For those of you who weren’t already aware, the launch of The Elder Scrolls Online was…well, a bit of a mess. Not only did the game go live with a ruinous, economy-breaking exploit; it also played host to a lovely selection of nasty bugs and glitches that made playing it a chore, at best.  On top of that, Zenimax’s Online’s recent problems with a plague of gold spammers (and the studio’s extremely unprofessional means of dealing with the problem) cast even further doubt on the studio’s capabilities.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the game is…honestly, there’s really no easy way to put this: it just isn’t very fun. 

Part of the problem, I think, is that The Elder Scrolls has always been a purely single-player experience. You don’t pick up Skyrim to run a raid with your guild, you play it because you want to be an angry viking who shouts things to death. You don’t play Morrowind because you’re interested in PVP, you do it to experience the rich land of Vvardenfel (and to relish an era before essential NPCs). You don’t load up Oblivion because…

Yeah, you get the idea. 

It’s worth mentioning, too, that the modding community has always been one of the defining features – if not the sole defining feature – of the franchise. Bethesda’s always made it a priority to let its players customize how they play, and over the years we’ve seen some downright incredible player-created content, some of which puts even Bethesda to shame (Falskaar is but one example of this). With the Elder Scrolls Online, there’s no indication that the developer has any intent to foster this kind of community – or creativity. As a result, the experience will in all likelihood end up feeling a little bland, after a time (to say nothing of the fact that it’s basically the plot of Oblivion with a different Daedric Prince at the helm). 

All of this together means that ESO has been receiving almost universally lukewarm reviews. The only question now is whether or not Zenimax can actually salvage the experience and turn it into something memorable. Is that even in the cards? 

It’s difficult to say at this point. From where I stand, there are a few steps Zenimax could take to revitalize the Elder Scrolls Online – the first of which would be the release of some kind of content creation kit, a-la Neverwinter’s Foundry tool. Though we aren’t likely to see any combat, graphics, or race overhauls; allowing fans the ability to design their own quests, zones, and dungeons could breathe a bit of life back into a game that already seems to be getting a little stale.  An overhaul of the combat system could also be in order; making things a little more action-oriented could be in order, too; more focus on exploration is also a must. 

To their credit, Zenimax has begun listening to the fans in terms of what changes they want to see implemented – all that remains is to see whether or not they can follow through. A better justice system (including laws and punishments for stealing from NPCs) is already in the cards, and hopefully a meaningful day/night cycle with it. 

It’s not like the game doesn’t have potential. The ability to explore virtually all of Tamriel is incredible, and the PVP is both unique and promising. These two factors alone, though…I’m not certain they’re enough to save the title from itself, not without some serious legwork from the developer. 

So, can Zenimax fix The Elder Scrolls Online? Maybe – but it might go free to play before they get the chance.