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    The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, Massively multiplayer and massively familiar

    Fans of The Elder Scrolls series you who have played Oblivion for its 100 hours and Skyrim its 200 will have been suspicious recently. Where, you have been asking, are the HD remakes? What is Bethesda up to?

    The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited is what. It’s an MMORPG version of these games, set 800 years before Oblivion. The writing is the same, the world is very similar and the enemies are the same. The difference? It’s all just a bit MMO-y.

    If you’ve been following the game, you’ll know that it got something of a mixed reception on its PC launch so much so that it’s dropped its subscription model faster than a Khajiit on Skooma. The best thing we can say about the PC version of the game was that it was a beta test for this version there were lots of problems and bugs, and Bethesda fixed all the ones they could without starting from scratch. As a result, the console version should be the definitive game.

    There’s a war going on in Tamriel. The Emperor’s throne sits vacant and the game’s three factions are all seeking to place their own puppets on it. Behind the scenes, though, the demons of the other planes are moving to take control themselves, and have taken over Cyrodiil (the setting of Oblivion). The realm of Tamriel, as seasoned players know, is a mere bubble amid these godly realms, to be fought over and conquered.
    Just say, “I’m a level-80 Khajiit thief called Tiddles the Mighty in the Mehrunes’ Razors guild. We mostly do raiding, crafting and roleplay. My gear’s all legendary.”
    Your game starts in one of the pocket realms of these gods Molag Bal, the demon prince of domination and enslavement. You’ve had your soul stolen from you and been doomed to work in his machineries of war for all time. With the aid of a prison break, and an odd cameo from John Cleese, you rescue a man called The Prophet and escape back to the mortal plane albeit without your soul. From there, a 100-hour plot follows.

    You can choose from nine races and four strange classes Dragon Knight, Templar, Sorcerer and Nightblade. Each of these has highly divergent levelling trees. You can also join the traditional factions currently the Fighters’ Guild, Mages’ Guild and Undaunted giving you additional ability trees. And you can morph abilities to specialise them. Given all that and the huge amount of in-game equipment, it’s unlikely that any given two players that you see will play the same way.

    The game is a strange combination of the classic Elder Scrolls games right down to the interface with the more static battlefields and multiplayer boss battles of an MMO. The actual world itself is perhaps too familiar where Oblivion had a ‘wow’ moment as you exited the Imperial dungeon, the ‘wow’ here is World of Warcraft, right down to giant PvP sieges and occasional gankings by aggressive strangers.

    Combat is just like Skyrim, although enemies are more obviously levelled to you as shown by the levels worn above their heads. What’s new are obviously signalled area-effect or special attacks, which you need to interrupt, block or dodge. Though many of the screenshots on these pages are first-person you’ll see some are in third-person. To be frank, this is the more useful perspective when fighting enemies who are dancing around you, but it’s much less immersive.

    As you use weaponry, skills and armour (or read books about them), you’ll level up in them. Any player can use any weapon or armour type and level up in it as you do, you’ll unlock buffs and skills from them. You can also craft your own equipment and food, just like in Skyrim. All of this makes it much more open-ended than normal MMOs as do the optional vampire and werewolf paths (see ‘Long in the tooth’, below).

    As the game no longer requires a subscription, Bethesda has to recoup its server costs somehow but how? Well, you can buy cosmetic items in a virtual store, such as mounts or pets, or silly costumes that hide your character’s equipment (for example, our Dark Elf Dragon Knight runs around in a chef’s outfit). Beyond that, there are large areas of the map that are still locked off, including much of Skyrim and Morrowind these presumably will be paid-for expansions, further down the line.

    If you love Elder Scrolls games, Tamriel Unlimited is shaping up to be a fine offering: it’s very true to the previous games while integrating a traditional MMORPG well. It results in an experience that’s very familiar if you’ve played a fantasy MMO or Oblivion recently but if you’re hungering for more Scrolls, this will probably hit the spot.

    Long in the Tooth
    The Elder Scrolls retains its old love of vampires and werewolves
    Given that this is really just an online version of Skyrim, it should come as no surprise that you can be infected with both vampirism and lycanthropy. You can either get the diseases that cause these by fighting certain high-level NPCs at particular phases of the moon, or by another player deliberately infecting you in a blood ritual. Once infected, you get a new range of skills subtle for vampires or brutal for werewolves.

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