Last week, I detailed the reasons that Elder Scrolls Online is better than Skyrim. The MMORPG isn't an upgrade in every way, though.
The Elder Scrolls games are typically single-player games that players can finish in a month. However, Elder Scrolls Online is a game designed to occupy players for far longer than that so they'll continue subscribing. Trying to satisfy the fans of the single-player games while also building an engrossing MMO was a tough task and in some ways ZeniMax failed.
Here's a look at some of the ways that ESO doesn't live up to the standards of Skyrim.
Quick TravelTraveling back and forth in open-world games can be a chore but Skyrim made voyages across the map as painless as possible. Once you visited a location, you could instantly return to that place by clicking it on the map. Carriages offered quick travel between the major cities, even the ones you hadn't visited before. Horses can be stolen or bought at these cities as well. The net result of these features is that you spend less time retracing your steps and more time completing quests.
Elder Scrolls Online isn't as easy to navigate. You can only quick-travel to wayshrines that have to be discovered first. While you can instantly return to a wayshrine from any outdoor location, you'll have to pay money to do it. The fee sharply increases if you try to do this more than once in a short period of time. Horses, meanwhile, are a costly investment that many players won't be able to afford until level 15 or so if they're questing normally.
I understand why the Elder Scrolls Online team made traveling harder. The developers want players to find all the Skyshards, side quests and other secrets tucked throughout the game world. Sometimes you don't want to go exploring, though - sometimes you just want to knock out a quest line before bed. The fast travel system for the game makes it harder to have a meaningful play session in a short amount of time.
QuestsElder Scrolls Online, like Skyrim, includes a lot of story-driven quests with grand consequences. You'll retake a town from bandits, stop an army of werewolves and more. This quests even happen at low levels.
Like most MMO's, though, ESO has a lot of trivial quests tying these grand story events together. Go here and talk to this character. Kill five of these creatures. Collect ten items. The quests are fully voice-acted but that doesn't disguise the fact that many are vanilla MMO tasks.
To ESO's credit, there's not as much padding here as in rival games. You won't be pursuing three or four quests in the same area at the same time as you might in WoW. The sudden shift back and forth between errands and epic quests can be jarring, though. They make ESO much longer than Skyrim but the journey's more inconsistent in quality.
CustomizationElder Scrolls Online gives you a huge amount of freedom in creating your character. You can make marksman mage, warrior healer or a number of other possibilities. ZeniMax even added PvP, Guild, and Race skills to the mix to give the game even more customization options than Skyrim.
The crafting system of ESO is flexible as well. You can make an item that's exactly suited to your level and imbue it with a variety of effects. You can also use other items to improve it after its initial creation so it stays useful.
The issue I have with the customization options of ESO, though, is that they're not very clearly laid out. In Skyrim, you simply use skills to get better at them. You're shaping your character by playing the game. There's a lot less research needed.
Elder Scrolls Online requires you to plan well in advance. It takes six hours to complete research for a new trait for crafted items so you have to start doing this early on in leveling to build a good selection. Skill lines also take a long time to build up. You can reset skill points if you're unhappy how you spent them but in order to move points to a different skill line, you need to have invested the time into that line. You can't just decide at max level, "Hey, I'll become a healer instead of a tank." To leave yourself the option of different skill builds at max level, you have to do counterintuitive things like filling your hotbar with abilities from skill lines you don't necessarily use or wearing all three armor types.
Granted, Skyrim didn't allow you to reset your abilities until the last DLC pack was released. Even before that, though, it was much easier to reverse course with your character. You could grind up an unused skill within a day if you wanted. ESO's mistakes are much harder to recover from..
Controller SupportAfter playing Skyrim with an Xbox 360 controller, it was tough to go back to a mouse and keyboard. Bethesda did a great job of translating the controls to a gamepad. It's surprising, then, that Elder Scrolls Online doesn't support controllers.
As I've said before, you can play ESO with a gamepad if you use a third-party app. This isn't a perfect solution, though. There aren't enough buttons on the controller to be suitable for every situation in the game. The menus simply aren't suited to gamepad navigation, either.
It's obviously going to take more work to make ESO work with a gamepad. ZeniMax has clearly figured out some way to do that, though, if they're just two months away from releasing the game on Xbox One and PS4. I hope that they'll eventually adapt this control scheme for the PC and Mac versions as well. Until that happens, ESO isn't nearly as couch-friendly as its predecessor.
MultiplayerI initially listed multiplayer as one Elder Scrolls Online's advantages over Skyrim. At the time, I said that ESO still retains the core Elder Scrolls experience but the multiplayer provides a nice complement. You can play the game like it's Skyrim but the dungeons or PvP provide a fun change of pace. I still think that's the case.
The thing is, though, ESO isn't just Elder Scrolls with some optional multiplayer. It's multiplayer whether you like it or not. While the usual MMO nuisances - gold spammers, chat trolls - are present, the bigger downside of multiplayer is how it hurts the quests. The thrill of exploring a long-forgotten crypt is gone when you turn a corner and realize the undead army inside has already been wiped out by Poontrain and his companion Megaswordz. The battle against the sorceror at the heart of the dungeon isn't quite so challenging when you've got five players helping you kill him because they've got the same quest.
To the game's credit, players rarely hurt your progress in quests. If you and another player attack the same quest mob, you'll both get credit for the kill. Furthermore, many important quests whisk players away to separate instances of the same location so your experience won't be ruined by a crowd of other players. I wish they did this instancing more often but I guess that would make it harder for players to meet each other.
It feels like some part of the Elder Scrolls spirit is lost in translation when it switches from single-player to multiplayer. Skyrim and its ilk are about an unlikely hero saving the world. In ESO, hordes of heroes run around completing the exact same tasks. At times it feels more like a massive scavenger hunt rather than an epic quest.