During this past weekend at PAX East, Seven and I had the opportunity to sit down and play the Press Beta version of Zenimax and Bethesda’s new MMO, The Elder Scrolls online. While we only saw a mere portion of the game, it was incredibly informative and worthwhile to get to sit down and actually play through the introductory tutorial, a few missions, and to just generally take the game for a little spin While we were not allowed to get video of the demo, we thought you still might want to read all the tidbits. So, what did we learn, and more intriguingly, what did we think? Well, no better place to start than the beginning..
In this particular demo, we were only allowed access to the races of the Daggerfall Covenant, and thus were able to make an Orc, Breton or Redgaurd character. We also had three classes to pick from; The Sorcerer Dragon Knight and Templar. This was all know to us already, but what we had not seen is how wonderfully dense character creation was. There were sliders for just about everything you could think of, including my personal favorite, the Gut Slider. Not wanting to disappoint my desire to play every game incorrectly, I created an elderly Orc Sorcerer wide in girth and endowed with a substantial gut. Why play a virile warrior when you can play a sedentary mage? Character creation pleased me to no end, and I’d wager it is one of the most robust MMO creation tools I’ve ever seen.
Getting Off The Ship
With a click of “Create”, I was thrown into the world of The Elder Scrolls Online. You wake up in the hold of the Spearhead, a ship run by Captain Kaleen, your first major ally. Your informed of all this by the wonderfully voice-acted Tumma Shah, a Argonian pirate serving under Kaleen. The voice acting quality was, except for a few obvious placeholders, absolutely phenomenal in ESO. Every NPC you talk with has a rich bit of dialogue which creates a sense of atmosphere that is absolutely wonderful. While I do wonder about the decision to actually give EVERY NPC dialogue like this, I’ll not complain.
Within the first few minutes of play two other things struck me. First, nearly every container in the game is lootable. From barrels to buckets, crates to jugs, you’ll be able to search them all for food items, useless throwaway fluff, and the occasional useful crafting component. I’ve got one significant complaint to this but I’ll get to that in a bit. Second was the First-Person mode that you can simply mouse-wheel scroll right into. I am incredibly pleased this is in the latest Elder Scrolls Game, and to be honest I don’t think it’d be fair to have an Elder Scrolls Game without at least the option to play in first person. While you couldn’t see you hands in this particular build, i was told by one of the Devs overseeing the demo that they were working on putting them in.
After leaving the Spearhead, I finally meet captain Kaleen and was given my first real quest. Kaleen wanted to get revenge on a local crime boss who had gone mutinous on her. While she was vague on the details, she said that, in turn for saving us from drowning (a plot point I’m still not really sure about, or know the background of), she’d appreciate our help in rounding up a few people to pull a heist. As the Player Character…I agreed.
What I thought would be a pretty standard quest line actually opened up and became pretty cool at this point. Kaleen told me about three different associates she knew. It was a stroke of brilliance to be able to pick who you wanted to help, how many of the three people you wanted to help, and how you helped them. I ended up deciding to go help an elf by the name of Nerammo, who was investigating a Dwemer ruin outside of the seaport we had docked in.
The Adventure Begins.
On my way to meet Nerammo, I stumbled across a Skyshard. These collectable throw up abeam of white-blue light into the air, and are just begging to be investigated and picked up. Turns out that, when you collect three of them, you gain an additional point to spend on your skills, but more on this once I hit level 2!
Meeting Nerammo, I was informed that I needed to go acquire 2 tuning crystals with which we could control a Dwarven Spider and get into the ruins of Blathzar (Or some sort of Dwemer-y name). To do so, I needed to fight my way past a number of indigenous lifeforms, mainly wolves and giant beetles. This quest may be pretty standard and vanilla MMO fair, but I was impressed by how good the combat in ESO feels. The active dodging is wonderful, but the actuall combat feels more like a fighting game to me to be honest, using ‘combos’ to deal massive damage to your enemies. For example, when you enter a Wolves agro range, he’ll run toward you before doing a charge attack. The charge attack has a fairly obvious warning, and if you block this attack by pressing you Mouse button, you’ll stun the wolf. Follow this up with a power attack by holding the left button, and you’ll do a huge amount of damage to your foe.
As a Sorcerer I started off with a Staff, but you know what I say to that thing? Not good enough. after killing a wolf or two, I found a dagger. After stabbing a couple more, a two handed mace. NOW we were talking. A Mace-carrying, Black-Magic wielding Orc? Heck yes. ESO does really feel like a proper Elder scrolls game in his respect: You can pick up just about anything, start using it, and gradually get better with it. By the end of the 2 hour play session, I had kitted Wormwood out witha bit of Heavy armor, a mac and a Shield, and had a few Dark Magic abilities to play with.
Abilities in The Elder Scrolls Online are varied and have a lot of potential. Each class has 3 trees of abilities and they can freely jump between them or specialize if they wish. On my character, I stuck with Dark magic, the first of the three Sorcerer Trees (The other two being Daedric Summoning and Storm Calling). Now, while you can put all the points you get when you do level up into class abilities, like Encase (a Ranged Immobilize) or Daedric Mines ( A Spell that summons 3 powerful traps), you also have to balance that with weapon abilities, which you’ll get access to as you use a certain type of weapon more and more. And, in case you were wondering, Yes you will be able to fully unlock everything with enough playtime.
Back to Balthazar…Balzmehar….B-Town.
Having collected the pieces of the tuning crystal, I meet up with Nerammo, and entered the Dwemer Ruins. After beating a few mechanical spiders senseless traversing a obstacle course of steam vents and laser-beams, and defeating a Dwemer Sphere Guard I got the Schematics Nerammo had been looking for, and his promise that he would assist Kaleen in her fast-approaching heist. Returning to Kaleen, I was surprised to learn that I, in fact, did not need to contract the other two thieves she had mentioned. Wanting to see as diverse an area of the Elder Scrolls Online as I could, I pushed forward, deciding I’d only need Nerammo’s help.
The next mission was to find a disguise, drug the local mob boss, and them steal his shipping logs to get him in trouble with the authorities. The disguise bit was easy, only requiring a bribe to be given to a washer woman doing the palace’s laundry. I’d find another disguise later on in the play session, and was told they are a fairly regular feature of the game.
Waltzing into the palace disguised as a servant, I headed right for the crime boss, kindly offered to refill his drink, then proceeded to watch him fall over unconscious At that point, I walked right up to his slumbering body, and took they key off to his lock box off him, with the two, um, Ladies-of-questionable-intent whispered that they had seen me do this, but didn’t really care. Proceeding to the upper floor I confronted the guard standing watch over the lock box and promptly used the Dwarven cattle-prod that Nerammo had given me (yes, his body twitched), snatched the shipping logs, and legged it for the Spearhead. Overjoyed at our success, Kaleen and I set sail for , an Island inhabited by an Orc Tribe
Hanging with my Peeps
Crossing the sea changed the environment drastically, going from a Desert oasis, to a temperate woodland. The Orc village of was beautiful and wonderfully different form the previous setting. It also introduced me to the first really truly moral choice i had to make in the Elder Scrolls Online. The last mission I was given in the press Beta was to delve into an ancient crypt. Inside, I met the ghost on an ancient Orc Warrior-Chief, lamenting the fact that the local cultists had bound the souls of his people to their evil will, he tasks you with descending into the tombs, killing the cultist’s leader and blowing his Magical Horn of +10 Ghost Control. The mission was fairly easy, and after dispatching the Cultist Sorceress, I Found the dead Warchief’s Horn. That’s when things got interesting. I was given the option of handing it over, or hanging on to it for myself. I didn’t HAVE to actually complete the quest to progress. I, not wanting to be an utter dick, decided to give the spirit the horn, which removed all the hostile ghosts from the area. I couldn’t help but wonder though, what would have happened if I held on to the horn? Could I sell it for a handsome pile of gold? Use it summon a legion of ghosts as in Aragon in the Return of the King?! We may never know.
Question For You…
The other question that must be asked is, why is this game an MMO? While TESO was superb, and felt quite polished, well-crafted and clearly had a rich story line None of it felt very…massive. The vistas were sweeping, the story lines are grand, but It felt like a more massive version of Skyrim than the MMO version of The Elder Scrolls. Sure, this was no doubt partially due to the fact that only a handful of people were playing at this point and on this server, but I nevertheless could not shake the feeling that something wasn’t clicking for this game as an MMO. This is not a critique at this point, but more of a concern. The game WILL be more populated during the recently announced first wave of Beta invitations, and at launch, so perhaps the influx of people will change the atmosphere of the world.