Elder Scrolls Online Beta First Impressions

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A few weekends ago, my hopes and dreams were dashed.

I participated in an MMO Beta weekend (which I was bound by an NDA not to identify), hoping against hope for my white whale – a game that revolutionised the MMORPG genre. While the beta was fun and flashy, it was nothing new. It had a few bolted on extras but the fundamentals of tried and tested WoW/Everquest mechanics were carried on, stretched and ultimately… stale.

After a few hours I was done.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion that perhaps MMORPGs had just reached a format that could no longer spark my interest, and it was a heartbreaking realisation. So, I was hesitant going into the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) Beta weekend, wary of my heart being broken yet again.

Cut to the Saturday of the ESO Beta weekend.

Elder Scrolls Online Beta

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I had escaped the hell jail of Molag Bal, foiled a plot to cause tension between a small Khajiit island and the expansionist Dominion, and joined the Mages Guild’s search for lost lore. When I looked at the clock, I realised that I had been behind the eyes of my High Elf Sorcerer for 14 hours – and while I was there, everything had changed. Or rather, a few things had changed and it made an epic difference.

For years, single player games have been providing both depth and entertainment using story-driven gameplay, while MMOs have been lagging behind, partly because of the restrictions of a multiplayer experience. Technology has advanced and the genre has taken leaps and bounds, yet still we are presented with endless requests from bland NPCs to kill 10 of this, collect 8 of that. Quest hubs with shopping list tasks have become the staple, and it’s tragically boring.

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The vibe of Elder Scrolls Online is radically different. It puts the MMO number crunching behind a veil. It is trying really REALLY hard to immerse the players in the world (and what a stunning world it is) of Tamriel. Its quests are interesting and story driven, the NPCs have depth and evolve with your character, and the world of Tamriel comes across as a living, breathing place.

One of my favourite moments was in the Khajiit Town of Mistral, where a female Khajiit (cat people) had a caged dog and was preaching to a crowd of the horrors of the canine. (Disclosure: I own two cats.) But it’s the little things that count. The atmosphere and feeling of each of the three alliances is very distinct and tangible in every aspect. Tamariel feels like it is filled with real and observable places. Or at least the places I got to experience in my limited time with the game.

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MMOs have been trending towards a cartoony aspect, with over the top effects, outrageous equipment and frivolous tasks. ESO bucks this trend and goes for as much realism as you can pack into a world of Orcs, Elves and Angronians. Stats and the UI are hidden unless specifically in combat, and this made a huge difference, as there wasn’t the traditional barrier between the player and the ESO world.

The graphics continue on from Skyrim, and are equally striking. The equipment is based on practicality and purpose, and are able to be crafted to represent different races’ tendency towards different kinds of designs, which deserves an article in itself.

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Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed throughout my weekend of ESO was discovering the world and the hidden gems scattered throughout it. Whether it be the plethora of rather subtle crafting nodes, hidden chests or just simply an isolated area that is particularly interesting, like a half sunken obelisk, the world of Tamriel actually encourages exploration.

These areas would often be accompanied by additional bits of in-game lore (of which there is almost too much). I found myself purposefully taking more difficult, longer routes to places of interest to see what I would find along the way. The places of interest are a clever mechanic carried over from previous Elder Scrolls games and make quest finding meaningful but simple.

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My favourite aspect of ESO however is not the realism, the immersion or the depth of the discoverable world. Where Elder Scrolls Online really shines is how it handles its classes. In the past, if I wanted to be a Mage I knew I’d be wearing a robe, and I knew I’d be carrying a staff. While this is still a very viable and slightly encouraged (through an impressively diverse and deep skills tree) way to play, it is very much possible to run a Mage with Heavy Armour and a Great-sword.

All armour skills and weapons skills are open to all classes. By picking up a restoration staff, your traditional rogue-like Night Blade can now pull off some healing. While other MMOs have tried to open up their classes to debunk the holy trinity of Tank, DPS and Healer, ESO takes it to another level and in true Elder Scrolls style.

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This, ultimately, is what made me an ESO convert. The best thing I can say about ESO is that it is very much, totally and utterly, an Elder Scrolls game. Was everything perfect? No. The game is ambitious and this created a number of problems that will hopefully be resolved by such thorough Beta testing.

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But ESO has managed to take that immersive, mature, complex, story driven gameplay that has seen such success in its single player older siblings, and funnelled it into a multiplayer world, with all the benefits and joys of your traditional MMO (World PvP, dungeons, raiding, online economy, role playing, etc.). It’s an impressive feat.

So come early April, I’ll be ready to play… with my hopes and dreams of a MMORPG revolution alive once again.

Elder Scrolls Online Beta Overall

  • -    Quests with feeling
  • -    World PvP
  • -    Encouragement to explore, to go off the beaten path
  • -    Quests don’t feel like repeated shopping lists, there’s story, there’s advancement, there’s meaning and history created by your character, it’s nailed questing in an MMO and kept that ES vibe. No quest hubs. But quests either find you or you find them by checking out the areas of interest on your map.
  • -    Graphics are top notch
  • -    The world is interesting and filled with gems, my favourite was a kahgiit with a dog in a cage talking about how terrible the beast was in the local city. There’s lore. By reading you can get skills. There’s materials to be found everywhere, food being the most common.
  • -    The skill tree is open, free and deep in its strategy and shape
  • -    Classes can theoretically do anything, though some classes are more suited to certain types of playing, but if you want your Mage to wear heavy armour, use a great sword and get into the melee, you can. This allows for deeper role playing a. Players have choice, they aren’t forced down paths. This is the future of MMOs, allowing players to really be who they want to be, not imprisoned by arbitrary game enforced structure
  • -    The crafting is taken to a whole new level. There is nothing like this out there at the moment. It will take a serious commitment to level up to a good level, but with dedication players can make truly powerful and rather unique pieces for themselves and others, just the simple design of allowing players to unlock and then use each races aesthetics makes the characters so much more varied and, well, characterful. Your Orc will look like an Orc, in his own wargear, with his own culture and pride.
  • -     Items aren’t farmed out like WoW quests. No boots of the owl. Items have meaning and history. I helped Jarkin, I got his machete. Meanwhile you either buy or make other items to keep up in level. Enchanting and improving as you go.
  • -    Sky shards encourage hunting, with hints available, skills level up, they morph, creating even more difference between different characters.
  • -    Voice acting, limited text, the important parts, no minimap, immersive, your bars disappear when you’re not in combat, they hide the numbers but for all those MMO number crunches, don’t stress, there are already add ons available
  • -    Is it worth the cost. In my opinion yes. Freememium has it’s place but a deep, immersive, role playing MMO is not the place for it. I don’t want to have to exit the world to worry about whether I can do something without paying for it, or how much it is worth to me to get experience faster.
  • -    A fresh of breath air after a string of MMOs that have tried to emulate WoWs success, ESO is trying out do something different
  • -    An adult setting with real, mature themes

 

You’re still able to register for the Elder Scrolls Online Beta through the Bethesda website. Be sure to read up on the great Elder Scrolls Online voice actors that you can expect to hear.