An 8-bit Conversation: 'Elder Scrolls Online' provides welcome break

Screenshot from Elder Scrolls Online
Screenshot from Elder Scrolls Online

As another long and grueling semester winds to an end, many students at Weber State University look dreamily toward the sun-filled days of summer and a much-needed escape from academia. For some, the salty breeze and swaying palms of more tropical climes await. For others, the laughter and memories of more local hotspots beckon. And for others still, the pixelated realms of fantasy and adventure call from beyond the wispy veil of imagination, summoning both spirit and mind into digitized worlds of sword and magic, where only the bravest of heroes will return victorious.

For those seeking solace from their studies, or wanting to add a little adventure to their academics, “The Elder Scrolls Online,” the newest addition to the Elder Scrolls series, may provide the perfect escape.

From the frozen peaks of Skyrim to the desolate swamplands of the Black Marsh, “The Elder Scrolls Online” sweeps the player across the world of Tamriel in the company of heroes, fellow players and the ever-desperate citizens of a war-torn world. Here the imperial throne of Cyrodiil lies vacant, three alliances wage war for control of the very land they destroy, and the minions of Molag Bal, the Daedric prince of domination and enslavement, manifest in every corner with dark and twisted intent.

Sounds like a typical day at school, right?

But how does “The Elder Scrolls Online” compare with other games, both in the series and genre, and what happens when you take what many consider to be the greatest single-player series of all time and transform it into a massive multiplayer online (MMO) experience?

On the surface, “The Elder Scrolls Online” is visually stunning, with vibrant landscapes and alluring environments that spring Tamriel to life as millions of players climb mighty peaks, explore ancient ruins, trade in local markets, slay fearsome foes and venture in groups to thwart common enemies. Here, battles are waged, keeps are won and lost, and factions fight over resources, strategic points and for control of the Ruby Throne. Guilds are organized, alliances are made, and friendships, though formed through a monitor and Internet connection, are forged to last forever.

Screenshot of Elder Scrolls Online
Screenshot of Elder Scrolls Online

While the introduction of multiplayer is a breath of fresh air to the series and provides new depth and versatility, the antics and agency of others isn’t without its pitfalls and can quickly distract from the sense of immersion that many have come to expect. Though the storytelling, voice acting and quest depth remain the Elder Scroll standard, the crypts of dragon priests and dens of cave trolls are no longer empty with just the eerie groans of monsters and the muffled echoes of your timid footfalls. Now, these once-undisturbed caverns of treasure and wonder are filled with the pittering patters and shuffles of other adventurers equally curious and loot-driven as yourself.

Despite this departure from the traditional do-all-save-all hero mindset, “The Elder Scrolls Online” still strongly encourages the personal experience and offers customizability that delves beyond attributes and physical traits while granting the freedom to envision your character accordingly. By adding a variety of talents and specs (which can be expanded upon and evolved through use and experience), players are free to create sorcerers clad in heavy armor or healers wielding bows and firing arrows between restoring the health of their comrades from a distance.

While some MMO traditionalists will despise this break from conformity, “The Elder Scrolls Online” tends to tread the tightrope between the action, roleplaying and online genres rather than committing full-heartedly to one over the other, and chooses to reward (and progress) characters according to their play style.

Screenshot of Elder Scrolls Online
Screenshot of Elder Scrolls Online

“The Elder Scrolls Online” also makes a break from standard MMO mechanics like auction houses and mini games labeled as player-versus-player encounters, and instead encourages localized selling through guild stores and full-scale siege warfare between three factions. While this breeds competition and encourages social interaction and teamwork, it can limit those looking to transverse the environments as a solitary force.

Finally, while technically sound and enjoyable as a whole, “The Elder Scrolls Online” suffers from a few programming setbacks in the forms of quest bugs, sound glitches, and often humorous and unexpected anomalies. While nothing is essentially game-breaking, frustrations can arise when quests can’t be turned in without exiting and re-entering the game, or a guard, offering instructions in a boss encounter, randomly starts barking out directions in German, to the dismay and defeat of the group.

Ultimately, “The Elder Scrolls Online” remains an evolving and adapting foray into the world of Tamriel that Weber State students, as fans of the Elder Scrolls series, MMOs in general or as new gamers altogether, can enjoy as an inviting and enticing distraction between classes.

I give it four out of five stars.