“ The Elder Scrolls Online” (PC; Rated M; $59.99 + subscription fees) has much more to do with the “Online” portion of its title than “The Elder Scrolls.” It is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) through and through, and no amount of “Elder Scrolls” shine will change that.
Sure, when you begin the game, you begin as a prisoner, as is the custom of “Elder Scrolls” games. You break your way out guided by a companion who shows you the ropes of getting around, battling supernatural creatures and fulfilling quest requirements. By the time you finish the break-out tutorial sequence, you will have had one appropriately epic boss battle, rescued one good guy, inadvertently imprisoned another and been knocked out only to wake up in an entirely unrelated place.
A lot happens in a couple of hours – and you’re just getting started. Those couple of hours truly feel like an “Elder Scrolls” game, and a pretty good one at that. Once the proper adventuring gets going, though, you realize just how underpowered you are, and just how much time you’re going to be sinking into this thing.
The time investment
By the time you really get going – a good two hours into the game – you’re probably a level 3 player, which is just about powerful enough to hold a weapon that’s not broken.
For some context, you need to be at least level 10 to begin playing the player-versus-player portion of the game, and it’s level 20 or so before the game’s world starts to feel as open as you would hope an “Elder Scrolls” game would. To get to level 10, you will invest 10-15 hours into “The Elder Scrolls Online.” Those 10-15 hours will be spent hunting and fetching things, being the middle man in conversations between unimportant people, and walking in a straight line from place to place lest you be mauled by a baddie that happens to be 15 levels higher than you.
In other words, it feels like the first few hours of just about any MMORPG.
These first hours are a grind. This is tedious busywork to get you to the level of everyone else in the game’s world who is actually taking the game seriously. There is very little in the first 10 hours that needs to be done with others, though you may find yourself being thankful for those who keep you from getting killed in a few tricky spots.
Put in the time, though, and “The Elder Scrolls Online” opens right up. The player-vs-player component is interesting and involving, as it places you on one of three teams fighting for real estate in the land of Cyrodiil. The player-vs-player system is well designed, giving more novice players a fighting chance among even the most experienced veterans.
Strength in numbers
Adventuring through the “Elder Scrolls’” fictional land of Tamriel becomes more engaging as well once you manage to recruit a few teammates. It’s an awful lot more fun complaining to other people than it is complaining to yourself when the quests are underwhelming, and having a team around when the real action starts makes survival actually seem possible.
“The Elder Scrolls Online” is weighed down, unfortunately, by the “Elder Scrolls” name. As an MMORPG, it is a very good game, absolutely at the level of today’s top MMORPGs. As an “Elder Scrolls” game, it’s bound to come up short because it has to live in a world with many heroes rather than just one. If you’re looking for an MMORPG with lots to do and some stellar production values, however, “The Elder Scrolls Online” will fit that need perfectly.
“The Elder Scrolls Online” is now available on Microsoft Windows and OS X.
New this week: The much-anticipated “Watch Dogs” (multiplatform) releases this week. Not only will you get to walk around Chicago, but you’ll get to control it with your elite hacking skills. If the modern open-world blockbuster isn’t your thing, dig out your Vita and try “The Sly Collection” for remakes of three of the best platforming games the PS2 had to offer.