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Elder Scrolls Online Beta: Impressions From Tamriel

The Escapist Staff | 7 Feb 2014 14:00
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Dan O'Halloran, Senior Editor, says: After stumbling through the tutorial, the The Elder Scrolls Online really started to shine for me. The minimalistic UI keeping my focus on the world around me, the sandbox exploration allowing me to stumble upon new quests and the ubiquitous voice acting of both quest givers and random NPCs served to pull me in and accomplish the one thing every game strives for: immersion. I haven't felt this drawn in to the world of an MMO since Lord of the Rings Online. The crew at Bethesda have done a stellar job at weaving together a number of elements to create a living, breathing environment. From sound design and music to hidden lore read on screen to quest-giver stories, a tapestry is created that makes the land come alive.

As for game mechanics, well, the combat is standard action with dodging and positioning vital to survival. The class skill lines are nothing new to an RPG fan. And the quests themselves are of the standard fetch, kill and explore variety. But one area that pulls the game out of being just another progression grind MMO is the story. And The Elder Scrolls Online has that in spades.

TESO does not claim to reinvent the genre, just like World of Warcraft did not. But just like Blizzard's earlier efforts, the Bethesda team succeeds in taking the best of what has come before it and infused it with the feeling of adventure and excitement. Like a good book, it will keep me coming back to experience the next part of the story. And isn't that what we ultimately ask of our entertainment?

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Paul Goodman, Video Editor, says: After logging several days worth of time with the most recent version of the The Elder Scrolls Online beta, I honestly have to say that I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. First, there's the good - for the most part, TESO plays a lot more like Skyrim than it does any other MMO I've played. The UI isn't a cluttered mess of icons that represent your abilities that you have cycle over and over when you're battling a target like I found in The Old Republic. Instead, combat's a much more fluid and strategic experience, requiring more active engagement on your part more so than just "Tap attack until enemy is dead." There's also a good chunk of flexibility in making your character and deciding what gear and items to equip, letting you swap between armor and weapon types with ease should you come across a helmet or sword that provides a better fit than what you have. Whichever character class you decide doesn't limit you to a set play style, and you can make your wizard as tanky as you'd like in comparison to other MMOs.

But with all the good comes a few things that, well, aren't so good. The flexibility in character design is hampered by a skill point system that almost forces you to choose a set path of ability trees to focus on early, and hope that they work out for your play style. Many of the play areas are static and feel limited, and lack the kind of substantial open-world game play we're used to -- it doesn't feel like there's much incentive to explore many of the differing locales, and many of the quests feel scripted versus open-ended. Finally, as much fun as it to play in a group, the party system needs some work - completing objectives in quest doesn't appear to be shared between party members, which can lead to some confusion if someone misses a step in a mission and everyone has to go back to the beginning to play it through.

Overall, though, I do have to remind myself that TESO is in beta, so many of the issues I encountered or mechanics that just don't seem to fit might change between now and when the game is released. For now though, TESO seems like it has all the makings of a good MMO, but I'm still skeptical as to if it'll have any staying power.

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Justin Clouse, Senior Video Editor, says:

This past weekend was quite jam packed. The Super Bowl was going on, Magic the Gathering had pre-release events for their new set and I finally got my first chance to play Elder Scrolls Online. We've talked a fair bit about Elder Scrolls Online since it was first announced, but I had always wanted to hold off on excitement or doubt until I had actually gotten hands-on. After putting in a solid weekend with my brand-new Redguard Nightblade, I actually kind of wish I had just played more Magic or maybe tuned into the Super Bowl for the commercials.

Now keep in mind this is still beta and my first impressions, I cleared the first few areas and ended up in Daggerfall proper around level 10. I still want to see what PVP is like because some of that sounds really interesting and also experience if the game opens up more as your progress, but I have to say my initial impression leaves quite a bit to be desired.

That's not to say that The Elder Scrolls Online is poorly made, even at this stage it's quite well put together. The presentation from the graphics to the voice-acting is solid and shine of polish holds up well through-out the game but competent doesn't mean exciting. It executes the MMO formula all but perfectly, but that's it. You're still just grabbing the same old quests from the same old NPCs. For instance, in my single weekend with the game I encountered the same quest mechanics of using a disguise multiple times. The only quest that memorably stood out was needing to follow a proper set of environment clues for a treasure map. There are a few quests that force you to come to a choice, but they don't appear to affect more than a bit of dialogue here or there.

The combat gameplay is a little more varied than the norm with a system of dodges, blocks and interrupts, but this only barely breaks up the monotony of the same-old skill based combat we've all played a dozen times before. You don't even feel like you're unlocking new skills fast enough to keep things interesting. Nothing about the game experience felt particularly fresh and new, which is a shame because the core idea of an online Elder Scrolls is exciting. But save for the setting and a slightly higher density of urns and crates to find goods in, very little of this feels like a massively populated Elder Scrolls and instead just another retread of fantasy MMO.

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For more coverage of The Elder Scrolls Online beta, be sure to check out Three things Skyrim players should know about TESO and the new Experienced Points on what surprising things Shamus Young learned about TESO.

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