When The Elder Scrolls Online launched, many people had high expectations for the game. Of course, given the number of people who loved the Elder Scrolls series of games and the number of people who love MMOs in general, no developer could ever satisfy the playerbase. The devs could have completely recreated Skyrim in an online form and there would be complainers.
Although I did some complaining about the game myself after its launch last year, my primary gripe was not the game itself. The storytelling and character progression mechanics were great. My primary issues was ZeniMax‘s handling of its playerbase and that knowledge that the PC subscription that many people have been paying for this last year has actually been a pay-to-beta model without ZeniMax ever actually admitting it. But after March 17th, that all ends, and the game, now called Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, is more than worth your money to buy.
I am a returning player filled with all the bitterness that returning players carry. ZeniMax murdered my family and ran off with my dog, but right now, I am super impressed with what it’s been able to accomplish over this last year.
When Update 6 was on the test servers, a couple of my friends were playing the game still and couldn’t stop talking about this update. I remained extremely skeptical. But they were telling me that they did not want to leave the PTS for live because Update 6 so drastically changed the game for them. At first they talked about the nuances of specific classes that so long after launch really meant nothing to me. But then they started talking about the Justice system, and that’s what roped me in.
I had already heard about the Justice system, but it was different coming from people I knew who were experiencing it rather than some developer who was trying to sell his product. Remember, ZeniMax had already destroyed my childhood, so I wasn’t about to let it do it again. So let me run down the bare bones of the Justice system for you without any hype.
The Justice system at its most basic level allows players to be criminals, basically two different kinds of criminals: thieves and murderers. Nearly every NPC can be interacted with, and nearly all objects can be picked up or searched through. The latter part was already in the game, but this system changes it slightly.
If you are in friendly territory such as a city, you can rummage through any crate or knapsack lying on the ground. However, most items like that throughout the world belong to one NPC or another. This will be annotated by red text and a phrases like “steal item” appearing as you mouse over the object. If you take such an item and no NPC is in range to see you or you have added passive skill points to sneaking, then you can take the item and wander around with it in your inventory. If you do get caught, the item is confiscated and a bounty is placed on your head. The size of the bounty depends on your level and possibly the location of the crime. (I haven’t been able to fully test that second part to see what the differences are.)
Besides random crates and knapsacks, you can also steal directly from people via pickpocketing. Unlike the sneak skill (which is thankfully purchased with skill points), the pickpocketing skills are learned by doing. This means that if you want to learn how to pickpocket, all you have to do is start doing it, just as in any other Elder Scrolls game. There is a bit of player skill, situational awareness, and luck involved, too. But the basic idea is just that you crouch until you’re hidden, sneak up behind any NPC who has the white glow around him (the white indicates that he is a “friendly” non-quest NPC), then hit the action key on your keyboard to pick his pocket. Some NPCs will really not like your picking their pockets, and they will turn red and attack you. You could kill them if you want, but you will incur more penalties.
That leads us to bounties. Bounties are placed on your head every time you’re caught committing a criminal act. This could be stealing from crates, pickpocketing, or even murdering an NPC. The bounty is subdivided into multiple parts. The first part is the bounty cost. This is a fee in gold that you’ll have to pay to clear your bounty and stop the guards from approaching you. You can be cleared by paying a guard or paying a fence to take care of it for you. The bounty slowly ticks down as time passes, but it could take a day or more to clear a high bounty.
The other part is reputation. You gain an extremely high reputation right after you commit a crime, but that goes down quickly. But you also have a second reputation tick that doesn’t go down at the same rate. If you have any reputation at all, a guard will stop you on sight. If you have a high reputation, then a guard will attack you — you don’t want to fight a guard.
This is what I did all weekend. On the surface, this minigame — if you want to call it that — doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but what it does for immersion within the Elder Scrolls world is incredible. It not only reinstates popular activities from the singleplayer games but also makes the world feel a little less on rails. The justice system convinces you that you aren’t tied down to the main story. It really makes the world feel more open. If I want to stick around and become the Thief of Glenumbra, then now, I truly can.
You can check it out yourself if you’ve got an active sub, of course, but come next Tuesday, ESO’s subscription drops, and if you bought the ESO box for PC you can just hop in the game any time you want. And I honestly believe you should.
(Note: OK, OK. ZeniMax did not do anything to my family or my dog, and there is no title “Thief of Glenumbra” in the game. Yet.)