Ever since my close friend, Ben, got his hands on the pre-release beta for ESO way back when, I’ve remained a devout nay-sayer regarding ESO…

“It has no good exploration! The quests are all shit! There are no memorable characters! The combat is crap! It’s not a proper Elder Scrolls game!”

These thoughts and opinions stewed inside of me for years, as I hopped around MMO’s like Tera, Final Fantasy XIV and even World of Warcraft for a short while… And whilst Final Fantasy XIV has definitely captured my heart, ESO is the MMO that has captured my soul. The urge for exploration is something that I feel a lot of MMO’s lack, with their worlds being barren and lonely even at the best of times; ESO however – be it through it’s existing lore or the underlying desire to see older Elder Scrolls locations far in the past – completely succeeds in this territory. Locations are diverse, pulling from the various lore books and stories, and, obviously the games as well; Morrowind especially blew me away with it’s completely faithful recreation of Vvardenfell, with popular places such as Vivec City still under construction at the time, Balmora and Seyda Neen being covered in dense alien-like fauna before the ash of the Red Mountain spread to decimate the local plant life, Tel Mora and the various Telvani settlements stand tall still growing, and even the smaller Ashlander camps each have their own sense of scale and personality that feels distinct from one another…

…And bear in mind that this is only one of the explorable areas in the game… You still have the Summerset isles, Cyrodill, Valenwood, Deshaan, Stormhaven, Skyrim’s Eastmarch and The Rift, and so many more; it feels like a properly fleshed out and considered world, even going as far to include the more supernatural or etheral planes of reality such as the Clockwork City, Coldharbour, Artaeum and various Daedric realms in Oblivion – You truly get to explore the world of Tamriel and the majority of what lies outside of it’s simple surface – With Elsweyr also arriving in Early Access next month resulting in a full release later on in June, it’s safe to say that in terms of the scale of content on offer, you definitely won’t be let down by Elder Scrolls Online.

But what about the quests? Is there a reason to care about all this exploration? Well… Yes, there definitely is! Each of the major zones introduced via Expansions have their own plots that tie into the various DLC’s (Smaller questlines and features that aren’t as large as a major expansion, such as Dark Brotherhood or Orsinium), all with their own shocking twists and turns, but outside of these major Expansions, you have a huge array of varied quests to attend to; just to put it into perspective, in my first month playing the game, I’ve helped a naked frozen man escape the clutches of his witch master… Only for him to be turned into an Alit later; I’ve helped a budding novellist in a variety of expeditions only to torment the poor sod for his poor behaviour and horrid lack of manners; I’ve assisted in political struggles and broken up bar fights, and I’ve also dabbled in freeing the odd Argonian or Kahjit Vvardenfell-ian slave or two… There’s not that feeling of repetiton seen in so many other MMO’s which simply default to ‘Kill X of Y’ or ‘Collect X of Y’ – Yes, you still have ‘Go to X and talk to Y’ quests, but at least you’re given compelling reasons to do so.

Progressing from continent to continent feels like a world-wide adventure, and, despite having cleared nearly all of Vvardenfell, I’m still only in the mid-30’s in terms of level, and still learning things not only about the world, but also about the game and it’s mechanics after nearly 70 hours spent in Zenimax Online’s compelling world; again, the only MMO that gives me the exact same feeling is Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV.

Character customisation and personalisation is also another huge part of ESO, with it having some seriously impressive clothing systems that allows you to dye every piece of your equipment near-individually, including premium outfits such as full-body suits of armour or gentlemanly suits… Nearly everyone in the world of Tamriel looks different, and has their own personal little notes in their designs; me? I’m Blackbeard, mate. Give me a legendary staff of ancient storm power and a massive jewelled greatsword and I’ll be swashbuckling ’till the cows come home! Others may opt for dark-looking Daedra, majestic dragon princesses, or hell, a naked jester that vomits on everyone he sees. It’s surprisingly diverse, given the more monotone design choices shown in the mainline Elder Scrolls titles where every Tom, Dick and Harry is stuck in the same old armour or plain-Jane designs.

Combat is probably the weakest aspect of ESO quite honestly, not being on the same sort of complexity as something like Final Fantasy XIV, but it’s by no means poor – A variety of status effects, cooldowns, specials and combat styles permeate ESO, just it lacks a distinct focus; whereas Final Fantasy XIV’s Job system can help one character adopt many different roles, ESO’s system instead lets you learn any piece of equipment off the bat, but you’re locked to a specific class upon starting – This is especially noticeable when you start a new Expansion with an existing character, as you’re stuck with whatever you have instead of the flashy new class that just got introduced. It’s either time to create a new character and start all again, fork out money to buy a class change voucher, or to just forget about keeping with modern class trends.

There’s so much more that I want to talk about regarding ESO, but for the sake of your sanity and my poor, poor typing fingers, I think I’ll save it for a deeper dive next time… If you’re interested in giving ESO a shot, the game is usually on sale, and – with Elsweyr arriving soon – now is the perfect time to delve head-first into Zenimax Online’s compelling recreation of Tamriel.