The Elder Scrolls Online PvP has potential, but suffers familiar problems

Friday, 14 February 2014 15:00 GMT By Dave Cook

The Elder Scrolls Online’s beta phase rolls on, and Dave Cook’s been partaking in some PvP combat across Cyrodiil. Does it improve the overall package or is it still lacking?


I wrote an opinion piece on my time with The Elder Scrolls Online beta last week. Long story short; I wouldn’t pay for a subscription. It just feels too similar to Skyrim, a better game that I already own and one that doesn’t ask me for more money every month.

Skyrim’s the superior game of course but it doesn’t have PvP, so I decided to stay my verdict until I least gave the MMO’s competitive element an old college try. I’ve done that now, and while I’ll concede that there’s the making of an interesting concept in there, it too is muddied by strange design choices and a steep learning curve that punishes the uninitiated to a savage degree. As such, I’d argue that PvP is Zenimax’s endgame, rather than a side attraction.


The Elder Scrolls Online places a firm line between its PvE and competitive modes, but experience carries across both methods of play. The latter takes place in Cyrodiil, and the idea is that the game’s three major factions; the Daggerfall Covenant, Ebonheart Pact and the Aldmeri Dominion are waging war for control of The Elder Scrolls themselves. They are the great ‘MacGuffins’ that all PvP players endlessly fight for; always switching hands, contested forever.

The scrolls are held in keeps found dotted across Cyrodiil. The map looks like this:


This play-space is massive and so very, very dull. Now; this was a beta trial and clearly not representative of potential server population once the game launches in April, but I fear that Zenimax has made the map too big without giving proper consideration for the lay of the land. It doesn’t feel like an Elder Scrolls environment, and compared to Oblivion’s Cyrodiil; it’s tragically moribund.

It largely consists of bland fields, odd rock formations, the occasional patch of trees, and it suffers from a notable lack of wildlife. Remember trudging through the snow fields of Skyrim, watching glow bugs dance on the night’s breeze by some trundling corn mill, illuminating the darkness with their warming, yellow haze? Nothing here comes close to that joyful sense of whimsy. This is a dull environment.

You could say that concessions have been made because the Cyrodiil quotient is focused on server-intensive multiplayer battles, rather than the nomadic solo endeavours of the core PvE quest-line, but that sounds like a limp excuse to me; pilfered from the early ’00s textbook of poor sandbox design. Open world developers have bettered themselves over the years to fill their play-spaces with interesting sights. By contrast; this environment feels like a step back, and even on high settings (‘ultra’ ran like a dog for me during the beta test), it looks poor.

”The concept of a mass war taking place between jostling factions comprised of human players isn’t new in the MMO space but it still makes for a compelling experience.”

At the risk of being chewed up here; I’ll make clear that I’m getting this major grievance out of the way now because like I said at the beginning, there is potential within The Elder Scrolls Online’s weak PvP sandbox. The concept of a mass war taking place between jostling factions comprised of human players isn’t new in the MMO space but it still makes for a compelling experience after all, and while it’s not going to spawn the same incredible tales of subversion and espionage seen in Eve Online, this could still prove a fitting stage for many memorable battles.

After entering Cyrodiil and completing a base tutorial, you’ll understand the art of deploying machines of war – ballistas, catapults and trebuchets – how to repair keep walls and structures, and get a feel for how the vast Transitus fast-travel network operates. It’s a quick tutorial, but I found myself asking a lot of questions in chat to better-understand exactly what was going on, and how the world functions. I wasn’t alone in reaching out to others, so greater clarity in the lessons would certainly be welcome come full release.

The idea is that your alliance must capture all keeps surrounding an Elder Scroll temple in order to gain access to the prize, then the scroll must then be taken back to one of your side’s empty keeps and hung on the wall to count as captured. This isn’t easy; in fact, it’s a colossal effort that requires plenty of bodies and immense coordination. Running into the fight sword-swinging as a lone wolf will see you killed repeatedly. This is where the PvP appeal starts to set in.


Meat Grinder

After learning all the different firing arcs of Cyrodiil’s war machines and buying some ballistas of my own for a pretty penny back at base camp, I grouped up with a big band of warriors and set out into the world. We saw in the chat window that Chalman Keep was contested in the west and that Dominion forces were repelling our attempts to breach its walls. Our Ebonheart Pact allies needed help so we started running towards the battle.

We kept running, and running, and running. Again; the map is huge and it really does make each sprint back to the battle after death a lesson in tedium. You can buy a horse at camp for around 17,000 gold, but you’d have to play the core PvE quest or PvE for a long, long time before affording that luxury. I also got savaged by sneakily concealed lions on the way to the fight, which sent me back another five minutes.

You can use the Transitus network to fast-travel between areas, but only those claimed by your alliance. After teleporting one ‘space’ away from Chalman on the map, it was still a minutes-long sprint to the fight and my patience was starting to wear thin rather quickly. To spare you the hassle, any one of your group can buy and set down a Forward Camp – which works the same as a Tac-Insert in Call of Duty – giving you a quick respawn point should you fall in battle. These also cost money and can be destroyed by enemies if unguarded.

”You must first quick-slot the repair kit and then kind-of hurl it at the wall to patch it up. Perhaps this was a place-holder animation, but it felt a little odd. It’d be like throwing a campfire at a pig in Rust to turn it into a hog roast. Delicious? Surely. Sensible? Not really.”

After a while we managed to get a short jog away from Chalman Keep and the sound of clanging swords and screaming catapult volleys actually made for quite a tense atmosphere. War machines are the only way of penetrating a keep’s wall, so our alliance cleverly set a row of artillery on a rocky ridge nearby and unleashed hell on the structure. Occasionally; some Dominion footsoldiers would break away from the fire and try to kill our troops, but we quickly sent them packing.

Annoyingly however, there were a lot of level 50 players already roaming the battlefield and they killed me in seconds. This is what I meant when I said Cyrodiil should be considered The Elder Scrolls Online’s endgame. If you haven’t put the time in and levelled up often then you’re going to get slaughtered in PvP. There’s no low level areas or anything like that, just a harsh stalking ground for maxed-out players. All else is fodder.

I was no good on the ground so I tried to set up my ballista in the heat of battle and found it to be needlessly awkward. First; you need to set the machine to your quick-slots in the inventory, then open the radial to select it, then hit Q to deploy. Once you’ve done that you’ll see an environment marker on the ground.

In theory you just pick a spot and drop the device, but no; I was told for ages that the terrain wasn’t flat enough, I was too close to other war machines (despite being several steps away), and received countless ‘Too far from target’ errors that I couldn’t make any reasonable sense of. I was fumbling; fumbling around with HUD markers with an army of bastards breathing down my neck. I wasn’t having fun.

Repairing stone walls and wooden doors is also odd. The process is the same in that you must first quick-slot the repair kit and then kind-of hurl it at the wall to patch it up. Perhaps this is a place-holder animation, but it felt a little odd. It’d be like throwing a campfire at a pig in Rust to turn it into a hog roast. Delicious? Surely. Sensible? Not really.


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  1. orren

    Are these the environments you called dull? :

    #1 1 year ago
  2. boskoz

    I can see your point Mister Cook. I experienced huge walks and huge empty maps on both Planetside 2 and GuildWars 2. I really don’t know why developers make maps so big, they are never populated enough. Planetside 2 is a great and fun game but you need to find the “right day” to actually enjoy, as the fun is located in about 5% of the map. In GuildWars 2 I was actually never been able to enjoy the WvW. Great idea, about sieges and stuff (like here in ESO) because it is everyone’s dream to make a huge fantasy themed medieval battle on large scale, but, yeah, the map needs to be halved in size. And ESO looks just the same. I say to reduce the map because you can’t choose to double the population..but you can have a choice about map size.

    I enjoyed the reading on both your reviews.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. fearmonkey

    I have spent the bulk of the betas leveling up my characters in all three factions so I never got to see Cyrodiil yet, but from the video orren posted below, it doesnt seem that boring, it looks like alot of fun.

    I know from what I played so far that I loved the game enough to pre-order it the day it became available, and that says alot. I haven’t bought an MMO at launch since Wow, and haven’t been excited for an MMO since then either.

    I f you like fantasy MMO’s, TESO is one of the best I have ever played and it’s not the same old tired and bland MMO formula that others have tried (LOTR Im looking at you). if your expecting a true elder scrolls game in gameplay and style, your going to be disapointed.

    If you like both MMO’s and TES games then your in for a treat, as they did a great job at keeping the MMO style gameplay but making it unique and different and giving alot of creedence to the elder scrolls lore and world. How can any long time TES fan not be interested in traveling across Daggerfall, seeing black marsh and places of Morrowind never visited. Seeing new planes of oblivion, etc. This also gives insight into how the next TES game could look, as they might use some of the style and look of a place the next game takes place in.
    It’s a TES fan’s dream. If someone played Skyrim only, then it wouldnt mean as much.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. BrokenSpline


    “If you like both MMO’s and TES games then your in for a treat, as they did a great job at keeping the MMO style gameplay but making it unique and different and giving alot of creedence to the elder scrolls lore and world.”

    Having been a person that has played all of the TES games and have been part of beta since mid last year. I can say I disagree with this, in fact ESO is the the most boring piece of trash I have played as an MMO. Its practically WoW in a Elder scroll universe. This is not what I wanted as a fan in fact this is the opposite of what I wanted. Every time I get a beta key I pass it to friends that may be interested and they always come back disappointed. Bathesda is doing a wonderful job of scaring away their fanbase.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. EdgizAwesome

    @BrokenSpline Agreed mate. Skyrimer’s won’t like this game. The people genuinely into the franchise and its lore will love it.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. fearmonkey

    @BrokenSpline – Well you must have played a very different game than I did,. You mentioned you played all the TES games, but didnt mention if you were into MMO’s. As I mentioned, if your not a MMO fan, your not going to like this game. however, as a long time TES fan, did you =not enjoy seeing Daggerfall or other locations rendered as you havent seen them before?
    This isnt Bethesda, it’s Zenimax doing the game, Bethesda’s parent company. Todd Howard and crew had no hand in this.

    As a long time Wow player, I don’t see how you can compare it wow either. it plays nothing like wow to me.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. BrokenSpline


    “Well you must have played a very different game than I did,. You mentioned you played all the TES games, but didnt mention if you were into MMO’s. As I mentioned, if your not a MMO fan, your not going to like this game. however, as a long time TES fan, did you =not enjoy seeing Daggerfall or other locations rendered as you havent seen them before?”

    Yes I have played WoW since beta. I have also played all MMOs to date. THis game doesn’t break the mold at all. It uses the same conventions thus it plays like all MMOs to date.

    “not enjoy seeing Daggerfall or other locations rendered as you havent seen them before?”

    Sorry Eye candy doesn’t make me swoon over a game. Gameplay has to be there before I start throwing money down and this game is not worth 15$ a month let alone the full purchase.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. orren

    “Yes I have played WoW since beta. I have also played all MMOs to date. THis game doesn’t break the mold at all. It uses the same conventions thus it plays like all MMOs to date. ”

    Your mage in WoW could wear plate armor? Stealth? No?

    #8 1 year ago
  9. fearmonkey

    @BrokenSpline – Well if you truly have played “Every MMO to date” and “Ever TES game ever” and still don’t like the game, then thats your opinion and thats fine. But as someone that also has that same background, I loved it, so to each their own I guess.

    @orren – hahaha.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. BrokenSpline


    Your mage in WoW could wear plate armor? Stealth? No?

    Point? Its a superficial thing. There have been MMOs that do the same thing. It ends up just something you spec in at the end of the day. Sorry I played 30 hours within the beta and it doesn’t interest me at all. If I wanted a themepark MMO I would go play TOR or WoW. I will just have to hope that Bathesda gets the hint and makes a multiplayer component in their next game.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. orren

    @BrokenSpline “Point?”

    Isn’t the point obvious? You claim “THis game doesn’t break the mold at all. It uses the same conventions thus it plays like all MMOs to date.” Mages wearing plate armor, stealthing, and wielding two-handed axes is the usual MMO convention? No. ALL mmo’s to date play like that? No.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. BrokenSpline


    Oh did I hurt your feelings. Deal. I said my piece now moving on.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. orren

    @BrokenSpline “Oh did I hurt your feelings”

    You post nonsense, i point out it is nonsense. No feelings involved.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. BrokenSpline


    Nonsense? I played the game. I have been invited to every single beta since last spring. SO its informed “nonsense” You are just coming off as a fanboy and defending your precious. Great enjoyed it however I did not. I dunno why it pisses people off that they need to defend the game. If the game does great, great. I however will not be involved in a game that I feel is trash. Nuff said.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. orren

    @BrokenSpline “Nonsense? I played the game. I have been invited…”

    Dude. It does not matter how many times you have been invited.

    If you claim the game that allows you to play a plate-clad mage who can ambush people from stealth with his two-handed axe brings nothing new because *ALL* mmo’s use the same conventions, its nonsense, plain and simple. Because they do not.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. AbigailHolt29

    My Uncle Alex got an awesome black Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe only from working parttime off a macbook air… view it now CashStoredcom

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Darkfield

    @orren Well to be honest, Rift (which I recently developed a huge interest in due to classes being huge fun and covers almost any play-style) did a great job in there with so many different things you could do with your class and spec or what they can equip with certain talent choices, so it’s not exactly a new thing. Although commendable since it adds a huge variety specially if you wanna have fun. It might just not end up being practical for end-game play as there everything would boil down to math and class breakdowns which means cookie-cutter builds are gonna be the norm because “website X” has all the theory crafting and sims and stats to prove it.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Shinethelight

    This site is a total fail when it comes to this game because they don’t know anything about MMO’s and shouldn’t be writing about them. This is NOT SKYRIM GET OVER IT ALREADY. An MMO and a single player game are 2 totally different things and they cannot be designed the same way. You can’t please everyone either the world is too big or the world will be too small for some people. If you don’t like MMO’s don’t write about them and don’t play them. MMO’s have subs because they add content over time people have been paying a WoW sub for TEN years you morons. WoW is a MUCH bigger game now than when it came out. Everquest is also. Stop writing about this game and trying to smear it just because you’re a bunch of single player fanbois that are too cheap to pay 15 bucks for an online game.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. Shinethelight

    @BrokenSpline Because people like you are trying to smear a game that is actually really good and get people to NOT play it just because you wanted them to make another single player game.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. Shinethelight

    @boskoz “. I experienced huge walks and huge empty maps on both Planetside 2 and GuildWars 2. I really don’t know why developers make maps so big, they are never populated enough”

    Again the haters contradict themselves…apparently large maps are ok if it’s a single player game but if TESO has them all of a sudden they’re bad? I thought all the Skyrim whiners want it to be exactly like Skyrim? A single player game mind you.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. BrokenSpline


    “Because people like you are trying to smear a game that is actually really good….”

    Haha, What? Smea?. I feel its a bad game that’s my opinion and I have a right to it. What do I have to gain by “smearing” it. I am just going to ignore and move on with my life.

    “and get people to NOT play it just because you wanted them to make another single player game.”

    Hahah, No. This is a studio that was created just for this reason and if it doesn’t make it, they will just close it because that is what Zenimax does. Its also largely developed by people that were laid off from TOR which I am glad they have jobs. I wouldn’t want to see anyone fail and lose their livelihood.

    You are just being a fanboy and again trying to defend a faceless company from those trying to “smear” it. Sorry that my opinion of the time I spent with the game offends you.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. orren

    Anyone who wants a MUCH more informative preview of ESO PvP watch this:

    #22 1 year ago
  23. boskoz

    This other reviewer had the same experience as Dave:

    -The map is too huge, you can walk for 30 minutes…
    -The advanced camp feature is dumb, as enemies can destroy it by pressing E (really?)
    -It is actually an endgame content, or you risk to face a level 50 guy when you are level 12. Also the npc guardians are lv. 50.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. Shinethelight


    A huge map is what all the Elder Scrolls games had wasn’t? So again either you want it to be like Elder Scrolls or not make up your mind. Also huge maps in MMO’s and RPG’s are pretty common in more hardcore games played by enthusiasts. Vanguard had a large world that took a while to get around in but exploring it was a blast. Most gamers now couldn’t even handle the original EQ1 before they changed it. EQ1 had corpse retrieval when you died none of this wussy WoW stuff where everything is easy.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. orren


    “-The map is too huge, you can walk for 30 minutes…”

    The map is designed to host fights of up to 2000 players at once. It is huge so that its not possible to dominate it with one huge zerg. Players need to split up to defend their assets. There are teleportation lines and horses to help with covering distances, and advanced camps to help with respawning.

    “-The advanced camp feature is dumb, as enemies can destroy it by pressing E (really?)”

    To press that E, you need to stand next to the advanced camp, i.e. in the middle of the enemy army. The difficulty is not in the clicking, but in surviving long enough to do that click. If the enemies let you get that close, they deserve to get their camp destroyed.

    “-It is actually an endgame content, or you risk to face a level 50 guy when you are level 12. Also the npc guardians are lv. 50.”

    Same false information as in the preview on this site. EVERYONE is boosted to level 50 while they are in cyrodiil. Did you want the AngryJoe pvp preview i posted 1 post higher? He specifically mentions this fact twice. Also, you can see him, being level 13, attack and kill a guard who is level 50. Seriously, these ‘journalists’ need to do their homework before confusing the heck out of their readers.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. orren

    And since the NDA has just been lifted…

    Annoyingly however, there were a lot of level 50 players already roaming the battlefield and they killed me in seconds.

    There were not a lot of level 50 players already roaming the battlefield, for the simple reason that the max level in the beta was limited to like 30. Most of the players in cyrodiil were around level 15.

    If they killed you in seconds it was not because they were level 50 but but because you… Well. For other reasons. :p

    #26 1 year ago
  27. bobnice

    I’ve heard numerous people say we must play beyond level 10 to see this game truly at its best. Even Angry Joe has done a total 180 from his initial first impressions video. In his new video posted yesterday regarding the PVP, he mentions that he tried a new sorcerer class a new race and a new alliance and has played past lvl 10 and dove into the pvp and he says he is very much enjoying it and probably gonna get the Angry Army on there

    #27 1 year ago
  28. sebastien rivas


    Humm, yes, I agree with GW2
    PVP maps are just too big or lack the gamers attention to be solid and used well.

    They are meant that way, PVP maps are meant to be played by the many but reality is that unless you PVP during peak hours on peak severs on peak week end then it is likely to be somewhat to completely empty depending what servers you play on of course.
    GW2 for example would be really cool if they keep their plethora of servers but then chunk together servers for PVP during WEEK DAYS and none peak hours.
    Would it be helpful for any other MMORPG, certainly YES. it would prevent people like me to uninstall games like GW2 off their HDD or stop sub’ing monthly games.

    Just saying…

    #28 1 year ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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