Beyond the principle, there’s the practice. And in practice, Elder Scrolls Online’s questing content is a disaster.
Every MMO launch is often plagued with a few bugs that fall through the net of QA and public betas, but with TESO it’s an epidemic. NPCs and items often break altogether: not performing their scripted actions, become invisible or refuse to interact with you and some would just refuse to spawn at all. You’ll often see players huddled around the affected area, waiting for a miracle.
Fixing these problems as a player is ludicrous. Sometimes, you’ll find it’s a UI issue that can be reset via a simple slash command. But more often than not you would be forced to repeatedly log out and in again until you were slotted into an instance where the quest was still working. On some occasions I was lucky in just a couple of tries. In others I ended up giving up on playing for the night.
Quest bugs aren’t the only bugs. They’re just the most obviously visible. But they’re not the most frustrating.
For example: the game has a habit of forgetting that you upgraded your bank tab, and will revert to the standard size. With it, any items stored in the tabs would be lost forever.
For example: occasionally upgrading an item via crafting with a “100% success rate” will fail, destroying the item in the process.
For example: sending a cash on delivery mail to another player, when your mailbox is full results in the item being handed to the player, for free.
For example: a dupe bug has recently been discovered that has completely annihilated the game’s economy.
For example: I could go on all day.
Since early access and the game’s release just under two weeks ago, there have been two small patches, but it’s barely dented the scale of the problems Elder Scrolls Online faces.
At level 10, you’ll unlock Elder Scrolls Online’s player versus player mode, where all three factions take part in a giant, open world royal rumble. You’re fighting to take and hold the Ruby Throne, centred in the Imperial City.
If your faction captures all the keeps surrounding the Imperial City, then their top ranked player dons the Emperor's clothes and gains some god-like powers for the duration. It’s a fun system which rewards good play, and everyone can fantasise about that dream of attaining it one day.
Being on a single map, there’s usually no more than one or two large battles taking place at any one time. The skirmishes themselves feel really smooth, and I never noticed a performance/server hitch spoiling the fun. It can be brilliantly atmospheric, thanks to judicious use of weather effects: I felt goosebumps as fog rolled in from the hills and the roar of thunder echoed across the battlefield.
The issue with PVP is a lack of progression. You earn experience for killing your opponents, taking keeps and completing bounties, but in very low quantities. Every hour I spent in Cyrodiil, I couldn’t help but feel I would've made ten times the progress with my character if I sticked to questing. This feels like a significant misstep. PvP in Elder Scrolls Online is good, but it feels like you’re punished for playing it.
What else is there to do outside of questing and PvP?
Dungeons are simple affairs that don’t offer much challenge. This could be remedied later on in the game as players get geared and experienced (I’ve heard good things from friends), but first impressions aren’t great. Bosses are tedious one note fights, that mostly revolve around a single mechanic. If you fail to jump through the required hoop, it will one shot you. Dungeons are also littered with first come, first served chests. Loot from them is not shared with your party. They will cause relentless arguments within your party: I’ve repeatedly seen players abandon their group mid-combat to claim the treasure.
Delves are smaller dungeons that are public, and not instanced. Many have quests associated with them, while others are there simply to be raided. All come with an end boss, some loot and achievement for completing them.
But they are inept. They are always overpopulated - which could be a side effect of the launch - and the end-bosses are being farmed by armies of bots, who appear to be using the (actually quite good) loot to fuel their gold-farming/selling sites. Getting credit for the kill on a delve boss is usually not worth the effort.
The open world is way more fun. Exploring it, and the gorgeous environments Zenimax have crafted, is a real pleasure. It really is a pretty game and runs well. On my three year old system (i7 2600k @ 4.4GHZ, GTX 580, 8GB of RAM) I managed to crank up the graphics to maximum with zero performance issues.
You are deftly rewarded for heading off the beaten path: discovering Sky Shards (stones that emit a blinding light) will award a skill point for every three you collect. Finding all 336 is quite the achievement.
Crafting in Elder Scrolls Online is an oddity. You can pick flowers, mine ore, chop wood, extract runes, capture butterflies, and then use the materials to improve your weapons and armour. There’s no need for gathering skills or equipment: every node is available to every player. That does to a bit of a bunfight for nodes, and I think that instancing the crafting nodes per player would have been a better option.
Upgrading your items is strange. You can upgrade items from normal, to legendary quality, but it’s based around a percent chance of success. Failure will destroy the item entirely. Your chance of success can be improved by collecting more of a required material, but these are rare drops. You can research specific affixes like ‘increased stamina’ or ‘deal X fire damage’, but again, researching destroys the initial item. It’s a grind, and a rather dreary one at that: it feels like a wasteful process, but the end rewards are exceptional. Crafted items are the best available, even better than looted ones.
The Elder Scrolls Online is frustrating. It has moments of sheer class, but they’re consistently tainted by bugs. I love the PvP, but it’s pointless playing when the rewards are so slim. I like the questing, but huge numbers of quests are simply broken. I love the world, and the lore, and some of the systems they have produced. But my enjoyment of them was undermined by poor design.
There is a contradiction at the heart of Elder Scrolls Online: the delicate balance between making a game for fans of the Elder Scrolls single player games, and making a game for MMO players. Those who like the single player games will enjoy exploring that world, but the subscription model will continue to bite. And it’s hard to get round the fact that you just one of many thousands of “chosen ones”.
For MMO players not particularly wedded to the Elder Scrolls lore, there are just many better made, better produced, and better designed MMOs available.
Zenimax have a lot of work ahead of them to turn TESO around.
MMOs are huge by nature, and it takes time to see everything they have to offer. I always usually give every MMO a run for its money by reaching the end-game before review, but for good reasons TESO’s pace is slower than most. Even with 30 hours of play time I hardly made a dent. I will continue to play TESO in my spare time in an attempt to reach the max level, and then some. If I feel that the review should be updated and/or changed, I will make additions based on my experiences.