The Elder Scrolls Online is one of the most popular MMORPGs on the market. It stands out from the competition, in ways that make it hard to compare it to other games on the market. As someone who’s played both a ton of ESO as well as other popular MMORPGs, here’s my review of Tamriel’s Second Era.
When I started playing The Elder Scrolls Online, it was a completely different game than it is now. It could more easily be compared to your typical MMORPG at the time. Start in one place based on your race selection, level up and follow a pretty linear path towards the end of the game. At this time, it was hard to call ESO anything special, and this was reflected in its historic loss of players.
The Elder Scrolls Online is no longer that same game, and we have hard-working developers to thank for that. Over the game’s lifespan, ESO’s devs have gone through significant efforts to change the game. These efforts were made not only to improve upon the game’s core and solve its problems, but to separate it from other games on the market.
In this, they succeeded especially well. ESO is a very unique MMORPG. Not only is the world fully voiced, but I struggle to remember any quests that felt short or unimportant. Unlike WoW or FFXIV, ESO is lacking in one-and-done, quickly finished side quests. Every quest in the game had a unique story attached to it, and often if not always leads into another. Often times you’ll meet a stranger on the road with a seemingly simple job for you to complete, only to lead into a much more complicated story than you initially anticipated.
Another way in which ESO really separated itself from other MMORPGs was with its One Tamriel update. I remember this update like it was yesterday, but it was well over 4 years ago now. The One Tamriel update opened up ESO’s map, freeing players from level requirements by scaling the environment to their level. I’m not sure quite how it works, but now a level 32 player and a level 10 player could take on the same quests together, doing the same amount of damage to monsters and earning scaled XP without losing out on any higher-level skills or attributes.
This meant that you could truly go anywhere and play with anyone. Without the worry of higher-level mobs making the game unplayable, ESO players could now start in any region of the world they chose, as long as they could get there. To go along with this change, ESO’s storytelling was changed slightly. If you completed the quest in one zone, it would lead into the next, but you could still take on a zone’s story with no knowledge of what came before it. If you hadn’t completed any of the quests that came before, important characters would simply introduce themselves to you at that point, turning the game into a choose your own adventure story that can be tackled in any way you choose.
And thus, player freedom became the name of the game for ESO. In no other MMORPG have I felt the freedom to play the game the way I want like in The Elder Scrolls Online. Aside from One Tamriel opening up the world, ESO simply has plenty of non-story content that you can explore at your pace without engaging in the story at all.
Starting at level 10, players can tackle dungeons or PVP freely. ESO’s dungeons are highly rewarding, and can be used to take a player from level 10 to max level quickly, especially with the Undaunted xp rewarded for joining the random dungeon queue. PVP in ESO is its own unique experience, with players fighting a real-time war in a massive battlefield, taking castles and towns from enemy factions with siege engines and fighting to hold them with NPC troops.
There have been times where I left the starter zone in ESO, engaged in the wealth of side content available to me, and returned 30 or 40 levels higher than when I left, only to pick up like nothing happened.
The freedom of choice ESO provides plays well into the non-committal nature of the game. Because The Elder Scrolls Online is a one time purchase without a subscription model, there is never a moment in ESO where I feel like I’m wasting time. Be it exploring the story, crafting with ESO’s intricate crafting system or just pickpocketing every NPC in sight, I always felt like I could do exactly what I wanted to do at that moment without worrying that I wasn’t “experiencing” the game.
ESO does have an optional premium subscription, and it offers pretty good value with it. Aside from access to an infinite inventory space that holds crafting materials, you also gain access to all of the available DLCs for the game (excluding expansions, which are significantly larger in scale.) This includes any DLC that come out during your membership, giving you access to quadruple the game content for $15 a month.
The Final Word
It’s hard for me to make a concise case for The Elder Scrolls Online, because there’s just so much about it I enjoy. Freedom of choice combined with a wealth of content makes for a game that can be a little intimidating to tackle, but the lack of commitment or direction frees you up to explore it at your own pace. ESO can be a very relaxing game to play, and that’s why I continue to return to it after nearly eight years of playing.
Our The Elder Scrolls Online review was written based on the PC version of the game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!