When people mention Elder Scrolls you think of massive worlds and exploration and using swords and magic to defeat a great evil destroying the lands of Tamriel. It’s also only ever been the story about a singular character’s journey through the lands and while a multiplayer option has been thought about by fans, but Bethesda hasn’t attempted it until now with Elder Scrolls Online. I know most MMORPGs can get repetitive and boring after a while, because you can only kill X amount of enemies or collect X amount of objects from said enemies for so long before you just get tired of it all. ESO definitely does not do this, in fact instead of this being a standard MMO with Elder Scrolls’ flavor added, it is more of a normal Elder Scrolls game with a bunch of other players joining you on your quests.
The story of this takes place about 1000 years before the events in Skyrim and involves this war between these three alliances: Ebonheart Pact which has the Dark Elves, Nords, and Argonians, Aldmeri Dominion which has the High Elves, Wood Elves, and Khajit, and the Daggerfall Covenant which has the Bretons, Redguard, and the Orcs. These may seem like odd alliances, but desperate times call for desperate measures and things get even worse in the game when Molag Bal, a Daedric Prince and leader of the Coldharbour realm and wishes to join his realm with that of Tamriel and his goal is the enslavement of all mortals. For purposes of my demo with the game they restricted me to the Ebonheart Pact and I decided to go with the Argonian race and picked the path of a mage.
First off, the character creation is even better than in previous installments and will allow you to adjust body types along with specific measurements ranging from your forehead to your hands and down to your feet. While a specific body measurement isn’t really what I care that much about I focused on customizing the appearance through unique skin color and skin patterns/tattoos. One thing I did notice was that every character had a glassed eye and I didn’t see a way to remove or change it, so I’m assuming that it is due to the fact that in the beginning of the game you’re supposed to have your soul sucked from you by Molag Bal and as the prophecy indicates, the soul-less one will be his downfall.
I had character created now and I’m off into the world with about 23 other gamers to explore the world. I was put into a snowy village that reminded me a lot of Skyrim, except it had polar bears and no dragons. The game still has the compass at the top of the HUD and shows you landmarks such as mines and shrines and such along with quest markers. However, it has improved greatly because now when looking in that direction it actually tells you what that marker is and even if you have subquests such as save X, Y, Z people then it will indicate their positions appropriately. Removing the need to limit your active quests or place markers down in a general direction of a certain quest. I had a plan to go through the main story first and deviate once I was close to the end of the given story, but that ended quickly as within a few minutes a stranger ran past me and had a quest for me and derailed me for a good 40 minutes from the main quest. Typical Elder Scrolls behavior for me though. However, it showed me that this truly was an Elder Scrolls game and not some other regular MMO. It was natural to just go about and deviate from the main quest and still feel connected to the world as I explored and helped various people throughout the land with their troubles. At first I managed to see various people throughout my quests and thought that I’d assist them from afar with my mage’s fire staff and a summoned familiar. I even got invited to join a party too, but we didn’t stick together and shortly after defeating those enemies together we kind of disbanded and never worked together again.
One quest I went on involved me to whistle for a dog and once I pet the dog I had to follow him to find his master who went missing and personally the follow a person quests are always my least favorite. I don’t like the pace that they go at and in ESO if you lose the person you’re following it gives a failed quest and makes you restart that whole quest. This happened to me when following the dog as I got distracted by some mudcrabs and I lost his location. Another quest involved me searching for a man frozen in a wall of ice and I had to search this cave to solve a riddle by this frozen man who was holding him captive. Within this cave I found something else though, a skyshard which when you collect 3 of these you get a free skill point to use on your character. These skyshards are indicated by a glowing beam of light and wasn’t really hidden, but if you weren’t looking for it then you might pass it up. These will be scattered throughout the lands in various dungeons and such. I then continued to run around the entire cave fighting polar bears and found out that the frozen man was a spy that was down there and once you solved the riddle of who he was, he made you do another game in which he multiplied himself and you had to pick the real one. Well I’m not sure why, but Leo did it on the first try and I spent like 5 minutes trying to find the right one. If you picked the wrong one he’d vanish and appear with another group of imitations and eventually it got to the point where there was about 15 of him and without seeing a pattern I randomly got lucky and picked the right one. Once I made some analogy about bears and being trapped in a bear trap he finally let the man go and it was quest completed for me.
This was also about the time when I decided to check out my skills and character level. With each level you gain an attribute point and a skill point which is very similar to the Skyrim leveling system, minus the star signs. The attribute point goes into your health, magicka, or stamina like normal, but the skill points were very different this time around. You have 3 class based skill trees, the weapon skill tree, the armor skill tree, your race skill tree, and I learned that there will be even more added such as a guild skill tree as well. For the weapon and armor skill trees you unlock those abilities by using those weapons so if you want to use a bow skill, well you use a bow or if you want a staff skill then use the staff and so on. I took the route of a summoning skill and started off with a familiar which when used often enough that skill levels on it’s own and eventually you get to the point where it can be upgraded, or morphed as they call it. So I had the option of upgrading my familiar to one that lasted a short time and exploded after a while or changing it to a Clannfear which would do more damage and have more health and such. I chose the route of the Clannfear and the more I used it the more powerful it got.
After going about most of the side quests I decided to dedicate myself to the main quest line only to find out that part of the main quest was to indeed do all the side quests. I had to round up all the villagers who were scattered about the town and convince them to head back because we were about to be invaded by the Daggerfall Covenant. So I went back through the world and managed to get on the outskirts of the land looking for new quests, but since they weren’t marked on my map and I had no idea where to look I decided that it would be fine if I only saved 11/15 of the villagers. This was also about the time that I checked my inventory finally and looked at all the loot I scored. It wasn’t like in Skyrim where every person had their whole outfit and weaponry available to you, it reduced it to mainly gold and a few items. Which is awesome, because I never liked the loot system from Elder Scrolls previously due to the fact that it became to cumbersome to search and compare everything. I upgraded my armor and staff and sold out the rest of my equipment for some gold. Once I got back to the quest I evacuated the village into a tomb and then we escaped through there, but not without running into trouble. There are traps set up and we had to dodge them while killing enemies and protecting the villagers.
We made it to our destination, which was a vastly different landscape than before. This had a dark forest and swampy look to it and naturally had the lizard race of Argonians living there. This was also where I noticed the music for the game. While it is obvious it was present before, this area’s music was very different and refreshing from that of a snowy tundra. Music is always subtle, but can change the whole dynamic of the game with a few simple strings of a violin or keystrokes of a piano. Not only was it matching in atmosphere of the darker place, it also had an adventurous tone to it and motivated me to continue on with my journey. As I explored this new land and completed quests and side quests I found that the quests do have some repetitiveness to it as one quest was to find people throughout the land and another quest was to find some animals in the land and send them both back to town. I did those quests simultaneously and thought it weird to have two such similar quests in the same area. Later I was told to throw some Netch eggs at the Daggerfall Covenant as a quest, but I had the specific goal of doing it 5 times. While this isn’t a complaint, I just wanted to point out that it is still an MMO and will have some quests like a standard MMO like World of Warcraft, just not as many.
It was about this time when I ended the demo as my two hour time slot ended and I really could have played on for much longer as I was legitimately interested in the story and gameplay and I only got to level 6 with my character in that time period. I didn’t do everything in the game and in fact I probably rushed through it a little bit. You’re given pieces of bait in the beginning and you have the ability to go fishing if you’d like and even go craft things as everything you scavenge can be crafted into something supposedly. You can also switch seamlessly between third person and first person view with a button press or even with the mouse wheel. I don’t believe a first person MMORPG has really been done before and definitely not in the way Elder Scrolls does it. It really adds a whole new perspective to the gameplay when you can switch between views like that. I prefer third person in Elder Scrolls so I stuck with that mainly, but a first person view was no different than it would be in Skyrim. You also have the ability to change up your weapon type whenever you want and while I remained true to the staff I could have switched to the bow or even a greatsword whenever I wanted and be just as effective. There are no restrictions on weapon or armor use in this game. So a strong warrior build could use magic if they wanted to, or stick to the sword and shield or whatever else they choose.
I would like to point out that the party system is good, but not very intuitive to non-regular MMO players like myself. I didn’t know how to manage my party or invite people, but I’m sure reading the controls would tell me what to do. You can join a party with a similar desire to complete a dungeon together and you can do so by searching for them or even starting a party. If you happen to be in a different location than them you are free to teleport to their location, or rather to the nearest wayshrine. The wayshrine is how you teleport to different locations quickly and basically the method of fast travel in the game. While in my demo we didn’t have horses or mounts, in a panel I went to they had a higher level character which had a mount. With a click of a button it appeared and they hopped on and then as they got off, it disappeared from the world. In the dungeons you’ll also encounter larger groups of enemies as it is designed for a party and normally in the Elder Scrolls games you are alone and it normally dangerous to your health when more than a handful of guys started attacking. Also note that the enemies are smart and will work together, for example one may lay down oil and then another will set you ablaze shortly afterwards.
That concludes my experience with Elder Scrolls Online and I have to say that I’m very pleased with it and I’m looking forward to the release in Spring 2014 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.