As we wait for The Elder Scrolls 6 to materialize in one way or another, and endure the now longer interstellar wait, The Elder Scrolls Online Still Bethesda’s flagship all-you-can-eat title. And it’s not even developed by Bethesda Game Studios.
When it launched in 2014, TESO made a lot of mistakes – sadly, it’s like tradition for big online games. Chief among them was the decision to go with a subscription-based model in an attempt to get a slice of the true state of World of Warcraft. Even with all the power of the Star Wars IP and BioWare’s expertise, the Old Republic couldn’t make it happen. Unsurprisingly, ZeniMax Online’s MMORPG didn’t start out too well. Less than a year after launch, TESO dropped the mandatory subscription and worked hard to truly become The Elder Scrolls (but) online.
The changes that 2015 and 2016 brought about basically turned TESO into the unique MMORPG it is today. Of course, changing the mandatory subscription to an optional service for more hardcore gamers is a big step forward, but it was the One Tamriel update in late 2016 that won many players over. The game’s largest rework removes level constraints associated with regions and core activities, effectively adding layers of player-driven freedom that have defined Bethesda Game Studios games for over a decade.
Mind you, TESO still plays like a modern MMORPG, but it’s one of the few big online games that doesn’t constantly lead you to the next big step in a long list of mandatory quests and progression. It turns out that TES diehards didn’t want the World of Warcraft skin, just The Elder Scrolls Online. Who would have thought? !
After ZeniMax completed its first major DLC and rework of the core game, 2017 saw the launch of the Morrowind expansion pack, marking the game’s first steps towards an annual update model built around larger content drops – like Destiny 2 “. For Bethesda and ZeniMax, this strategy has worked amazingly and has made it easier to follow TESO’s overarching narrative and ongoing development.
For a casual MMORPG player like me, trying to make sense of the constant updates and rework is exhausting at best, and numbing at worst. This is unavoidable in the era of ever-evolving online games, which struggle to meet the unrealistic needs of players who have too much free time on their hands. But the TESO team seems to have struck a good balance between keeping the most rabid parts of its player base entertained and gracefully guiding casual players through Tamriel’s many changes.
You can always look forward to the big livestream at the beginning of the year telling you what’s next in the seemingly endless TESO saga. Timed events and minor updates that occur each year may be cited, but the spotlight will be on the main attractions. On top of that, the secondary DLC that led to — and continued — the storyline of the main expansion is clearly outlined in roadmaps that don’t have the bloated video game content associated with other aspects of the MMORPG.
In stark contrast to Blizzard’s head-scratching World of Warcraft livestreams and demos, ZeniMax pared down all the numbers and more technical nonsense to focus on what makes TESO, and The Elder Scrolls in general, important to so many people: the world and the narrative. Where are we going next? Who are we seeing? Who are we fighting? I can definitely read blog posts and patch notes for every little tweak and system rework.
For example, the most technical ones these streams get are outlining tangible changes to how housing or companion systems work, perhaps giving players a sense of how the optimization efforts are going… mostly. Still, as I mentioned before, all the information I might need is available elsewhere. This prioritization is also felt in the game, which is why I wrote this article in the first place.
We’ve already discussed how TESO is the perfect single-player-friendly MMORPG experience, and a lot has to do with how the developers approach the freedom of their franchise’s iconic open-world RPG. But there’s also a particular sensitivity to how studios deliver content and get players through it.
First, I never felt like I was missing something. Yes, a lot of the game’s activities can be layered, and every time I log in, the timed event screams “Come and grab these shiny loot boxes” in front of me, but that’s really not optimizing me for the world of TESO A must for enjoyment, and lots of quests…even advanced dungeons!
With One Tamriel “softening” the playing field for TESO’s main areas and missions, progressing through the story arc and jumping between areas is smooth as butter, and most of the team-based teams I (probably) want to grind every time Don’t lock me out because I missed the latest meta-build.
Also, I can start any questline I want and understand most of the contained narrative without having to read/play through years of intensive TES lore. While everything is interconnected, the game’s big story is good enough on its own, and I never feel like I’m missing a particular minor DLC for the latest big expansion.
The best thing about all of this is that the overall experience of the hardcore gamer isn’t compromised by TESO’s love of the casual crowd. Its endgame has a lot to chew on, characters keep growing almost forever, and its massive PvP can be enjoyed as the most sweaty online conflict if you will. Of course, some limitations apply, but for someone putting hundreds of hours into the same game, there must be some kind of reward, right?
For now, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the Takashimaya expansion – which comes out in June – while buying new furniture for my cozy estate in Skyrim’s countryside and playing through the main questline that dropped about two years ago. Who knows, I might put a new character on the side. I’ll catch up with you guys…eventually.