The deep crafting system, for example, is one element that can grant you more than just a new look. The advantages there will take time to level and sort for your preferences. One can effectively master it all over time, giving players a multi-pronged approach to improving their gear in several ways. It will take exploration for materials, including stones, and with the number of crafting styles you can open up over time (including ones that are outside the specific racial categories), it will be a system of investment.
The pacing feels a little more deliberate, and the temptation among Elder Scrolls fans and RPG fans is likely there to want to explore, look around, loot whatever isn't nailed down, and stumble upon people and quests. That's all there. I found a nook over in Daggerfall that led to a pretty looking opening and a small rock with a waterfall feet behind it. I swam over to examine everything and even went behind the waterfall and tried to jump on the small rock island in the water. There was no real purpose for it being there, as it didn't seem to have a particular function. Thinking about it, the fact that the game supports exploration for its own sake, without needing a carrot in every corner (and there are Skyshards and chests all around for the carrot-led players), makes it feel a bit more like an actual world under the MMO structure and mechanics.
There seems like there will be content enough to blend the gameplay experience with interesting things to do in between, and that's my optimism for The Elder Scrolls Online. The problem with some games is in pulling this off, making the game feel like it's one hub to the next and a huge grind in between. There might be a handful of other things to do, but those mechnics aren't always deep enough. While the press beta was a limited experience, and thus we can't say for future levels, the idea that the game just might find that sweet spot of flexibility between content and progression and make things feel like a journey in a world is a tempting hope.
In terms of the community, having a more paced, horizontal system where the focus is more on skills and training and utilizing them, rather than a grindy treadmill, may be more conducive to a better social foundation as well. Sure, there will be PvP and gear to acquire (and even Cyrodiil sounds like it looks to cater to players of all stripes looking to work together for their side, even PvErs looking to stick their necks out in the dangerous land. Altogether, though the game's use of phasing might impede some players from playing together as effectively as they'd like, the game's overall focus on smaller groups and encounters might not render it as social as one might like, but the rest of ESO seems like it's firmly in 'stop and smell the roses' territory, and if the mix does wind up feeling right in the end, the journey feel might help in creating a more relaxed, open community.
Endgame in ESO feels like a destination again, not just the destination. There's AvA, which is a centerpiece attraction, given the three-faction PvP that we're seeing return in recent years to various stages of success. Not having tried it out yet, I'm relying on my colleagues' impressions, but from someone who had some reservations about adapting this IP to an MMO, the leveling pace, the flexibility, the way PvP is designed as an optional space with lots more to do than just fight, and the story and sidequests promising richness, things seem to be shaping up to feel like a mix of old and new. And that's promising and look to possibly hit the right notes for this PvE-oriented explorer.
Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her contributions at RTSGuru. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez