The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset Review – High (Elf) Life in Tamriel

Since its release back in 2014, Zenimax Online and Bethesda have added quite a lot of new content and improvements for The Elder Scrolls Online. While most MMORPGs try to changes things up so they stand apart from the crowd, ESO has the Elder Scrolls world and lore to heavily pull from, so it creates an experience wholly unique. The game is quite improved from what I saw back in its beta, and now that it has entered its second expansion pack with Summerset, does the game have enough to offer for newcomers to the series? Or new MMO players? There’s a huge amount of content – let’s dig in.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Zenimax Online Studios
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Players: 1 Player
Price: $59.99

This review will cover both the current state of The Elder Scrolls Online, as well as the new content brought with the Summerset expansion. I’ll spend roughly a fourth of this review covering how the overall game feels and plays right now, while the majority will be focused entirely on the new Summerset content.

From what I’ve seen in the base game world as well as in both Vvardenfell and the Summerset Isles, The Elder Scrolls Online is quite a gorgeous experience. The majority of my time with the game has been on my PC, with the visual settings maxed out and very little actual latency.

Character models and animations look fantastic, buildings and architecture look quite grounded and well-thought out, water has superb textures and reflections – so much of ESO looks too pretty to be in an MMO. If your rig can’t handle high settings though, it can look like a PS3-era game on low settings.

One thing I wanted to specifically point out is a somewhat game-breaking bug: at random times and in random areas, the entirety of textures around you will disappear, pending your camera position and your physical location. This apparently has been around since vanilla and is still an issue.

The awkward thing about this bug is when running dungeons or navigating more intricate environments, the physical geometry is still there. Without a texture, however, you’re running around blind, while hilariously seeing mobs behind walls and such. I can’t believe such a bug still exists.

I’d say vanilla areas and content are mostly on par to what you’ll see in the Morrowind and Summerset expansions in terms of visuals. Naturally, as each locale has different flora and fauna, you’ll probably see the most exotic stuff is usually found in the Dunmer province.

ESO borrows heavily from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with its user interface and its overall feel, if that makes sense. If you’ve played Skyrim, you’ll probably feel right at home in ESO. The menu system is basically copied here, as well as the compass, the questing waypoints, and so on.

Where ESO seriously deviates from the mostly action-RPG combat seen in the main Elder Scrolls franchise is that it straddles this fine line between real-time, action-oriented combat and more traditional MMO combat. At first you’ll be thrown off, as the game will quickly throws curve balls at you.

Combat is a mix of real-time attacking like you would in any main Elder Scrolls game, while unleashing various active skills and spells. You will have to manually attack each foe, all the while making a fun routine for you to really blast through mobs in your journey.

As there is no auto-attack, some of the best times I’ve had in ESO involved finding my favorite rotation of active skills and spells to cram into regular attacks. I know this is a staple of most MMOs, however, with ESO you’re not mindlessly sitting there playing whack-a-mole with your cooldowns.

Pending whatever playstyle you choose, i.e. tank, healer, spell-caster, and so on, you’ll be picking one out of the four main overall classes. Each of these four main classes has three exclusive skill trees, and each of those trees has a variety of abilities to fit your playstyle.

Any class can use any weapon or armor type, so in reality you can really mix and match to build whatever you want. If you like, you could be a heavy armor spellcaster that does a bit of tanking and dps. On the flipside, you could be a spellcaster that uses bows instead of staves.

Summerset brings with it some new content like the aforementioned new region, an entirely new storyline plus lots of side-quests, new dungeons, jewelry crafting, and a new skill line centered on the new faction – the Psijic Order. It’s a sizeable amount of content, but it might not be enough.

If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll probably really enjoy getting a look at the Summerset Isles, a place not covered in The Elder Scrolls technically since the first game, The Elder Scrolls Arena. For anyone else, it’s a bit hard to sell the content plus ESO when comparing it to other MMOs.

I feel like the development team behind ESO were sort of keeping the core game a bit too close to the formula and feel of the main Elder Scrolls games, i.e. you can still mostly play the game solo, the story is mostly centered on you being the savior of everything, and so on.

While this isn’t inherently wrong and will certainly be appealing to veterans of the series, overall ESO doesn’t feel like it has a lot of content you’d find in an MMO. Not only is there a disturbing lack of goofy trinkets to annoy people in town with, some  general quality-of-life features don’t exist.

I generally like to see how other people are doing in an MMO, most especially what cool gear they’re wearing. You can’t do this in ESO, a decision that has largely never been explained. You also can’t view the buffs and such on other players, something kind of critical for team or pvp interaction.

There is still a healthy population of players on the game during most hours of the day, as well as in various major and smaller cities. Dungeon queues generally don’t take long to pop, unless you’re pure DPS looking to queue in the middle of the night. Still, I feel like overall there’s a lack of content.

I also have some other minor nitpicks that I have with the game include the overworld not being truly, fully, open, i.e. each “zone” has a loading screen, and generally overall planning of cities and roadways are poor. Who uses a public dungeon as a checkpoint between two zones? ESO does. There’s also some quality of life stuff missing, like inspecting other players’ gear. Really?

I frequently caught myself warping back to Vivec City because it’s one of the few major cities with a decent layout, including the entire gamut of crafting vendors and tables. I’d frequently get to a new town and go looking for the crafting district to dismantle junk loot, only to never find one.

One of the major downsides I feel with ESO is that it tries to recapture the magic of a single-player RPG that gives the protagonist tons of importance, while also lacking the bulk stuff to keep you interested and playing. This game has no real carrot on a stick, and that’s a damn shame.

I would love to farm to get dumb trinkets to force nearby players to dance, or maybe a goofy turtle mount that increases your swim speed, but there isn’t really anything like that in ESO. There’s a lootbox system, but that generally does the opposite of this and mostly costs money to get cool stuff.

One of the main reasons why people keep playing MMOs, in my opinion, is to grind and get both useful things like gear – as well as dumb things like trinkets, pets, and so on. ESO briefly touches upon this, but doesn’t really go all out in a plethora of fun things to do and collect.

As the majority of the locales you visit in the game have already been touched upon in previous games within the series, many of the musical tracks are taken directly from the source, and possible touched up a bit. Case in point: I’ll never get tired of hearing the blissful Morrowind theme.

Literally every NPC is voiced and quite nicely at that, despite the running gag that Elder Scrolls games have tons of NPCs but only a handful of voice actors. Hilariously though, there are returning voice actors from Skyrim, so when you hear them it feels like talking to an old friend or something.

As with most Elder Scrolls games, a primary threat is usually one or many of the daedric princes – this game and its latest expansion are no different. After you go through some trivial stuff for Queen Ayrenn, you quickly get wrapped up in a massive plot by a certain murderous – you guessed it – daedric prince. There’s a bunch of side quests but the main questline is quite exciting.

Without spoiling too much, you essentially get stuck in the middle of different daedric princes as they battle each other over the iconic Crystal Tower, home of the Psijic Order and the powerful crystal known as the “Transparent Law.” Things spiral out of control, the truly evil daedric prince tries to get that crystal, and if successful, will be granted near limitless power.

The key thing ESO does better than most MMORPGs is that it really makes you feel like you’re the star in a big grandiose story. While this can also be a negative when it comes to overall storytelling with large numbers of players, the questline leading up to the final battle and said battle are pretty awesome. It even has one of my favorite characters as your main partner!

Overall, The Elder Scrolls Online is a fun and engrossing MMORPG that has its quirks because the team attempted at bridging the gap between the mainline series and a traditional MMO. There are quality of life things I wish the game had, and ultimately I feel like the game would have been better off as more of an MMO and not a hybrid, but I enjoyed my current 60ish hours of play.

Could I recommend The Elder Scrolls Online to someone who isn’t into the franchise? Definitely, considering it’s a very streamlined and enjoyable MMO. However, as a longtime MMO player myself, I kept finding myself wanting more things to do, more things to grind or quest for, and so on. It’s a great ride, but I definitely think it might play things a bit too safe.

The latest expansion, Summerset, adds a fun new questline and some other cool features, providing a nice amount of new content for both regular players and newcomers alike. I’d say each expansion will get you at least 15-20 hours of play, and that’s just for the real meat. I really enjoy the game, I just wish it had more MMO meat to compliment its experience.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Bethesda Softworks. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8.5

The Good

  • Wonderful visuals if your rig can handle max settings.
  • Fun and easy-to-learn mechanics.
  • Combat is a nice hybrid of real-time and traditional MMO combat.

The Bad

  • Noticeable bugs, like the textures for an entire instance disappearing.
  • Missing some quality of life things most MMORPGs have, like inspecting gear.
  • Feels like it could use more content to grind for or pursue in the long-run.

Second Take via Carl Batchelor: As a fan of MMORPGs, but someone who is turned off by how obtuse and slow they can be, I love ESO in large part due to how streamlined, easy, and how little downtime there is to it. It’s a very casual, friendly MMO-lite that can be played in short spurts and with no much serious investment, yet still be supremely enjoyable. That might turn off hardcore MMO’ers, but the rest of us? It’s a perfect time-waster.

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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry.

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