I can easily say that The Elder Scrolls has LONG been one of my favorite franchises ever in gaming. I started playing at the very beginning when Arena first came out and have stuck with the franchise ever since, even the one which wasn’t really part of the story that most people forgot about (Redguard). It is easily the single player franchise I’ve put the most time into. Heck, I put MMO levels of hours into each single player game. It is also by far one of the very top franchises I’ve always wanted to see turned into an MMO, right up there with Fallout and Shadowrun. So now it’s going to be an MMO, and I have to admit, I’ve been purposefully avoiding reading too much about it or following it too closely. I have a bad habit of getting burned out on an MMO before it even launches. I go into information overload and submerge myself in everything known about the game. And then I get into beta at some point and put in several hundred hours before the game launches. By time launch day gets here, I’m just burnt out on it. So I’ve been really trying not to let that happen with ESO. However, at QuakeCon this year I was given the opportunity to spend two hours with the game and I just couldn’t pass it up, so here’s what I thought after spending two very intimate hours with The Elder Scrolls Online.
I have to say I’ve also had a lot of fear and reservations about how the franchise would handle the transition from single player story to massively multiplayer. There’s always some sacrifice to be made, what form would it take? The biggest worry I had was the skill/advancement system. I loved the system in Skyrim and the single player games. I loved being able to pick and choose my skills and build whatever type of character I wanted and could dream up. I’d heard rumors about the more confined class system that TESO uses. Luckily our two hour play session started at character creation, so I could see how it’d work from the very beginning rather than just getting stuck playing a premade character. It is definitely more confined in some ways. You pick a ‘class’ and each of those have three skill lines that level up through use. But you also have a lot of other skill lines to level up through use as well. You can be a dual wielding sorcerer if you want. You can be a Sorcerer tank, a healing Thief-y type, etc. It doesn’t have exactly the same level of freedom that Skyrim and the others did, but it’s definitely better than I feared it would be.
I ended up picking a Nord Dragon Knight, mostly because I liked the way he looked in his veteran armor the best, if for no other reason. I then proceeded to make him and short and scrawny as I could and named him Tiny, because why not… Once I was in the world I proceeded to equip a massive two handed sword and my diminutive fighter was ready to go.
Combat felt a lot like Skyrim and the other single player games. If you didn’t make the best use of your skills and abilities, ie just standing there whacking on it with your sword, it could take forever. But if you used your skills well, most regular battles ended rather quickly and easily. There’s a nice block/counter-attack system in place. Opponents' power attacks are well telegraphed, and if you block one, you’ll stun them leaving an opening for you to devastate them with your own power attack. I never had much of a problem with one on one combat, or even two on one. It was possible to draw a little too much attention and become overwhelmed. I did die several times during my two hours, but every time was a result of accidentally pulling four or five or more enemies at once. As with the rest of the franchise, as you use your skills, abilities and weapons, they’ll level each of them up and become more powerful.
Once you level up a skill or power enough you’ll be presented with the option to upgrade or improve it. When I had used my ‘Fiery Reach’ spell enough, I was given the option to ‘morph’ it, which presented me with two options. One morph would increase the range or the other would set the enemy on fire when I used the chain to drag them to me. I naturally went with the fire option. When you morph the skill, it automatically upgrades the one on your hotbar. Swinging your weapon also accomplishes the same thing for your weapon’s skill. So as I was fighting, my two-handed skill went up, much in the same way I’ve always been familiar with. I also liked that there was no cooldown on skills/abilities, just your mana or stamina to worry about.
Running around the world was a very familiar experience for me. I ran around picking up every single cup and piece of bread and anything else I could find that wasn’t nailed down. It wasn’t as heavily decorated with junk sale loot as the worlds of the single player games, but I still managed to load up a bag or two with stuff to sell to a merchant. There are also no shortage of assorted crates and barrels and such in the world for looting. And if you’re lucky, you’ll come across some randomly spawning chests out in the wilderness which will test your lock-picking skills. The same system you know and love from Skyrim is back with the tumblers and picks. And you can still force it if you want.
The island we were on offered a wide variety of landscapes for us to experience. There were snowy peaks, rivers and farms and towns and keeps and such. There was plenty of random low level wildlife running around that you could one-shot kill if you felt like it. And other more powerful bits of wildlife such as the mudcrabs and bears for you to take a good bit of frustration out on. The fully voice-acted dialogue trees you’ve come to expect from the Elder Scrolls are still present, even in the random townsfolk who have nothing for you other than chatter. All in all the world felt very alive and familiar to me. And it made me very happy that it was so familiar and what I expected.
In my two hours of playing I managed to get up to level five and finished probably a good eight to ten quests. There was also a lot of exploring in there, just to see what I could find and see as much of the world as was possible. I felt like I got quite a bit accomplished in a short amount of time. I was very sad when one of the developers tapped me on the shoulder and told me my time was up, as it certainly didn’t feel like anywhere near two hours had passed. There were a lot of concerns I had about the game, and I won’t try to convince you they’ve all been erased after a brief two hour gameplay session, but my short time playing at QuakeCon did more to encourage me than discourage.
Read Richard's interview with Nick Konkle On Guilds, BeingEmperor and Much More.