I have to admit something horrible for those who dearly love Elder Scrolls: I never played Skyrim. There. I said it. Well, technically, that’s not the whole truth. I played Skyrim for about an hour before I gave up in utter frustration at the inventory system. Since that time, I know that mods have been made, but by then it was too late for me.
So it is understandable that approaching the Elder Scrolls Online E3 preview event a couple weeks ago, I was a bit apprehensive about playing the game. I can happily say that my unease before playing has been utterly set aside. As a longtime MMO player, there were enough similarities between ESO and many games I’ve played in the past that I easily managed to find my way.
The event was set up by Bethesda during a week of E3 preview events held all over the city of Los Angeles to allow the official judging committee a chance to see what developers were bringing to next month’s event. That Bethesda included press to show off the latest public version of ESO was a treat beyond expectation.
Interestingly, Matt Firor told us that even the build we were playing is considered “old” within Zenimax itself. The build developers are playing is about two generations ahead of what the public has and will see throughout the summer. One of the more interesting features that the team is working on is getting the first person perspective perfected. Yes, players will get the hands that are so familiar to many. It isn’t in the current build just yet as the team is busy working to make sure it is smooth and bug free.
The demo that E3 attendees will get to check out is a new one since PAX East a couple months ago. It is designed to show off core game mechanics and to allow players a wide area to freely explore and, in my case anyway, in which to die…often. Even so doing, it was a ton of fun.
Our journey began on the character customization screen where we could choose class, race, gender and more. The customization in Elder Scrolls Online is top notch. I can guarantee that players will spend a lot of time dithering with just the right look for their characters, something that I probably could have spent a lot of the allotted time doing. Still, in the interest of actually playing with the game, I left most options on the default setting though I did manage to get a great hairstyle and face on my Breton.
Interestingly, on finishing character creation, we were spirited to the city of Daggerfall and to level six. We were not run through the initial tutorial area so as to give us a better chance to see the game “as is” in a manner of speaking.
The looks and colors of Daggerfall and the way that characters and NPCs look is very much Elder Scrolls. There is no bright color palette here except in places where it fits in one sense or another. Lots of browns, blacks, tans and darker, muted colors abound and it’s all fitting somehow. Even with only an hour of Skyrim under my belt, the city of Daggerfall felt familiar. Players can enter houses and businesses and pick up all the little things like plates and cups, even loot the family’s wardrobe looking for that old sword passed down by Grandpa. Simply put, there is a lot to do in Daggerfall and its immediate surroundings, only one tiny area of the larger games.
Daggerfall is socially enabled and is designed to be a gathering spot for players. There are crafting locations, dungeons, side quests and exploration to be had within the city walls itself, not to mention outside. Exploration is key. One interesting tidbit we were told is that there are Skyrim-like achievements for finding and reading all the books in a given location and much more. It’s definitely worth the taking the time to sniff around if that’s your thing.
As said, Daggerfall itself is packed with quests. On entering the city, you are met by a dog that pleadingly uses his eyes and body language to get you to follow him. From there, a chain of events begins that ultimately requires players to rescue the king himself. It’s a satisfying arc, to say the least, since a great new weapon is given and you leave the castle to the cheers and hurrahs of the king’s guard. Players will actually feel heroic.
As expected, there are numerous side quests introduced in the city as well sending players out into the more untamed wilds where villages are being burned and ransacked by mysterious forces. In one town, a quest directed us to put out ten fires, each surrounded by hordes of tough monsters. Let’s just say that battle in ESO is not as easy as it is in many MMOs these days, something that I found quite satisfying.
Quests also require a bit of thinking in order to complete. It’s not that they’re particularly difficult exactly, especially if one is very careful. It’s more that things have a specific order in which to be completed. One quest took me some time to figure out that I had to draw the monsters to a plant that needed demon blood for nourishment. Killing one near, but not near enough, was not sufficient. That bad boy had to die on the plant in order for its blood to soak into the roots.
I noticed that respawn times in this particular build were very fast. Given the length and difficulty of some of the battles, it was very easy to get caught by a second pack of monsters while still winded from the first.
Quests are not ‘level-dependent’ in the traditional sense, though early quests clearly are made for lower level players. The caveat to this is when in “explorer” mode wanting to see the entire zone before following the quest line. It’s particularly germane to those who run all over the map collecting quests. Not that this happened to me of course. Well, all right. It did. Death and I became good friends, let’s just say that, shall we? It’s worth accepting a few quests in the city and making sure that those are completed before moving on to the outside locations.
There is no penalty, by the way, for exploration either and lots of nifty side quests can be picked up along the way. When I happened to see a quest icon pop up on my map, I began merrily jaunting along without paying much attention. Those bandits that very nearly snuffed me along the way should have been my clue that, just maybe, the quest marker I was running toward would lead to an arc that was probably also too hard.
The music and ambient sounds in Elder Scrolls Online are top notch. I tend to be a huge fan of game sound racks and I can tell that I will be purchasing this one if it’s not included in whatever package I choose to purchase. It’s that good, as is the voice acting. In the quests I completed, there were no cut scenes, simply the NPC speaking with my character. It’s rather funny that I actually liked the old-school feel to that rather than having cutscenes a la SWTOR. Maybe I’m just old fashioned but it was nice.
I have gone from being a fence sitter with regard to Elder Scrolls Online to a fan. The game as it stands in the version I played looks very polished and well-rounded. The lore is complete and interesting. Combat is aces. Sounds and feelings are spot on. In short, there is little bad to say about ESO from what I saw that day. It's a preview, so warts may be hidden, but there's still a lot to love and that much is clear.
Before I sign off, I do have to write the following to prove that I did indeed ask:
“So Matt….have you guys decided on a revenue model yet? Subscription? Hybrid? Free to play?”
Matt answered, “We’re not ready to talk about that yet.”
What about you? Will you be attending any of this season’s gaming events to try out Elder Scrolls Online for yourself? What do you expect to see? What is it that you still want to know? Leave us a comment or two and let us know!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can harangue her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.