A month after launch, ESO is at a spot where I consider it “review ready”. From a feature/bug perspective, the kitchen sink patches have been applied, servers are stable and the initial floodgates are closed. While I stated that my trip down this path is at a close, I still think it merits an overview of what went well and what needs some work.
If you like Elder Scrolls (Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim in particular) then the mechanics will be very familiar. First or 3rd person view (no one should play 1st person), mouse to target, mouse buttons for main attacks, inventory control, organic skill progression based on use, focus on discovery, quick travel, customization, and non-linear quests with multiple steps. All that is there. There are a few tweaks that can be irksome, such as if you take any crafting skill your bags will be 90% of that material and perennially full. More or less, if you like the single player experience from before, it’s very well replicated in ESO.
There are hundreds of quests and when you’ve completed your faction, you simply start doing the other 2 factions. This drastically reduces any replay value outside of 4 alts, given there are currently only 4 classes but the amount of time required to consume everything is likely around 3-4 months. Fully voice acted too, and the lore makes sense. Some quests are mirror copies of others (so much Worm Cult) but the paces within are decent enough.
There’s a ton of build variety and you can swap between without too much hassle. Skill point distribution makes sense, though I’d prefer to know the morphed abilities first. Easy enough to wiki-it though. Raising skills is intuitive and the power curve, generally works. Instead of fixed level ranges, ESO uses a scaling system for power. You could be killed by a bunch of level 1s at max level and you can take on an enemy 20 levels higher than you, which is very different from the standard.
PvP, in my limited experience, is fun. It’s massive, there are goals, factions are “balanced” enough that no one group can completely dominate the entire map forever.
Dungeons are fun when they work. It’s a middle ground between GW2 run everywhere and the traditional trinity of tank taking all the damage. You’re basically mitigating problems and saving the healer with the tank taking on the big guy in the room. More like FF14 if you’ve played that.
The art is impressive. The initial player customization has a ton of sliders but only 3 races – humans, cats and lizards. Enemy variety is also very limited – 80% humans, 10% skeletons, 10% bears/cats/fauna. That’s a lore limitation though, one that SWTOR had to live with too (which uses the same engine co-incidentally). Often times I found myself stopping to just look around. The atmosphere is really well done and while a lot of the set pieces are reused, their combinations are often unique. Maybe it gets better at higher levels but you generally have no idea what class anyone is until they use a class skill and telling two players apart (assuming same race) is pretty hard. But they do look good, which is a plus.
What Needs Work
This one is basic enough but there are still dozens of game breaking bugs. The forums are full of them. Designer hat for a second but it’s clear they needed another 2 months or so to clean that up. The first 2 weeks of launch and entire faction couldn’t progress to veteran content. They are being fixed slowly but I found at least one bug every 20 minutes that either required a /reloadui or a relog.
The combat itself, I have a lot of trouble with. Aiming doesn’t use a soft lock system (Neverwinter does) so if things are moving, you’re missing. There’s little feedback outside of knockdowns. Class skills are unique but the weapon skills aren’t (except for the blingbling of destruction). I am not a fan of the flow nor the combination of resource management and basic attacks. A standard fight is 2-3 attacks but a big enemy or a boss is all auto-attacks after 10 seconds. Pretty boring.
Social structures currently don’t make much sense. In an MMO you want to see other people. In ESO that just doesn’t seem the case, outside of PvP. Quests are phased, which means it’s hard to team up with people or friends. You’re 5 quests ahead? Can’t do them again or see any of the targets. Public events do not scale. So a “rare” dark anchor event balanced for 4-5 people usually has 20-30 and everything dies before it actually spawns. Public dungeons are worse. Open tagging helps but you still need a hit or 2. Guilds serve next to no purpose other than to have auction houses (which I think is a smart move with a mega-server) and a shared bank.
Crafting needs some work. You can make something for every other level of progress, which is a great thing. The days of 5 levels between tiers is gone. However, there’s no real variety outside of enchantments and the process for increasing skill is pretty boring. The unique crafting stations, that make item sets, don’t really seem to have much purpose since you need to have a ton of pre-requisite steps complete before. Just doesn’t seem balanced. The only good thing I see about crafting right now is that repair costs are so prohibitive, that crafting is a free alternative. A full repair at level 35 costs about 2,000 gold which takes about 3 levels to actually fund. By crafting, I’ve easily saved about 30,000 gold. It’s odd that this is the first game where crafting is not a money maker but a massive money saver. Does raise concerns around high level repair where you might not be able to re-craft….
Balance is sorely needed. Many skills don’t work as described, or don’t scale or just don’t work. Maybe the tooltips need to be changed. I do know that AE skills are currently uncapped, which makes coordinated PvP efforts essentially an AE spam-fest. AE stacking of 5 attacks can kill 1 person like it can kill 20. It makes bottlenecks that much deadlier (or zergs). Stat scaling and enemy scaling also need tweaking. 1 hand and shield does ~50% of the damage of all other attacks. Assuming they are using a tank build, they also take ~20% less damage (armor is not linear). That math doesn’t work. Some enemies appear to be scaled incorrectly, or designed for multiple people. The main quests in particular are unforgiving.
ESO is a decent game and scratches quite a few itches. If you enjoy the single player aspect of the ES franchise and like the massive PvP then you’re in a good spot. I think $15 is a bit much for that but that’s my opinion. The MMORPG stuff, that still needs a lot of work. If you’re on the fence for trying it, I’d suggest coming back after the summer.