I’ve never seen the draw of player-versus-player in MMOs. My favorite aspect of such games is exploration and cooperation, both of which fall away immediately when stuck in a tiny arena with a bunch of goons more interested in killing each other than completing objectives.
Ignoring either of those issues, PVP (outside of EVE Online) feels pointless. It’s sectioned off: a means to its own end that doesn’t result in the completion of quests, leveling up or fighting massive bosses.
The Elder Scrolls Online remedies the first two problems, only to introduce a new, creative kind of boredom.
Cyrodiil, the game’s cordoned PVP zone, is massive. You might recognize it as the sandbox from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. You might, but I doubt it. It’s about as gray, lifeless and geographically impossible to get around as the majority of TESO (though I admit I’ve seen a fairer share of interesting regions of late, like a sulfur lake surrounded by intermittent geysers).
There’s no wildlife to spy and the only structures and NPCs to converse with all serve a specific purpose – that is, to feed into the tridimensional faction warfare that is TESO’s backdrop.
The Ebonheart Pact, Aldmeri Dominion and Daggerfall Covenant all want control of the suspiciously symmetrical triangle of land, and to do so means collecting the titular Elder Scrolls of in-game lore.
It seems a bit strange that items of such power – mysterious, rarely actually seen in the series, and so mystical that looking at them drives you blind – are reduced to flags for the capturing. But there you go – that’s your raison d’être in Elder Scrolls’ competitive multiplayer scene.
How, you may or may not be wondering, does one collect such items? Well, that’s the most interesting part. There are (very expensive) siege weapons like ballistae and catapults to purchase which you and a dozen of your closest friends can use to shatter the walls of contested keeps. In theory, it’s cool. In practice, it’s a bunch of fiddling around to find out where you can and cannot place such weapons according to the invisible laws of video game geometry, then lining up a shot and hoping some max-level Dragonknight doesn’t wallop you in the meantime.
If my experience is any indication, oh yes, there will be walloping.
PVP isn’t unlocked until level 10 – a reward for your hard work spent exploring, questing, and combating. It’s your slice of chocolate cake in return for putting in your time with Miss Trunchbull. Why, then, does it feel rather a lot like an hour in The Chokey?
Well, I’m writing a review; I suppose I shall tell you.
It’s dull. Boring. Drab. Monotonous. Even, according to this thesaurus I’ve consulted, humdrum.
I mentioned Cyrodiil is huge, right? It is. So very huge and so very devoid of life, NPC, fauna or otherwise. After finishing the lengthy-yet-somehow-uninformative tutorials, you’re free to roam about as you like.
That’s a bad idea. I set my sails for the nearest (and only) contested keep in all the land. The walk was long, aimless, and uneventful. After five minutes’ travel, Jennifer, my level 10 Templar, was beset by a level 47 something-or-other. I didn’t have time to catch his name, as his stiff, standing body slid toward me at light speed (showcasing TESO’s colorful bug, invisible rocket skate horses), stopping just long enough to bop me on the head and send me back for another multi-minute jaunt. It seems the PVP doesn’t delineate between player levels.
I was “lucky” enough to have bought the Elder Scrolls special edition, granting me my own rocket skates at the game’s launch. I shudder to think what it would be like to travel Cyrodiil without one of the 17,000 gold steeds available to the plebs.
If you’re willing to brave the long walks (and are, preferably, of a high level) there are some interesting mechanics. Daily quests give you an excuse to explore every facet of the PVP experience, from murdering your fellows to sieging keeps to capturing bugaboo parchment.
Even at a higher level, though, I can’t see it being worth it without the player base to support such a massive, ill-proportioned map.
There is a limited means of getting around quicker. Much like everything else in The Elder Scrolls Online, however, none of it is explained very well. The fast-travel system, for instance, utilizes the same “wayshrines” as the player-versus-environment section. In addition, however, is something called “Transistus.” Transistus nodes work the same as wayshrines, but only to keeps your faction owns. That makes sense, but you can’t use one mode of travel to connect to another, and in any keep the wayshrine and the transistus nodes are spaced apart. Respawn or blink to one and you’ll have to walk to the other.
Why don’t they connect? Why not just have wayshrines shut down and turn on depending on the alignment of a keep? I don’t know. I can’t really be bothered to care.
I’d much rather go back to exploration and crafting. It’s no surprise that I’m disappointed by an MMO’s competitive portion. It is surprising that it’s this poorly thought out when the siege portion could have such potential.
I think I’ll go back to exploring.
The Elder Scrolls Online is available now for PC and Mac. You can pick it up here.