The Elder Scrolls Online

A picture of a castle, behind a tree. It's a bit drab.

Look, it’s been a hairy few months shielding and trying not to catch a killer virus, obviously there’s no better time for me to lose myself in an MMO. For some inexplicable reason, I already owned The Elder Scrolls Online so it seemed as good a choice as any.

The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) kinda ticks off most of my needs at the mo. I can scale play to whatever I can manage, if I’m exhausted then I can pop it on and do a few hours fishing then spend another fifteen minutes shaving the fish. I am exhausted a lot right now. I have shaved a lot of fish.

A spoopy cavern that's remarkably blue.

Otherwise, as MMOs are generally built to accommodate, the more energy I have to spuff on a game, the more of a challenging activity I can go off and do. Though to be honest, I mainly just run around collecting things when I’m not fishing. It’s calming.

It also provides a certain routine. Log in every day, do a bit of crafting, go and have a nap. Do the same tomorrow.

Bluntly, ESO is Very MMO.

One of my houses in the game. It's a wooden building with lots of wooden furniture, a fireplace and a curious glowing device on a table.

I couldn’t say it exactly does anything especially amazingly. I couldn’t even tell you what I’m doing or why most of the time either. It’s kind of a meat and potato game – filling enough, if largely unexciting. But that’s fine because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic so unexciting is sweet relief from the daily news. It’s more than fine at this point, you know?

Sure, it would be nice if the writing had a bit of charm to it (any charm at all really), but I guess I can’t have everything. The writing is largely not great and y’know, skippable. Best off just hitting things rather than reading things. I have skipped a lot of writing.

A scary mansion, it has blood red lighting, some fetching drapes and a couple of glowing alchemy bottles in case you forget this is a fantasy game.

My favourite thing about ESO though is how ESO perpetually very nearly looks good but somehow manages to flunk it at the last hurdle. Whilst some of it is understandable given it needs to run on a toaster almost, there’s definitely some interesting colour and art choices been made that mean the game falls flat for me no matter what angle I spin the camera to.

I know some decisions around the art are due to the internet backlash over its early art style that could have politely been described as “very PS3” and fair enough, that wasn’t an especially good look for a fantasy role playing game. The solution was partially to make the game look like A Very PC Videogame and whilst it has, absolutely, worked and it looks like A Very PC Videogame, it’s a Very PC Videogame from 2006 or something. Which is less kind on my eyes.

It's a videogame forest, red plants in the foreground, a sweep of green and a selection of autumnal shades make the trees almost, but not quite, akin to a painting.

But! I kinda like that. Sure, I’d love something with the kind of fidelity Ubisoft bring to their games or whatever but there’s something about the “photorealism circa the mid to late 2000’s” look that reminds me constantly that this is a videogame rather than a place.

It’s absolutely wrongheaded on my behalf, no doubt, but I like being reminded that a videogame is a videogame. It’s just somehow easier for me to relate that to “humans built this” and kinda marvel at the results. Even if the results do seem to have fallen through time.

A very profoundly blue rocky cavern. Really, it's mainly blue.

I realise I’m not exactly selling ESO here. It absolutely is a game I’d struggle to recommend to anyone who wants to lose themselves in a good story, it’s a game where I’d struggle to recommend it to anyone who wants an exceptionally pretty game and mechanically, I press buttons and things happen, it works. Sometimes I press buttons and this happens and that’s great.

Frankly, an absolute mess of colour that makes it difficult to see what's actually going on in the game.

But I don’t always want exceptional! Sometimes I want something that ticks the right boxes and I don’t give a toss about much beyond that. Not everything has to be astounding to be worth my time, sometimes it’s fine to just be a thing. Sometimes, that’s everything I want.

It’s also something I don’t think videogames as a space appreciates enough with everything being a race to the next best thing. I think people, generally, appreciate that games can just be and that’s fine. It’s just videogames again, really. Videogames is an odd, silly, place.

Will my dalliance with an MMO last beyond coronavirus? Probably not. Do I care? Definitely not. Right now, ESO brings me a peace I don’t find much of in real life and that’s more than enough.