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Elder Scrolls Online does a surprisingly good Elder Scrolls impersonation.
I've been eager to get my hands on Elder Scrolls Online pretty much since it was announced, and I was unreasonably excited to finally have my chance at QuakeCon. I was up hours before my appointment, passing the time with more than my share of Bawls, anxiously waiting for 10 o'clock to get there.
When you hear about the immense level of customization available, you probably won't fully grasp what that actually means. You'll start by picking your race and class, though this class will, in theory, only loosely define you, before moving on to your appearance. For the body, you'll have sliders to adjust everything from length of arms and legs to the protrusion of your posterior. Once you've made your tall, spindly Sorcerer, or shorter, beefier Templar, you'll get to the facial customization. The options here are ridiculous, offering what seemed to be dozens of customization sliders, including such fine-tuning as the slope of your forehead, roundness and size of your eyes, and the fullness of your lips. Of course, once you put on a helmet, most of this is going to be moot, but you'll know it's there, just under the protective fašade of your plate helm or cowl.
Having spent a good 20 minutes of meticulous Bawls-fueled character customization, I dove headlong into the world with my Dark Elf Sorcerer, Encaen. It took only a few minutes to really acclimate to the control scheme, and the story took off immediately. A potentially dangerous ship was spotted near town, which may prove to be the vanguard of an invading force. It's time to round up the townsfolk and evacuate. Naturally, the townsfolk are off doing their thing all around the zone, so it was no easy task to collect them all. Further to that, as you venture out into the world, you'll start accruing side quests. There is no quest hub, rather your quests are collected as you explore the world. For example, you might run into a near-hysterical villager whose friends have been turned into Skeevers. Failing to accomplish this mission means several villagers stay missing when the invading force hits, so it's not strictly a side quest in the traditional sense of the word. Likewise, you'll be specifically looking for a few major characters, but are only required to find one before you progress the story line. Sadly, I only got one shot at it and, having limited time, I only rescued 7 of the 15 villagers before moving the story forward. I can't say what ramifications my early departure might have had, but I'm fairly confident that the people I failed to save would have offered some assistance in the upcoming siege, had I taken the time to round them all up.
Having saved a few villagers from the now-burning town, and escorted about half of the remaining residents to safety, I was whisked away to the next zone, where the invasion was commencing. I was in charge of lighting the signal fires to alert the nearby villages and strongholds to the impending assault. I was taken all around the zone for the story quest, and was picking up various side missions all along the way. The lack of a central quest hub is a little jarring, as it makes exploring the world integral to the experience. You don't have NPCs with bright yellow punctuation over their head to tell you that they have a task for you, and you won't be guided to every out of the way nook and cranny on a quest to slay 10 wolves. The world seems truly alive when you're out in the wilderness and hear a disembodied voice calling for help, only to discover that it belongs to a NPC with a mission for you.