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Critical Consensus: The Elder Scrolls Online falls short of its pedigree

Tepid reviews highlight contradictions at the heart of ZeniMax Online's MMO

The weight of expectation can be damaging for any game, but The Elder Scrolls Online faces a uniquely challenging set of preconceptions. As virtually every published review takes great pains to highlight - often in the first few sentences - TESO this marks the entry of one of the most popular single-player franchises into a genre defined by thousands and even millions of people playing at once. To resolve that contradiction, ZeniMax Online must have needed every hour of the five years it was given for development.

"Zenimax Online knew what type of visual presentation modern players were looking for in the Elder Scrolls name and they've delivered on that end"


Sadly, the critics seem to agree that TESO falls significantly short of the mark, though that may not be evident to its players at first. In one of the more positive appraisal's from a major website, USgamer offers ZeniMax Online measured praise for the way it captures the look and atmosphere of The Elder Scrolls series.

"The characters have that same glass-eyed look when you approach them for conversation, even if the NPCs do look like they've lost a bit of weight since Skyrim. When you're in conversations, they're all fully voiced. It's an appreciated inclusion, but the voice acting is hit or miss, as one would expect from a project of this scope. Get used to hearing the same voices over and over again.

"Urns, crates, and bookshelves litter the world, full of random items for you to steal or books for you to read. Overall, it feels like falling into the warm embrace of a close friend; Zenimax Online knew what type of visual presentation modern players were looking for in the Elder Scrolls name and they've delivered on that end."

Ultimately, though, USgamer only saw fit to award the entire package a 7 out of 10, which, while by no means a bad score, is probably a little lower than ZeniMax was expecting after such a vast investment of time and resources. More importantly, the majority of scores from other respected outlets are a little lower than 7 out of 10, including Eurogamer, which awards TESO a 6 out of 10 on the basis that it fails to provide a convincing resolution to the tension between solo and group play.

"The single-player storytelling style your audience has come to expect clashes both practically and philosophically with an environment teeming with other players, creating a buzz of dissonance that refuses to go away. Too much effort is expended on things that don't play to the strengths of an MMO, like all-star voice acting casts and plot-heavy quest lines that can't be shared, and the sheer quantity of content needed starts to erode quality.

"Unlike the rest of the game, PvP allows spectacle to emerge naturally as players congregate, cooperate and clash"

PC Gamer

"The Elder Scrolls Online suffers from all of these problems and the result is a tepid and dull interpretation of Bethesda's straight-faced fantasy universe, stretched so thin you can see right through it to the cold machine running underneath."

Like many other sites, Eurogamer is content with TESO's deep character creation system, its combat and what seems to be an admirable amount of endgame content, but it lacks the sense of ownership that the very best MMOs offer their players. Regardless of your preferences as a player, TESO demands that you be the same amnesiac lonewolf as every other person crowding its huge landscape, thereby dooming you to repeated exposure to the truth behind the lie.

For PC Gamer, TESO's best feature is the one area that it is allowed to forget about solo players: an "accomplished, coherent" PvP area, which is described as "an oddity" in a game where so little can lay claim to those strengths.

"The system resembles Guild Wars 2's World vs. World combat, which is unsurprising given that both games have a common ancestor in Dark Age of Camelot. Participating in battles earns its own currency which is spent on siege equipment and castle repairs: even a disorganised army participates in a cooperative economy that encourages a strong sense of collective spirit.

"The majority of encounters are decided by whichever side has the most bodies: an old problem with this form of PvP, and not something that ESO satisfactorily solves. What it does manage to do is to run well even as large groups clash together. You might not be able to see what's going on, but by keeping your spells and abilities in play you can at least make yourself useful.

"Unlike the rest of the game, where competent design can't overcome patchy presentation, PvP allows spectacle to emerge naturally as players congregate, cooperate and clash."

For PC Games N, that "patchy presentation" is the game's most pressing problem. Apart from the "rubbish" main quest, PC Games N's 5 out of 10 review is complimentary about TESO's evocation of the series' spirit, with enough memorable quests and characters to compensate for the stretches where the proceedings feel a little tired or generic. However, it is also relatively brutal in articulating the review's bottom line: "The Elder Scrolls Online is just not ready for players. It is a tragedy."

"Every MMO launch is often plagued with a few bugs that fall through the net of QA and public betas, but with TESO it's an epidemic"

PC Games N

"In practice, Elder Scrolls Online's questing content is a disaster... Every MMO launch is often plagued with a few bugs that fall through the net of QA and public betas, but with TESO it's an epidemic. NPCs and items often break altogether: not performing their scripted actions, become invisible or refuse to interact with you and some would just refuse to spawn at all. You'll often see players huddled around the affected area, waiting for a miracle.

"Fixing these problems as a player is ludicrous. Sometimes, you'll find it's a UI issue that can be reset via a simple slash command. But more often than not you would be forced to repeatedly log out and in again until you were slotted into an instance where the quest was still working. On some occasions I was lucky in just a couple of tries. In others I ended up giving up on playing for the night.

"The Elder Scrolls Online is frustrating. It has moments of sheer class, but they're consistently tainted by bugs.

"For MMO players not particularly wedded to the Elder Scrolls lore, there are just many better made, better produced, and better designed MMOs available. Zenimax have a lot of work ahead of them to turn TESO around."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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