It’s been a year since Elder Scrolls Online first launched. And while it was a rather contentious game, with hype levels through the roof, I reviewed ESO here on the site. In short, I liked a great deal about it, but knew it had some kinks to iron out. Well, in the year since launch the team at Zenimax has been working feverishly like a Khajit slave to improve their flagship MMO.
But after all that hard work, has Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited really improved? The answer to that is an unabashed and resounding yes. I liked ESO when it launched, but a year later it’s become one of my go-to games. There’s just so much to do, and hundreds of hours later I’ve still got pieces of content I’ve yet to explore. Yes you still have to play through the other factions’ stories, which can be a bit “immersion” breaking, but with the much improved Champion System at level 50 it beats starting an alt to play through the other stories. But what’s great is that if you do want to make alts, any Champion Points earned will be account-wide so you can spend them on all characters.
The new Champion System is a sort of Alternate Advancement that visually looks a bit like Skyrim’s skill system, but instead of opening new skills, you build out a lot of your passives to make your character stronger overall. The Mage constellation focuses mostly on offensive bonuses, the Thief focuses more on reduction of costs for Magicka and Stamina using skills, and the Warrior focuses on defensive bonuses. In a lot of ways, the system reminds me of Borderlands’ “Badass Ranks”. It takes a couple of hours to earn a CP, but the bonuses attained are quite substantial when you max out certain ranks.
Because of this new system, Zenimax realized that level 50 players (especially ones who have been 50 for some time) would have a significant advantage over level 1-49 players and therefore they made a level 1-49 AvA campaign for players who want to level through the PVP. In my experience, Sorcerers are still the dominant class in PVP, but Stamina-based characters are now a lot more effective as well. There’s a far lesser discrepancy between the cloth-wearing players and the leather and heavy armored folks these days thanks to many tweaks to classes, armor, and weapons.
There have been loads of quality of life improvements over time too: from armor dyes, to guild stores, crafting daily quests, and even yes, better clarifications on what missions are solo-able only so you know when you can and can’t bring a friend with you. It’s not a perfect solution to the anti-social nature of the main story, but it’s much better than before. In terms of the economy, there are still folks who would like a unified auction house, but I kind of like the Guild Stores. Essentially, they’re set up across Tamriel, from simple road-side shops to big markets in major cities. The active guilds can make a lot of money by competitively pricing their goods, and it’s not uncommon to see Trading Guilds set up shop and dominate markets.
Another major addition to the game which brings it much closer to the feel of Elder Scrolls is the first pass of the Justice System, allowing players to steal, kill, and get accosted by city guards. One of the greatest, and also silliest, parts of all TES games is the ability to pilfer anything you see and kill almost anyone you meet. It let players really play the role of scoundrel, and somehow ZOS has managed to make such activities work in the MMO space. You can kill NPCs, get caught be guards, have a bounty placed on your head, and run from the law via labyrinthine tunnels and sell stolen goods to fences, or “launder” them so that you can sell them in stores.
GAMEPLAY - 8: The score for this one stays the same as last time, because the basics of ESO’s gameplay have not changed. If you didn’t like the questing and combat before, you won’t like them more now. But there’s a load of new content added to the game, and tons of polish added to the combat and progression models. It’s as rock-solid as ever.
VISUALS AND SOUND - 9: Keeping the old score here, as the game still sports excellent voice acting, music, ambiance, and visuals. Plus it all runs at a rock-solid 60-100 FPS even in crowded spaces.
LONGEVITY - 9: Hundreds of hours of unique and interesting story-based questing, a deep crafting system, an excellent 3-faction war, and a much-improved form of alternate advancement in the new Champion System make for a game you could play for months and not run out of things to do.
POLISH - 8: The original game’s buggy launch issues have all but entirely disappeared. It’s not uncommon to run into a bugged quest now or again, and the UI could still use some refinement (thank God for add-ons).
SOCIAL - 7: This score is actually lower than the original review, mainly because while the Guild and AvA systems are still fantastic, there are not a lot of people using the LFG tool and most of the game’s leveling content is a solo affair. A group finder for dungeons and other content could go a long way here.
VALUE - 10: There is so much content here, hundreds of hours’ worth, and you no longer need a subscription to play it whenever you want. Add in the totally reasonable and not at all P2W Crown Store, and you have a winner of a B2P model.
The only part missing right now to this rather deep system are the good guys. Right now, players can become thieves, and be chased down by guards, but there are no player “good guys” to equal out the thieves. That’s coming later this year, when players can opt to become bounty hunters by donning a special tabard that allows them to track and kill players wanted by the law. And of course, all of this will eventually tie into Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood quests down the line as well. Right now, players with an aptitude for stealing and committing crimes will advance the Legerdemain skill line to improve their thieving abilities too.
I honestly can’t believe it happened, when I think about it. Elder Scrolls Online was in no way as big of a disaster as FFXIV was when it first launched, yet for the second time in two years we have another MMORPG that has managed to completely improve upon its initial experience to become one of the best games in the genre. While I still believe that people turned off by the general ebb and flow of combat and questing in ESO may not suddenly become fans now, for folks who liked the game but wanted more? Well, those people need to log back in today and dive in. Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is finally the game it should have been at launch, and it’s not done improving yet.