Elder Scrolls Online Review

Image Credit ZeniMax Media Inc.|http://www.elderscrollsonline.com/en-us/media/screenshots
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A game that worked well as an offline, single player experience has been forced into an online, multi-player world. Some things work well, most do not.

• Games & Software: MacOSX • Games & Software: Playstation 4 • Technology: Review • Games & Software: Windows PC • Games & Software: Xbox One

On the Xbox 360, one of my all time favorite games was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It was so well done, so detailed, and just tons of fun. I was waiting for the next installment for a long time and then I found out it wasn't coming.

Well, at least it wasn't coming out in the form I expected it in which was a single player campaign. Instead, the developers decided to go the massively multi-player route which I'm not a fan of in general. While multi-player games can be plenty of fun, I generally like single player only games. Also note this game requires an Xbox Live subscription to run on your Xbox One, though no other subscriptions are needed.

Maybe Elder Scrolls Online would somehow be better as a forced multi-player experience? Turns out it isn't so let me explain why.

Forced Multi-Player
If you like to play alone you're out of luck and will be forced into a world with a bunch of others running around you. Many will be doing the exact same mission as you. This means either you kill the bad guy for them or they do it for you. Sometimes it works out where you both kill the bad guy together. Often they kill the bad guy and he respawns seconds later for the next player to come along and kill him. It's like an assembly line of death, only not in a fun way.

If you choose to play it like a single player game you'll just find the other players annoying. And then there is the voice chat. If you like to play alone you'll need to mute that first in the settings. Hearing people around you talking, swearing, screaming, coughing, etc is annoying.

If you like multi-player and playing in groups you'll get more out of the game than I could. Of course, even then some missions are single player only. On the flip side, some missions tell you to join a group first because they're otherwise too difficult. In some cases they're right and until I level up more I can't get passed a mission of killing some spiders. Annoying as I'm being forced to join a group to finish that mission and running around with teens who yell and scream isn't my idea of fun.

Let's move on and talk about other issues the game has. I am reviewing this on an Xbox One so maybe these are isolated to that platform but it seems unlikely.

First off are sound issues. The sound is sometimes delayed or even cuts out. If I jump off a tall cliff I'll hit the ground, take fall damage, and a second later hear the "ouch" sound. In combat, sometimes the sounds are delayed as well.

I've had several issues with waypoints just disappearing from my radar and from the screen. In two other cases I've gone to a waypoint, see the arrow where I should be, and the mission item just isn't there. Leave and come back and it will be there. Annoying to say the least.

I also see lag. Since I'm not playing in groups with others it's not a deal breaker, but still noticeable with other players on screen.

I'm also annoyed at the incredibly long load times. This is "next gen", can't we do better by now? Even from turning on my Xbox One and starting the game it's slow. First I have to hit A to start, then I wait. Then I have to hit A to select Play, then I wait while things load. Then I have to hit A to select my character, and then I wait some more.

Why doesn't the game just auto-load my character when I start it? Clearly it knows I only have one character. I spend several minutes just getting the game to load up. If Xbox Live is down or other network issues crop up then you can't play at all which has happened three times in the few weeks I have had the game.

Graphics & Animations
I loved Skyrim for how great it looked and played on the 360. With Elder Scrolls Online I expected a more next gen look and feel. But it feels more like a 360 game with better resolution.

The game looks good but not great. The environments are nice but nothing spectacular. The animations are laughably last gen in certain cases like swimming and combat.

The game plays well even if the combat feels old and outdated and less than smooth. But the AI often feels dumb. For example, I could run around a tree for minutes and fool one bad guy while I let my health recharge. Many times I would try to hit, shield, dodge and play like the game is meant to be played. Then I realized I'm often better just hitting, backing off, and hitting again. Or just running circles around most enemies does the trick as well.

The crafting parts of the game are love or hate. You'll either love collecting bits of non-sense to improve items or you'll hate it. I hate it and don't craft a single thing. I find plenty of weapons and armor and just use what I find. Crafting is too complex to be fun for me.

The same could said about magic and powers, many are just too complex for my tastes. Others who have the time to really get into this world may love this stuff.

So what about the story and missions? I rarely like a lot of story in my game, but with Skyrim it was so good that I enjoyed it much of the time. With Elder Scrolls Online it feels too generic and boring.

When I talk to the NPC's I find I'm just hitting A to get the mission and move on without listening to them. Almost every mission feels the same. Go here, click A, kill that guy, collect reward. Rinse. Repeat. True, every game can be summed up like this but it feels especially true here.

I mean, why did I have to go rescue a girl in a house who then made me run to another house to grab a tobacco pipe to bring back to her before she'd escape and let me complete the mission. It feels so oddly random at times, as if I'm just being told to run to another place to take up time.

So, I've clearly beat up on Elder Scrolls Online. I'm disappointed in the game overall because I was expecting a follow up to Skyrim and I didn't get it. Instead I was forced into this multi-player madness which I can't stand. I'm still enjoying some bits of it and likely will play it a bit further but I won't bother finishing it. It will be going back to Gamefly long before I complete it because it's just not all that great.

I remember a time where multi-player was a thing developers added to a great single player game. Then it became a requirement for most games even if it didn't work well in that game. And now we're forcing multi-player experiences without allowing single player only? The single player experience shouldn't ever take a back seat to multi-player in a game like this. Here's hoping that they'll get it sorted out next time around and let me play single player, offline.