Thanks to the wonderful people at Bethesda I recently got the opportunity to spend a weekend in The Elder Scrolls Online. This was by no means my first experience in the game as I had the pleasure of playing at PAX East 2013. However almost a full year has passed, and this time I was given access to a more complete build MMO rather than a controlled demo.
This experience has completely changed my mind about the game. At PAX East, though I was looking forward to trying it out, I had no experience with an Elder Scrolls game. I went in not knowing what to expect and it was part of a weekend packed with press events and over-eager fans. It wasn’t the right environment to figure out if this was the MMO for me.
Fast forward 11 months and I have pre-ordered a physical copy of the Imperial Edition for The Elder Scrolls Online and I cannot wait for it to go live. What changed my mind? Well I still haven’t played any of the single player games, but one press weekend was enough.
At first the controls were a little difficult to get used to. It’s obvious this is an MMO made to be compatible with consoles first, as a result the typical MMO user interface and camera angle were tossed out the window. Your character stands slightly to the left of your crosshair and the UI is as minimal as they come. You have a compass at the top which helps point you in the right direction. Usually it is pointing out the location of your active quest.
Additionally the chat box will disappear if no one has spoken for a few seconds. This leaves you with only one other bit of UI on your screen, your current quest objectives. During combat a tray appears with bars for Magicka, Health, and Stamina until combat ends.
Combat is beautiful. Though there is tab targeting it’s often more effective to use your crosshair rather than hitting tab to find a foe. You have to always be facing your enemy for your attacks to land, meaning players really need to be paying attention to what is going on.
Dodging and blocking are important skills to learn early on for not only your survival but the survival of your wallet as armor repairs can stack up quickly. One thing that is particularly appealing about ESO is the ranged attacks. Perhaps it is my recent MMOing experiences, or maybe the distances really are that long, but it feels like ranged attacks really are ranged. Distances feel rather vast. And this isn’t something that is limited to just the combat.
The world seems particularly huge. In one weekend, ignoring my desires to alt or roleplay, I managed to get 10 levels. By this time I was about halfway through the first zone after a small island players arrive on after the beginning tutorial. I also stuck mostly to the main story and though I didn’t ignore side quests, I didn’t go out of my way to find them either.
The Elder Scrolls Online has a massive world that encourages you to go off the beaten path to find hidden treasures and quests you wouldn’t find if you stuck to the main roads. Everything about the environment supports the idea that this isn’t just a themepark MMO but also a persistent virtual world for you to exist in however you choose to approach it.
Wandering through the vast cities you get the feeling that this is a living world. You catch little bits of NPC conversation as you walk by and there are NPCs you can talk to, just for the sake of conversation and flavor. Some only say hello, some hold full conversations with you. It left me with the desire to run up to every single NPC I came across and say hello, just to see what happens. Of course if you’re doing this in one of the bigger cities you could end up spending a lot of time there; there are plenty of NPCs to have conversations with.
But if you’re anything like me and you don’t stop to talk to everyone it will just leave you with a sense that you didn’t really get to know that city very well. At least being a persistent world you can always come back later and finish your conversations with NPCs.
In my mind there is only one thing missing from the experience; zone events. Wandering through the world it really is a complete experience. You can tear open butterflies to get guts for fishing, merchants wander the roads ready to sell players goods, and animals like deer, fox, and snakes wander the forests. And yet at no point did an event randomly appear.
Maybe this is because the server populations are very low at the moment, or possibly they just haven’t been added to the game yet. Either way, modern MMO gaming has taken a turn towards this popular method of delivering events to the players and the lack of them is quite noticeable. I really do hope that these are added to the game at a later date.
What is perhaps my favorite feature is my new found kleptomania. Every crate, barrel, and backpack you come across is likely to have something in it. So of course it’s hard to resist digging around for something to steal. Every collection of crates at a vendor has potential.
If you manage to leave the tutorial without filling your bags then you may have done something wrong. Of course for roleplayers this may create a bit of an issue. How do you explain that your character, in fact all of your characters are somehow profound kleptomaniacs? I couldn’t resist the urge to take part, and once you start it’s hard to stop.
My adventures in Tamriel are just getting started. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this vast world and hopefully I will be spending many years exploring it. Some will race to be the first, others will be happy taking the slow road. You’ll find me /walking my way across the world, making friends along the way. So if you see a Bosmer and Khajiit walking down the narrow road together, don’t be afraid to say hello. I won’t bite, unless I’m hungry.
If you’re looking for more coverage on The Elder Scrolls Online, be sure to check out our new video showing off combat, crafting, and much more that you can look forward to in ESO. Having trouble deciding what race and class to play? We asked our writers about their thoughts on the matter. Head over to this week’s FAQ to find out what they think. Finally, be sure to check back all weekend as we get views from our other writers after they have spent a weekend in The Elder Scrolls Online. For more information, visit the game page.