The Elder Scrolls Online Preview: Finally an MMO worth diving into
The Elder Scrolls Online is easily one of the more anticipated MMORPGs to-be-released. Of course, being an Elder Scrolls game, it also has the most to live up to. The build I played at PAX Prime may have still been in Alpha, but everything I saw seems to indicate a game that is not only ready to live up to expectations, but exceed them.
My journey began at Bleakrock Isle, a snowy – presumably starter – location for the Ebonheart Pact. What immediately stuck out to me were the game’s gorgeous visuals. Granted, these demos are typically shown off on high end PCs, but the game looks beautiful – probably the prettiest MMO I’ve seen in quite a while. The sheer attention to detail in this massive world is mind blowing and after taking in the crisp environmental details I began on my way as a Nord Dragonknight.
I was introduced to a quest line that involved a city in Bleakrock under the threat of attack by Covenant. It’s your standard MMO quests – go to location X, perform a task (such as killing someone or investigating something) and return to the quest giver. In this particular quest I was to search out the cause of the threat, rescue the citizens of the city, and help them escape. Quests are generic, but the ways in which they are presented at least make them tolerable; it seems that every line with NPCs is voiced over, a nice treat for those who actually pay attention to storylines in MMOs. And with the lore of The Elder Scrolls, who wouldn’t pay attention?
It’s not the quests that make The Elder Scrolls Online appealing, though; it’s the gameplay – particularly the skills/leveling system and combat. TESO offers a unique leveling system in which character skills and abilities are separate from your overall character level. You can increase your stats (Health, Magika, Stamina) by raising your character’s overall level while unlocking the initial skills in a particular ability tree; however, once an ability is unlocked it is leveled separately based on your usage of that ability. Additionally, other abilities in that tree are unlocked based on that tree’s specific level (which is leveled separately by using abilities in that tree).
For example, at level one I learned “Fiery Reach,” an ability part of the Ardent Flame tree. Rather than learning additional abilities in that tree by increasing my overall character level, I unlocked new abilities in the Ardent Flame tree by using that tree’s specific skills. While doing so, I also effectively increased the individual level the skill(s) I used.
The Elder Scrolls Online has one of the more unique leveling and skill systems I’ve seen in an MMO, but it’s also the gameplay that has me most excited. It uses a basic attack/block system; left-click attacks and right-click blocks, but if timed correctly you can achieve some pretty fluid combat. The key seems to be mastering the block, waiting for your enemy attack so you can block and counterattack. Blocking at the perfect time can result in briefly stunning your enemy, allowing you to perform a heavy attack by holding the left-click. Combat is definitely slower than I’m used to with most MMOs, but the balance of attacking and blocking creates a methodic, dance-like experience that rewards you for your skill.
It’s worth noting that first-person mode was playable and while it did make it seem more like “an Elder Scrolls game,” I preferred the traditional third-person view. However, switching in between the two is as simple as scrolling in on the mouse wheel.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen been excited for an MMO, but The Elder Scrolls Online definitely has a lot of positives going for it right now. My hands-on playthrough lasted for about one hour which is not nearly enough time to fully take-in an MMO, especially one as massive as TESO, but it has given me renewed faith in the MMORPG genre. The Elder Scrolls Online is due out on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, although the build I played was on PC.