The Elder Scrolls series has been adamantly single player for 20 years. No longer. Zenimax formed a new studio of MMO veterans to take all the lore and lands of Tamriel and turn them into a place for thousands of players to collaborate and compete.
Set a thousand years before the events of Skyrim, the Tamirel of The Elder Scrolls Online is one cleaved in three by warring factions. You’ll fight alongside your faction comrades for control of Cyrodiil. It’s The Elder Scrolls alright but not as we’ve ever played it.
It’s an Elder Scrolls Game
From large to small, The Elder Scrolls Online is instantly familiar. The game’s locations are the regions of Tamriel we’ve explored over the past two decades. Cyrodiil, Morrowind, and Skyrim all feature. Zenimax Online have even tried to match the landscape of the old games so that a trek through Cyrodiil will bring back memories of your quests in Oblivion. Though, you’ll be walking 800 years in the past; Elder Scrolls Online takes place 800 years before the events of Oblivion, 1,000 before Skyrim.
It feels like an Elder Scrolls game, too. Attacks are mapped to the mouse in the same way as before - right-click blocks, left-click attacks, and holding the left-click powers up a strong hit. You can play in a first-person perspective, a hallmark of the series. All the interface icons have been replicated.
Zenimax use phasing (a way of showing different realities to players) to maintain that Elder Scrolls feel. If you and another player both have the same unique NPC joining you in a quest the game will paint the other player’s follower as an anonymous mercenary, so as not to break the illusion of the world being created from your actions.
Phasing also allows quests to change the game’s storyline in minor ways. Characters you save at one point in the game can appear in later sections, or not if you didn’t rescue them. NPCs can be wiped off the face of the world if you didn’t meet them earlier in the game.
You are playing an Elder Scrolls game. There are just other people playing it with you.
You’re free to build the character you want
You pick from one of four classes when creating your character in Elder Scrolls Online but that doesn’t limit you in the way it would in other MMOs. All classes can wield every type of weapon, wear every type of armour, and join all the same guilds as the others. You can create an Argonian sorcerer who wears plate mail, carries a broadsword, and is a member of the Fighters Guild. The devs won’t stop you.
Classes, instead, provide you with a set of unique skill trees. Sorcerers can learn to summon creatures to their side while the Dragon Knight can wrap themselves in defensive magic. Each skill tree has a small selection of spells to learn, including an ultimate spell, which can be assigned to your shortcut bar. You’ll likely make up your active abilities from a spread of skill trees.
Cleverly, your skills don’t only come from your class abilities. As you use different schools of equipment - daggers, medium armour, bows, etc - you unlock skills specific to that style of item. Using a restoration staff will unlock healing abilities, say. Similar to Guild Wars 2, those abilities are only usable when you have a relevant piece of kit equipped. In effect this means you can change up how you play your character by simply swapping around bits of gear.
Zenimax have also tied skill trees to factions, guilds, and other secret quests. Joining the Mage’s Guild opens up a tree of powerful spells that someone who joins the Fighter’s Guild won’t have access to (unless they joined both, you’re free to join five guilds).
This means that no matter what class you pick you’ll have access to a broad sweep of skill trees not specific to that selection on the character creation screen.
You’re not even bound to just the quests of your faction. Once you reach level 50 and complete the storyline in your faction’s province you can go to another faction’s land and play through their quest content. All the enemies are scaled up to keep the challenge, too. Though, you will only over fight alongside your faction mates.
Conquer a province in the name of your faction
Cyrodiil’s been turned into vast battleground for The Elder Scrolls Online. The three factions are vying for control by capturing cities, sieging keeps, and generally ganking anyone whose back is turned. Upto 200 players can be on-screen at any one time. That’s Planetside 2 levels of madness.
From level 10 you can take part in Cyrodiil’s PvP mayhem. Entering the region sees you immediately scaled up to level 50, giving you access to high level abilities and equipment.
Your aim is simple. Take and hold key points and cities across the province.
Frontline combat isn’t the only way to help your faction. If you’ve levelled up your skills in weaponsmithing and armorsmithing (two of the five crafting skill trees) then you can build siege weapons to help pummel enemy-held fortresses or help repair the walls against invaders.
Factions that control neighbouring fortresses unlock fast travel, allowing their players to jump to contested hotspots on the borders of their territory.
Alliance warfare is tied into the events of your faction storylines quite simply. Only the faction that controls the Imperial City can challenge Malog Bal, the Daedric Prince threatening Tamriel.
Cyrodiil’s not only for killing other players. It’s shot through with NPCs, quests, dungeons, and other things to do. You will have to visit the province at times, even if you don’t want another player’s head on a stick.
The Elder Scrolls Online may have drawn ire when Zenimax decided to charge a monthly subscription fee but that seems quite separate from the fact they’ve spent the past seven years turning an iconic single player series into a compelling MMO that will support thousands of players.