The Elder Scrolls Online has come a long way since it first launched on PlayStation 4 back in 2015. The development team over at ZeniMax Online Studios has done a solid job in keeping the MMORPG relevant, with regular updates and huge expansions continually improving and expanding the overall experience. It's this dedication -- and my fondness for The Elder Scrolls -- that's kept me coming back to Tamriel time and time again over the last three years.
The Elder Scrolls Online gets a lot of negativity simply because it's not a traditional Elder Scrolls title. After the gigantic success of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, many wanted Bethesda to crack on with the next mainline entry in the series. Instead, The Elder Scrolls Online was announced, and a little bit like what's happening now with Fallout 76, some people lost their minds. It's more than fair to want more of something that you enjoy, but I'm willing to bet that a lot of the complaints come from those who haven't even given The Elder Scrolls Online a chance.
Now, that's not to say ESO (yeah, I'm not writing The Elder Scrolls Online another dozen times) is a stand-in for a traditional Elder Scrolls game, because it most certainly isn't. It's not just "Skyrim, only multiplayer" -- it's a full MMO with an Elder Scrolls skin. And boy is it a big MMO. ESO's game world is absolutely gigantic, and the map's so huge that each journey really does feel like a proper adventure out into the unknown. Striding into a whole new region after spending hours upon hours exploring the last makes Tamriel seem like a land of infinite possibilities.
As you can probably already tell, I don't think ESO deserves much of the stick that it gets. The game's got a large and dedicated community for a reason -- and the fact that the developer is able to put as much work into the project as it does perhaps tells you everything that you need to know. Funnily enough, though, I don't think it's the MMO aspect of ESO that makes it worth playing. It's the other half of the equation -- the RPG half -- that's always clicked for me.
ESO isn't a single-player game -- you obviously have to be online to play -- but contrary to what many may think, it's entirely possible to enjoy the vast majority of content alone. Unlike a lot of MMOs, a surprising amount of effort has been invested in making the release feel like your typical single-player fantasy RPG. All the non-playable character dialogue is fully voiced. There's a quest or two around every corner. There are lengthy, branching storylines that guide you from one location to the next, with recurring characters offering touches of personal investment.
Simply put, ESO is better at being an RPG than a lot of other RPGs -- and that's the case even when taking the presence of other players into account. There are quests in ESO that, dare I say it, are better than the ones that you'd find in an actual single-player Elder Scrolls game. Hell, they're delivered by better characters -- more memorable characters.
Impressively, player choice in ESO is more prominent than it is in the core series -- and that's quite bizarre when you stop and think about it. Numerous quests end with tough moral decisions that are yours to make. Characters that you've got to know over the course of several adventures can be killed off, and your actions are often referenced deeper into the game. It's the kind of thing I never expected when I first started ESO, but there's no denying that the ability to leave my mark on the story has kept me invested.
I'd argue that ZeniMax Online Studios has doubled down on these RPG principles over the last couple of years to great effect. Both Morrowind and Summerset -- the title's two biggest expansions -- have featured some of the best, most inventive quests in the whole game. And again, this is an MMORPG we're talking about.
I wanted to shed some light on this side of ESO because I'm sure that it gets overlooked all too often -- at its core it really is a surprisingly robust and well worked RPG. For me, the co-op and player-versus-player stuff is just the icing on the cake. I don't think ESO will ever truly shrug off the (mostly unwarranted) criticism that comes courtesy of it not being a "proper" Elder Scrolls title, but I'd encourage fans of the genre to at least give it a shot. Back in 2015, I never thought I'd be frequently returning to ESO just to see how single-player storylines would end.
Have you played The Elder Scrolls Online? What do you think of it as an RPG? Make some difficult moral decisions in the comments section below.