How to (legally) play The Elder Scrolls Online without paying a sub

Buy a copy of Skyrim. Open up the console and activate noclip mode (tcl – allows you to fly through obstacles), invisibility (tdetect) and disable friendly npc ai (tai in towns). Then load up a save and enter a dungeon you’ve already cleared, so all the chests have already been looted and half the mobs are dead (assuming you sneaked through it the first time).

Having spent today (watching someone else [let's play things safe with the NDA, after all no-one can deny that people on twitch have been streaming this game like mad NDA be damned]) play the ESO (Elder Scrolls Online) beta, this is an accurate analogy of the gameplay you can expect from this MMO.

This game is beyond disappointing. It feels like a Chinese copy of The Elder Scrolls games. Just like a Chinese knock-off Ipod, it looks fine from the outside. The graphics are impressive, the user interface has all the trappings of Skyrim down to the compass and lack of minimap, and the voice acting overly ostentatious (oh look gratuitous John Cleese and Jennifer Hale, boy am I sick of her voice. Butch Femshep is so inappropriate for a raggedy prisoner escapee). But spend a minute playing around with it and you’ll release the functionality is an engrish parody of what it’s aping.

First, let’s talk about ESO’s combat. It tries to keep Skyrim’s combat system of attack/power attack/block for what would you call auto attacks or weapon attacks in other MMOs. But it misses an important element of Skyrim’s combat: collision detection. YOU CAN RUN THROUGH MOBS. There’s no sensation that you’re actually fighting a living, breathing monster or engaging in a duel like in Skyrim, because while you’re busy showing off your fancy footwork, parrying attacks and lunging at them, you are constantly overcompensating and ghosting through their bodies. As a result combat feels floaty and lacks feedback.

ESO’s floaty combat – the result of lack of collision detection and the reactions of mobs to hits

ESO’s gorgeous graphics may actually be a disadvantage when it comes to showing up its gameplay flaws. In an uncanny valley-like effect, it makes its MMO systems feel completely out of place and game-y, breaking immersion. Unlike Skyrim where monster will aggro as you would expect in real life, when they can see you (in line of sight), mobs in TESO have very short aggro ranges. So your character happily ambles past fire elementals and skeletons at point blank ranges while they happily ignore you. The effect is jarring and breaks suspension of disbelief, and just makes you want to play a real Elder Scrolls game. Fans of first person shooters and past Elder Scrolls games will be completely put off the game by this. Likewise, whereas when Oblivion came out it was touted for its “Radiant AI” for friendly NPCs, where they would act as if living out virtual lives, in ESO towns are lifeless. Friendly NPCs simply stand around in various poses (e.g. playing a lyre). This is standard in cheap MMOs like Rift (although even WoW tries to give the illusion of vibrant cities with patrolling NPCs), but it’s a step back from what we expect in a game with hyperrealistic Skryim/Call of Duty-like graphics.

Then there’s the whole MMO aspect to it. There are other players all around you in ESO. Except no-one talks and no-one acknowledges your presence. Everyone is just like you, on a mission to complete the quest they have in front of them. And plenty of these missions are, like Skyrim, go into a dank dungeon, full of chests and monsters and reach the end. Except now these other players are running around looting the very same chests (which are NOT shared) and killing the very same monsters that make Skyrim dungeon diving fun. So ESO’s dungeon crawls or quests consist of you sprinting past a bunch of dead bodies and empty chests, making the game more of a running simulator than dungeons and dragons.

So in summary then: ESO clearly cost a lot of money to make, as evidenced by its visual fidelity, but at the same time not a lot of thought went into its design.

Now, long-time readers of my blog may know that I rag on about The Secret World and how bad it is, but I have now found a game that is monumentally worse than The Secret World. That is no small feat. And we know that The Secret World went sub-free, can be bought for a dime, and development support for it has almost ground to a halt. People will buy ESO because it’s shiny. But after that first month, who is going to stay for the gameplay? Who is going to stay around for floaty combat, empty dungeons and an empty world? My recommendation to prospective players: wait half a year, buy it on sale when ESO has gone B2P/F2P. Hey, if you had followed that advice for The Secret World and Defiance (two other recent big budget MMOs), you could have bought them for $15 and $10 respectively, no sub needed, rather than $60 up front.

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3 thoughts on “How to (legally) play The Elder Scrolls Online without paying a sub

  1. Great review of a over-priced shell it its real, Elder Scrolls self.

    I have played Morrowind TO DEATH (500+ hours) but that is only with several key mods.
    The Elder Scrolls series would be DEAD and BURIED without its Incredible Modding Community.

    Bethesda is kidding themselves and I was a beta tester but had so many problems with the downloader and UI it was unplayable and I backed out. Plus after seeing the $60 PLUS $15/month subscription I was like “There is no way in h*ll I am playing this at that price!”

  2. I just have to say, you reviewed this game based on its unfinished product… I don’t quite understand why you think the game would be 100% good to go during the beta stages- especially an MMO of this magnitude. I was quite skeptical of ESO, being that I love ES games and hate crappy or overly simplified MMOs. But this game, after launch, is impressive. Yes, you can run through NPC creatures, and yes, the aggro range is short. But 1) there are areas with 20+ creatures attacking you at once. How on earth would a group of 4+ even move if you couldn’t move THROUGH the npc creatures? You wouldn’t- itd be a giant clusterfuck. And 2) with how much I have to run around just to do quests.. I would hate if every single creature I got close to attacked me. It’d be unreal how long it’d take to do each quest.

    Also, ESO’s AI? Great. Yes, some just stand there doing nothing- as do some certain NPCs in Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. The venders are typically the ones stuck in place, while there are a few others stuck in place as a sort of “back drop” environment to help feel more IN the quests you’re working on. Most crafting shops have vendors that go about their business, crafting away, sweeping, or checking stock. That’s better than what I’ve seen in the MMOs I’ve played.

    At your comment about running around with other people doing quests- I must ask you something. Have you EVER played an MMO? You can’t avoid having other people in your playing space- thats why its a MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER online RPG, rather than a pure RPG. The chests are instanced, which is fantastic, minus the few quests that you must lockpick. And if you try to group with the people on similar quests, it works out great quite often. You cant condemn an MMO for having “too many people in my dungeon.” That’s just silly- ridiculously silly, to be frank.

    There are A LOT of people on ESO that love it. Its actually quite rare to hear someone complain about something other than a bug- which if you played beta, you’d know was not the case previously. Your article seems to be a pretty cheap, spiteful stab at Bethesda’s new project, The Elder Scrolls Online. They did a fantastic job. The dungeons are fun, the quests still feel very much like Elder Scrolls quests, minus a few, and the PvP is a lot of fun. Crafting system could use some work, but it’s still fine. As someone who has played most of the ES games and has played most MMO’s that have come out in the past 10-15 years, I can say ESO has done pretty well for itself, and I dont see it going F2P for years to come- especially since the next content will most likely involve the Thieves Guild and the Dark Brotherhood.

    While I understand so many people complaining that ESO doesn’t give you the whole Elder Scrolls experience/feel, most of these people haven’t truly acknowledged that this is an MMO version of their beloved Elder Scrolls world. Some sacrifices must be made, but hey, I get to go play an argonian with my friends and capture Elder Scrolls and Castle Keeps in Cyrodil. I’ve been waiting for this game for years, and I am not disappointed.

    Btw.. At least for MMOs, you really, really shouldn’t write some long snarky review condemning the entire game, when not only do I doubt you hit max level or any veteran ranks and experienced the entire game, but you also played an UNFINISHED version of the game. Not surprised you have only 1 person commenting. Obviously not the largest reader base, which isn’t surprising with how critical you are without considering all the details, or even waiting on a game’s release before condemning it.

  3. Collision detection is added to the game. Therefore this entire post is invalid. The video was recorded from beta and no longer applies. This is why you should follow NDA so you don’t look like a fool.

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