Don’t get me wrong, I love my PS4 – but I really miss Skyrim. Saying goodbye to the PS3, and with it, the RPG which had essentially been my home for months, left me as cold as a Shadowfen frost; I have been waiting for ZeniMax Online Studios’ Elder Scrolls Online to come and un-break my gaming heart ever since. And now, the wait is over – the PC title has finally been ported over to the PS4 and Xbox One. Now that it has come, does it fill the Skyrim void? Um, does a Khajit make an excellent thief? Hell yes! TES fans rejoice; I swear in the name of Sithis that The Elder Scrolls Online is the saviour that we have been waiting for on the current-generation of consoles. It is not perfect, but It delivers tons of Elder Scrolls content and fun, and it is a must for any MMORPG fan. And now that there are no subscription fees, you really have no excuse not to go out and get it right now.
Right away, The Elder Scrolls Online welcomes you back with a start that has become a trademark of the franchise – you are a prisoner who must escape captivity, with the help of a friendly stranger. This time around, you are stuck as a soulless being in a prison in Coldharbour (ah, Oblivion! I never thought I would be so happy to return…); you have no idea who you are or why you are in this situation. This becomes your main quest – to find out why you were killed, by whom, and what it all means. I will not give anything away, of course, but let’s just say the story that unfolds is an awesome thread in the Elder Scrolls tapestry that will keep you hooked for many, many hours.
“While many of the parts of Tamriel are locked for things like expansions, this is a game that will really give you lots of opportunity to lose yourself in exploration.”
Along the way, you will discover an open world that is epically vast and will definitely live up to the expectations of the most fervent Skyrim, Oblivion, or Morrowind fan. The world of Tamriel is gigantic – as suggested by the “unlimited” in the title. Skyrim, amazingly, is only one part of this place, and you are free to explore the world of The Elder Scrolls Online if you want, or you can follow the main quest. Fast-travel is made possible by unlocking Way-Shrines as you discover new locations, so you are both encouraged to explore and rewarded for it. You can also get distracted almost endlessly by the countless side-quests the game offers – typical in an Elder Scrolls game, everybody seems to have a long-lost son or a package that needs to be delivered to some distant place. While many of the parts of Tamriel are locked for things like expansions, this is a game that will really give you lots of opportunity to lose yourself in exploration.
Now, let me warn you that you might not find the main quest and story to be quite as deep or compelling as Skyrim’s was, at first. While the various missions you are tasked with in The Elder Scrolls Online have a decent variety, they do tend to be a tad on the fetch-quest-y side. While there is an interesting tale underlying the hero’s quest, it makes itself known very gradually – and to be fair, this game is built for the long-haul, to be played over a period of months or even years. So, while it might take a while to feel emotionally invested in the story in The Elder Scrolls Online, it will undoubtedly reward your patience over time, making for lots of replayability.
Another possible quibble is that some of the game is not as open, in the beginning, as you might expect. From level one to ten, PvP mode and group co-op play are locked, so this early phase of the game acts as almost a tutorial of sorts, leading you through a somewhat linear string of story-missions; the upside of this is you have time to get the feel for the game’s mechanics, and strengthen your character without any fear of taking on a mission that is out of your league. Other human players are present, mind you – they are visible but not much more than ghosts who fly by you as you make your way to and from quest destinations. I found these fellow-travellers were sometimes a help, depending on the situation. For example, on a few occasions, I was saved from death by a human player, who happened to be passing by as I found myself on the losing end of an AI enemy’s weapon.
However, the herds of human players in The Elder Scrolls Online can also have a downside. I found that they often spoiled the fun of discovering places and solving puzzles on my own. Case in point: arriving at a crossroads, which way do I go – left or right? Ah, the steady stream of players coming back from the left path quickly answers my question. How do I open that door? Oh yes, I pull that handle on the wall – thanks, DarkLord2013 (you elven-eared jerk…). And a particularly disconcerting aspect of all the crowds of human players littering The Elder Scrolls Online’s world is when you encounter an enemy AI unexpectedly. You only find this out when all of a sudden, one of the people in the crowd starts shooting fire at you. Enemies are differentiated, in theory, by their red aura – but this only appears when you get close to them.
In general, I found the swarms of other human players scurrying around to be more a distraction than anything else, but I am not sure what ZeniMax can really do about that. One thing I might suggest, though, is force people to at least choose genre-appropriate handles – maybe it’s just me, but the presence of user names like “Fartman82” floating above characters’ heads tended to pull me out of the fantasy experience…
“Overall, the multiplayer aspect of The Elder Scrolls Online is a real strength and makes this game one that will keep you coming back for a long time.”
But don’t worry, the online aspect does get better later. After level 10, the PvP unlocks, and you gain the ability to engage in co-op dungeon crawling, join guilds, and all that fun stuff – and this is where the game really reaches its full “multiplayer” potential. The fun you can have fighting enemies with companions takes me back to some of the best moments from Diablo II. As for engaging in the PvP part of the game, you must visit the Province of Cyrodiil. The game works PvP into the game’s story, as you join an Alliance, and try along with other players to increase territory. Eventually, your Alliance can fight the game’s Arch Nemesis. It is a really clever integration of multiplayer into the game’s main thread. Overall, the multiplayer aspect of The Elder Scrolls Online is a real strength and makes this game one that will keep you coming back for a long time.
Controls in The Elder Scrolls Online are a mix of the familiar and some new elements. Melee combat is much like Skyrim – you swing your weapon with the R2 button, block with the L2. A useful element is the ability to stun your opponent by pressing both buttons at once. Unfortunately, another familiar aspect is the finicky lock-on (or should I say, lack of it), that causes you to move forward instead of hitting your enemy, and have them awkwardly end up behind you or beside you. The game tries to help you, at least, by using the red aura to signal that you are locked-on. While some may prefer First-Person point of view for melee combat, I found that Third-Person worked better, allowing me to stay aware of my peripheral.
As for magic, The Elder Scrolls Online has solved the issue of porting from the PC by mapping your spells to the Square, Triangle, X, and Circle buttons. It works really well – I actually prefered it to the single-spell of Skyrim; with The Elder Scrolls Online, I could choose from a variety of spells to suit the situation. And while some might have trouble keeping track of all their spells and which button does what, at the very least you can just remember one “go-to” spell pretty easily, I found. The Menu system seems to have been greatly inspired by Skyrim, but with some small changes. For example, perks are no longer chosen, but awarded to you based on completion of quests.
Visually, the Elder Scrolls Online shows a bit of an improvement over Skyrim. Character models are a little more refined-looking, and textures are just a tiny bit more smooth. It may not have quite kept up with recent game-changers like The Witcher 3, but it certainly is as good-looking as any title in the series thus far. In the area of Art Direction, The Elder Scrolls Online excels, and really show itself to be an Elder Scrolls game, and not just “Skyrim Online.” In addition to the expected trees and mountains, some of the environments have giant, colorful mushrooms, or floating jellyfish-like creatures. It reminded me of Morrowind and the other earlier Elder Scrolls games, making The Elder Scrolls Online a real nostalgic walk through the history of the series, in addition to being a great game in its own right.
I must also mention the amazing voice acting in The Elder Scrolls Online. While we have come to expect high-quality voice work in Elder Scrolls games, The Elder Scrolls Online really takes it to a new level. John Cleese, for example, is the voice of Sir Cadwell, a character you might meet early in the quest. He is just one of many major voice-actors who lend their talents to this game, and really help to make this fantasy world come to life.
Oh, and if you are a fan of crafting, enchanting and alchemy, you will be happy to know that it is all here in The Elder Scrolls Online. In fact, there are more elements in addition to these – brewing and cooking, for example. I found there was a steep learning curve to this part of the game, and the game does not really offer a tutorial on it like Skyrim did, so you will need to learn about it through trial and error. Buying and selling is done the same way, but merchants are not always clearly denoted with their own “shops”; I often was only able to know merchants by the crowd of human players standing around them. Luckily, the missions you embark on early in the game are not too challenging, so you won’t need potions very often anyway.
There is so much to explore, discover and do in The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited that it will continue to addict you for months after you begin it – maybe even years, as new content is added, which I am sure it will be. For console RPG fans like me, this game scratches a huge itch for an Elder Scrolls adventure on the PS4 and Xbox One – until the next instalment of the franchise, this game will do just fine. For MMORPG fans who normally play PC titles like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2, The Elder Scrolls Online for PS4 and Xbox One is the best console experience I think you will find. For the initial purchase price, you get access to all of the game’s content, without need for any further purchases in-game. The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, despite its small issues, is an excellent game and easily an essential title for any PS4 and Xbox One owner. In the name of The Nine, I urge you to add this to your collection – or face Tiber Septim’s wrath!
***A PS4 review code was provided by the Publisher***