[Disclosure: A review code was provided for the contents of this article]
When it first released on consoles a few years ago, The Elder Scrolls Online was praised for its moving score, its relatively interesting quests and the fact that it was set in one of the best loved fantasy worlds that gaming has ever seen. Now, with the release of the Morrowind expansion, ESO returns to perhaps the most iconic location in the series history, but is it just more of the same?
Well, for better or for worse. Yes. Yes it is. ESO: Morrowind highlights the very best and worst of Bethesda Softworks creaking MMO. For fans of the original Morrowind (The Elder Scrolls III) that are stopping by for the first time in fifteen years, the nostalgic value of seeing much loved locations in high definition glory cannot be overestimated. Diehard ESO fans will benefit from some of the more interesting sights and quests that the expansion offers, but the new Warden class is more or less the only other outright new addition.
I am a returning Morrowind player, and until this expansion launched, I had a real aversion to playing ESO, despite being a fan of every Elder Scrolls game since Daggerfall (The Elder Scrolls II.) I’ve always felt extremely protective about how I play Elder Scrolls games, searching every nook and cranny, allowing myself to be led far from the beaten path. The online experience, I felt, could take the shine off things because of uncooperative, idiotic or outright antagonistic player behaviour.
And you know what? I was at least partly correct. The island of Vvardenfell plays host to the content in this expansion, and thankfully, it is sufficiently vast for solo adventurers to find the time and space to explore with minimal interruption. Quest givers, objectives and similar points of interest are a different matter however, and players swarm around them like flies on… a jam sandwich. This is a common problem for popular MMO’s, but I wish it didn’t clash so directly with the plot in ESO: Morrowind – being told that I am a once-a-millennia kind of hero is one thing, having a queue of similarly gifted individuals a mile long behind me is another.
Player versus Environment (PvE) content will make up the majority of the early game for new ESO players, and there is just under thirty hours of story content to work through in this new expansion. Quests remain a high point, especially against the backdrop of the wilder, more vibrant world of Vvardenfell. A cast of characters voiced to a high standard, and an expanded (but equally impressive) musical score uphold the experience, leading to a product that feels extremely polished compared to other, often free to play, console MMO’s.
In addition to the erratic and unpredictable behaviour of other players, ESO: Morrowind also suffers from the tiresome combat that Bethesda games have clung to since about 1995. Swing pointy sticks in uninteresting ways, cast samey looking spells, focus on the enemies dwindling energy bar to get any sense that your hits are registering. You get the idea. If anything, the simplicity of the combat suits the MMO model, but it’s still far from the kind of nuanced and deadly combat of say, Dark Souls, or even the slightly more carefree fisticuffs of The Witcher series.
The new Warden class is an appealing way to fight at least, offering a decent mix of support and tanking/melee skills, as well as some magical damage. As an ultimate, she summons a War Bear to fight alongside the party, dealing great damage and providing a huge hit point sink. In the chaotic midst of PvP battles, the bear is – literally and figuratively – a beast. The Warden’s other skills are pleasingly varied, with a range of attractive and unique auras that provide buffs to health, stamina and magic as well as some direct damage spells. Most of these are loosely connected to summoning creatures of various elemental alignments, many of whom deal a single attack before vanishing or flying away.
On the note of PvP, an overlooked addition that ESO: Morrowind brings is that of the Battlegrounds feature. This is a more pure, less MMO interpretation of online combat that features two to four teams facing off in various death match and domination modes. As a relative novice, I often found myself outgunned by the opposition, but the mode itself is solid and I enjoyed dropping in and out with a character that I could then take on more traditional missions. Even when I was outmatched, I found smart and imaginative play could still make a contribution, especially when it involved outflanking the main combat chokepoints.
Within just a few hours of my time with ESO, I found that many of the issues that marred the experience have long since been resolved in patches and feature updates and were nowhere near as bad as I had expected them to be. Talk of lag and technical issues, of lacklustre characters and drab locations all proved to be untrue for me, though I can’t speak for the experience when it first launched. The Morrowind expansion adds little transformative content, but what it does bring is more bang for your buck, and as a result there has never been a better time for newcomers to join the fray.
I’m going to be playing ESO for some time I think, and my initial snobbery about sharing the experience with other players has evolved into a feeling of shared wonder and trepidation. There are dark places in the world of the Elder Scrolls that benefit from having another pair of eyes. This is an MMO (probably not unlike others) where friendships can be forged in the face of adversity or where alliances can last a few silent minutes shared in peril or in several hours of amiable banter across several missions.
What I like about ESO is that I can engage with the vast, wild world in whatever way I like; on my own, blinkered to the chatter of other players, or in unison with them. In either case, I found that it was an enjoyable experience, so with that in mind, fans of the series, of MMO’s, or RPG’s in general should most certainly: