LSi was given access to the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) Beta last weekend and as far as first impressions go, Bethesda made a pretty good one.
Quick loading times, beautiful landscapes, and it will even run on a slightly knackered Macbook Air. It seems as though the bugs, endless loading times and myriad other complaints that had plagued previous beta tests have now been ironed out, leaving a game that – largely – feels ready for release. But as with any MMORPG first impressions aren’t everything: with players sinking weeks of playtime into a single game it is the content which is put to the test; and after a couple of hours in ESO cracks were starting to show which no amount of softly spoken wizards (yes, Michael Gambon is the first voice you hear) can paint over.
Bethesda’s aim with ESO was to strike the right balance between massively successful World of Warcraft-contender, and a worthy sequel to the Elder Scrolls franchise. Sadly, the balance isn’t quite there. Many features beloved of the role-playing franchise have been neglected, leaving a washed out experience lacking in depth. After the customary character creation you enter a tutorial level watched over by Dumbledore, which is played – simultaneously – by 300 other players. The game starts as it means to go on, the rest of our time was spent doing quests as if we were playing a single player game, but with a load of useless characters sprinting about frantically around you. Frustratingly, the massive world of Tamriel is not available for you to fast travel around right from the off, as in previous games, but instead you have to complete the main story, which is mostly just bland and uninteresting mess of running around, speaking to people, and wearing disguises. That said, the voice acting is excellent, with a cast including John Cleese, Bill Nighy and the aforementioned Michael Gambon.
One of the things that Skyrim received extensive praise for was the interactivity of the world. Picking up weapons from the floor, pickpocketing people and covertly entering houses; these are all features neglected in ESO. Apart from looking in sacks for the occasional potato, the world is solid and immobile. Nothing can be picked up or knocked over and arrows don’t actually come out of your bow and stick into things, they are invisible and unlimited.
MMOs are games of collaboration and teamwork. ESO is not. Making groups is clunky, and once in one there is little to do together. There is no combat between players, and the game feels like an inferior RPG with ghosts of your friends roaming the streets.
Despite these flaws, ESO certainly has the potential to be excellent: everything but the gameplay works well and the world is beautiful. Unfortunately, there is one major sticking point for The Elder Scrolls Online. The price. At £50 up front and a further £9 per month subscription charges, we certainly won’t be buying in to the franchise. Bethesda needs to rethink the pricing, among other things, for The Elder Scrolls Online to be a success