Several members of the Escapist Staff got their hands the beta of The Elder Scrolls Online and came back from Tamriel with a look at their experiences.
Greg Tito, Editor-in-Chief, says: Perhaps in some back corner of my subconscious I knew The Elder Scrolls Online beta key would be dropping in my inbox soon and I reinstalled Skyrim a few weeks ago. I got lost again in the snowy wilderness, completing side-quest after side-quest and loving every second of the 2011 GOTY a full two years later. The single-player freedom of the Elder Scrolls series was fresh in my mind, then, when I downloaded the ~21 gig install file to play the latest property to shake the MMO money tree. I’d enjoyed the times I’d gotten to play TESO at various press events and I was excited to see the whole of Tamriel online for the first time.
My first session didn’t start off well. I happily spent about 20 minutes crafting my first character – a high elf battlemage, er, Dragon Knight, with a silver Mohawk and a bad attitude. Chardan was born, but didn’t live long, sadly. Every character in TESO starts in Oblivion, in a shard of hell called Coldharbour devoted to the evil daedric prince Molag Bal. I arrived in a creepy prison cell, and a vision appeared to me and told me I must meet a half-giant lady — my first quest! This was going to be great!
Except … nothing happened. The prison cell door remained closed and nothing I did could open it. I jumped around the prison cell, looking ridiculous, trying to find the trigger that would let me out and start playing in this massive online world. Nothing. Frustration rose in the back of my throat. In the end, I logged out Chardan and tried again with a quickly created Khajit. No dice.
Finally, I rolled an Argonian templar just to see what would happen and, magically, another Argonian arrived to open the prison door. My adventure began, but I was playing a character and a class I didn’t really want to. I kept thinking about what the problem was. I logged out, and did some more tests.
Apparently, I had encountered some weird bug that wouldn’t let me start a character in one of ESO‘s three warring factions – I tried all 3 Dominion races of high elf, wood elf and Khajit but none of them had the cell door opened for them. Determined not to let a silly bug ruin my fun, I rolled a Breton and continued playing through all of the introductory quests in Coldharbour, meeting up with Paul Goodman and having a grand ol’ time frying goblins together.
They say you never forget a first impression, but maybe that’s just for romantic encounters and automobile purchases. Once I mentally decided to forget the bug, I really really enjoyed the first 10 or so hours of Elder Scrolls Online. Like the single-player games, there are so many hints at a larger, more complex political situation in the background but the player is usually only focused on short term goals. Mechanics-wise, there is a lot to explore from the novel skill point system and more action-based combat, to the intriguing crafting system.
I had a problem with spending most of time in Skyrim making iron daggers … it seems I will soon be attending Blacksmithing Anonymous meetings in Tamriel.
It remains to be seen if ESO is worth a subscription fee – the PVP endgame will have to be superbly designed – but even with the odd bug I discovered, I’m still willing to devote more time to find out. It’s not like Skyrim didn’t have its fair share of bugs when it came out.
Jon Bolding, Senior Editor, says: When I first set out into the beta for The Elder Scrolls Online I made an Orc Sorcerer — to follow my traditional Elder Scrolls scheme of Orcish Punchwizard. As I loaded in, I was confronted by an infinite spinning vortex against which I could make no progress. No, really, my game was bugged. It’s a beta, though. What are you going to do?
A few days, and a fixed bug, later, I jumped into online Tamriel head first. It was a lot of fun, with combat significantly more fun that other MMOs – it completely ditches the strange cooldown cycle of World of Warcraft and its contemporaries for one I found much more fun, quick, and furious. I’d go from blocking, to interrupting, to casting a spell depending on what my opponent was doing, as opposed to some predetermined best order for using my abilities. I felt there was some skill involved – but not too much. Sadly, it was the combat, and needing a clear field of vision to see incoming attacks, that encouraged me to ditch the game’s first person view within a few hours and never look back. It was simply easier to know who was going to get hit by AoE attacks and damage auras if I could see everything around me, not to mention spotting nodes for collecting crafting materials.
I was exceptionally and hugely pleased with the character creation and customization. I really felt like I had the ability to choose what I wanted out of my character. I was a sorcerer, sure, but I decided to wear heavy armor and dual wield weapons — and it worked. Fantastically. Picking and choosing instant cast abilities from sorcerer spells, I was able to become a sprinting, lightning hurling dervish by about level 8. Even then, I had spend some of my points in the crafting system. While that concerned me some — I had no idea if I was losing priceless points that would cripple me in later PvP because I’d devoted them to a PvE only ability – it didn’t seem to slow down my steady steamrolling of quests. And that is what I loved the most. I was able to clip from quest to quest at great speed, never lacking for something to do. Though it should be noted that I was incredibly apprehensive at the outset, and the game provided only a handful of quests in early areas, it seems to have been by design and intended not to overwhelm new players. After about seven hours of play – a blink in MMO time — I had five or six quests in my log most of the time.
Based on this beta experience, and given a few other Escapists to play with, I’m ready to buy into TESO on release.
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?
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.
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.
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.