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Review: Elder Scrolls Online, One Year Later: Tamriel Unlimited

Written by Jeremy Shane on Monday, March 16 2015 and posted in News with Benefits

Review: Elder Scrolls Online, One Year Later: Tamriel Unlimited

Or... a tale of two reviews.

Tamriel Unlimited.

A new business model, a slightly new name.

As ESO transitions from subscription based to buy-to-play, and a console launch coming soon, I think the game deserves another look from a review standpoint.  To look at this game fairly, we really do have to break it into two different reviews.  If a player approaches Elder Scrolls Online as a brand new game — and for console users it will be new for them this June — it’s a much different experience than it would have been for them a year ago.  Veteran players that have been in from the start (or close to it) however, often see a very different side of the game and part of that is based on factors outside of the game itself, to how Zenimax treats customers.


First, a piece of advice:

If you are picking up this game because you expect it to be like “Skyrim that you play with friends” or like some other MMO you’ve played, you will probably be disappointed.  Elder Scrolls Online is its own beast and I’ve run across hundreds of players that have trouble getting into the game simply because of how they approached it.   MMO players often feel like Zenimax has negatively affected the game by trying to make it too casual or too much like Skyrim, single player Elder Scrolls gamers feel like the MMO elements ruin what makes Elder Scrolls games special.  Both sides have good points and aren’t altogether incorrect, but mostly so if you think ESO needs to be Skyrim part 2 or WoW 2.  Knowing what you are getting into will make all the difference.


Part One: A whole new world.

If you will be picking the game up for the first time with the launch of the buy-to-play version, Tamriel Unlimited (March 17th on PC, June 6th on Xbox One and PS4), or giving it a second chance after trying it long ago, you’ll probably find ESO to be a decent game.  There will still be tweaks needed to balance between classes and builds as well as a few bugs to fix, but compared to launch time almost a year ago it’s night and day.  

Zenimax has (almost) completely revamped the game and the way many powers and abilities work, including outright replacing some not-so-useful powers with new ones.  They have reworked all of the dungeons and delves a player will encounter as they adventure from the first zone to the last, making them larger and more unique from one to the next.   Quests have been ironed out and are now mostly bug free and allow easier grouping (Sometimes you will find yourself in a different “phase” of the world: for example if you’ve saved a city and your friend has not, you will not see them in your phase when inside that city until they save that city too. - There is much less of this happening now than there used to be.)  The provisioning craft for making food and drinks has been completely reworked to be more intuitive and streamlined.  And the introduction to the game has been remade (too many times some would say) to give players a polished learning experience.

The facial animations for NPCs have been completely redone, replacing the puppet-like speech with realistic face and mouth movements when talking (this had a bigger impact than one might think).  They have added to the crafting system and added in a completely new justice system, allowing players to steal and murder.  Guild tabards and guild stores have been added.  Armor dye allows for even more character customization.  New end-game content has been added with a new zone, new veteran dungeons and daily dungeon repeatable pledges, arena, and trials (ESO’s version of raids).  And they have attempted to continue to balance the game since launch, but as new things get added and other things changed, this is a never-ending process.

If this game was launching as it is now, reviews would probably be much higher across sites covering it than you might have seen a year ago.  I almost wish I would be experiencing the game for the first time in Tamriel Unlimited, but I can’t say I haven’t had fun the last year of playing either.   I would definitely recommend giving the game a try, you should get your money’s worth from the content and without a subscription needed it becomes much less of a risk to try out and stick around for future content.


Part Two: A grizzled veteran whines.

I am not a reviewer that picked this game up and played for a short time before slapping together a review in between fifty other games I’m reviewing and playing.  I’ve been with ESO since PTS testing and have played the game extensively.  I have too many veteran characters and have put too much time into the game and wanted to share my experience with possible new players.  The game itself I have enjoyed, although have gotten a bit bored with the last couple months due to lack of content, but the company worries me sometimes.

I think the fact that they have redone the starter level more times than I can remember and the animations for the player’s first encounter with Molag Bal, but not touched the way Molag Bal looks in any of the later encounters tells you a lot about their short-term vs. long-term approach.

Where they have revamped much of the beginning portions of the game or basic game system, the end-game experience is a little lacking, even after a year.  As a new player you will see several good options for when you get to end-game, so from your position this shouldn’t be a worry at launch 2.0.  You will have time to work your way through the game while getting a chance to see what their content schedule is like going forward.  But, for players that have been in the game a year, they have not lived up to the release schedule for a pay-to-play game.  

I think it’s important for new players to look at how Zenimax has treated their existing customers, because one day you could be one of those “long-term” players.  Let’s take a look at what they have released so far.  With a subscription model, a game is supposed to guarantee better support and more frequent updates versus a free-to-play or buy-to-play model.  What we’ve seen however is the opposite: one zone that was supposed to be part of the game at launch was instead broken into two parts and released as two different patches (the arena and trials were part of this new zone), plus two veteran dungeons added, and a few new features like armor dye and guild tabards added at various points.  Worst of all, with the update schedule, is the lack of new content added recently, with existing players last getting new content (not updates, playable content added to the game) in November of 2014 and not seeing more new content added until probably a month or more past June’s console launch.  This has bothered some existing players even more knowing that Zenimax has been sitting on new content they showed off last year, holding it for when they can sell it as DLC after console launch.

Veteran players have also felt a bit swindled at times as ZoS has rebuilt, or added to, game systems.  We touched on this with our write up on the Champion System rollout a couple months ago.  Putting out a system where new players can earn points in the new system in a larger variety of ways versus a veteran character.   Though they did change the amount of points players will get when the system rolls out as a peace offering to existing players, it is still only a fraction of the same amount of points a player would earn for existing experience.   New skills have been added in the past that, due to veteran players already completing content, were easier for new players to open up.  When rebuilding the provisioning system, many ingredients were made useless and permitted to be sold back for a fraction of the price of new ingredients, putting players in the position to almost start from scratch after months of gathering work.   Loyalty rewards like special pets and mounts (something you see in many MMOs) that were supposed to be for customers that have stayed “loyal” to the company since launch can be achieved by purchasing time cards for the future and stacking them on accounts.  This allows new players to get the same rewards, but also have time paid into the future that they will get credits for (crowns they are called in ESO and they are used to purchase game items in the cash shop) in an amount that dwarfs the amount of credits players get for the months they subscribed for in the past.  

I could go on, but thats a fairly large list of examples that show Zenimax’s business plan has shifted into Tamriel Unlimited mode months ago.  Despite peace offerings and "loyalty rewards" they've shown very little concern for true loyalty and don't seem to mind the loss of players that have supported the game from the beginning in trade for new players with a new launch.  That’s not to say their customer service is altogether bad, they have been good at handling simple issues for customers, but have always fell short both with complicated issues and the general issue of customer respect from the corporate level.

My own thoughts on Zenimax’s actions aren’t nefarious, but come down to poor leadership.  I’m not sure at what level, so I’m not calling anyone out here, but at various points in the game I’ve wondered who is making certain decisions.  I’ve seen simple in-game issues like rolling out a dye system for armor and not automatically including shields — you know those giant slabs of metal on players back that they stare at the whole time their characters run around in the game — that show a serious lack of common sense.  Or an even bigger issue from more of a business standpoint and not just an annoyance: implementing the cash shop without including services requested extensively since launch like name changes and appearance changes (two guaranteed money makers).   Not to mention out-of-game issues like poor communication with players about upcoming changes that had the community imploding.  

With all of that said, I will be sticking with ESO for the time being, so they haven’t run off all of the existing players (only some).  But, I move forward with my expectations lowered quite a bit, and that might be a good thing.  As I said at the end of part one, I do recommend the game and feel even better about doing so after adding part two.  It’s a buyer beware story, not to scare a buyer off, but for you to know what you are getting into.   

I think moving forward, Zenimax needs to be more open with their customers - this is a game people jump into almost daily, a living, breathing world.  This is not a single-player game where updates and communication with your player base can be months apart.  With that being said, getting content out needs to be a major focus moving forward, they’ve saved up content to release, but what happens when that runs out?  Will they be stretching those few zones out over a year to milk what they can from what they’ve saved?  Or will they be able to keep up with developing new content for the future?  Will they expect the cash shop to prop up the game instead of DLC?  End game, or lack of it, will break an MMO in the long term.  It won’t matter how pretty Molag Bal looks in the starter area or how many times you’ve redone that starter area at that point.


Too Long; Didn’t Read.

To buy or not to buy?  That is the question.

I think the game moving to buy-to-play and not subscription based makes it a much easier choice.  There is enough content to get your money’s worth out of the game, especially versus many other games out there.  On top of that it does have enough repeatable content and pvp play to keep you busy for a little while extra.

Any player that plans to play the game along with the handful of other games they play back and forth casually should be able to get what they need from it.  My concerns here are mostly for players looking to dedicate long term time to the game, which is normally what some players expect to be able to do when they pick up an MMO.   We can chalk behavior I covered as growing pains in a game that had to completely change its business model and probably deal with its share of corporate intervention throughout that.  You can also see they have plenty of content saved up to release as DLC so should have a better release schedule for the next year at least.

Time will tell if they can make it work, but now that the subscription is gone, time is biggest investment you’ll be making in the game now after the initial box purchase.  I think it’s worth your time - for now.





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About the Author - Jeremy Shane

Jeremy was born in a small mountain village of a strange foreign land called Weystvurginea.  Banishment for liberal views saw him spend years wondering the east coast until he decided to bike to California.  When he saw how long a trip it was, he drove instead.  Now he's living it up in a low humidity climate, sometimes working on his photography and when not, he writes for us covering books (by way of his blog: Reading Realms), gaming, tv, movies, comics, conventions in the SoCal area, and creates a weekly webcomic: A Journey Through Skyrim.  If you look for him offline, start in the L.A. area; online start at: for his profile and all the social networks he's on... or just follow him on twitter, he seems to be on there a lot: @jeremyshane.


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