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The Elder Scrolls Online review in progress

The Elder Scrolls Online

Welcome to my review in progress for The Elder Scrolls Online. For the next couple of weeks I’ll be writing down my initial impressions, adventures, and other happenings, so be sure to check back regularly for my latest thoughts. Then, after I’ve reached the level cap and experienced a plethora of end game content, I’ll give you my final verdict.

The Elder Scrolls Online Questing

Hour 30 – Quests

Quests are what bind most MMOs together, providing a sense of direction and accomplishment while a player progress throughout the world. While most MMO players see them as a tool to further accelerate their way to the end-game, that’s simply not the case with The Elder Scrolls Online.

The norm for me in MMOs was to click-click-click through the quests as fast as possible, only really paying attention to the main story quests. This felt like sacrilege in TESO, and I found myself absorbing each morsel of dialogue. It’s an Elder Scrolls game after all, and the voice acting was pretty good. This had a side-effect of slowing my progression down to a snail pace, but that’s not a bad thing. I think Zenimax were pretty accurate saying it would take an average of 150 hours to reach level 50 taking it slow.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t in a rush to get to the ‘good stuff’.

The “kill X of Y” quests are few and far between. Instead there’s a lot of travelling to X, talking to Y and collecting Z. Populated throughout these are monsters to fight, so combat feels natural and not forced upon you. If you wanted you could take a completely pacifist approach to some of them and stealth your way around. I’ve also had a few puzzles to solve, although they’ve all been incredibly easy e.g. put the phases of the moon in the correct order.

Unfortunately I’ve been having a ton of issues with game-breaking bugs that have plagued my playthrough. Quest objectives become non interactable, NPC characters freeze in position and certain triggered events remain un-triggerable. I’m surprised that these exist, considering there were multiple beta events before launch and the first initial zones would of been heavily populated.

The fixes for these bugs are even more frustrating. Some can be fixed with a simple “/reloadui” command, if you’re lucky. The rest require you to logout and then back in multiple times in hopes that you enter an instance where the bug hasn’t cropped up. It’s a roulette: it might be fixed on your third try or your twentieth. These aren’t a rare occurrence either: so far I’ve had at least one bugged quest every hour or so. Not fun.

This will be my last entry in my review in progress as I commit to a final review and a verdict. If you’ve been playing the game, why not share with me your thoughts in the comments below. Look out for my final review in the next couple of days.

The Elder Scrolls Online Crafting

Hour 25 – Crafting

Crafting has always been a key part of the Elder Scrolls experience. Similar to your combat and racial skills and passives, crafting can be leveled up to increase your proficiency and provide you with additional bonuses. You’ll be pleased to know that crafting in The Elder Scrolls Online is rather enjoyable, simple and yet deep enough to be constantly fascinating. There’s Blacksmithing, Clothing, Woodworking, Enchanting, Alchemy and Provisioning (cooking) to master in the game, each one includes its own progression and devoted skill tree.

The first step in any of the crafting professions is the obtain the raw materials. You can harvest ore, wood and herbs from the environment, but it goes a bit deeper than that and it’s all in the little details. You’ll hear the familiar chimes of Nirnroot scattered throughout your adventures. Various insect life can be plucked from the air for your alchemical needs. Runestones are of cryptic languages (Dragontongue?) that need to be deciphered to unlock their powers. You can also obtain materials from deconstructing items and salvaging their raw components.

Creating items is simple. You start by making a basic normal version of the item and the more raw materials you put in, the higher level item it will output. Once that’s created, you can then upgrade it to the next rarity: fine, superior, epic and finally legendary. This is a risky process, and you’ll have a percentage chance of succeeding relative to how much of the required material you dedicate to the process. If it fails, you lose the item for good.

You can also augment items with specific traits, which must be learned via researching. For example, if you find a axe that increases your stamina you can use it to research that specific trait. This will unlock that stamina upgrade for all future axes you craft, but the process of researching takes hours at a time, and also destroys the item used to research it.

As you gain levels in your profession, you can unlock new skills and passives. The majority of them are confined to the professions themselves, but some extend into other roles. An Alchemy passive increases the duration of potion effects, which can increase your combat prowess. You can also unlock hirelings and outfitters, who can be sent out to find raw materials while you’re offline. If you’re lucky they can also bring back other rare items.

An items cosmetic apparel is specific to each race: Khajiit can only produce Khajiit style weapons and armour. You can unlock other race styles however via lore books and recipes that you can discover or buy from other players. I haven’t personally tinkered with this, but I’m having a hard time imagining my Khajiit wearing Imperial armour; where would my ears go?

The Elder Scrolls Online Dungeons

Hour 20 – Dungeons

Okay so I didn’t become the Emperor. Instead my Khajiit hero took a break from Cyrodiil and made his way to the Banished Cells: the first dungeon for the players of the Aldmeri Dominion. You can use the fast travel system to instantaneously warp to any of the dungeons you have available to you. Interestingly this includes dungeons that reside in your opposing factions territory, but until you reach level 50 you’ll be confined to the dungeon itself for the duration of your visit.

Getting to the Banished Cells was rather painless, but these dungeons aren’t designed to be taken on by yourself. I needed a group. Again, this was pretty straightforward and there were two ways of going about it. I could go into the zone outside the dungeon and advertise in the zone chat, or use the group finder. The group finder was simple to use: just select your dungeon and what role you perform (tank, healer and dps) and click search. The game will then browse through a pool of other players searching and pair you up until you have a group consisting of a tank, healer and two dps.

Naturally it took a while to find a tank and healer – as they’re few and far between in most MMOs – but I waited no more than ten minutes. Once together it was time to crack some skulls. Each dungeon has a quest that gives you objectives and direction, while also providing a deeper insight as to why you’re actually there. They’re mostly linear affairs, but I wasn’t really expecting anything different. The voice actors are engaging and believable, but I am starting to recognise re-uses of the same voice actors across my time with TESO. It does what it’s supposed to do though: it gets me personally invested.

Such mutual feelings can’t be said for the design however. The maps are bland: featuring corridors connecting to open areas teeming with monsters. This is copy and pasted until you reach a mini-boss or the ultimate boss of the dungeon itself. These monsters are usually a mix of melee and ranged mages and archers, which all aggro to your presence. What transpires is an erratic journey of mass brawls which can be quite messy and confusing.

The bosses themselves are one trick ponies. They all feature a lone mechanic to try and spice up the fight, which if not dealt with correctly usually leads to your group getting one-shotted. Most encounters involve engaging the boss, witnessing its ‘special move’ before dying and then running back for the kill on the second attempt. This sort of tactic to increase the difficulty of an encounter is just frustrating and boring. I really hope the game moves away from it in future dungeons.

Lastly, we come to the loot. The bosses themselves usually drop something decent, and the quests you complete also offer a nice reward. There’s another way to score some nice loot, but I loathe it. The dungeons are littered with locked chests, much like the ones you find out across Tamriel. After being successfully unlocked via the lockpicking mini game, you’re awarding with its bounty. The reason I hate it is because it’s first come first served: whoever clicks of the chest first, gets the loot. This leads to some heated arguments among party members formed from strangers. Worst of all the greedy types will ditch you in the middle of combat to loot the chests while you’re busy fighting. Urgh.

The Elder Scrolls Online Cyrodiil Siege

Hour 15 – Cyrodiil (PVP)

When you hit level ten, you unlock access to Cyrodiil: the iconic setting for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and where you can get your hands dirty in open world PVP. Here the games three factions – the Aldmeri Dominion, Daggerfall Covenant and the Ebonheart Pact – wage war with eachother for total domination of Cyrodiil. The prize: one of their members (players) takes the Ruby Throne and becomes the Emperor of Tamriel, which comes with some pretty nifty perks.

After selecting a campaign which acts as your home server, you are teleported to your factions ultimate base to receive some training. Funny thing: I accidently skipped that quest, but my experiences were still enjoyable. Once I collected some daily and repeatable quests and got my bearings via the map, I set out to do my faction proud.

Every keep features a transit shrine which allows fast travel around Cyrodiil, as long as they aren’t under direct attack. Conflicts are represented by crossed swords on the map, and their colours change depending on which factions are involved. A quick poke in the chat and I got myself into a raid group: massive zergs of players that are usually directed by someone in command.

Our goal was to assault a keep owned by the Ebonheart Pact. There were a few skirmishes on the way, most notably at a bridge that gave direct access to the keep. Breaking into keeps is no joke. They’re heavily fortified positions and require more than just manpower to break into. You need siege weapons. These can be purchased from siege merchants back at the home base using Alliance Points, which are earned by completing quests, attacking and defending keeps and killing enemy players. Find some flat ground and your siege weapon – in my case a trebuchet – self constructs in a few seconds. What’s interesting is that as long as it hasn’t been damaged recently, you can pack it all back up ready to be deployed again.

With one of the walls finally down, it was time to storm the castle. I found out very quickly that I was not suited for this task, and melted in a matter of seconds to a smuttering of lightning bolts and arrows. Reviving your fallen comrades requires a soul gem and those things aren’t cheap. This means that more often than not you’re left to restore yourself at a keep and make your way back.

It took some trial and error, but I found myself most effective at taking out stragglers and reinforcements who were out of position. Anyone can sneak in this game, while some classes/races are better than others by a marginal amount thanks to passive skills. There’s a short grace period before you’re considered ‘hidden’, and then you cannot be seen by players unless you’re revealed: either through close proximity or skills/spells that reveal invisible units. It takes a bit of getting used to seeing your entire raid group of 40+ members completely visible and crouched in a field, but as far as your enemies are concerned they have no idea they are there. I think scouting is going to be an important role in Cyrodiil’s PVP.

Unfortunately, the servers were taken down to applypatch 1.1shortly after I entered Cyrodiil. It includes a lot of fixes to progress-halting bugs in various quests, and also to those pesky Dark Anchors I mentioned yesterday. For now though, there’s still a lot more to explore and do in Cyrodiil.

Maybe I just might become the Emperor.

The Elder Scrolls Online Khenarthi's Roost

Hour 6 -Khenarthi’s Roost

Khenarthi’s Roost is an island that is in turmoil. The Aldmeri Dominion – the faction of Khajiit, High Elves and Wood Elves that I’m a part of – is having trouble convincing its denizens to join their faction. The main culprit so far are a band of sea faring elves named the ‘Sea Vipers’, who are claiming the island for their own through both politics and through force.

The quests and writing is actually pleasing so far. Every NPC is voiced and the actors do a commendable job. I am beginning to notice some repetition thanks to my OCD-like attention to detail, but they’re believable, and that’s what keeps you immersed. Some quests also feature various moral dilemmas, which allow you to choose a permanent outcome. While this is a nice touch, these choices will mean very little if they don’t produce lasting consequences, and also affect future content.

I’m averaging a level per hour, finishing off this afternoon at level six. Thanks to some nice quest rewards and some treasure hunting, I’m geared out in nearly full medium armour and dual-wielding daggers. I’ve also dabbled in skill morphing: where you can choose between two improved variations of a single skill. Now one of my primary finishers also heals me if it kills the target, but I could’ve transformed it to include a snare instead.

When I return this evening, I should be finishing up Khenarthi’s Roost and heading to the mainland. I might also dabble in some PVP at level ten, which I should’ve attained by that time. Catch me from 5pm-8pm GMT tonight on ourTwitch stream, and feel free to ask any questions in the chat.

The Elder Scrolls Online Dark Anchor

Hour 11: Auridon

I’ve conquered Khenarthi’s Roost: the Sea Vipers have been dealt with and the citizens now reside within the Aldmeri Dominion. Once the island was picked clean of any morsels of quests and loot, I set sail back to Auridon.

Here you’re introduced to a few new things. First are the Mages and Fighters Guild, both offering adventurers a multitude of quests. You can also access and learn skills associated with each guild, which gives you even more diversity when selecting your arsenal. Attaining all of them requires reputation, which can be earned by doing said quests, or various tasks in Tamriel.

One of those tasks – at least as the Fighters Guild are concerned – is taking care of Dark Anchors: invasive metal contraptions which link the world to Oblivion. Molag-Bal – Daedric prince and main antagonist – is using these anchors to invade Tamriel with his Daedric creatures. They’re massive, ominous things. The sheer presence of one will be made known across the zone by a darkening of the sky and a constant deep hum as it activates.

Turning it off isn’t an easy task, and usually takes a good number of players to band together. Waves of increasingly hard enemies will spawn, culminating in a mini-boss which takes the form of various powerful Daedra. If successful, you’re rewarded with whatever loot you found plus a hefty amount of experience and reputation.

Unfortunately, things haven’t been going smoothly inside the live game. More often than not, the anchor itself is in a perpetual state of being stuck. Some bug in the event ceases all progress. Zenimax have been resetting the servers (or instances?) to try and fix it, but it’s only a matter of time before it gets stuck again. This isn’t exclusive for Dark Anchors either: I’m recognising a quest here and there which had progress halting bugs in the beta and have somehow made it into launch.

Let’s hope this is an isolated matter that will be dealt with a swift patch.

The Elder Scrolls Online Character Creation

Hour 1 – Character creation

So as with any MMO, your first task is to create your avatar. Confession: I can spend hours obsessing over little details and choosing a name that fits just right. So rather typing about it, I’ll be streaming the character creation right now over on Twitch. If there’s enough time before lunch I’ll even squeeze in the opening level. If you have any burning questions about character creation specifically, then I’ll be at hand to answer them. Expect a few streams over the course of this impressions blog, so why not hop over and watch me fiddle with sliders all afternoon?

The Elder Scrolls Online

Hour 3 – Meet Silk: my Khajiit Nightblade

So as I forewarned, character creation took a good hour. There’s plenty of customisation to be had here, and it’s full of sliders which allow for some precision character moulding. My only criticism was that I couldn’t zoom in on the face for some reason, but I’m sure that it’s just a bug. I finally decided on a Khajiit Nightblade named Silk. I’ll be specialising in dual-wielding and archery; using the bow to initiate and finishing off any survivors with the sharp end of a knife.

I hurried through the tutorial, which is unfortunately a dull experience. I would’ve settled for the good old ‘who are you?’ approach where you’re allowed to dabble with all the weapons and class abilities before committing to your final choice. Instead you’re given a very linear experience which includes a brief introduction to John Cleese, playing a mad-hatter of a character called Cadwell. I do hope we meet again.

Finally when I was kicked out into the world, things were very different from my experience in the beta. First, you no longer start in the original starting island, and instead you arrive at your first major settlement. This causes some pretty funny side effects: suddenly Michael Gambon – who plays The Prophet – sounded rather odd. After a bit of detective work it turns out that due to how recent the change was regarding your starting zone, they couldn’t get Gambon to voice the extra lines. It’s rather striking and noticeable at first, but I’m confident he’ll return to his old self the next time we meet down the main storyline.

I paused my adventure having sailed back to the original starter island, Khenarthi’s Roost. Starting tomorrow at midday, I’ll be working my way through the island for all its quests, experience and hopefully some loot. Getting my guy kitted out in full medium armour is a priority, as wearing a mismatch of armour types can dilute the leveling progress. Make sure to tune into the stream again tomorrow for some live commentary.

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