In the last 10 years we explored Morrowind, Cyrodiil, Skyrim… now, finally, with The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda and Zenimax take us for a visit to all Tamriel. Let’s try to sum up what we were able to try out in the ESO Beta for the press.
Let’s get this straight: from the very first moments, there is the distinct feeling we are playing Skyrim. It’s not just the fact that we start out in one of the infernal planes of the daedra: the UI is essential; the controls are the same; movement and combat work in the same way, with just a few differences. So, anyone who has played the fifth chapter of the CRPG saga by Bethesda in the last two years and a half will be really at ease. And if we want to find a comparison among the MMORPGs out there, ESO might remind us of Rift for features like the zones layout or the achievements.
The distinctive element about ESO is that it’s definitely story-oriented: quests have the utmost importance and they will be fulfilling many a purpose: make the story progress; get acquainted with NPC with their own personality, who will react differently towards our character, based on our choices; let us solve situations that will change the surrounding environment (if we liberate an area from bandits through a quest, they will not be there anymore to bother us); and, last but not least, quests will reward us with many experience points and skills points, that always come in handy.
It’s not all about quests, though: exploration bears its fruits and, much like in Skyrim, when we see an icon appear on our compass while we are travelling from one place to another, it would be worthwhile to go and have a look: we might find interesting sites, special crafting stations, public dungeons and more… not to mention the “skyshards”, special crystals scattered (and sometimes hidden) through the different maps, that are vital to get even more skill points.
Character progression is indeed of paramount importance in the game. As usually happens in the Elder Scrolls series, skills gets better the more you use them and, as soon as you reach certain levels, you can buy perks with the aforementioned skill points; but to increase our character level (and, along with it, our three base stats: magicka, health and stamina, just like in Skyrim) we will need to accrue the old, faithful experience points. And basically we can get them with quests (many) and killing mobs (a few).
At the beginning, ESO makes it easy on you, so the first fights in the starting areas will feel like a piece of cake… a bit too much, at times. But it’s just for training, a way to take us by the hand and explain slowly how things work; the more we progress, the more our enemies will be unforgiving, so we will have to be very careful when to block, when to evade, when to interrupt… we will have to aim as well (it should be noted that it’s a bit assisted) and use skills with magicka or stamina, depending on the type, but fortunately there won’t be so many of them in combat: we will have just 5 quickslot + 1 for an “ultimate” skill on our bar.
About the graphics, they are surely good, but at maximum detail the result won’t be as satisfying as Skyrim; on the other hand, they are highly scalable, so it looks like ESO will be able to run even on dated or less powerful machines, if you are willing to trade off something on the visual side.
And, as a last comment, it would not be an Elder Scrolls game without tons of books to read! Some players devour them, others skip them altogether, but there is no doubt that the lore of this saga is strictly connected with its myths, chronicles and histories. Wandering through Tamriel, we will be able to find plenty of them… and this time we won’t have them burden our inventory like in Skyrim: the game will mark the ones we stumbled upon and we can consult them any time we want… and if sometimes one of them grants us a skill point, we will be glad to have it.