“Bwonnnng!” the thundering horn echoes out through the region, alerting adventurers that the forces of darkness have succeeded in summoning forth a Dark Anchor from the daedric nether realm of Coldharbour, dimension of the foul Molag Bal and his legions of flesh-hungry fiends. A huge spinning portal of iron opens in the sky, sending enormous metal hooks down into the stone cairn below and opening the way for the evil horde to descend in bolts of energy. Adventurers, yourself included, gather round and do battle as blue lightning arcs down from the sky, heralding the emergence of wave after wave of seething daedric legions. The fight grows more intense as larger, more malevolent creatures emerge and engage. Finally, the anchor pinion shows itself and a brave soul pulls it, sending the anchor spinning in the sky, exploding back into nothingness as the forces of good win the day!
What do you, undaunted and glorious adventurer, earn for your critical participation in this? No chest of loot. No mark of merit. No title. No congratulations. The icon on your map goes from black with white outline to white with black outline. Don’t you feel encouraged?
After the first Dark Anchor, you’ll think “Wow, this is cool. Oh. It’s over? That’s anti-climactic.” Then you’ll see the same Dark Anchor pop up again in the same spot, and you might even be compelled to do it again. After your second and third, you may start to ask yourself why you are doing this. This answer, of course, is to make the little black icon on your map go from black to white. That is the only effect and the only result.
It’s pretty in parts, but there’s not a whole lot there. The Elder Scrolls Online is the empty, dull train ride that everyone feared it would be, and the millions spent on a fancy new MMO-capable engine and scant A-list voice acting peppered through the too-rare prime fiction, leave the player wanting. Trying desperately to find the fun, and failing. This really isn’t a true blue sequel to the Elder Scrolls series in any sense of the thing. These many sins could be easier to swallow if it weren’t for the gargantuan price tag associated with the game, not just vanilla, but the all-but-required Imperial Edition. There are free-to-play games out right now with orders of magnitude better gameplay and more content: Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, and of course World of Warcraft. WildStar is another up-and-comer that looks immensely promising, with player housing and a refreshing sense of humor.
Shallow, generic, bland, meh, flavorless, vapid, uninspiring, monotonous, ho hum, pedestrian, plodding, mundane, trite, empty, devoid. I’m terribly reminded of the seminal 80s flick “The Neverending Story”, where hero Bastian fights to save Fantasia from “The Nothing”, an elemental force of the absence of content that ate through pages of interesting story and engaging plot. The Elder Scrolls Online is the game you’d get if The Nothing had won and decided to release an MMO based on a best-selling gaming franchise.
Can The Elder Scrolls Online recover from this? This reviewer can’t say. Final Fantasy XIV had a disastrous launch along similar content-absence problems, went back to the drawing board and returned a year later to re-launch with a more fleshed-out experience, and a mea culpa by Square Enix. The Elder Scrolls Online could foreseeably do something similar and populate its vast world with content worthy of the license, but first impressions tend to be everything in the crowded arena of online gaming, especially where subscriptions are involved.