Is the Elder Scrolls Online worth buying or not?
The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be among the most controversial topics as of late. With the game’s launch closing in in the 4th of April for the PC (and later in June for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One), a lot of people are debating whether or not the game is worth the hefty price or not. The game is priced at $59.99 for the regular pre-order, and $99.99 for the Imperial Edition. Additionally, a monthly subscription of $14.99 is required to play the game. While PC users don’t have to worry about additional costs, and Sony has confirmed that players won’t need a Playstation Plus subscription to play the game, Xbox One users will have to shed out extra on the Xbox Live service, which will be required for access. Of course, most Xbox One users already have the Xbox Live sub, so that’s not really a drawback, but for those that don’t, the costs add up considerably.
A lot of people are already expecting the Elder Scrolls Online to go free-to-play within the first 6 to 12 months from release. Bethesda and Zenimax haven’t shown any signs of such a plan however. It all comes down to whether or not users will be willing to shed so much money on a game. So, arriving at the core of the issue, is ESO good enough to justify the costs? I’ll try to answer that as best I can.
I’ve been part of the Elder Scrolls Beta for some time now, including the last beta weekend which opened up doors for many people. The thing is, the game has consistently evolved. Compared to the previous betas, the last one was a different experience altogether, and as such, I’ll base my opinions on that one alone. I’ll also state that I’m a long-time MMORPG player, but I’ve also been a fan of the Elder Scrolls universe, and have played the living hell out of Morrowind and Skyrim (Oblivion not so much). Based on that, I went into the beta as a member of both sides, the singleplayer Elder Scrolls fan, and the MMORPG player that needed something new.
Creating your character is pretty straightforward. You get to choose one of the three factions (Aldmeri Dominion, Ebonheart Pact or Daggerfall Covenant), each having 3 distinct races. Those that pre-order will overcome this limitation and will have access to any race under any faction. The character customization aspect is solid, from the obvious variety in hairstyles, to more advanced settings, like eyebrow, chin or complexity settings. It’s a solid character creation system, similar to the one in Skyrim, and you can certainly mingle with it for quite some time. Overall, that aspect of the game felt spot-on, so the starting impression was good. On to the game, you’re set in a dungeon from which you’ll obviously escape. The story isn’t revolutionary here, and the first area serves as a tutorial, as you’d expect. The first major choice you’re faced with is picking a weapon. Regardless of your race or class, you’re allowed to pick any weapon. And this brings me to a main point…
Skills and build flexibility
As I’ve previously mentioned, you’re not constrained in what weapons you use. The same applies for armor. MMORPGs have gotten us accustomed to some limitations, like mages wearing cloth armor or tanks using swords and shields. Well, you can throw that concept out the window from the first minute. If you want to play a mage in heavy armor and a huge battleaxe, you can. In the same way, you can choose to play a Dragonknight (one of the 4 available classes, and primarily a tank class) with a staff and cloth armor. The options are there, the rest is up to you. Is playing such a class viable? Perhaps, but it was hard to tell given the limitations of leveling the beta featured. There are certainly some combinations that are more viable than others, but flexibility is definitely there.
In order to make sure your choices around what weapon to use and what class or race to play don’t leave you with an utterly useless character, you’ll have to do some reading and thinking. Reading what skills do and understanding the benefits and drawbacks of certain weapons or armors is pretty important to build a solid class. That being said, the game will allow you to respec once you hit level 20, so in case you’ve screwed up, you’ll have the option to re-build your character. Speaking of skills, there’s a great variety. Each weapon has a distinctive skill-line that can be upgraded, and each class has 3 unique skill trees. Then there are racial skills, world skills, crafting skills and a lot more. In this regard, the Elder Scrolls Online does well, by any and all standards. So how do those skills act in…
This is where things start getting controversial. The combat system is…rather odd. Some people seem to love it, others outright hate it. The gist of it is this: You get a total of 6 skill slots in your hot-bar, 5 regular skill slots and 1 ultimate skill slot. Additionally, you’re getting another slot for consumables, such as magika or health potions. And that’s pretty much it. Compared to MMORPGs like World of Warcraft or Star War: The Old Republic, where you have 3 or more 12-slot quick-bars filled with skills and items, it definitely seems too little. In fact, it seems a lot like Diablo 3’s hot-bar setup. Of course, at level 15, you get to wear a secondary weapon, which activates a secondary hot-bar, granting you a total of 12 skill slots. Still not a lot, but it’s an improvement.
This means that you’ll carefully have to select what skills you’re leveling. Simply investing in everything you can is not an option, as you’ll end up with more skills than you can actually use. Does this make combat dull and repetitive? Not quite. For my first few levels, I admit, I was bored in combat. Enemies die rather easily, there’s not a lot of variety involved, and you’re rarely met with a challenge. This is probably why many players testing the Elder Scrolls Online have complained about a dull starting period. However, things get considerably more difficult once you pass the level 10 mark. Enemies start posing a real threat, and I’ve even encountered a quest that I could simply not complete by myself.
The first party-based dungeon isn’t a walk in the park either. You’ll have to learn the boss mechanics, learn to dodge, and learn to block properly. Managing your resources (magika or stamina) becomes crucial, and you’re suddenly playing a different game. Combat doesn’t feel boring anymore, and your mistakes will be severely punished. I can’t stress how often I died at a boss-fight, simply because I didn’t manage my stamina well enough, and found myself unable to roll away to safety when the inevitable AOE of the boss finally came. After awhile, I started paying more attention and by the end of the beta, I was dying a lot less. My perception of the combat has changed though, and I can’t wait to see what challenges lie at higher levels.
That being said, combat doesn’t have the same feeling as in Skyrim. Your hits don’t seem to have too much of an impact on enemies, and hit-boxes can be frustrating at times. There are numerous occasions when you’re whacking away at your opponent, but you’re hitting thin air. There’s definitely work needed in the combat area, and I honestly hope Zenimax can improve it a lot until launch.