to chat. But that doesn’t appear to be a problem with this game. I’ve played far more all alone than I ever expected to be able to, which helps it to feel even more like an Elder Scrolls game. And that, my friends, is very appreciated.

All in all I couldn’t be much happier with The Elder Scrolls Online. It’s pretty much everything that I hoped an MMO set in that world would be. Whether I’m sprinting around completing quests, finding familiar settings and books/items to appreciate, crafting like a mad man, or just taking in the beautiful scenery and music, I’m very much enjoying my time in Tamriel. It’s a game made specifically for fans of the series to enjoy. And on top of that, you get to experience it all with others who share your love for the games if you so choose.

I can’t speak for the hardcore MMO gamers and those unfamiliar with the series, but for those of you fans of The Elder Scrolls, many new adventures await thee!

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