As a blockbuster release and the latest in the popular Elder Scrolls series, the game’s launch on April 4th was not without hiccups, yet it has seen remarkable success in both sales and engagement by early adopters and fans of the long-standing franchise. In this review, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the game’s features, systems, and gameplay from the player’s point of view.
As you finish creating your character, you’re treated to the traditional Elder Scrolls experience of waking up imprisoned. You muddle your way through the standard tutorial, fighting uninteresting monsters in a blue-tinted otherworld before encountering Michael “Dumbledore” Gambon, voicing the Non-Player Character (NPC) known as “The Prophet”. He refers to you as “The Vestige”, which is where we get the term vestigial from, used to describe body parts that are no longer needed. This is your first clue that your actions in the world of The Elder Scrolls Online won’t matter. Once you finish the introduction escape, the game dumps you on a pier where you are given the occluded option of heading to the newbie island.
The newbie island experience is so anguish-inducing that, in a rare case of listening to beta tester feedback, the developers provided an option of skipping it entirely as the default choice, foregoing a half-dozen Skyshards for skill point upgrades, leveling, and equipment opportunities. If you aren’t clear on what skipping the newbie island means until later, you may find yourself backtracking to find this choice that the game glossed over without prompting.
The newbie island and the area that follows varies mildly from alliance to alliance, but each is achingly dull. I found myself strained not to skip the voiceover dialogue, mashing the first option repeatedly just to get to the next leg in the quest line. You realize after a short period of time that the first option in every single dialogue encounter is the speediest way to get to the next part of the bland step-and-fetch-it quests that never, ever end and seem to have no meaning beyond dragging your character along a linear theme park-style ride from point A to point B. You can certainly venture off the beaten path as a loading screen tip prompts you to do, but you’ll find vast stretches of nothing punctuated by moments of mediocrity. Even in those few mild points of interest, it’s just make-work, empty-quest fodder.