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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews The Elder Scrolls Online.

TranscriptEdit

Do you remember that time not too long ago when it seemed like everything was getting made into an MMO? Star Wars, Star Trek, Conan, Defiance; they were talking about doing ones for Stargate and Firefly. problem is, nobody asked for any of it! Especially not Defiance; none of the Defiance fans were asking for an MMO 'cos both of them were off sick!

It's very difficult to persuade MMO players to stick with a new one for long, 'cos all MMOs are just endlessly killing dudes that have been neatly distributed across a meadow and all a new one can do is change the colour of the grass and what hats everyone is wearing. So sooner or later players will be back to the one they've spent the most time in, which usually means WoW, but since WoW since started providing the answer to the question "When have you officially put out too many expansions?", the answer being "when you start nicking ideas from animated Jack Black vehicles," maybe someone thought it was safe to try out this new MMO lark again and put out Elder Scrolls Online, another proud entry to the list of "shit nobody asked for." We'll slot it in between Doctor Who spin-offs and menstruation.

Elder Scrolls Online, or ESO which could also stand for "Electric Shite Orchestra," is an MMO of (wait for it) The Elder Scrolls series which produced Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind and some other ones no-one cares about anymore. And all those venerable lands from the previous games can be revisited in ESO, albeit smaller and less interesting.

In the grand tradition of Elder Scrolls games, you start off the game as a prisoner (I guess these days being the protagonist carries an automatic prison sentence after all those poor sods in Skyrim had bowls put on their heads), and after fighting your way through a sort of prison full of dead blokes, you release a gyu called the Prophet, who, judging by his name, was probably some kind of tax accountant. And after escaping back to the real world, he explains that only you can save the world from the regional franchise of ultimate evil and its sinister district manager. Yes, only you and the twelve million other protagonists hanging around.

Meanwhile, the nine races of Tamriel have split into three factions. Okay, why? "'Cos it's more MMO-y that way! Now stop complaining, and draw straws to figure out who's gonna have to sit next to the stanky cat dude!"

Enterprising Sock Ownership does grow a lot of the identity of an Elder Scrolls game: it's got a lot of drab colour palette; characters stare goggle-eyed at you like you've just gently brushed their hair out of their face over a glass of wine at the banks of the Seine; every cat litter box can be looted for shitty items that you don't want, flooding your inventory, but equally don't want to get rid of in case they may turn out to be the missing ingredient for dragon rice pudding or whatever; again they hired big-name actors to play two or three important NPCs, and everyone else is the same three jobbing voice actors who weren't being paid enough to do a different voice now and then.

But often the MMO thing interferes with the Elder Scrolls thing. One loading screen told me that if I had nothing better to do (which summed up 90% of my time in the game), then I could always just pick a direction and keep going and see what random adventure one stumbles into, which is a valid approach in Skyrim in such life, but in this game, the unspoken footnote reads "You will very swiftly be gangbanged by enemies that are too high-level for you, 'cos clearly you've never played an MMO before, you thick prick!"

I decided to play as a Redguard ('cos weren't no Imperial crackers gonna opress this big black ass!) and with the racial bonus to sword and shield, I dutifully equipped one of each. My first mistake then was to try to play the game like Dark Souls where the shields are more useful than strapping a digestive biscuit to your forearm. When you bow at the alter of MMO, you can expect a kick up the bum from the high priest of latency issues and the point when an enemy attack hits you is only in a casual relationship with the moment you actually see it hitting you, and the act of hitting the raise shield button is similarly evasive about its commitment to the actual raising of the shield.

The only moves that can be shielded are the ones that compensate for latency where having the enemy winds it for half an hour going "Oooh, here comes the pain, you're in trouble, mister. Are you ready yet, 'cos the pain train is coming and my upraised arm is the ticket collector!" while little flashy effects appear like his armpit attracts fireflies, then I raise the shield and he becomes dazed when he hits, going "Ohhh, by your mastery of battlefield strategy am I outclassed! Let me bow my head into convenient bludgeoning range!" Don't patronize me, Mr. Skeleton! I may have a response time that would embarrass an elderly bulldog on dental anaesthetic, but at least I can't be repurposed as a xylophone.

So the combat isn't exactly nuanced. You stack up your buffs and play your special attack buttons like your little Fisher-Price piano, which is fairly standard for MMOs, but it's not what I associate with the Elder Scrolls because I can't exploit dodgy programming and physics to win. So no more bucket-on-head theft sprees to be had, but then again stealing doesn't seem to be a thing anymore either. Homeowners just smile unblinkingly on as you rifle through the bookshelves and pinch the knick-knacks. Hey, maybe this is why everyone's separated into factions, 'cos Tamriel has fallen victim to the global scourge of communism! Surely if you can't get run out of town by the local guardsmen because you knocked someone else's biro off a desk, then it hardly deserves to be called an Elder Scrolls game.

If we remove the comparisons to its predecessors, expecting something original is just really dull. With the comparisons to its predecessors, it comes across as spread a bit wider but a lot shallower with it. Larger piece of bread, same amount of butter (and the butter might be spunk).

And just to spooge it all over our faces even more, ESO then attempts to focus on the single-player experience. I know because more than once, the lead NPC of cursed village du joir said "Thank goodness that you alone came to our aide!" while, even as she spoke, there were three other guys in the queue behind me waiting to hand the quest in. Sometimes I'd go into a dungeon and find four or five other dudes running around killing all the important monsters before I could, like I'd stumbled into a really aggressive interview for a janitorial position, which removed any enjoyable challenge from the mission and further underlined the six-letter question that hovers permanently over the experience, "Why MMO?"

It always baffles me when a franchise that has built its success in single-player decides out of nowhere that it's gonna be a multiplayer now, whereupon it cuts its legs off and works a bunch of spoons into its asshole. Then the players say "We kind of prefered you when you had legs and didn't have cutlery up its arse," and it replies, "Don't you see it was for your benefit! I had to cut my legs off to make it easier to fit the spoons in!"

AddendaEdit

  • Wrote five hundred one-page books: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • What we never hear about are the Younger Scrolls who hang out in the shady parts of the library listening to loud music
  • My escort agency lists me as the "Chain Male"

Extra: Webby Awards AnnouncementEdit

Hi, people who watch after the credits! The Escapist is up for a People's Choice Webby Award for Games Related Website voted by the general public! I think you know what you have to do now: Annex theSudetenland. Oh, sorry I got that wrong. I mean, vote for usThen annex the Sudetenland.

ScreenshotsEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
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2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time

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