The Elder Scrolls Online Preview: Relax guys, it's Elder Scrolls, but online!
When I first saw The Elder Scrolls Online at E3 2012, I wasn't sure what to think. The game was strictly third-person, the characters looked caricatured, and the combat looked like it was cloned from WoW. Needless to say, it didn't look very Elder Scrolls-ish. It had elements of exploration that I felt optimistic about, but in the end, I just didn't understand what made this game an Elder Scrolls title. What separated this MMO from dozens of others who have been doing the same thing for years?
Fast forward to 2013, and we now have a reworked TESO, one that addresses a lot of the complaints I originally had. The world and its inhabitants now look like they belong, combat has been reworked to function as it did with previous installments, albeit with some MMO-like nuances, and best of all, the game can be played completely in first-person view. That alone was exciting to me. That meant my worst fears of TESO not feeling like a true Elder Scrolls game were slowly getting squashed, and I was pumped.
This past weekend, I put in as many hours as I possibly could (with an energetic and relatively loud one year old kid running around my apartment) and really liked what I got to experience.
Since I usually play melee classes in Elder Scrolls games, I decided to go a little out of my comfort zone for TESO, and made a Sorcerer. What a great decision that was. The Sorcerer skill sets were one of the most fun, at least in my gameplay experience, and allowed me to unleash a barrage of damage dealing spells upon enemies from a distance. The Sorcerer also starts out with a summoning spell, which helps to divert the attention from you.
After making my way out of the Tutorial zone, the game continues to put you through other smaller islands with shorter questlines, until it drops you on a giant hunk of land where you're free to explore to your hearts content. Now, I should preface this by saying, even though you are technically free to explore the map on your own, you will benefit greatly from following your main questline and completing as many sidequests as you possibly can.
Like Skyrim, the top of your screen will show a compass with various icons appearing as you approach them, and then permanently appear on your map in case you don't feel like exploring a dungeon immediately, and want to come back to it later. The icons themselves actually have to sets of coloring to them, black with white outlines and white with black outlines. The former tells you of an either unvisited location, or a location that hasn't been fully explored or cleared. This method also makes it easy to distinguish which dungeons you've already cleared, and which still need clearing.
Let's talk about the combat. The Elder Scrolls was never really known for fantastic first-person combat. While swinging a sword in TESO feels similar to games like Skyrim, the secondary skills switch up the way you deal with enemies. Melee weapons like swords, axes and maces are either swung quickly by clicking the mouse button, or charge up for a heavy swing if the mouse button is held down. There are several situations where mixing these up becomes crucial. Enemies can do one of two different types of special attacks. If they shine gold, they're prepping for an attack that can be blocked and will stun them for a few seconds. If they shine red, they're preparing a heavy attack that can be interrupted. When the enemies are stunned, a heavy attack will knock them to the ground, adding even more precious time to unleash more damage. Magic weapons like staves work similarly, in that they can both interrupt and block some attacks, but their attacks are ranged. A fire staff will hurl a ball of fire at an enemy, while a charged attack will shoot out three at once.
But what if I told you that I was a badass Sorcerer weilding a giant two handed sword? Like in previous Elder Scrolls games, character building is left completely up to the player. Simply equipping a sword will start unlocking various skills when enough XP is gained. That means as a Sorcerer, you can still hurl purple crystals on enemies while jamming a sword in their skull, and I loved that.
The base classes are really just starting templates, but won't govern your overarching progression. Various skills all fall under various categories. Your base class has three separate skill trees, but then everything else is shared by everyone. Every type of weapon and armor has different skills and passives. The various guilds you can join, like the Mages and Fighters also have their own skill trees when you rise in ranks. It's quite possibly one of the most unique character development mechanics for an MMO, even though they're quite standard for an Elder Scrolls game.
This weekend we'll be getting more hands on with the game, and especially its PVP mechanics. Make sure to check back next week to see our updated impressions. Hint, it takes place in Cyrodiil.