The Elder Scrolls Online – A Second Preview with PvP and Closing Thoughts

It’s taken me a couple of weekends of play to get there, but I’ve finally narrowed down my one big problem with The Elder Scrolls Online. It’s this: I cannot help but find it really boring.

Before I get on with my reasoning for all of this, though, let me give the usual caveats with a preview. This is an unfinished game. It’s an unfinished MMO, no less, which means that I haven’t had nearly enough time to explore absolutely every part of it and give a proper verdict; hell, my exploits took me to around level 13, so I haven’t even had time to explore one character class to anything near total satisfaction. My experience with the PvP was during what appeared to be a stress test period, so that’s probably coloured my opinions somewhat. Likewise, my experience with the PvE is during beta, which means the streets of Tamriel’s cities are a lot emptier than they will be at launch.

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This is not a picture that I took of an online battle.

With all that out of the way: no, I haven’t really enjoyed my time with The Elder Scrolls Online. I haven’t found much wrong with it – if anything, it’s a well-assembled MMO. It just feels incredibly generic and lifeless, and none of its many systems do much to alleviate this.

Last week, I spent time with my Breton Dragonknight exploring Daggerfall and levelling up. This week I did much the same, only with a bit of PvP thrown in for good measure.

Let’s talk about the PvP, actually. This is one thing which could, theoretically, be The Elder Scrolls Online‘s saving grace, and I am absolutely willing to state that the experience I had with it won’t come close to how it’ll (hopefully) work at launch.

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Yep. I can click on enemies until they fall over like a champion.

If anything, it’s a riff on the huge battlefronts of Guild Wars 2 or Planetside 2. You’ve got a big, big area stuffed full of forts and mines and the like – the area around the Imperial City in Cyrodiil, in fact – and your faction is battling it out with the other two factions to achieve dominance. You purchase siege weapons, assault forts, defend your own territory, and – in general – try to achieve an advantage over the others.

There are a few neat little twists, though. You can accept missions from your home base which might range from little scouting trips to taking forts. You can attempt to capture (or recapture) the Elder Scrolls themselves, stored in temples close to the home base of each faction, each of which bestows a nice little boost to the faction possessing it. You can try to take and hold the forts surrounding the Imperial City itself; doing so will result in the highest-scoring player on your team actually becoming Emperor and gaining a bunch of new powers, forever. Even when they’re dethroned.

In principle, all of this sounds great. In practice… well, I didn’t really have the best experience with the PvP. I’m sufficiently low-level that I have no mount, so getting to the raging battlefront – an attempt to retake one of our forts from what I think was the dastardly Aldmeri Dominion – involved several minutes spent walking in a straight line, because we apparently didn’t have a frontline camp (which allows respawning at that location) set up yet.

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This *is* a picture that I took of an online battle.

Once I arrived, things were looking up. The front gate was down, so we’d made it into the outer courtyard. We had siege engines set up in there, bombarding the inner walls. I wandered in, dodging the odd arrow or giant rock flung down from the occupied battlements, and admired the carnage. Then a high-level player killed me with three arrows, the first of which slowed me to a snail’s pace.

I respawned at our frontline camp, made my way back towards the castle, and found myself in a fight with another high-level player. He was on low health and backing away, and there were two people legging it after him. I joined in the chase and, because I was coming from the side, I managed to catch up to him before the others. I swung my sword. It passed through him and he froze in place.

I swung my sword again. No reaction. I used one of my abilities to set him on fire. No reaction. Then I was dead, and his model was suddenly halfway through some spinning attack, so I guess a lag spike was the end of me.

I respawned, and once again made my way towards the fort. The front gate was now inexplicably fully repaired, so we’d presumably been forced out of the courtyard. The surviving members of our assault party milled around the outside of the gate for a little while, seemingly a bit confused, and occasionally battling with an AI guard or an enemy player who’d leaped off the battlements. This went on for some time.

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They aren’t actually putting their hands on their hips to seem imposing or concerned. It’s just a very bizarre salute that ends with a vigorous crotch-thrust.

Not the best first experience with PvP, you might say. I’m not quite sure how the level difference is being treated; I know that the game raises your stats to compete with other players, but not your skills, and I have no idea how much of an impact the armour and weapons you have will make on this. In short, I don’t know whether level 12s will be able to compete on an even keel with level 30s. They can at least partake in some of the simpler missions offered by the factions, and I imagine the PvP will be a lot more interesting when more players have an idea of how it works, but… well, that wasn’t an overly auspicious start.

So I went back to questing. I cleared up a couple of outstanding quests – helping out the Fighter’s Guild with the little problem of a kidnapped member, for one thing, and collecting a whole bunch of crocodile teeth – and then I found something a little more interesting.

One of the big problems in Daggerfall at the moment is apparently a resurrected werewolf who was basically unkillable the first time around. In an effort to find out how he was killed in the past, so that we can do it again now that he’s back, I hooked up with a load of mages researching the battleground where he first fell. This eventually led to me going back to the past in the form of the person who slew him, in an attempt to find out what circumstances led up to that event and how it was actually achieved.

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The level 10 story quest has much the same problem: thematically, quite interesting. In execution, unexciting.

Thematically, this is kind of great. It’s fairly interesting. It’s something a little different from Kill 10 Houses or Knock On 15 Bees. It was still pretty damn dull to play through, and not just because his actual weakness is staggeringly obvious and it frankly seems impossible that nobody had ever tried it before.

Part of this is that the combat is just so overwhelmingly dull. You’ve got your six assigned powers along with your basic weapon attacks, but few of them actually feel powerful. Okay, sure, my ability to magically hurl a giant lump of rock at someone and knock them over is great. My sword slash that sets them on fire, though, just feels utterly anaemic. Barring the flaming lines that trail after my sword when I perform it, there’s no real reaction. Smashing someone in the face with a two-handed battleaxe doesn’t send my opponent flying back. It doesn’t even stagger them; they don’t move. The only indication that this powerful, two-handed swing even hurt them is that their health bar goes down a little. Combat just has no physicality to it, which is a bit of a problem when so much of it is melee.

There’s no great excitement to exploring. Once you get out of the tutorial areas the world is certainly rather expansive, but there’s no feeling that you’re forging your own path, even in beta when there are far fewer players around. There’s no feeling of trepidation on discovering a new cave to explore, or finding a mysterious tower standing out in the middle of nowhere. You might find a Skyshard or a lorebook, but it never feels like you’ll stumble upon some great secret.

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Ignore the poser. Focus on the photobombing canine.

Early on, at least, there’s also no huge excitement to levelling, as that mostly just means a new point for your stats and a new point for your abilities (and occasionally being able to wear better gear, as – yes – all equipment is level-locked). I suspect there will be some interest in theorycrafting the best builds for each class,

That’s the thing, really. The Elder Scrolls Online does almost everything competently, but nothing interestingly. Combat? It’s present. You have skills. You usually have to pay at least some attention. Questing? They’re largely better, both thematically and mechanically, than the Kill 72 Rats rubbish, but I’ve never felt overly invested in what happens during them. Open mechanics? No. You’ve got freedom in terms of which skills you level, but you’re not going to be wearing Daedric Armour thanks to finding a hidden chest at Level 4. The game doesn’t really force you from quest to quest with the usual breadcrumb trail, instead leaving plenty scattered around for you to find on your own, but it’s still a dangerous idea to wander too far away from areas designed for your level.

What I’ve played indicates that The Elder Scrolls Online is a competent MMO in all the usual ways, taking few risks with design and instead just offering a few twists on the standard MMO template. But I’ve seen no indications that it’s a particularly good MMO, nor is it – lore aside – particularly Elder Scrolls-y. I’m bored with it already, and that’s not a good sign.

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  • Tim McDonald

    Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he’s willing to admit. He’s written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion – in all its various incarnations – for over a decade. When not writing things about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning some really terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He’s also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man’s only professional games journalist.

    • Rushster

      Well this pretty much confirms what I thought after playing it. I think you will have to be a super keen fan to pick this up at launch and it sounds like it could struggle months after release.

    • Lazerbeak

      they will gouge the enthusiasts and early adopters, then go F2P,
      ” He was on low health and backing away, and there were two people legging it after him. I joined in ” ha my one and only tactic with PVP

    • Roman

      proper journalists are able to easily see past the usual caveats mentioned in the opening paragraph…

    • Farloc

      Everyone is buffed to level 50, the difference in levels is much smaller then the author is getting at. Just needs to learn how to pvp.

    • djAKADEMIK


      OP (the author that is) is such a downer, it’s a wonder he enjoys anything at all in life.

      PvP is EXCELLENT in ESO, and I’ve played WoW since beta and every major MMO since, it is truly something different, and second only to DAoC (but they may be rose tinted nostalgia glasses, it could easily be better).

      1. You have to like MMOs to like ESO, it is an MMO, NOT a Skyrim contender.

      2. If you are a true Elder Scrolls fan, you will like this game regardless.. there is so much ES lore here it’s not funny.

      3. If you are a ES fan AND an MMO fan.. well, you can’t go wrong with this game. The PvE is going to be even better now with the improvements post-this beta, and PvP is well.. divine. Enjoy.

    • Panther

      1. I like MMORPG and ESO is a total failure on the part of the developer’s to understand their demographic. The Elder Scrolls is a franchise built on single player adventuring. With this in mind they should have took a page out of Guild War 2’s event/questing system. Meaning: You do not have to group up with anyone nor join a guild to partake in community events in killing bad guys or questing. Also, the quests are mundane. I never felt that I was helping the world out with my good deeds.

      2. I consider myself a “true Elder Scrolls fan” (whatever this means) as I have played the Elder Scroll series since Daggerfall. This game has absolutely nothing to do with Elder Scrolls the series. Let’s get that straight out of the gate before any more debate can be made on this point. This is the furthest from an Elder Scrolls game as any. Since when do you choose classes? Since when can you not pick up any item you see in the game? Since when do you have to wait in line to talk to some Prophet to tell you that “you are the chosen one.” You want to talk to the point of Lore well there is nothing more violating to the Lore of the game than having 10,000 “chosen ones” all running around in the same dungeon waiting to kill the same guy and after “killing” him hearing him talk to the next round of combatants as you run for the door.

      3. I think this point should read: If you are a fan of ES *and* MMO *and* have never played an MMO *and* have never played an ES game then this game is divine.

    • dahoopsta

      Most of the negative reviews & comments about ESO I’ve read, go just like this one – “I didn’t like the game, but I was only able to reach level 10 or so and didn’t really get too far into pvp”.

      Well, hell – you’ve only reviewed about 5-10% of the game – even though ESO is trying to appeal to both MMO & ES fans, it was built with PvP in mind. Why else would there be 3 Alliances to choose from initially?

      Nevertheless, the hard-core ES care-bears that don’t want to interact with anyone and just pretend it’s a single player game can certainly immerse themselves in the PVE realm, but honestly PVP is where ESO shines and is what will keep me subscribed.

      In general, the earlier levels are rather bland and things don’t start to open-up until level 10, so making assumptions based on the starter areas only will lead to a bad overall review. Especially when the review was during a beta stress test.

      As for PVP, if the OP can’t seem to understand it, he was probably one of the nubs asking how to leave Cyrodiil, but couldn’t find a waygate…

    • Kaletros

      Heh another flame article based on extreme limited knowledge/experience of the game. Someone please give me a professional article that’s got more to it than “well it doesn’t feel good to me so I don’t like it.”

      Does anyone write with any depth anymore?

    • Mr. X

      You guys critiquing this reviewers opinion just can’t accept that ESO is BORING and exactly as described. It’s okay though, nobody is asking you not to waste your time and money.