Elder Scrolls Online initial impressions

ESO banner   Initial Impressions

So the time has come for Elder Scrolls Online to finally be released.  After all the massive beta events and hype, it is here, and people are diving into the world that it offers.

So, what are my initial impressions of it?

Good Points

 Bad Points

1. The world is beautiful
2. Crafting is simple to understand
3. Combat tells are also simple to see
4. Controls are standard mmo and easily changed
5. Quests are fairly well written, if linear
1. Skill choices are limited
2. No small guild functionality
3. Low level combat is difficult to survive
4. Game mechanics split friends/groups up
5. Voiceovers need work

It goes without saying that the game is still buggy. There have also been some rather lengthy maintenance downs in the North America mega-server that I am guessing that many of the people that paid for early access are not going to be happy about.  But no game release is without bugs etc, so I wanted to focus on a couple of the issues I feel that really let the game down in its core and could be improved upon.

This isn’t so much a review as it is a note of things that need to be worked on that bothered me personally.

Being sociable in the game
There are several mechanics in the game that actually limit the ability of players to engage with each other in the game.

Guild size
As an mmo, it is important for a game developer to encourage players to band together, however ESO has overstepped this by only encouraging large guilds to exist. Small guilds, of less than 10 active members have no guild functionality at all except guild chat, as getting access to a guild bank requires 10.  Furthermore you need 50 separate people to be active in your guild to unlock the guild trading post, the only type of trading post/auction house in the game.

Guild functionality unlock requirements

Guild functionality unlock requirements

This topic was hotly debated on the beta forums, however what I can say is that while some people didn’t understand the need for small guilds, the fact is that small guilds do exist and are wanted/needed in other games, just as they are in ESO.  Sometimes you just want a guild with some close friends and family.

The difference between other games and this one is that ESO has given small guilds no functionality, and no way to achieve any functionality.  Many players do not wish to join massive guilds, especially not at first, and ESO has given them no real choice because of this lack of function.  Many players, like myself, would rather avoid large guilds than join them because there are no other options, but this also means that for these players gameplay will be hampered because they cannot trade.

Agreeing or not with the need for small guilds, this is but one of the ways that ESO has not lived up to its potential in getting people to play together.

There are three alliances in the game, and except for those that pre-purchased (or upgraded their account), these Alliances are pre-determined by what race you choose.  This means that friends playing different races have a 1/3 chance of not being able to group up to do content.

This is of course seen in other games, namely World of Warcraft, however I would point out that WoW only has two factions, which halves the playerbase, not splitting it into 1/3 as ESO has, and lets be honest here, ESO doesn’t exactly have a scratch on the number of players WoW still has today.

The outcome of this is that friends are split up between different ends of the world if they choose a different alliance.  I feel a better way might have been to have the option of starting out neutral, and if the player wanted to go into pvp, then an alliance could be chosen, and for those that do not wish to pvp, then the option of staying a powerful, but neutral party or faction should have been an option.  This would have allowed a greater amount of freedom for players starting out, and less barriers.

As many of you know, the game is instanced in terms of its quest content.  This is in many ways a good thing as it helps show you actually making a difference, however it does happen right from the start of the game, so even if your character is the same race as your friends, you can be trapped in another instance of an area, or town, if you have done more/less of the quests there than they have.   Want to play with your friends? Make sure you don’t do quests without them.

Starting Areas

Oh, you wanted to start in a starting area after escaping Coldharbour?  Well.. yeah, that might be a bit of an issue.  It didn’t used to be, but it is now, despite massive backlash against the change during beta.

You see the issue came up during beta where it came to light that players were finding it slow to level initially and they felt that the starter islands made the game feel cut-off from the open world since you had to complete the quests to leave.  So during one of the last betas ESO decided to skip putting people on that island entirely and put them in the main town that you would have gone to after the island instead.  There is only one quest (easily missed in some cases) that will lead you back to an npc that will take you to that island and the quests there.  However without knowing about it beforehand, new players will assume that the starting area is in fact the place where they exited Coldharbor to.

Is it better?  I don’t think so.  The whole start now seems more muddled, and if you don’t take a ship back to the earlier island, then you can also miss out on extra levelling content.

This of course could be because I played the game both before and after the changes, so a player new to the game may well find it no issue at all.

Low level combat

That of course brings me onto low level combat.  Despite the changes that ESO made at the tail-end of the betas, it is my opinion that the balance for low level character strength is fairly far off being enticing.

In general you want a game to drag players in, not only by the story, but also the combat.  Players have to feel that, especially early on, they are powerful, and getting more powerful as time went on.  They need to feel that they are able to tackle the things they come up against with a growing ease, especially if their character level exceeds that of the mob they are up against.

Unfortunately this isn’t my experience of the game thus far.

Two scamps, same level as me.. and I am dead, over and over again.

Two scamps, same level as me.. and I am dead, over and over again.

I am still fairly early in the levels, only level 8, however it is during these early levels that many players will make up their mind about a game, and if things are too difficult, then they will merely walk away.  Rift understood this after looking at their metrics, and completely changed their starter areas to take into consideration the fact they were losing so many players early on, and their starting areas were in no way even nearly as difficult as ESO has been.

The issue with ESO is that it is prohibitively difficult to defeat either more than one mob, or a named mob with certain character classes (I cannot speak for them all, but the ones I have tried have this issue) if you are alone.  While ESO is an MMO, all general quest content should be able to be done solo, but as things stand this is either not the case, or really seriously difficult.  I have had to close the game a couple of times now out of frustration or rage because I just couldn’t kill two mobs on my own, or a named mob that was guarding a quest item I needed.  I am not an inexperienced player by any stretch of the imagination either, but I honestly cannot say that I have ever had this much difficulty in killing two mobs in an MMO before.  Ever.

In my opinion, a great deal of balancing needs to be focused on in ESO’s early game, because if players are struggling this early in the game just to survive, I cannot see them playing for a long time, and ESO needs subscriptions.

Skill choices

On the surface, it looks like you have a ton of choices to pick from in ESO, especially since you can only equip 6 skills per weapon set.  However, the more I have looked into it, the more limited the skill choices seem.  Even more so than in World of Warcraft.

However this, I can feel, is likely to be a lengthy topic, so I will do a separate post on it.
Elder Scrolls Online – Skill Choices


This could be a temporary thing, but at this late stage, I think we are going to be stuck with it.  Basically there are two issues I have come across:
1. Well known character actors are used a lot, rather than having many different voice actors
2. There are instances of voice acting being patched by a different actor during quests/conversation

Voice actors, especially well-known voice actors are easy to spot in games, because so much of the atmosphere and game immersion can be got through the voice acting.  So, when ESO got both famous actors like Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) and John Cleese (Monty Python), and famous voice actors like Crispin Freeman (Hellsing) it is so very, very easy to pick out when those actors appear as they have extremely distinctive voices.

This is all well-and-good, except that there appears to be a distinct lack of variety in other voice actors. Crispin Freeman is used so often, especially in Daggerfall, that you would go from quest to quest and most of the npcs you speak with have that same voice actor.

The other issue I found was when the Prophet (voiced by Michael Gambon) got taken over by another voice actor for one quest. It was really noticeable and killed the immersion. But I hope this was merely a bug (and it was reported) and so shall hopefully be fixed.


As with many of these Bad Points, I have some hope that over time they will be remedied. It seemed very much like the dev team ran out of time to bug fix the game from all the feedback they got, so hopefully over the next month or two, these fixes will be put in place. Whether players will stay on that long to see them is another matter.  I cannot say that my initial impression of the game has been that positive, but only time will tell.  Whether I pay for any additional subscription time has yet to be seen.


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