Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Surprising Things About Elder Scrolls Online

Shamus Young | 7 Feb 2014 10:00
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The Elder Scrolls Online screen

It's in pretty good shape.

Technically, Elder Scrolls Online is from ZeniMax Online Studios and not the team that created Skyrim, but the Elder Scrolls name has become inexorably linked to ridiculous glitches, game-breaking bugs, wonky mechanics, and heartbreaking crashes. But ESO is probably less buggy in beta than Skyrim was at release. It's got some small issues and they're likely to tinker with the balance before release, but in general it all works, runs smoothly, and doesn't crash.

It's got Elder Scrolls style leveling

You have all the freedoms and quirks that normally come with an Elder Scrolls game. Your skills level up independently of your character level, so the more you use a bow the better you get with a bow.

You're also free of the arbitrary restrictions that MMO titles typically use. You can swing a sword if you're a mage, wear light armor as a fighter, or shoot fireballs with a staff as a stealth character. You can gain ranks in skill not related to your class and generally do as you please with regard to equipment. There might be reasons why it's not optimal to do this, but like Skyrim the game isn't going to tell you "NO YOU CAN'T PUT THOSE PANTS ON BECAUSE OF REASONS."

It's got classic Elder Scrolls AI.

Elder scrolls games are somewhat legendary for their ambitious yet hilariously dysfunctional AI. In Skyrim, shopkeepers run out to fight dragons bare-handed. Your horse tries to fight along with you. Your AI companions get lost, stuck, confused, and blunder into traps like they're in a slapstick vaudeville act.

So it was sort of charming when they teamed me up with an AI companion in the tutorial and had us navigate a series of spike traps. I'm proud to say that (without any coaching for me!) my AI companion got spiked by every single one of them - even ones you could easily just walk around. It really felt like I was running tombs in Skyrim with a brain-dead companion, listening to her yelp in pain as she staggered from one obvious trap to the next. Maybe I wasn't supposed to find that section funny, but I did.

It's not the sort of thing that was on my wishlist, but I am surprised they put it in the game.

In conclusion:

This point is: This is not the cynical WoW-reskin I (cynically) assumed it would be. Good or bad, Zenimax has tried to do something new and they've taken care to preserve a lot of the quirks of the single-player experience.

Are these things enough to make Elder Scrolls Online a smash hit? I don't know. I'm very worried about the price tag. It's got a steep barrier to entry ($60 retail) and a steep toll to keep going ($15 monthly) and since a lot of the competition is "free," that's a really hard sell. Even if this game was perfect, it'd be a hard sell.

Still, I showed up expecting a boring mess of unoriginal ideas and left impressed and hoping it works out for them.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning.

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