A quick heads up, this review is based off of my time spent playing up to level 10 in the latest content areas, and doesn’t, yet, delve any deeper – though as I continue playing I might come back to touch upon this again!
I remember the excitement that stirred around the release of Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) back in 2014, just among my friend groups. There was much conversation had over who was getting it on what systems, and who was adding who to their friends list and all that usual new multiplayer game jazz.
I think that back then, many of those people were rather new to the MMO genre, and were expecting a new entry in the Elder Scrolls franchise to follow on from Skyrim, rather than the MMO environment they found themselves in. For that reason not many of my friends really stuck with it. It was for a different reason that I didn’t really stick with it though, I went in fully expecting an MMO, however the biggest downfall of the MMO genre, in my eyes, is that any new MMO I play, just makes me want to go back to World of Warcraft… Rarely through any fault of the new MMO either, just that “MMO Mood” makes me want to play WoW, I nearly need to take my shoes and socks off to count the number of MMO’s that have had that effect over the years!
But that said, while many people didn’t continue to play because it’s not another single player epic, and other people didn’t stick around for other reasons, a LOT of people do continue to play for the long term in the world of ESO.
As of last year, roughly when Morrowind released, Zenimax and Bethesda announced that ESO had reached 8.5 Million in retail sales, and maintained an average of 2.5 Million monthly players. That is pretty hefty in the world of MMOs!
Last year we covered the release of Morrowind and Lefranzine returned to ESO after a few months break and did some coverage which can be found here. But this year, with the release of Summerset, not to be confused with Somerset, due to myriad reasons, I decided to give ESO a go so starting afresh on PC, I downloaded Tamriel Unlimited, which now includes Morrowind in the base game, along with Summerset, and rolled myself a fresh character.
Because I was very out of touch with the world of ESO, and having done shamefully little research into Summerset before logging in for the first time, I was quite lucky that I rolled the new Warden class from Morrowind, and immediately started working towards the new Psijic skill tree from Summerset while playing through the new starting zone story line.
It immediately felt just like ESO, which has is both a good and bad thing in my opinion, depending what camp you’re in. ESO is a great blend of “MMO and Elder Scrolls”, which might sound obvious, but means that in that first person “shooter” Elder Scrolls feel, combined with more traditional MMO controls of having an active spell bar, rather than the changing spells on the fly feel of Skyrim etc. This means that, again in my opinion, it still doesn’t really FEEL like Skyrim did to me, even though the graphical style and everything is very similar.
This keeps ESO as its own standalone title in the series, rather than “just another Elder Scrolls” title. But possibly still doesn’t win over the hardcore Skyrim fans who didn’t really get on with ESO.
However, Summerset, and the previous Morrowind expansion if you’ve not played that either, do offer a whole lot of new story and lore into the world of the Elder Scrolls universe. And for the Elder Scrolls fans that is always going to be a temptation to either return or even start a new journey in the expansive story rich world that ESO provides.
But how did I find Summerset? Well, off the bat, I was confused that Somerset was spelt wrong, and then upset that all the characters didn’t have that “West Country Twang”, but after I realised that ESO isn’t a silly game, I cracked on with the game properly.
I played the original ESO starting story, watched Lefranzine play through the Morrowind questlines, and have just played through a good chunk of the Summerset starting story, having played my new Warden up to level 10 so far. And I really enjoyed the story, I was lured into the intrigue that was the Psijic Order, which I joined as soon as possible, and soon started to focus on those quests over the actual story missions.
“The Summerset Isles are a new province in ESO. It is under control of the Aldmeri Dominion, led by Queen Ayrenn, and is the homeland of the Altmer. The Summerset Isles consists of three islands; Summerset, Auridon, and Artaeum.”
Something ESO does well, possibly because of the voice acting, is make early game quests very interesting. In many other MMOs at early levels it’s just “Go Kill This” or “Go Collect Those” with very ‘Skippable’ story or quest dialogue. But I found that Summerset made me take a keener interest in the story, and the world around me. It was more immersive. That’s not to say that the early quests weren’t pretty simple, but because they had more story attached to them I found myself wanting to do them, rather than just slogging through them because I had to.
This isn’t specifically new to Summerset, but is a refreshing change compared to some other, more basic, MMOs I’ve dabbled in of late.
As I said, I quickly followed through the Psijic Order quests, and found myself looking for rifts, taking me all over the Summerset Isles. Which soon brought up the scale of it, even on the fancy mount I got for free with the game, it was taking me a long time to get around, the rift quest basically has you visit 9 rifts spread over the entire island.
This was a “bittersweet” quest for me, the exploration was cool, but it took a significant amount of time for me to complete! Partly because I didn’t have any of the teleport locations unlocked at the start, and partly because of the scale. A tip from other MMO’s I’d have suggested here, would be to pick up and have other quests in each rifts location, effectively turning each rift into its own quest “hub”. Instead by the end of it I was finding the quest a tad tedious, because at a relatively low level I spend a long time without really progressing, without getting much in the way of cool new things to use.
It does make me wonder if the Summerset Isles are all there is for a new zone, while it is very big in comparison to a single zone in other MMOs, it pales in comparison to amounts of land mass, as it were, in other games. Something like WoW’s current expansion has, off the top of my head, 6 expansive zones, each at least half as big as Summerset Isle in rough comparison. I guess I’ll see as I continue to play on further into what Summerset has to offer.
But once that epic quest was done and dusted, I started down the new Psijic Order skill tree properly, and upon looking at the new skills on it my interest was piqued further, between those the Warden class gets natively, and these new skills I found potential to come up with some really interesting skill combinations for my action bar at later levels.
Unlike WoW I’m not super clued up on ESO, so while there would no doubt be a “cookie cutter end game” build that I’m beyond understanding at this early stage in my new found ESO career, so for now all I can do is look at the skills and use my generic understand of MMO mechanics, along with how cool they sound to judge them, and there are some awesome skills in this game that really suit their “take” on the MMO genre.
Something I’ve yet to get used to is the smaller quantity of “active” skills and abilities on the action bar. Coming from WoW where you can natively have 40-50 abilities/spells/skills/items/etc on the action bars at once, coming into ESO where you have 6 Skills and a Potion button always catches me off guard! Something I’ve yet to “figure out” is the optimisation, presumably by the later levels of the game, you unlock loads of different abilities, and you don’t just focus on the same few abilities throughout the game? Does creating a hodge podge of abilities early on have a detrimental effect at later levels? Is it like the problem Lefranzine had in her first Skyrim playthrough where she put one level in each skill tree thus creating a higher-level character that couldn’t do anything and just died lots?
Something else I’ve wondered, and hope I’ll find out as I level further, is: is there more mount upgrades? Having a mount available right at the start of the game is a fairly odd concept for me, but it also doesn’t seem very fast, so I have to imagine that there are speed upgrades later on – traversing such a huge world so slowly for the whole game would bug me after a while! I also had to try a few mounts to find one that I liked the running animation of. Considering I play the game first person, the auto-zoom out when mounted throws it off kilter, as I find ESO (and Skyrim for that matter) to look really weird in third person view. While being forced into it while mounted makes sense, I find I have to zoom all the way out, only to zoom all the way in again when I jump into combat!
Something I’ve yet to dabble in, is the new Jewel crafting profession introduced (or the ESO crafting system as a whole), but if it is anything similar to the Skyrim profession system, I’ve no doubt that it’ll be a surprisingly fun grind to level it up, compared to other MMOs, as well as resulting in some pretty fun and exciting gear to show for it.
So, all in all, Summerset is at its heart still ESO, which most people will either know if they like or not by this point. If you’re a fan of ESO, you probably didn’t need this review (and probably could have covered it in more detail than I have!). If you’re not a fan of ESO, depending on the reason, Summerset may or may not entice you back – the gameplay is similar, but there is lots of new lore to get your teeth into. If you’re an Elder Scrolls fan, but never tried ESO, Summerset along with Tamriel Unlimited is an exciting place to start! If you’re an MMO fan, but not really played Elder Scrolls, you may well enjoy what ESO and Summerset have to offer – although I would strongly suggest that if you do try out ESO and enjoy its style, that you then go and buy Skyrim and play through that – it IS available on just about every electronic device under the sun after all.
While this review might be hurriedly written after only 10 levels of gameplay, which isn’t a whole lot for an MMO, I must stress that many of the seemingly negative points I may have raised are more along the lines of questions of “what could be in store”, rather than downsides to the game.
It’s a good sign that I’ve made it this far, and I’m still excited to go back to ESO and am not, yet, rushing back to WoW. Lefranzine has also returned to ESO for Summerset and is jumping between quests trying to remember what spells and attacks she has which make for an entertaining watch. That’s as shining a review as an MMO can really get from me!
Summerset is available on PC and PS4 now.