Raise your wands if you didn't see this one coming. Okay, that's no-one. Yes, like night following a particularly reliable day, The Elder Scrolls Online is dropping its subscription. Rumors of the switch have been around for a while now, fuelled by the elimination of the six-month subscription option in December, followed by the removal of TESO boxes from EB Games shelves in Australia earlier this month. Now, finally, it's confirmed: Bethesda Softworks has announced that the game's subscription will cease as of March, at which point it will be known as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited.
It won't be fully free-to-play—you'll still have to purchase the game if you want in—but once you own it, you'll be able to play online to your heart's content, with full access to all previously-released updates and content, including the new Champion and Justice systems. Those who already own The Elder Scrolls Online will need to do nothing, as all existing accounts will be automatically updated to the new version.
Dedicated fans will have the option of ponying up for "ESO Plus" memberships. Available in 30, 90, and 180-day durations, these will offer access to all future DLC, which Bethesda said will consist of "game packs with optional adventure content," like zones and quests. Access to these optional areas will be lost if and when your membership expires, but any items or rewards earned from those areas will be kept.
ESO Plus memberships will also provide "character progression bonuses," and an allotment of crowns, the new in-game currency that will be used to purchase "convenience and customization items" like pets and mounts, as well as the aforementioned DLC, which will be available separately from ESO Plus memberships on an a-la-carte basis.
Current TESO subscriptions that extend beyond the changeover will be automatically transitioned to ESO Plus memberships, and TESO players who have previously cancelled their subscriptions can leap back into the subs-free action using their old account info (and will be given 500 complimentary crowns for doing so). Refunds on existing subscriptions will not be offered.
As we hinted, ever-so-subtly, at the beginning of this post, this is an entirely unsurprising outcome. There are plenty of quality free-to-play MMO options already on the market—and while the realm of Tamriel looks to be an ideal setting for an MMO on the surface, there's a big difference between experiencing a game world as the Nerevarine, and experiencing it as Rando Battlemage #22627. I don't think The Elder Scrolls Online was ever able to shed its reputation for being over-hyped and under-delivered, and generic fantasy MMO experiences just aren't enough to justify 15 bucks a month in this era.
I'm also a little iffy about Bethesda's plans for Tamriel Unlimited. Bethesda hasn't yet indicated what the purchase price will be but the standard edition of TESO is $60, and it's not unreasonable to assume that figure will hold, at least for a little while. Add on the cost of future game packs, mounts, and whatever else catches your fancy, and I can't help but wonder if even the sub-free version of the game might be a little too pricey for its own good.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited goes live on March 17. ZeniMax Online Studios will talk more about the coming changes in a Twitch stream starting at 12 pm EST on January 21, and if reading is more your thing, you can get more detail in this handy FAQ.