The Elder Scrolls Online Review: Epic Adventure Or Epic Fail?

The Realization That It Doesn't Get Better

It Does Not Get Better

Usually when a new MMO launches, the large bulk of players will buy the normal version, and a smaller more dedicated set of early adopters will throw down for the deluxe, collector’s edition. With The Elder Scrolls Online, a disproportionately larger number of players (myself included) went for the Imperial Edition, for the right to play the Imperial race, get a decent horse to start, and play any race in any faction. The perception of risk in doing so was minimal. It’s Elder Scrolls. It has to be good. It just has to be.

For a while on my way up to level 20, I bumped into some personal cognitive dissonance. At level three, sure the game right now is terrible, but it probably gets better after level 10. At level 12, it’s awful of course, but what about after level 15 when we get to do the big group dungeon and leave the landmass we’ve been stuck on? Surely, I thought, things must improve by then. A slow revelation crept in upon arriving in the newest region that no, this isn’t fun, and it is never going to be fun. The game remained barren, with quests becoming even more rote than in earlier levels. I tried to convince myself that I had not been taken for a rube by shelling out $60 for an MMO at launch and trying to rationalize it. But I never, ever got to the part where normal gameplay became fun. Perhaps the fun was just hiding in the next area? Or two levels higher than I am now? Or perhaps if I picked a different class, or a different alliance? I’ve spoken to quite a few fellow players, and this experience is extremely commonplace, especially in light of how many plunked down the big dollars for the Imperial or even Collector’s editions of the game. The feeling that says “I’m just about to reach the part of the game where it gets fun. You’ll see! You’ll see…”


What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well, in gameplay mechanics, it gets boring pretty darned fast. Those of you familiar with White Wolf’s pen & paper RPG series Exalted may bear me out on this, but a game where everyone has a one-hit, unstoppable, murder-kill attack and unlimited, perfect, flawless defenses, gets tedious. You end up with either blind, staggering success that demeans the suggestion of a challenge, or unbeatable odds where there’s no point in even trying. The Elder Scrolls Online takes that approach, perhaps inadvertently, with its PvE. If you can’t kill something within 10 seconds, it’s going to murder you now and forever. If you can kill it, it will be over lightning-fast and you’ll be rifling through its pockets for that shiny single gold piece, wondering if you should stick around and camp the boss like everyone else to see if you can get something more than a gigantic middle finger for mashing your five number keys in the correct order.

To wit, in The Elder Scrolls Online, I have (up to level 20) been in no fights that have lasted longer than one minute.

Abilities and other choices a player must make during level progression to create a balanced character are interesting, and a novel take on the traditional player customization options. Combat can be engaging, but the abilities and combat system being decent is failed by other systems, specifically the minimal combat strength and AI weaknesses of enemies you encounter.

Joe Pishgar
Joe Pishgar is the Community Director of Tom's Hardware US. He oversees the number one tech enthusiast forum in the world.
  • blackmagnum
    Fus Ro Dah?
  • tomfreak
    I say Epic Fail.
  • gaborbarla
    I am hoping that Bethesda goes back to what it does best and make single player games. It is disappointing that they have used so much of their resources to jump on the MMO bandwagon, surely this must have delayed something great that would have come out by now.
  • sumuser
    I admit, Joe Pishgar has a humorous perspective on some of ESO shortcomings.

    Joe brings up good points and I would say the review is honest from the standpoint of someone who just doesn't "get the game". I'm certainly not here to be Zenimax's fanboy, if one doesn't like the game then by all means unsub / uninstall.

    However, I'm having a great time with ESO so far and it seems like there are a lot of patches, fixes, improvements, tweaking, and even more substantial content on the way. If swords and magic is your idea of a cool MMO game than its worth checking out for yourself in my opinion.

    If you're a "temperamental" gamer who wants minimal bugs and glitches with polished content and mechanics in a modern MMO, maybe wait 6 - 12 months after release to try it out ;)

  • jossrik
    I played the beta, and it sounds like it hasn't gotten a lot better, personally, I couldn't see paying the sub. There are so many f2p/buy the game no sub that are good, not great even, but good that the sub methodology just doesn't work for me anymore.
  • stevenmi89
    wow joe bent zenimax over a small table and made their butthole raw.

    i played beta and was not impressed whatsoever.
  • LongLostUser
    I personally find this game very enjoyable. Theres been alott of negativity around eso before release and I seems like this colors the press. Every game has got problems in the start. Ive played more than a few mmos and eso got fewer starting problems than many of them.
    Public dungeons are pretty boring, but I find the quests and the variety to be quite good. The maps and areas are different from each other and quite visually good. Regarding open world bosses and dungeon bosses, well. the writer should really put some extra time in trying to fight them. If he gives up after 10 seconds and die, he really doesnt have a clue what he's doing. Some bosses requires more than one player and a good combination abilities.
    I think its sad that eso get so poorly reflected reviews like this. Its a faaar better mmo than Guild wars 2 and I recomend people to give it a try.
    What a sad review. Toms should really be able to do better.
  • maxiim
    Was downvoted to oblivion a year or so back when I said on some article here that ESO will be a over hyped polished turd. Guess many were just mad, wonder how they feel now if they ended up spending the money buying the game....
  • Zombie615
    I couldn't have said it better myself. This game is the biggest waste of $60 I've ever spent on a game. As much as I hate to say that it's entirely true. I've never been so disappointed in a game and I would have never expected this magnitude of disappoint to come from the one series that I've known an loved since my younger years.

    Personally they should just chalk it up as a failure an move on. I literally cancelled my membership 2 days after purchasing the game because it only took me a few hours to decide it was the worst pile of horse dung I had ever encountered. After realizing I had practically been fooled into purchasing this game my thought in mind is how many steam games I could have bought for that $60. Honestly things have slowly degraded in all aspects of gaming. So many companies are going to the quick money grab route an luring people in with enticing trailers where half the advertised content isn't even included.

    If you haven't purchased this game I highly recommend you spend your dollars elsewhere. I'd consider purchasing Skyrim 3 times over before I bought this game an I wasn't even that into Skyrim. That's just how bad this game is. Do yourself a favor use that $60 to go out an have a nice dinner. You won't have a sour taste in your mouth afterwards like you would had you purchased this trash.
  • zzzaac
    Ah, it isn't an Elder Scrolls game without bugs