Editor’s Note: In an effort to provide ongoing information on MMO titles we’re playing, GameFront offers up a series of impressions pieces. Once we’ve had enough time to fully experience the game, we’ll post a final, scored review. This piece is our take on the first 10 levels of content.
The Elder Scrolls Online offers up a far different experience in its first 10 levels than most MMOs.
The game begins with a tutorial that shows you the ropes, explains how to fight and all the other basics of gameplay. But after that, TESO takes on a different feel. In most titles in the genre, the first 10 levels go by in a blur as you quickly ramp up your abilities in a game’s starting areas. In TESO, your first 10 levels are punctuated by exploration and discovery, more so than in any MMO I’ve played to date.
Characters can vary quite a bit in The Elder Scrolls Online, but not in the early game. There are three factions comprising nine races, but only four classes to choose from. Here are my quick and dirty class descriptions:
- Dragon Knight: A melee fighter who also uses blasts of magical energy to damage his enemies.
- Nightblade: The rogue of TESO, who uses stealth and cunning to make their way through the world.
- Templar: A knight who calls on the power of light and the sun to heal their allies and damage foes.
- Sorcerer: A magic-user who can also summon minions to fight by their side.
Unlike many current MMOs, TESO doesn’t restrict classes from using any gear at all. If want to make a Sorcerer who dual-wields daggers, that’s totally okay. You could also make a Nightblade who uses a magic staff. It’s all up to you.
The same goes for your armor. Just because you’re a Dragon Knight doesn’t mean you need to wear heavy armor. You also can mix and match armor types without any problem. Some gear pieces may have more beneficial stats for your class than others, but you can wear anything. It lets you have a lot of freedom in designing the type of character you want to play.
TESO also includes a raft of character customization options. If you’re one of those folks who likes to get their character designed just so, be prepared for lots of options and sliders. You can adjust anything from hand size to hair style to eye color, and just about everything in between. Just like a lot of things in TESO, it’s very reminiscent of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t just encourage players to explore the vast world of Tamriel — it requires it. Unlike a typical MMO, TESO doesn’t have a host of quest givers around town just waiting to have you kill 10 bears. Instead, you’ll find the main story quests and an occasional side quest in town, but if these are all you bother to complete, you’ll find yourself in a precarious position before you finish the story in the starting zone. You might even be too weak to progress.
You see, the vast majority of the side quests in TESO are not simply handed to you. You’ll have to go out and explore the world to find them. You might find some ruins where the spirits are restless and you need to help rescue someone who’s lost, or you might find a town that’s under attack. Regardless of what the quest is, you can’t pick it up or even see it on the map unless you’ve explored the area in which it’s found.
This is actually a nice touch, as it forces players to do more than just grind out quests. It places a premium on exploration and discovery, something that’s gone missing from the MMO genre of late, save for the few people who have the urge to explore every inch of the map. If you’re one of those, you’re going to find all sorts of fun thing in TESO.
Much like Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls Online offers players a wide variety of skills, regardless of what class you choose. Each time you level, you’ll gain a skill point to spend as you see fit. You can also gain additional skill points by completing specific quests, and by locating “skyshards.” These items are found throughout the world of TESO, and gathering three of them will net you a skill point.
As mentioned before, you can wear any armor and use any weapon, and as you do so, you’ll increase your skill with whatever you are using. If you use your staff a lot, you’ll level it up, unlocking more skills related to it. Same thing if you choose to wear lots of light armor. Class-specific skills, like the Sorcerer summoning a minion, also level as they get used.
By spending you skill points, you can unlock new abilities or upgrade existing ones. For example, the Sorcerer can upgrade his summoned minion from an imp-like familiar to a small dinosaur-like creature called a Clannfear. This is called morphing, and it allows you to even further customize how your character plays.
The Elder Scrolls Online delivers an experience that is simultaneously both familiar and different. For fans of the single-player Elder Scrolls titles, it will feel instantly familiar. The UI is quite similar, skills and perks work the same way, and even the art style is similar. The cities and areas are places you’ve visited in previous titles, and the lore is the same, of course.
The thing that will feel different to Elder Scrolls vets is how the game has changed with the addition of other players. The freedom to do just about anything you want in the world is somewhat curtailed by the fact that you’re now cohabiting the world with thousands of other people. Still, the game maintains enough of the Skyrim feel to make fans feel at home. Just don’t plan on offing that NPC that’s been annoying you all through the starting area.
To MMO vets, TESO will also feel somewhat familiar. It uses the same camera-tied-to-mouse style of controls that games like Neverwinter do, and you’ll be mashing hotkeys to fire off your abilities. There’s crafting, cooking, and even fishing to distract you, and you can drop hours of gameplay time just searching through containers and reading the books you come across in your travels.
For both Skyrim and MMO players, this familiarity will be a boon. They’ll easily be able to drop in, decipher the system, and get busy playing. There will be some learning curve, but it’s mostly minimal. It could be a bit steeper for folks who haven’t played any of the action MMO titles like Neverwinter, as the ‘mouse-tied-to-camera’ control scheme can be a bit unnerving at first.
Technically speaking, the game runs smoothly, and doesn’t seem to require a monster PC to have a great experience. While there were some hiccups during the Early Access period that resulted in extended downtime, those issues seem to have been sorted out since the game launched officially (at least so far).
In the early levels, TESO seems to be just what fans of The Elder Scrolls might want in an MMO. It feels a lot like Skyrim, and in many ways it plays a lot like Skyrim. Skills and abilities are fun, and there are a ton of ways to make your character unique. I do foresee some complaints from people who don’t buy into the need to explore to find your side quests, but all in all, the launch of TESO has been solid so far.
The first 10 levels were pretty enjoyable. The Elder Scrolls Online nails the feeling of making your way in a new world, something other MMOs haven’t managed nearly as well. Wandering the countryside in search of adventure is a great experience, and the forced exploration helps you lose yourself in the world. Organically discovering quests has a much better feel than simply being handed them in town. As someone who’s played the Elder Scrolls games in the past, the familiarity with the world was a nice plus.
You’ll spend a lot more time getting from level one to 10 than in other MMOs, but the journey is worth it, at least so far. We’ll be playing more, and telling you what we think, in the coming days.
This article was originally published on GameFront.com.