Not many game franchises reach their 20th birthday still going strong, but The Elder Scrolls is one of the exceptions. Unfortunately, Mac users were out in the cold until the release of The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) in 2014.

A cross-platform (Mac & Windows, not consoles) open-world MMORPG, ESO introduced multiplayer to the game for the first time. And while there were various criticisms leveled at the game when it was first released, updates and fixes have firmly established the game as one of the most popular MMORPGs around.

Set in the same universe but at an earlier time than previous games in the series, ESO features a wide open world that you can explore and play in as you like. With a rich story, plenty of side quests, crafting, battles and more, ESO allows you to explore the world of Tamriel as you wish, alone or with your friends.

While the game has years of popularity under its belt, recently there have been some concerns about how well optimized ESO’s Mac version is. Despite relatively low listed requirements, we wanted to find out how well it plays in the real world, on real Macs.

So we set out to test the game on as many different Mac setups as possible to let you know whether it’s worth your money.

First things first, is the game any good?

Doesn’t look like we’re ever going to Skyrim on the Mac, so ESO needs to be the next best thing. Is it?

After dealing with some growing pains after its initial release, Elder Scrolls Online has established itself as one of the premiere MMORPGs. A steady flow of updates and (paid) DLC has helped keep the game fresh. The online community remains active, which is obviously important for the MMO genre.

Nowadays you can only purchase the Morrowing Edition which also includes the base game. This is the version we will be referring to throughout this guide.

Despite its early problems, the original game netted a 71/100 Metascore; while the ESO Morrowind expansion netted a 77, showcasing the game’s improvement over time. A 79% positive on Steam also shows the game’s continuing popularity:

Metascore

%

User Reviews

If you like MMORPGs or Elder Scrolls games, there’s a good chance you’ll like Elder Scrolls Online. In the words of IGN:

As a fan of both MMORPGs and the Elder Scrolls series, I found it to be one of the most rewarding games in the genre in years.…I’ve loved my time questing through Tamriel, and I look forward to logging back in soon.

And MMORPG gave the game a 7.9/10, saying:

Elder Scrolls Online may not be for everyone. But I’m happy and proud to say it’s a game I can stand behind and support with my wallet. It strives to be different from the usual theme-park MMORPG, and it also faithfully represents the Elder Scrolls universe through lore and gameplay.

If you think that this sounds like the game for you, read on to see what our tests revealed about the MacOS version of the game.

Elder Scrolls Online Mac gameplay

The test

We were particularly curious about the performance requirements behind this game. After all, rendering a huge fantasy world has to be demanding, right?

To see how the Elder Scrolls Online for Mac performs on different machines, we have tested the game on six different machines:

iMac 27-Inch (5K, Late 2014)

3.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 16 GB RAM, AMD Radeon R9 M290X (2GB)

MacBook Pro 15-inch (Touch/Mid-2017)

2.9 GHz Intel Core i7, 8 GB RAM, AMD Radeon Pro 560 (4GB)

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)

2.0 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris Graphics 540 (1.5GB)

Mac Mini (Late 2014)

2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris 5100 (1.5GB)

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2013)

2.4 GHz Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM, Intel Iris 5100 (1.5GB)

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012)

2.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 400 (0.5GB)

Notice neither the 2013 nor the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pros are officially supported.

Remember, we write these Performance Reviews to show you how games run on mainstream Macs. We use machines similar to what most Mac users have, ranging from the latest high-end models to older but still popular MacBook Pros or Mac Minis.

We always make sure these three categories are covered:

  • High-end Macs
  • Recent entry-level Macs
  • Older Macs

Even if your exact Mac model wasn’t tested here, you should be able to easily estimate the performance levels you can expect while playing this game.

Using our in-house FPS counter, we tested all machines using the following settings:

  • 1280x800 or equivalent resolution
  • Graphics Quality: Medium
  • V-Sync and Anti-Aliasing: Off

All benchmarks consisted of 5 minutes of real-time gameplay in an open area, running around and killing everything on sight. We prefer to test games outdoors because they tend to be more demanding and taxing than indoors.

And for the record, Medium settings and 1280x800 resolution may seem low but it’s the best compromise when testing both high-end and low-end models.

The Results

Results can be surprisingly good, but only if you manage to successfully install and play the game. Bugs are rampant and are covered in a new “bugs and issues” section…

This graph shows you how our test Macs performed:

Elder Scrolls Online Results

And as a reminder, this is how we describe the different levels of performance:

Below 20 FPSUnplayableLaggy gameplay, full of stutters and slowdowns.
20-30 FPSBorderlineCan be Ok in slow paced games. Still, not optimal.
30-45 FPSPlayableAcceptable for most (most gaming consoles do this).
45-60 FPSSmoothFluid gameplay, with no perceivable stutters.
60+ FPSVery SmoothFor hardcore and professional players, a luxury for most.

Results are promising, it’s just too bad bugs and issues hurt the experience so much.

Bugs and issues

A quick Google search reveals that the game’s MacOS version has been plagued with bugs for a while and unfortunately things haven’t improved over time.

Installation issues

The most frustrating issues appear early on when trying to install the game. First of all, do not, under any circumstance, download the game through Steam. For some reason, Steam will download an 85GB game that requires another 85GB to actually work. That’s close to 170GB for a single game.

If you go straight to the game’s official website, you will only need to download 85GB, matching the official system requirements.

Another problem is that the game officially asks for 85GB of space to install the game but in reality, it requires much more. I was never able to install the game on my 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro in spite of having 95GB of free space available (and uninstalling everything else in the process).

Gameplay issues

During our tests, we encountered other issues that hurt the experience. Sometimes the mouse would simply not work. Other times, we were greeted by a screen glitch that would require us to restart the game.

Takeaway: Benchmarking ESO Morrowing was painful and frustrating. If your Mac has a 128GB hard drive, you will probably won’t even be able to install the game.But to be fair, the biggest issues occur during installation, and if you can manage to install the game you should have a smooth experience.

Bugs aside, the game ran great on every machine we managed to install the game on.

Do you have a high-end Mac?

If you happen to have a high-end Mac, you can expect a fantastic experience.

Our 2014 iMac’s 79.8 FPS is great, resulting in a Very Smooth experience. The same can be said for the 106.5 FPS from our 2016 15-inch MBP. Our iMac is usually faster, but it seems Morrowing’s Mac version prefers the Radeon Pro 560 from our MBP.

At higher settings, both machines still handle the game with ease. Benchmarking the iMac at Ultra-High setting (the maximum possible), it still does a Very Smooth 71.5FPS.

The difference between Medium and Ultra-High settings is a measly -11% FPS, but that can be explained by the very small improvement in quality Ultra-High delivers:

In fact, the Ultra-High settings look muddier and less detailed.

ModelMedium SettingsMax Settings
2014 27-inch iMac 79.8 FPS Very Smooth 71.5 FPS Very Smooth

But what happens when we push our high-end models to the max at Ultra-High and max resolution (2560x1440)? ESO runs iMac at a Smooth 47.4 FPS. Much lower than before, but it looks much, much better.

Takeaway: Owners of high-end models can rest assured. We recommend keeping settings to Medium and pushing the game’s resolution as high as possible. That’s where you’ll see the biggest improvements in quality.

Do you have a recent entry-level Mac?

With only integrated graphics, entry-level Macs normally struggle with graphically-intensive games. But not today. ESO runs at a Smooth 50.9 FPS on our 2016 13-inch MBP.

At Ultra-High settings, the game still runs relatively fast at a Playable 39.1 FPS:

ModelLowest SettingsMedium Settings
2016 13-inch MBP68.5 FPS Very Smooth50.9 FPS Smooth

And if you find yourself with low frame rates, you can always play the game on Minimum settings. During our tests, we saw an improvement of 34% more FPS. That said, the graphics quality really suffers, as can be seen below:

Takeaway: Recent Macs with integrated graphics will do fine running this game.

But what if you have an older Mac?

Often gamers with older Macs are left behind, but ESO is a surprisingly forgiving game.

The game runs at Playable 32 FPS on our 2012 13-inch MBP and 38.5 FPS on our Mac Mini.

For the record, we also benchmarked the game on our 2013 13-inch MBP but it was just impossible to install it. The MBP’s 128GB hard drive wasn’t enough…

Takeaway: Older Macs from 2012 onwards should handle this game just fine. However, and it’s very strange to have to say this, you should pay more attention to your hard drive than your graphics card. If your Mac has 128GB of total storage or lower, we can’t recommend this game.

Still unsure?

Remember, you can always run the free Unigine Heaven Benchmark using the Basic Preset and compare your results with ours:

Elder Scrolls Online VS Heaven results

If your machine had a better/worst Heaven score, expect a higher/lower FPS score.

The correlation between in-game performance and a standard benchmark is far from perfect, but it can still be a good comparison point.

Keep in mind that this is an estimate and far from exact. If your estimated FPS are too close to 30 FPS, don’t risk it.

Always check those system requirements

Usually meeting minimum requirements lead to a barely playable experience, but in this case, expect a comfortable experience if you meet these requirements.

These are the official Elder Scrolls Online minimum system requirements:

OS10.9
ProcessorIntel Core i3 540 or higher
Memory4GB RAM
Video Memory1GB Video RAM
Video CardAMD Radeon 5870 (1GB of VRAM) with OpenGL 4.1
Hard Drive85GB of Hard Drive space

These requirements are relatively demanding, asking for 1GB of dedicated video RAM, but keep in mind that our 2012 MBP doesn’t officially meet these requirements and can still run the game at over 30 FPS on Medium settings…

Final thoughts

Performance was good all-around and considering this is a good-looking game with an ambitious scope, it’s an impressive feat. This is why it’s such a shame that the experience is hampered by several bugs, especially during installation.

If you’re into MMOs and are prepared to potentially face frustrating bugs, The Elder Scrolls Online might be worth it.

Surprisingly good performance for such a good-looking game.

Even older MBPs from 2012 can run the game just fine.

Steam version requires twice the 85GB officially required hard drive space.

Frustrating bugs, especially during installation.

Demand level: Medium