Price: £34.99-£54.99 plus £8.99 monthly subscription Developer: Zenimax Online Publisher: Bethesda Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4 Version Reviewed: PC
Playing The Elder Scrolls Online is the most boring experience I've endured since I was seventeen years old, when a series of unfortunate events led to my family moving into my uncle's two-bedroom house. Because there wasn't an awful lot of room to do our own things, every night we'd end up playing Scrabble. Now, Scrabble isn't necessarily a bad game, but after six months it certainly starts to feel like one.
The Elder Scrolls Online is like six months of Scrabble, only it manages to perfectly recreate that sensation of repetitive hopelessness within six hours. What Zenimax Online have attempted is to build a halfway house between the traditional The Elder Scrolls games and the familiar MMO mechanics of World of Warcraft. The result is a game that fails to satisfy in either category. Its formulaic quest structure is recycled over and over, unconvincingly disguised with a superficial smear of "story". Players are corralled down the same pathways in a world that initially appears free and open, but quickly reveals itself to be anything but. Your interaction with the environments are necessarily limited by the fact that ESO is an exhibit built for thousands of players to witness, rather than a malleable world crafted for the individual.
Your character's life begins in Coldharbour, a prison realm overseen by Molag Bal, the Daedric prince of domination (not that kind of domination). But Zounds! You escape! Thanks to the help of a blind old man thrillingly known as the Prophet. So begins a quest to reunite a band of ancient heroes and defend Tamriel against Bal's plans to enslave the population.
At this point, the game drops you into Tamriel proper, the specific location depending on which of the three warring factions you've pledged allegiance to. Rather than retread my beta steps in Skyrim and Morrowind allied with the Ebonheart Pact, I joined forces with the Daggerfall covenant, an alliance between the Bretons, Orcs, and Redguard. Previously, the game introduced players using a series of starting islands, but this meant it took several hours before you even reached the mainland. Now though, your character begins his adventures on the central continent. Except, you still have to return to the starting islands and go through that before you can get very far. Instead of removing this tedious tumour, Zenimax have moved it from the leg into the brain.
Regardless of whether you take a direct or delayed route through the introductory areas, it soon becomes clear that nearly all the PvE content, meaning every area in the game save for Cyrodiil, is directed specifically toward you. You're special, you see. You're special because you, er, don't have a soul, which handily explains both why your character is so wilfully obliging when helping other people, and why in conversation you have all the personality of a Rich Tea biscuit. Every quest-giver you speak to, whether it's through the main story, the Fighters Guild, the Mages Guild, or just people you encounter while wandering the landscape, specifically want your help. And that's all well and good right up until you enter your first dungeon, where you and seventeen other unique world-saving heroes all run through the same corridors to kill the same goblin.