The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited
Developer: Zenimax Online
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Price: $59.99 US – Available Here $99.95 AU – Available Here
When The Elder Scrolls Online was first released back in 2014 Zenimax Online stated that an eventual console release was on the way. Despite receiving a fairly lukewarm reaction upon release, many console players were still eagerly awaiting the title. Then over a year later with numerous changes to the game’s formula, the removal of a subscription fee, and a tiny name adjustment The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited has been released on consoles. As someone who never touched the original release and is dove in headfirst into this console MMO, is The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited worth your time?
Once players start their journey after meticulously creating a character (more on that later) their first steps will be within a prison cell. Unlike most games that start this way however, rather than simply being arrested for an unknown crime your character is actually dead and has been imprisoned in Coldharbour by the Daedric Prince Molag Bal. Facing eternal enslavement by the evil god players find themselves rescued by an ally who informs them that Molag Bal is planning on taking over all of Tamriel by bringing it into his realm.
Due to the unique nature of the player’s status as a soulless vessel, called the Vestige, they are able to escape from Coldharbour with some assistance. This begins the Vestige’s journey to gather as much power as possible in the realm of Tamriel and try an drive back Molag Bal’s forces in an effort to save the world from destruction.
Depending on what race you chose (adventurer pack owners have complete freedom here) players will be dropped into one of three different factions with each faction having a unique storyline and unique playable areas. There is the Aldmeri Dominion made up of the Khajiit, Altmer, and Bosmer, the Daggerfall Covenant consisting of Orcs, Bretons, and Redguards, and finally the Ebonheart Pack where the Nords, Argonians, and Dunmer thrive.
Each of these three factions has a different main storyline as well as countless side-quests that populate every area owned by that faction. These quests play a separate but important role in the main questline in Elder Scrolls Online as every faction is facing challenges ranging from internal turmoil to threats from the Daedric Princes. These storylines are unique and solid enough to be worthwhile as your first time through a storyline will take easily fifty hours or more and that doesn’t even factor in the side storylines involving the Fighting Guild and Mages Guild.
Just like the factions, both of these guilds play a major role into the actual story progression though it is worth noting that they are not varied like the faction quests are, instead players will be experiencing the same storyline here regardless of their chosen faction. Now even though I am saying that players can find a unique storyline with actual depth to enjoy, it is hard to believe such a thing can be accomplished in an MMO and usually you would be right but due to the way that Elder Scrolls Online is organized there is no problem.
This is because it is entirely possible to ignore most of the other players running around you for a majority of the game if you so choose. Proper leveling and equipment management means that soloing quests are entirely possible (especially with Nightblades) while most of the main story missions are actually relegated to solo play by transferring the player to an area unique to their character. That usually isn’t the case however as most of the missions you complete in Elder Scrolls Online will contain at least one or two other player’s running around in some form.
While there is plenty of notes and books to provide flavor texts in the various dungeons that you can explore and side-quests you can undertake, most of the time you will also be exploring these areas with a number of other random players which means it is entirely possible to be slightly behind a fellow player and find barely any foes to fight as they have already been killed only to come across the dungeon boss that is on the brink of defeat. It is worth noting that usually unless you manage to get a hit on such a dungeon boss, the enemy will be respawned when you enter the area but if you managed to do any damage it still counts, even if it was a simple shot with an arrow.
This does ruin the immersion for those who want to play Elder Scrolls Online like a single player game but considering the massive amount of content available you won’t have any trouble finding plenty of areas to explore. You see, earlier I mentioned that players will automatically begin in their faction’s starting area but it is worth noting that once you complete the main storyline, another faction’s storyline is opened up and allows for the player to venture into an entirely new storyline with their character as they start from that faction’s beginning section, only this time all of your opponents are far more dangerous and the rewards are plentiful.
Now before we get into detail about the way Elder Scrolls Online plays; let’s address the potential elephant in the room that is the Crown Store. Since dropping the subscription fee, the developers of the game have added the Crown Store where people can use Crowns, purchased with real money, to buy various things. In many games this is where the balance between players is broken but thanks to proper planning and the lack of overpowered items, the Crown Store is not an issue.
Most of the items available for purchase are character skins, different looking mounts (in-game horse mounts can be purchased and upgraded for a relatively small amount of gold), non-combatant pets, and various other items. It is possible to purchase food and drink that regain health but players who choose not to pay can still cook these same items after discovering recipes through exploration. This means that while there are certainly a few shortcuts one can take through the Crown Store, there is no barrier placed between those who are free with their cash and those who never want to spend an extra dime.
Now moving onto the actual game, fans of the core franchise will find that the Elder Scrolls Online’s transition to consoles has made the game incredibly easy to control and also feel vaguely similar to how past games in the series have played, albeit watered down in various areas. When players create their character and class, each race will have different racial benefits that may make them better suited for a specific class but it is entirely up to the player on what they want to be. You see, while each class has a unique set of skills, such as the Mage being able to summon familiars, unleash stronger spells, and create barriers or the Nightblade being able to turn invisible, strike with critical hits, stun/weaken opponents, and make use of hit and run tactics, every character can use whichever weapon they choose.
This means it is entirely possible to level up your character’s light armor and restoration staff abilities despite playing as a damage focused Dragonknight. Of course since skill points are only awarded through leveling up, completing main story quests, and gathering three lightshards (with over three hundred total scattered throughout Tamriel) and must be used to properly unlock weapon and class skills, level various passive bonuses, and even increase your crafting capabilities it is best to play smart when leveling your character over the course of the game. That being said, if you have a change of heart or want to adjust your build there are in-game shrines where spending gold will allow you redistribute your stats.
Combat in Elder Scrolls Online is handled in a very simplistic manner with a tap of RT using a light attack with your weapon and holding RT will unleash a heavy blow while blocking is handled with LT. Tapping both buttons at the same time allows players to perform a bash and potentially break out of a locking technique while rolling is activated by pressing block and A (also jump) in any direction to avoid AoE attacks and break out of traps. All other abilities are handled with face buttons as well as the bumpers, while an ultimate attack (which fills over time in combat by taking damage, using skills, etc) is activated by pressing both bumpers at the same time.
This allows for easy use of skills in combat while items can be hotkeyed to simply pressing up on the D-pad. If you need more than one skill bar, or want to be prepared for long-distance combat and close-range combat then you’ll be happy to know that a second skill bar is unlocked at level 15. Simply tapping left on the D-pad will swap to your other weapon and skill bar set, allowing for quick swapping. Thanks to these design decisions Elder Scrolls Online feels extremely comfortable to play with a controller and never feels like it limits what the player can do in combat.
In an effort to try and set themselves apart from other MMOs, Elder Scrolls Online has been created with exploration being a key aspect of the game and for the most part it works really well. As you venture around the very large worlds you’ll find various markers appear on the map that either signify a unique location, a public dungeon (delve) that can be explored, private group dungeons, towns, and more depending on the icon. Quests are also handled in this manner as small black arrows will appear in the direction of an NPC with a quest for the player while objectives will also appear in this form, or with white arrows if it is your tracked quest.
One fault with Elder Scrolls Online is that simply due to the massive amount of content available is that a lot of the side-quests start to feel like a slog to work through. Any given area can have upwards of fifty quests that can be tracked down and while some of these are unique feeling as they involve distracting guards or even betting on frog races, the majority of them simply involve going to a specific area to kill a number of enemies, collect certain items, or fetch items from corpses. This is something that has always been something of an issue with MMOs and that issue still haunts Elder Scrolls Online despite its unique structure, though the peppering of flavor texts in the world and in loading screens for dungeons does helps somewhat, though the fact that some quests actually allow the player to make decisions on the outcome give quests an actual role-playing feel.
If you don’t feel like going through and slaying countless enemies all the time then there are still plenty of ways to spend your time in Elder Scrolls Online. Not only are there are a variety of areas that allow players to fish in an unfortunately bland mechanic but there are plenty of unique crafting methods. Players can craft weapons and armor, cook food and drinks, brew potions, and even create magical ruins to enchant gear. Each of these crafting trees are unique and allow for players to create gear that will fit their playstyle while also being able to sell things for a nice profit, especially since cooked food can increase the user’s health, stamina, and magicka amounts for a set time while drinks increase recovery rate for these three attributes, though which ones they affect depends on the item created.
Once the player reaches level ten they are able to take part in a mode I found highly addictive but also quite annoying at times, PvP in Cyrodil. In this mode all three factions fight against one another for ownership of castles, forts, and elder scrolls scattered throughout Cyrodil. These battles range from simple skirmishes out in the field between one or two fighters who happened to be caught off guard to full on sieges. Siege weaponry is a unique and powerful feature in Elder Scrolls Online. Players can purchase and set-up various siege weapons such as ballistae and trebuchets to attack and destroy walls and doors as well as groups of enemy players while things such as battering rams and oil buckets have more singular purposes in the form if quickly destroying doors or dropping fiery death on enemies below respectively.
These PvP battles can be intense depending on the team you happen to be playing with as it is entirely possible to run an hour long battle as your forces continue to push forward against an enemy. Since it is possible to respawn in keeps owned by your faction that aren’t under attack, it often becomes a war of attrition but a delightfully fun one to enjoy. One such instance involved successfully pushing the Daggerfall Covenant’s attackers from a castle that they had nearly dropped the walls from only to push forward and meet their reinforcements established in a dilapidated gate area separating our previously defended castle from their own. Between sniping enemies from the ground with a bow and arrow and dropping large groups with siege weaponry our forces managed to continue the route all the way back to the opponents castle where we successfully managed to capture the keep after another drawn out battle.
It is worth noting that in PvP all players below level 50 are scaled up to being at that point, meaning that even those at level 10 can try and enter PvP but they will still find themselves outmatched most of the time. This does become something of an issue however once the player reaches level 50 and becomes Veteran Rank 1, as they are no longer given any boosts and will find themselves in dangerous conditions if they don’t play smart until they gain a certain number of “Champion Points” which are unlocked after the player reaches their first Veteran Rank. While Veteran Ranks can be increased to VR 14, the amount of experience points to do so is incomparable to a standard level so in their place Elder Scrolls Online has implemented Champion Points that are rewarded via a separate experience meter that can then be applied to a number of Signs to strength the player’s character.
Now one of the frustrations with PvP, and with Elder Scrolls Online’s grouping in general, comes in the form of limited space and communication. Since being released on consoles, only a certain number of any faction can be in a PvP Campaign at any given time and while there are a number to choose from, most players take part in the longest and potentially more rewarding Azura’s Star Campaign. This means that entering PvP often places the players in very long queues that can take hours to deplete, though depending on your faction the wait time may be smaller as the Aldemeri Dominion faction (which I played for the majority of my time with this game) regularly dominates this campaign.
As for the communication aspect, the only way to speak with other players in Elder Scrolls Online is through local voice chat. This is a two-pronged issue that makes it so not only is it possible for other players to (un)intentionally play loud music or have background noise but also problematic for those who want to try and quickly find themselves a group. While there is a group finding tool, it is usually easier to try and speak with those around you to see if there is anyone either running a PvP group or a dungeon raid. This also becomes an issue in regards to Guilds. While it is nice that players can be in five guilds at a time, the only really reliable way to find a guild is through an outside source, usually Elder Scrolls Online’s forums. Once you do become a member of a guild, or happen to form a party, there are party channels that are opened for that group while each guild is given numerous channels to speak with across the world of Tamriel, making it much easier to find those who feel like taking on some enemies together.
Despite being released on consoles, Elder Scrolls Online hasn’t taken too much of a graphical drop from what one would expect. There are indeed a large number of environments that feel a bit bland and generic looking but many of the dungeons that you explore or specific areas of the game still feel quite impressive looking. Character customization and detail is impressive on NPCs though I do have a bit of an issue with the way that gear is handled. While there are pieces of equipment that have unique appearances, most gear that the player finds will only appear in one of roughly ten or eleven styles in the wild. While it is possible to dye your equipment various colors that have been unlocked by completing in-game achievements, it does feel like there is a certain lack of improvement at times despite finding far better gear than you may have already been using and it turns out to look the same.
As for the action, Elder Scrolls Online can be played in either first person or third person mode and both of these modes play smoothly for the most part with there being very little slowdown even with a large amount of action happening at one time. This usually is balanced out by some of the effects being toned down or character models appearing as black silhouettes until everything can load properly. It is worth noting that this can be an issue in PvP where some attacks are not given animations, which means that the player may die from being set on fire but never actually showing up as on fire.
Elder Scrolls Online features a surprisingly large amount of voiced dialogue for a game this size. Every NPC you encounter, even those who happen to be monsters that feel like talking a little bit, is given a voice actor/actress. This gives the game a bit more life and makes the player feel more invested in actually completing some of the large number of quests that they can undertake. Even if some of the voice acting is a bit hit and miss the way that the dialogue actually makes these quests engaging is certainly a plus.
The soundtrack for is standard fair for an Elder Scrolls title as there are plenty of great atmospheric tunes spread throughout the title as you explore the world and the combat sound effects sound great for the most part. Unfortunately there are a number of audio issues that arise when too many players are on screen at a time, especially if they are on horseback. Taking part in a “scroll run” in PvP often means that the audio will glitch out due to the large number of players riding on horseback to protect the scroll runner and the game trying to play every hoofbeat at the same time.
There are certain limitations that have been applied to The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited to make its transition to consoles a bit smoother in the form of lower quality graphics and affects as well as the transition to only voice chat but these small issues shouldn’t discourage those who are interested in picking up the game. With smooth combat mechanics that allow the player to quickly respond to any situation, hundreds of hours of content to explore and end-game modes to sink even more time into, and a highly addictive PvP mode The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is the type of MMO you can become lost in, especially if you are already a fan of the franchise and want to explore the realms of Tamriel with friends.
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