Ok, real talk here — when The Elder Scrolls Online launched, I played it quite a bit (and even reviewed it), but dropped it soon after; it settled into familiar MMO patterns and I lost interest. With the announcement that the game would be returning to Morrowind, I knew it was time to go back.

I’m very glad I did.

Today, Bethesda Softworks has released The Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. So much of the world (beyond just the setting) has changed since the game I played at launch. With 15 major revisions in the books, as well as this massive expansion pack hitting shelves, it seemed like a good opportunity to tell you why it’s a good time to come back to the world of The Elder Scrolls.

The world is gorgeous

It’s not “Free-to-Play”
The biggest and most obvious change is that the game moved from a purely subscription model to a “Buy to Play” model. What this means is that the base product will run you the retail cost, just like any other boxed product. With that purchase under your belt, you are now free to play the game as frequently as you’d like without spending another dime. Unlike Free-to-Play games that restrict the player, unmercifully limiting bag space, restricting content, or otherwise handicapping players to extort money from their pockets, ESO offers convenience items with few painful restrictions on the player. Dubbed “ESO Plus”, the system instead rewards players for their ongoing support with a handful of ongoing rewards.

Memberships to ESO Plus are purchased in 30, 90, and 180 day chunks, with a sliding scale downwards on price for longer commitments, starting at $14.99 per month and reducing to $12.99 at the 6 month commitment. Being an ESO Plus member gives you:

  • An allotment of crowns to spend in the new in-game Crown Store based on your membership period
  • Access to all of ESO’s downloadable content (or DLC) game packs for the duration of your membership
  • A 10% bonus to XP and gold gain, crafting research, and inspiration

There are a few intangible benefits as well. Rather than storing everything in your bag or bank (both starting at 60 slots, and the latter being shared across all characters in your account), all crafting items are stored in a bottomless crafting bag exclusive to members. (If your subscription ends, the bag becomes “withdraw” only you renew once again.) This means less inventory juggling should you choose to craft your own gear, food, potions, or enchantments.

Access to the DLC is an interesting twist on the normal subscription model. There are five DLC packs available for ESO — Imperial City, Orsinium, Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, and Shadows of the Hist. As a subscriber you get access to all of them, and when your subscription ends, you lose access, naturally. However, what’s different here is that any rewards, perks, titles, equipment, or other goodies obtained in those areas are kept. This means, if you’ve run the entire Dark Brotherhood questline for your character, you can keep your spoils should you lose access to the DLC. It also means you’ll need to re-subscribe should you want to run it again with another character. The other option is to simply purchase them on the Crown Store to retain them permanently. Currently they can be bought for individually for between 1500 and 3000 crowns or as a pack of all four for 5500 crowns (or $39.99 USD).

Crafting remains a integral part of the game

Crown Store
Beyond DLC, what you’ll find in the “Crown Store” (ESO’s real money addon shop) are mostly cosmetic items. Taking a leaf from Guild Wars 2’s book, you’ll find a myriad of options to add to your experience without unbalancing the game for everyone around you. Split between Costumes, Crafting, Mounts, Pets, Style Parlor, Utility, Homes, and Upgrades, the vast majority of these objects are either role-playing centric, entirely optional, or a convenience item like a quick boost to a research tree like clothing or blacksmithing.

While mounts, pets, style parlor, and costumes are all self-explanatory, Utility and Upgrades are probably the most in need of detailed explanation. Utility offers more convenience items such as supply packs (potions, crafting goodies, repair kits, and other consumables), but there are also items like a respec scroll for your attribute points and skills, and tokens to change your appearance, name, and race, should you regret your initial or ongoing decisions with your character.

Upgrades gives you the option to digitally upgrade your base game to the Digital Imperial Edition, but it also contains two highly convenient assistants — Nuzhimeh the Merchant and Tythis Andromo the Banker. Being able to summon a merchant and a banker to your side at any point is highly convenient, but they are anything but cheap at 5000 crowns (roughly 30 bucks a piece). Below them are upgrades to bank space, bag space, and mount speed, storage, and stamina. While those five in particular very much remind me that I’m playing an MMO, the last two items in the store are a real treat.

One of the fun things off the beaten path in an Elder Scrolls games is getting afflicted with vampirism or lycanthropy. In ESO, you can buy a pack (1500 crowns each) that will unlock a short quest that will result in you contracting either malady, and all of the associated perks and drawbacks of each. They can be cured, if you are so inclined, but it adds a cool offshoot for players who have plumbed the depths of the game and are looking for a distraction.  (and you can get re-infected without buying it again, of course)

Homes match the style of their faction.

Housing
If you can’t buy your own home, where are you supposed to store all of your stolen sweet rolls?! ESO answers this with player-purchasable housing. Like your bank, these are account-bound, so you won’t have to purchase a house for each character you create. Available via a quick quest is a cheap apartment, but the dream of home ownership will cost you a serious amount of gold. There are 40 house types to choose from, split between small, medium, and large, and only a scant few are restricted to the crown store as exclusives.

However you come by your home, you’ll likely want to furnish it. Clothier, Woodworker, and Blacksmith crafting lines all now have a tab to create your own decorations, all of which can be sold to other players for a profit via the guild store. You can also purchase furnishings and decorations from merchants, find them during quests, and of course, purchase them from the crown store. If you want to skip to the end, you can also purchase your home fully furnished, but that’s a crown store only option.

With your house built, you can grant access to anyone on your friends list, all of your guild mates, or specify individuals as visitors or even a decorator. Decorators can move objects around in the home, but can’t take anything with them. Best of all, you can even place crafting stations or practice targets, making it more like your home instead of simply a home.

Sure, housing is expensive, but it’s another way that ESO makes it feel less like an MMO, and more like the single-player game that my friends can come visit.

These particular bugs are a welcome sight!

Bugs
I’d be failing in my duties if I didn’t mention the deluge of bugs that ESO shipped with in early 2014. Broken quests, busted chat systems, non-stop spam messages from gold farmers and power levelers, and other digital nuisances plagued the online world. More than once I had to have an in-game GM teleport me out of a cliff that I tried to climb, and I saw the underside of the world more than the developers intended, I’m sure. It was a bad time.

Logging in over the last month, I’ve seen almost none of that. I was logged into the Morrowind Beta, so I expected to see plenty to fix, but there simply…wasn’t. Everything was working as intended, I didn’t run into lag or disconnects, clipping issues disappeared, and I didn’t see a single spam message cross the chat channel. While I can’t declare the entire game’s bug list fixed, I can say that over several dozen hours of play across multiple regions, it was a completely clean experience for me.

Familiar faces await…

Justice System
From back in the earliest days of any MMO, if you stole anything or accidentally smacked an innocent, you died almost immediately. Invincible guards crushed you into dust on the spot, and your loot spilled onto the floor. With the addition of the Thieves Guild DLC, a new destination opens up in every major city — a guild hall. It also debuted the Justice System which more closely approximates the game’s offline brethren. If you accidentally (or simply get caught doing it on purpose) smack a citizen or steal, you’ll receive a bounty on your head and your reputation will take a hit. If you are caught by a guard, they’ll assess the fine, take anything you might have stolen, and send you on your way. You can also run, but that makes the situation worse if you don’t escape. If you kill someone or steal enough, the fine becomes severe, and you’ll be killed on sight. Hiding allows the threat to cool down, though you’ll still face the fine and loss of stolen goods if you are caught until you clear your bounty at the Thieves Guild or enough time passes.

Finding the local Thieves Guild, you’ll be able to fence your goods, selling them on the spot and reaping the ill-gotten gains. You can also launder those goods (for a modest fee), making them clean to sell to any vendor. They’ll also wipe your slate clean, removing your bounty and bringing your reputation back to neutral. There is a limit to how much they can launder or fence each real-world day, but alongside the thief skills added to the game, I felt more like my spell-slinging assassin-thief self that I tend to play in every ESO game.

Beyond the skills granted by the Dark Brotherhood (instant assassination on human targets if taken from behind unawares) and Thieves Guild (stealing, of course), there is a wealth of content available for each, including restoring a dilapidated and besieged guild. I was amazed at just how much content each DLC pack added to the already massive game. Best of all, I could now earn my living taking out targets, stealing and fencing goods, and generally enjoying the crass and dirty underworld — something that didn’t feel remotely possible at launch.

Welcome to the city of Balmora

One Tamriel
If there’s one huge upgrade to the game that made all the difference for me, it’s the One Tamriel upgrade. When ESO launched, the three factions (the Aldmeri Dominion, the Daggerfall Covenant and the Ebonheart Pact) were battling for control of the continent, and cross-play between the three wasn’t allowed. One Tamriel fixes all of that. A free update to the game, One Tamriel allows players of any faction, without restriction, to play alongside one another.

One Tamriel also introduced level scaling. This means I can, with a level 6 character, adventure with someone at the level cap, and we’ll both be able to survive and enjoy the content. It means that no corner of Tamriel is off limits, and the grind to be able to see new quests and adventures is completely removed. This was a game changer for me as I was able to explore the threads I wanted without having to worry about killing a specified number of rabbits, squirrels, guar, and other newbie creatures just to be able to push the plot thread one more step. Better yet, my high level partner still feels powerful and receives loot and XP appropriate for his character level, so both of us get to enjoy the wonderful story instead of slogging through a painful mechanic.

As a real world example, I started a brand new character in the Morrowind expansion. Even though the Dark Brotherhood quest line started in another part of the world, I was able to hit the local wayshrine, teleport to that area, and complete as little or as much of that plot thread as I so desired without having to first carefully pick my way across Tamriel. A wayshrine for each major city state is activated the moment you start playing, truly enabling me to adventure where I want, when I want, and how I want.

This one change must have been an incredible challenge for the team to accomplish, but it singlehandedly captured the magic I experienced the first time I stepped out into the world in every one of the Elder Scrolls games and had to decide where to go, because I could go anywhere.

Nice be among proper villains again

The road ahead…
The Elder Scrolls Online has launched on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and all three platforms are receiving the Morrowind expansion today. While I’m still too new to my return to Tamriel to comment on the high-level quests or new mechanics brought to the table by this expansion, our own Patrick Rost will be digging into the new adventure and telling us all about it very soon. While you wait, you can read his review of the Dark Brotherhood here, the Thieves Guild here, and his thoughts on Orsinium here.

As for me…I paid the best compliment I can to Bethesda and Zenimax Studios — I subscribed to ESO Plus for the next six months. I’m surprised at just how much these changes have hooked me into this world once again, and I can’t wait to see everything there is to explore.  It’s time to come back to Elder Scrolls Online — a new world awaits.