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The Elder Scrolls Online Beta Impressions | Better than Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls Online Beta Impressions | Better than Skyrim

by Ben RunningsFebruary 7, 2014

The Elder Scrolls Online may very well be the perfect combination of the Skyrim and MMORPG formulas. The world is huge. There’s always something to do. Random players are there to help out and buddy up with. It’s actually a little scary how well the mix is. Peanut butter and chocolate would be jealous of this relationship.

I’ve never been that big of a fan of the Elder Scrolls series. After 30 or so enjoyable hours of Oblivion, my Xbox decided that it would take 2 minutes to load each new area. There didn’t seem to be much pulling me back into the world anyway.

I loved Fallout 3 to death – it’s easily one of my 10 top games of all time – but I was unsure about Skyrim because of my feelings about Oblivion. While Skyrim fixed a lot of the issues I had and made an extremely impressive world to explore, there was still something missing. I’m quite torn on if Skyrim is amazing, terrible, or overrated. In fact, I’d argue for all three. Skyrim is a master of one thing, the open world, and it is truly an achievement. Everything else, the storytelling, AI, quests structure, enemy variety, combat, is flawed and has been done much better in other games (see: Dark Souls). Still, despite all my rambling complaints about Skyrim, I spent over 100 hours in its world exploring every nook and cranny.

So, it was with apprehension that I approached The Elder Scrolls Online. I’ve never been a fan of MMOs because I find the combat boring, the quests uninteresting, and the whole idea a less than proposition compared to a single player RPG. Still, I understand the appeal and was nearly sucked into FFXIV: A Realm Reborn last year.


The combat is a lot of fun and made me keep playing just to see the next encounter.

TESO is a lot of fun. Bethesda really has taken the best of Skyrim and MMOs and smashed them together. It’s so shocking how well the two fit that I almost feel like going back to Skyrim would be disappointing.

That being said, if you aren’t a fan of either component this isn’t likely to change your mind. If you are a fan, prepare to get sucked into a Plane of Oblivion called: Addiction.

Before I say anything else, on the third day of the beta, I rigged the keyboard and mouse controls to work with a 360 controller and never looked back. This is how the game should be played. I was back in Skyrim but with all the improvements. There’s going to be a lot of PC purists saying that that is crazy, but I had a lot more fun with the game set up like that. Console players and similarly minded PC ones will be in for a treat. Hopefully they add in official controller support though.


The typical MMO quest lines that lead you around an area, showing you everything that has been made for the game, work very well here. Add in the new collectable crystals that give you a skill point for every three you find and the game has changed. I love exploring but now there is actually a reason to go crazy with it.

This exploration has always been a large focus of TES games but here there is a noticeable difference: the enemies don’t scale. Bethesda’s past games have all used a system by which, once you arrive in a zone, the monsters are leveled appropriately based upon your current level. If they want a cave to be difficult/normal/easy, it’s just a simple dropdown menu. That’s gone now. You can wonder off in a direction and run into a herd of level 20 Flying Demon Monster Evil Jellyfish. Basically, it’s more akin to a traditional MMO. As someone who typically loved immediately running to the far corners of the map, this was interesting in a surprisingly good way.

There are simply so many places to go and see that the previous method of exploration wouldn’t work at all. Now the player can be guided on a more focused adventure. The problem of forgetting what the quest was talking about way back in ‘that one town’ won’t happen because there are paths to follow. Entire story arks show off each area and then move on. Sure, the later game quests will still get all jumbled up but the early game content set a nice pace and that is something Skyrim didn’t have in the slightest.

With all the exploring, I would really like a mini-map.

With all the exploring, I would really like a mini-map.

An additional improvement over other MMOs is that quest givers are all over the place as opposed to just in a town. Furthermore, the next quest in a line is often smartly placed in front of where you are instead of back at a basecamp somewhere. That’s where the nice pacing comes in and allows you to just enjoy the experience.

However, it does make you want to only go somewhere if there is a quest there because otherwise you’ll end up having to retread an area.

The story is very well put together and seemed interesting but… I never really cared for anything that was going on with it. The main problem is that a lot of these scenes are so boringly executed. It’s 2014, story moments don’t need to be told by a character awkwardly standing there with a giant text box next to him. Whenever I did stop and pay attention, it was compelling and well put together but everything else about the game is so much more exciting that I didn’t care. Please, just give me my next quest so I can continue being an awesome adventurer.

 It feels more like Skyrim turned into and MMO instead of an MMO turned into Skyrim.

It feels more like Skyrim turned into and MMO instead of an MMO turned into Skyrim.

The best part of TESO is that the combat is vastly improved over Skyrim. This is largely because you can finally have more than just two things equipped at a time. You have your main weapon and 6 skills that can be used. This makes mages actually make sense (in Skyrim they felt odd because of only having a skill for each hand) and gives weapon based character some actual skills to use. This is exactly what needed to happen. Combat in Skyrim devolved into a giant mess of swinging axes and hurling fireballs. This, with the addition of competent skill trees, makes it feel relevant and also a lot of fun.

More on those skill trees: they are a huge step up from Skyrim. Now there are a lot more interesting things to choose from. As in, there are actual skills now. Just like before, most aspects of your character have their own skill levels. You can still focus on two handed weapons, or light armor, or a class specific area if you so choose. As you’d imagine, these class based skill trees are where most of the skills can be learned but everything else has a few moves to learn or at least some passive skills. There are a lot of choices here even if some won’t quite fit your character build. Furthering the character customization is the ability to morph a skill into another one after leveling it up enough. You’ll get to choose one of two mutations of the previous skill to suit your playstyle. Example: Choose between a two second stun or a damage bonus based on the distance to the target. It makes it feel just a bit more personalized.

All these improvements are nice but once I had my five go to skills, I didn’t see any big reason to try the next skill in a line. For some, the damage values were much higher but others looked to be more like alternatives rather than the next obvious choice.


Back to the combat, using all of the various skills and their effects makes the combat a lot more in-depth than before. Enemies felt like they were appropriately difficult and the game encourages the usage of all of your equipped skills. At this point I’m still a bit iffy on the sixth skill slot though. It is reserved for ultimate moves which essentially makes it a ‘oh crap’ button. These ultimate moves work on a type of cool down where fighting more enemies will unlock it for use again. The first one I picked to try out seemed effective but only really useful for large mobs or a boss because on anything else it would have been overkill.


The first person view is excellent and is how I spent 90% of my time but the third person perspective is also pretty good. Everything seems set up for first person though, even if some skills are kind of hard to see.

 Being an MMO, crafting plays a pretty big role. It’s not too complicated but the way it is presented makes it seem like it is. There are a lot of submenus and hidden sections; it can be very daunting. Once you start getting the hang of it, it has potential. I could have seen myself really getting into crafting and all that it provides if not for one thing: storage space. Crafting materials stack in your inventory but if you want to gather a lot of different types or craft in different areas (woodworking, potions, etc.) at the same time, you’ll need to place these items in the bank.

The bank could have been a bastion for these many items but instead it is just as limited and hampered as your own character’s inventory. In a game like Skyrim, which is known for breading item hoarders, can we at least have the crafting items take up zero bank space? This wouldn’t be such a big issue if there wasn’t, for example, a different stone for each style of armor in addition to all the other needed items. Then there are gemstones, flowers, monster parts… there’s a lot. I’d like to imagine that at some point in TESO you get a house and can put everything in one drawer just like old times. Even if that is the case, there needs to be a solution earlier in the game. When I reached the bank storage limit, the gold required to upgrade the storage was 70% of the total gold I had made in the entire game so far. That’s too much.

You might be thinking, “So that’s just progression and how getting further in the game works.” You’d be right but why is expanding the bank even a thing? I’m not storing all the epic spoils and loot I’ve collected along the way; I’m just trying to unload some ore and daffodils. Of all my complaints with TESO, this is the one I’d really like to see fixed and also the one that I think will most likely undergo zero changes between now and launch. Oh well.

Inventory size is still one of the most annoying things about a Bethesda game and I wish there was some kind of perfect solution.

Inventory size is still one of the most annoying things about a Bethesda game and I wish there was some kind of perfect solution.

I only had the ‘pleasure’ of fighting one boss in my time with TESO. It was clearly not designed for solo players. This boss would walk back and forth between two lava pools that would heal his HP. You can probably see where this is going. I would damage him 40% of his health and then he would go and heal 35% of it all back. It was war of attrition and was easily the worst thing I played during my time with the game.

Sure, I was probably supposed to have a party but this is where it would be smart to balance things out for situations like this. Oh well. As long as all the other boss fights aren’t like this, they should be a lot better. Here’s hoping…

The idea of having a multiplayer Skyrim is almost too good to be true.

The idea of having a multiplayer Skyrim is almost too good to be true.

I was pleased to find out that there are dungeons in the traditional MMO sense and also in the Elder Scrolls sense. Both are fun little distractions from the usual open world gameplay. Indoor areas like caves do seem to be a lot smaller than most were in Skyrim though. The more typical MMO dungeon I ran into was clearly balanced for a group but I luckily ran into some fellow adventures. We make quick work of the place and it was a lot of fun.

We completed the area and then went our separate ways. It was a great experience and showed off what could be possible later in large scale PvE/PvP settings. But it also brings up another issue: sometimes you just want to be alone.

The solitude of Skyrim, the feeling that it was just you against the world, that is completely gone. Even in this limited beta test there were people running about in a way that made the world feel alive. But if the real game will have a lot more players in the world, it’s going to get cramped. I don’t want to climb a hill and see people in every direction. I want the world to feel new, unexplored. Never being alone is going to make the world feel decidedly un-Skyrim.

I hope I’m just overreacting though.

The game on max settings looks gorgeous.

The game on max settings looks gorgeous.

So why was my intro so positive? Because despite these complaints, I had a lot of fun and wanted to keep coming back. The Elder Scrolls Online is a diamond. It may be flawed but it’s also a freaking diamond.

There is a lot to this game and I came away feeling very positive about it. Despite the problems or little nitpicks I had, I was still having a ton of fun exploring the world and fighting random creatures. It may not have been on my radar before but it is now. It was simply a lot of fun and that’s what games should be.

It’s a bit silly to applaud a game for changing things about itself to become more like other games in the MMO genre but the mix of the two is a huge draw. And The Elder Scrolls Online has truly found a really great mix. It’s not going to convince the non-believers but fans of either would be crazy not to give it a shot.

For even more Elder Scrolls Online information check out the podcast we did about our time with the beta:

About The Author
Ben Runnings
Ben Runnings
Ben graduated from college-land with a degree in game design and now spends his time working for the 'man.' A Genesis kid growing up, it wasn't until he stumbled upon Ocarina of Time that he drove head first into gaming. Hobbies include: continuing to learn Japanese, playing videogames (duh), reading (in Japanese and English), writing (also duh), and rock climbing. He has also recently gotten back into PC gaming after many years of having terrible computers and loves it.
  • http://breadfish.co.uk Bob

    This game is terrible and this review is bullshit. How much did Zenimax pay you to say that?? Also: “Bethesda really has taken the best of Skyrim and MMOs and smashed them together.” It wasn’t Bethesda who made this shitty game, it was Zenimax. Bethesda wouldn’t put time and money into this crap.
    $60 + $15/month + Cash Shop is Zenimax spitting at people’s face. This game doesn’t even have what it takes to have a monthly subscription. There are p2p games out there that had to turn f2p and that are way better than ESO (Tera, SWTOR, Aion…).

    Btw, i’m a big fan of the Elder Scrolls series and a big fan of MMORPGs, but ESO can’t do any. It isn’t good enogh as Elder Scrolls and it isn’t good enough as MMORPG.

    • Shane

      Someone is butthurt. 😛

    • luciole78

      well its evident that what make you so upset about the elder scroll online , its simply because the game is p2p and you cannot afford it. Not because the game is crap like you cry about , but simply because you ate the payment model! Be more transparent next time , you are so hilarious!

      • shoji

        Actually i can afford it but i agree with the OP, the game is entirely not ready at all for MMO launch nor does it have the need to launch an MMO. Even as a P2P it does not justified the content it has nor the feature it even have.

        Sorry but as a P2P this game kind of not everyone cups of tea and the beta is so terrible. Make me think is alpha and not Beta at all.

    • luciole78

      this is obvious that you are mostly upset about the payment model …. because if it was f2p or b2p you will not be here crying out loud. This game look awesome , its easy to crash something just because you aren’t happy with one particular thing , and this thing is the p2p model. If you have so many other game to play , fine ..but why you are wasting time crying here all your ate!! simple cause you would like to play , but you won’t because you cannot afford the payment model. Thats it!

      • luciole78

        lol I reply twice ,thought it didnt work the first time ,but anyways my point is done hahha

    • Corvo

      omg people going on about SWTOR….. I got to 50 within a week and there was nothing to do at end game that’s why it was a flop and people lost interest they then eventually added endgame but was too late damage was done.

      its £49.99 with free month its always a high price when new game comes out nothing new. MOP from wow was £40… and sub 8.99

      its better with sub look at WoW its still going after 10years there where problems at the launch there always is with every game give it time. I don’t understand how you cant afford £8.99? its practically nothing stop crying that its not f2p.

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  • Mike

    I would like to say that Bob is completely right. If you read his comments he’s not upset because he cannot afford it, but rather the quality for the price and the pay model are absurd. Those trying to discredit Bob s comment are comming across as fanboys.

    I too was a fanboy, until I played the beta. The game simply wasn’t fun… I also had the same feeling that Zenimax paid someone. to write this.

  • http://Jesus.com Jesus

    Terrible game. Just terrible. Simply words cannot describe my disappointment after playing it. Profanity aside, this game will be dead within a month.

  • Pandelement

    This is one of the most misinformed commentaries I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a ton. You guys have little to no basic correct information. You don’t know the correct names for anything that would be the simplest things to research. you don’t know what systems the game is being released on (not ps3 or xbox360). You don’t know what morphs and skyshards are. You aren’t sure which company makes this game (zos). You don’t know how it’s different from wow even! You don’t realize that the classes are completely different than traditional classes or why zos implemented them. It was so hard listening to this butchering. You did get several very basic things correct so it wasn’t 100% failure. Don’t take bets on when it becomes f2p if you don’t know anything over 12 hours of the game. “I don’t even know if it’s good enough yet” yet you judge it based off your own confirmed lack of knowledge. But please, for the sake of ESO and the people who actually love it and know this game (after more than a few hours)-Never release another video. Worst commentators I’ve ever heard. If you do come back for a second video, know your info first.

  • Pierce

    Wow, I love these arrogant, snarky comments I’m seeing:
    “The reviewer liked the game? Impossible! I didn’t like it, therefore NO ONE could possibly like it! He must have been paid off by Zenimax to say that! It can’t possibly be that he/she has different tastes than I do. No, my personal, subjective opinion is irrefutable fact. Paid off, that’s it.”.
    Seriously, people. Some people actually liked the Beta. It’s not a conspiracy, not everyone going to hate the games you hate.

  • Idiothater

    idiot Bethesda Softworks is a division of Zenimax

  • Keihndeth

    Ok I gotta speak my mind here b/c these guys are absolutely doing a poor job. They don’t know the Elder Scrolls series, they don’t know MMOs, and half of what they are saying is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I love ESO. I’m already addicted. Pre-ordered Imperial Edition… Do us a favor guys and do something else with your time. Honestly, my nanna who doesn’t play video games could have given a better review.

  • EDDY


  • ray

    I was playing stress test beta this weekend, and basically agree with everything said in the review. Apart from bugs (hopefully we were the fodder for stress test, and not playing the up-to-date build the Closed Beta guys are on) and loading times (stress test should show them how many ppl they can fit in their “megaserver” at once without making loading times infinite), nightmarish difficulty (slightest lag kills you because every single mob deals more damage than you, 1vs1 is fine, 1vs2 challenging, 1vs3 asking for death) – which I suppose is a way to test the difficulty, since I’m hearing that last beta weekend the difficulty was not even half this weekend’s, it’s a great game.
    Sure paying 80 euro for a game is much, but everything is overpriced nowadays. I personally don’t give a damn about monthly fee (though it could be 10 or 5 instead of 13 euro/month), as long as I only play ONE sub-based game (have to decide if I’m to stay in WoW for Warlords of Draenor or buy this).

    PS: I giggled at your trouble with Balroth (aka the “Boss”). It’s really easy to do (well, at least if you are ranged) – most of his damage is avoidable, you just need to kite him as far from lava as you can (for example behind that altar building) and when he gets under 50% HP, stun him with quest item and dish some more damage. When he starts running to lava, follow him and damage some more, when he reaches lava he’ll have some 10% HP left. At this point he’ll heal up to some 45%, at which point you need to kite him again and repeat. He only heals about 25% HP and running to lava apparently has cooldown, since I brought him down right as he was halfway to lava pool second time. Although I died like 2 times trying to figure our tactics as well. 😀

  • Em

    I agree, Mike. It left a lot to be desired. There were some serious problems with game play (too many to be considered a Beta in my opinion, especially so close to release date.) Also with the other Elder Scrolls games I could play for hours and not even notice, but with this game I actually got bored after a bit. It’s not as good as all this hype is trying to make it seem and it certainly isn’t worth pay to play.

  • Igor

    I honestly don’t get people who are quick to put titles like “game is crap”, etc. If the game was not what you expected, it is not necessarily bad… I was expecting an MMORPG, that would differ form the current ones in the sense of more engaging combat, more engaging story, more choices and freedoms, that would be set in ES world, with Skyrim-like graphics. Isn’t this what everyone should expect from it? And the game is most certainly all of this… I have played last beta extensively, and while beginner area was very straightforward, for the purpose of teaching newcomers, you can skip through that quickly, and the whole world is at your service! Quests are interesting and engaging – but some people say its just like other MMORPG – run from questmarker to marker. Well, if you skipped through intro to quest and just ran to the marker to kill whatever will be there, what did you expect?? In one quest you save the villagers by putting out fires near their homes, in other one you collect debt from shady people (and you can persuade them to do so, or beat it out of them), in another one you are killing a witch who cursed an entire area, in another one you solve puzzles while killing mobs in your way – what more variety do you want? Graphics on high settings is very close to vanilla Skyrim, which was a pleasant surprise. And absolute killer feature is the PvP – once you capture a fortress, with the help of hundreds of your teammates and catapults, that you operate – you will never want to get out of this game… There are of course some questionable features and problems, particularly in first-person view combat, but play the game a little, and you will be impressed and enjoy it a lot, unless you really really want to hate it.