There are few things as disappointing as playing a new game for the first time and realizing that it’s not what you expected. Your expectations for a game can truly make or break it, just as much as its actual quality.
As a result, if you rip open your new copy of The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited—which arrived on Xbox One and PS4 this week—and expect nothing more than Skyrim with friends, then you might have a bad time.
TESO is more than just Skyrim with friends—not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Here’s why.
There is a key distinction that needs to be made about TESO before you even think about playing it: it’s first and foremost an MMO, a “massively multiplayer online” game in the vein of World of Warcraft. It take place in the Elder Scrolls universe, yes, but it’s not a typical Elder Scrolls game, like Skyrim or Oblivion, and it’s not just an Elder Scrolls game with multiplayer tacked on. It’s important to understand that difference.
Many of the tenets of a main Elder Scrolls games exist, such as a focus on characters and stories, exploration, first- and third-person combat, customizable progression, and more. From the moment you log in to the game and hear the theme song for the first time, it absolutely feels like you’re playing an Elder Scrolls game.
But there are MMO caveats as well, like the need to form groups to tackle difficult content, picking a class and filling a role in a group and fighting against other players in large PvP (player vs. players) battles—not to mention having to deal with idiots and trolls online. You get the bad with the good when gaming online and that’s no different in The Elder Scrolls Online.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
TESO’s world spans the entire continent of Tamriel, not limited to just a single province like all the previous Elder Scrolls games, including Morrowind’s Vvardenfell, Oblivion’s Cyrodiil and Skyrim’s, uh, Skyrim. TESO isn’t limited to a specific region, which opens up a lot more possibilities.
You might start the game with your character in the snowy mountains of Skyrim, but within a few hours of playing you could find yourself exploring the mysterious jungles of Elsweyr. Or you may find yourself traveling from the barren deserts of Hammerfell to the beautiful coastlines of the Summerset Isles. This freedom to explore and discover maintains the series’ core aspect of exploration, but with such a larger world it expands on that potential exponentially.
KEEP IT CLASSY
With that potential comes certain limitations as well. Not all MMOs use a class-driven character system, but TESO does. Rather than feature 100% free-form customization, you are required to choose a class at the start of the game, unlike in Skyrim.
However, what you do with that class and how you progress through the game is entirely up to you. You may be playing a dragonknight that focuses on using one-handed swords and shields, whereas someone else could play a dragonknight that uses two-handed swords with a bit of ranged magic. Or a staff, or bow, or any other permutation of weapon sets and abilities that are available.
Rather than provide for a blank slate for you to define however you so please, TESO instead lets you pick the shape of that slate and fill in the details as you go.
THERE’S NO ‘SKYRIM’ IN ‘TEAMWORK’
But above all else, the biggest difference between a game like Skyrim and a game like TESO is the persistent presence of other players. In Elder Scrolls Online you’re not the sole savior of a chosen-one story and you won’t be delving into any big dungeons on your own any time soon.
Instead, you’ll actually have to group up with other players on a regular basis to complete content, level up and become more powerful. Even the story itself accounts for this and incorporates plenty of opportunities for you to recognize that you’re part of something much bigger than just your own personal life.
Cyrodiil, the capital province of Tamriel, is embroiled in a massive conflict between three warring alliances. When you create your character, you’ll have to side with one of the three alliances and once you reach level 10, you can take part in the Three Banners War, where you and everyone else battle for control of the capital itself.
Ultimately, whether or not TESO is a game for you hinges on what you’re looking for out of it. If you want an experience that’s mostly the same as Skyrim, but just has multiplayer added on top, then I regret to inform you that that game doesn’t exist (yet). But if you’re open-minded and willing to give a relatively new MMO that just so happens to be based in Tamriel the benefit of the doubt then you’re in much better shape.
When developers try to replicate past successes in their games too closely, it always ends up feeling like a cash-grab or a cop out. With TESO, it’s a wholly different experience. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
David is a freelance writer and full-time nerd. His favorite game franchise is ‘The Legend of Zelda.’ He also has an unhealthy obsession with buying games during Steam sales that he never actually plays. It’s dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter @David_Jagneaux.