The Elder Scrolls Online is one of the blandest games I've ever played. When I try and recall just what I did during the months* I was clicking away, there is instead a big 404 message. Very few things come to mind. One is that a dog gives you your first quest. Another is that I was sent to a forest to rescue a stricken populace, and my first order of business was to put out ten fires. The inevitable Fireman Sam mod is going to be ace.
And yet, even I could see the appeal. There's something so compulsive about it, that it near enough defies explanation. Everything here has been done a billion times before: the fantasy setting and cliches are so worn out, it's hard not to capsize your brain with all the eye-rolling going on. I spent the entire play time wishing I was dead, and yet now I'm looking back and thinking 'well, it was alright.'
But why? Every logical argument I try to put forth is instantly rebutted, but maybe the easiest explanation is this: getting stuff done is cool, and that feedback loop is what MMOs are about. Ticking off another thing on the list. If in reality every time you completed a task as mindless as the ones found here – tidying room, doing a tax return, killing homeless men for sport – and the Call of Duty 'rank up' music played, everyone would be far more productive. That's just science.
Anyway, back to the game. Graphically, it's pretty poor. Yet it still manages to invoke some slight opinion that Tamriel is, in fact, a place you could go, if you had a time machine and an elf costume. We've seen it all before, and yet it's kind of nice to romp around in it. From what I played, the quests themselves were all pretty standard – go here, do that, hit ten trees, bring back something or other – but, as mentioned earlier, it's easy to find yourself doing them until they all mount up.
Combat, too, was unspectacular, with hotkeyed magical attacks combining with more bog-standard physical ones, but this could have well been due to my low-ranked character, a Breton. The real appeal, of course, is running around in the world with your friends, doing cool stuff, getting into scrapes and coming out of it with some amazing stories. Like Stand By Me, essentially, but set in a time when 'magic' wasn't constrained to 'Corey Feldman's ability to never age'.
When I was teaming up with some of the other journos while I was there, it obviously did get more fun. Getting your posse together and going off to kick some ass was interesting, and I was intrigued to find out just what was going on in Tamriel. Just not neccesarily while I was playing it.
Still: despite the fact that all of the above sounds really rather negative, there's still some hope that it will all come together, when I'm sufficiently ranked up and the story has taken hold. I didn't really get to see the game's systems in action – by wanting to introduce us to the world, we missed out on the good mechanics that might come along the way: the loot, character trees and upgrades, all of those things. But, and it's a big but, it feels like we've been here before with MMOs, and, TES connection aside, this doesn't really stand out.
*Well, it felt like months