Elder Scrolls Online is really a hybrid game - part epic
single-player RPG, part MMO. As such, it simply wouldn't do to compare it
outright to any one game - most other games are either-or, not both.
Instead, when looking at the constituent parts of the Elder Scrolls
Online, it may be more beneficial to compare and contrast them against the
Competition: Other Elder Scrolls games
Elder Scrolls games have traditionally been skill-based rather than
class-based, and that's essentially the same path that Elder Scrolls
Online has taken. In most previous Elder Scrolls games, selecting or
creating a character class meant choosing a set of skills that started at
higher values and improved faster than others. TES V: Skyrim broke away
from that mold and presented us with an essentially class-free,
skill-based advancement system. Almost.
Really, Skyrim only presented us with one "character class": the
Dovahkiin. The Dovahkiin can use any armor or weapon or magic spell in the
game, and the more he uses them, the better he gets with them. But he
comes packaged with a unique skill set not shared by other characters -
the Thu'ums. In the MMO sense, the Dovahkiin's shouts are essentially
class skills for the only class in the game.
The Elder Scrolls Online offers 4 different classes, but they are closer
to Dovahkiin than to the older Elder Scrolls classes for which they are
named, or to traditional on-rails MMO classes. Like the Dovahkiin, each
class comes with a particular and unique set of skills, but can wear any
armor and use any weapon in the game. For the most part, class only
loosely defines a character's combat role (except for the role of Healer -
in the current beta, only Templars have healing abilities). Mage-tanks are
perfectly viable, as are heavy-plate archers.
Competition: Star Wars: The Old Republic
There are two core conflicts at play in the Elder Scrolls Online - the
three-way contention for the Emerald Throne in Cyrodiil, and the battle
against Molag Ball as he attempts to drag all of Nirn into his own private
hell of Coldharbor. We know absolutely how these events play out over the
course of history - all other Elder Scrolls games are set far into the
future, and contain historical references to the setting of ESO.
Eventually, Molag Bal is shut down and denied, and an Imperial named Tiber
Septim steps up and takes control of the Cyrodiilic Empire.
Tiber Septim doesn't come along for a few hundred years or so, so we can
guess that the three-way power struggle kind of rages on more or less
indefinitely. But the battle against Molag Bal is more immediate, and
likely reaches a decisive resolution within the story arc of the game.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
works in a similar way. The conflict between the Republic and the Sith
Empire will rage on well into the future, and we know that eventually
Darth Bane will come up with his Rule of Two, driving the Sith
underground, the Republic will come to be the dominant political force in
the galaxy, and will be supplanted by a wily Darth Sidious, who transforms
the Republic into the Galactic Empire. These events are all basically set
in stone. But there are eight other story arcs at work in SWTOR - one for
each base character class - which come to a firm resolution at around
level cap. The stories are brilliant and engaging, and they're all fully
voice-acted, but they come to an eventual conclusion.
The style of interaction is slightly different, though: SWTOR's stories
feature little dramatic scenes with multiple camera angles and character
movement and voiced dialogue by the player character, like a bunch of
little movies. ESO's stories are fully voiced, but stay focused on one
animated-mannequin NPC the whole time, the same as pretty much any other
Elder Scrolls game but with more NPC body animation. Guild
Wars 2 works in a similar way, with animated but static cut
scenes, but uses them only for main story cut scenes. ESO, like SWTOR,
uses them for practically every quest.
Both SWTOR and ESO have branching story options reflecting the
character's morality. SWTOR has far more of these, of course, but that
just makes ESO's branched options feel more significant.
In a way, the brilliant storytelling was one factor that contributed to
SWTOR's rapid decline as a subscription-based MMO. Elaborate storytelling
was one of the main attractions of the game, and remains so now. And it should, because they spent a crap-load of money on it. But once
the story is played out, players are left with gear-grind group runs,
end-game PvP or rolling a new character and playing a different story, pretty much the same as in every other MMO. To
be perfectly honest, I'm still more or less happy with that arrangement
because I haven't played through all the class stories yet. But loads of
players did play them all through, pretty much right away, vastly
exceeding BioWare's expectations of how quickly content is consumed by
avid players. And then those players got burned out by a lack of engaging
endgame content and left. Continued development funded by an emergency F2P
conversion pulled some of those former players back into the game, but for
a while there, things looked pretty shaky. This has to be a major worry
for ZeniMax Online, and we can only hope that they have a back-door F2P
recovery plan in place just in case things don't work out with their
subscription model like they are surely hoping. The escape plan helped SWTOR - and many other subscription games before it - bounce back and re-grow.
Competition: DC Universe Online
The Elder Scrolls series has been multi-platform ever since TES III:
Morrowind. I still have my ancient Xbox version, and my ancient Xbox to
play it on - though I had it for PC first, the Xbox version is the one I
actually played all the way through. TES IV: Oblivion was also
multi-platform, and the console versions outsold the PC versions. And a
lot more people played Skyrim than played either previous title, but most
of those players did so with a controller rather than a mouse and
keyboard. Releasing the Elder Scrolls Online as a multi-platform title
therefore makes a great deal of sense. Players know the brand name now,
and they know it as a console title. Even though it's a MMO with a monthly
When DC Universe Online
launched as a multi-platform MMO, it was also subscription-based. That
didn't last for long, though - within 10 months, they had to convert to a
"Freemium" hybrid F2P model with a cash shop and optional subscription
plan, for both the PC version and the console version. Not because it is a
terrible game - it's actually pretty awesome, with engaging gameplay and a
killer IP, and it allows UberGunky to keep the citizens of Metropolis safe and be bros with Superman - but because that's how the market works.
Like DCUO, ZeniMax is keeping console players and PC players on their own
separate servers. Also like DCUO, and like the last couple of Elder
Scrolls games, the console versions will probably way outsell the PC
versions, despite the earlier launch for PC. It remains to be seen of the
Elder Scrolls Online can break the mold and maintain a subscription-paying
player base for more than 10 months.
Graphics and Sound
Competition: Previous Elder Scrolls Games
Sound-wise, you'll know you're playing an Elder Scrolls game the moment
you hear those sweet, familiar Jeremy Soule themes. Some of the voice
acting will sound a bit familiar, too, but far from all of it. On the
other hand, in terms of graphics, this comparison is only really fair
because this game is bearing the Elder Scrolls brand. But it's really not
fair at all, because it's a different sort of game with different system
Skyrim was (and still is) a freakin' gorgeous game. Even with the weird
face textures when it first launched, it looked amazing - gritty and
realistic with just enough style to be cool. Back in its day, Oblivion
looked pretty amazing, too. And a hundred years ago when Morrowind was
current tech, that game looked fantastic also. Each game has looked
significantly better than the game before it.
Well, friend-o, this isn't The Elder Scrolls VI, and it's not a
continuation of that upward trend. ESO is a gorgeous game for a MMO, but
if you go in expecting improvements over the graphics of Skyrim, you are
going to be disappointed. Many of the NPCs in ESO look like plastic
mannequins compared to the muscle-bound, grimy Nords of Skyrim. The
environments are breathtaking, but the character models have the
long-legged stiffness of the Morrowind character models, and the lower
polygon counts and simpler skeletons of a game from several years ago. The
textures wrapped around those character models are great, but they're not
near the grimy, big-pored hi-def Skyrim models. Some of the NPCs look kind
of plastic. The graphics fall somewhere between Oblivion and Skyrim
That's how MMOs roll, though. You will never get video-card-crushing
graphics in a MMO because that's too much data to stream at once. Good
video cards get taxed enough in mid-grade MMOs when a large number of
characters appear on screen at once, all crackling with enchantments and
casting spells and fluttering their capes. If you start adding thousands
of extra polygons per character, and all the fancy pixel shaders and
shadow renderers and lighting enhancers and refraction vectors and all the
techy stuff that makes the very newest games push the most powerful cards
to their limits, your trip into town turns into a slideshow and your video
card starts smoking. Also, at 20+ gigabytes, the game client is already
big enough. Adding a bunch of fancy new tech and more polygons would only
make it more gigantic and bloated.
The best games do lots with little, managing to look pretty without
hammering your bandwidth and GPU processing power. For a MMO, Elder
Scrolls Online looks quite pretty. Not "better than Skyrim" pretty, but
certainly "better than a lot of other MMOs" pretty.
Competition: World of Warcraft. HA HA Just kidding!
But seriously, World of
Warcraft is the elephant in every other MMO's room.
Comparisons will inevitably be made because it's a high-fantasy MMO with
elves and humans and orcs, regardless of whether or not the game bears any
other resemblances in terms of gameplay. I believe a lot of people are
fearing that ESO will be another "WoW clone" set in an Elder Scrolls
themepark, which is totally not the case (though I imagine the term will
pop up a lot in general chat in the low level areas for a while, because
it always does). So let's just get it out of the way in order that we
might discuss more accurate comparisons.
It does have some genre-specific similarities to WoW, as stated above.
Characters go questing for gear and gold and story advancement, and both
games feature crafting. And that's about all they have in common.
The action combat style is more modern than what WoW and its legion of
"clones" uses, closer in spirit to Guild Wars 2 or Neverwinter
Enemy power-attacks are telegraphed with red marks on the ground. The
character hits whatever is in front of his weapon, not what he has
tab-locked onto. It's a "soft targeting" system - targeted enemies are
highlighted, and ranged attacks might curve a bit to hit targeted enemies
on the move, but some enemies tend to move around a lot and avoid getting
hit. Like the ninja goblins on Stros M'kai, who perform spectacular Yuen
Wo Ping-style wire-fu overhead leaps to get behind their attackers. If you
play in 3rd person view, it's kind of funny to watch. If you're playing in
1st person, you might be all "Whaaaa..." for a second until you realize he
ninja'd behind you.
Telegraphed enemy attacks, like those seen in Neverwinter, are a hallmark
of the modern action-combat MMO.
As mentioned earlier, classes are quite flexible, so a character's gear
and skill loadout plays a really significant part in determining his
combat role. Sorcerer with a 2-handed axe? Sure, why not! In this sense,
it is once again more like Guild Wars 2, where warriors and wizards can
use many of the same weapons to more or less equal effect. And with a
maximum of 5 slottable combat powers, to be split between the dozens of
class-specific powers and shared common, racial and weapon specialization
powers, it's important to work out an effective combat rotation, the same
as some old-school games like original EverQuest.
It's going to be terribly interesting seeing some of the wonky build
failures that come with that kind of flexibility and lack of any real
guidelines. As with any game, ESO will be some players' very first, and it
is sure to draw in some players who have played all the Elder Scrolls
games but not one MMO. Heavily-armored stealth archers tend to work
super-awesome in Skyrim, and even for low-level solo questing in ESO, but
such characters might not work so well in a multiplayer dungeon, and are
liable to get eaten alive by the super-efficient min-maxers in PvP.
We can't really make a PvP comparison just yet. That's a whole other beta
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our World of Warcraft Game Page.