It's a good thing, then, that the game's skill system allows you to customise your approach to combat from the beginning of the game. You select skills by spending points in a range of disciplines, the majority of which are available to every player. Your choice of class at character creation grants you three sets of skills that nobody else will have, but beyond them you're free to mix and match armour types, weaponry, and crafting disciplines as you will. It's also possible to add new skill trees by joining organisations like the Fighters and Mages guilds, each of which have their own quest lines.
It's also possible to be infected with vampirism or lycanthropy and gain access to new skill trees with appropriate benefits and drawbacks. This is a nice idea, and demonstrates the versatility of the skill system. It does, however, have an amusing and detrimental effect on the game's tone: vampires and werewolves can pass on their curse to other players once per week, and it's common to see players in cities offering large sums of money for the chance to get bitten. The idea is fine on paper, but crumples when exposed to actual players.
This is true elsewhere. One of The Elder Scrolls Online's biggest weaknesses as an MMO is that it often becomes a worse game when large numbers of players are involved in the same activity. While questing in the High Rock area of Stormhaven I was directed to a monastery that was under attack by bandits. I was given two quests: put out six fires, and deliver healing to four injured monks. Credit for completing these objectives is only granted to the player that performs them, which means that I was put in indirect competition with every other player in the area—and given the linear nature of the game's zone, that means a lot of other people.
The monastery might have been on fire, but there weren't enough fires for everybody: which meant hanging around waiting for fires to respawn so that
could get the credit for putting them out. Badly-designed quests like this one are common, and even when your objective is more deftly constructed you are always aware of the conga-line of players waiting to do the exact same thing that you are doing. This takes the game to some strange places: I'll never forget the time I traveled back in time in the guise of an ancient warrior only to find a room full of doppelgangers jumping about, dancing, and waiting for a boss to spawn. Immersive it isn't.
Narrative isn't necessarily important to an MMO, but The Elder Scrolls Online's tepid writing and lamentable voice acting act to the severe detriment of the game's atmosphere. A handful of actors play the majority of characters you'll run into, Oblivion-style, and as a result I'm fairly sure that every quest giver in the Daggerfall Covenant is the same person wearing a different hat and beard. The storytelling is more adept in the main plotline, and later conversations between Alfred Molina's Jagar Tharn, Michael Gambon's Prophet and Jennifer Hale's Lyris Titanborn have a bit of personality to them. You'd hope so, though, with that amount of talent involved.
That's not to say that Bethesda's astronomical casting spend has been entirely justified. Malcolm McDowell's Molag Bal sounds like he's very far away for reasons I don't quite understand. Bill Nighy as High King Emeric sounds vaguely amused and unfazed by everything that happens; like somebody's cool granddad having fun with the word 'daedra'. At least he's having fun, I suppose.
That's the experience of leveling in The Elder Scrolls Online, then: you pick up prescriptive tasks from lifeless characters and join the queue to perform them with dozens of other players. There are treasures to discover and the odd optional cave to explore if you wander off, but the things you'll see and the rewards you'll uncover don't really match up to the effort. The crafting system is well thought-out and expansive, but the abundance of materials and lack of a formal trading system means that there isn't much of an economy to participate in. At its best, this is a decent iteration on a very familiar RPG format. At its worst, it's boring.