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The Elder Scrolls Online Hands On Preview

Two hours spent in a game that could last forever...

O, the wailing of the fans when Elder Scrolls Online was announced! Would populating the beloved land of Tamriel kill the excitement of being a renowned and solitary adventurer? After spending two solid hours exploring the small Bleakrock Isle in a demo of Bethesda’s upcoming MMO, I can assure you that it feels like an Elder Scrolls game even though there are countless sorcerers, thieves, and warriors running around with you.

As you would expect, each of the other adventurers completing quest after quest along with me were able to create their own character with a customization suite that doesn’t seem to have many new options from the ones in Skyrim. That should be adequate though, as there were plenty of options to make a unique persona to inhabit for hundreds of hours. Pleasantly, it seemed like any character you made would look more lifelike and believable than what you could create in the last game.

After customizing my dark elf sorceress a bit, I rushed through a few obligatory conversations with the townsfolk and learned about some local drama before heading out to explore the full extent of this smallish island. I immediately felt like I was traversing old grounds since the full extent of available landmass for me to explore was a snow covered portion of Skyrim with rocky crags and ancient trees.

Once I ventured out of the town’s safety, I had the opportunity to attack the first of many wolves I would run into. This wouldn’t be an MMO without a healthy population of angry animals around would it? Fighting wolves was fine for my trial since it gave me a good opportunity to get used to the combat mechanics, which were pretty straightforward, but did require some practice and finesse to master.

When you target an enemy, they are highlighted red and all of your combat options become available to you, including your key-bound attacks – like spells in the case of my dark elf mage. Striking with your weapon is done with a left mouse-click, and holding down the mouse button will deal a heavy attack. Blocks are performed with the right mouse button – something you’ll have to do with decent consistency to best even the lowly mudcrabs when you first start out. Using my spells was a big shift from the dual-wielding method I got accustomed to while playing Skyrim on the 360, but it worked well once I got used to it.

I tried out a lightning-type spell and another spell that was supposed to hinder an enemy for 4.5 seconds (yes it specified this amount of time). After the lightning spell was leveled up a couple of times, it became impressive and useful, but at the start it was almost pointless. Even once the spell had been powered up significantly, my thin and short sorceress had to rely on her sword to defeat any level of foe. I would assume that as my magic skills progressed I would need to be less dependent on weapons, but it’s hard to imagine the combat being possible without significant blocking.

The containment spell I chose was a pretty big disappointment. Even though it tied many weak enemies to their spot on the ground, this didn’t seem to impede their attacks significantly. If they had a distance attack (like a spider spitting poison), then it was completely pointless. Other enemies seemed to basically be unaffected by the ring of rocks that sprang up from the ground to harness them, moving the ring of stones with them as they zipped around the screen. I quit using this spell eventually, but perhaps it would also become more useful with time.Being able to read enemies’ tells so I could successfully block was difficult for most oncoming attacks. When a sword was swung my way in a more casual fashion, it seemed to come out of nowhere and tweak me right in the health bar. I was able to survive battles as long as I caught the big attacks though, and since blocking those stuns your foes, doing so was key to survival.

As far as exploration goes, wandering across this not-too-big island reassured me that hiking around the land in Elder Scrolls Online will be just as engrossing as I’ve come to expect from the series. I did my best to reach all points available above ground on the map, and came across caves, campsites, and castles – each with foes to fight or people to help. The only things that seemed to be lacking were the notes and books scattered around that give Elder Scrolls its true character. Hopefully more of that will be sprinkled in during the final stages of development. There were a few old tomes around, but they were pretty bland in their current state.

Each of the quests I accepted were your typical fare of gathering items or acting as a hired assassin for various characters scattered across the landscape. In short, they are exactly what you would expect from mixing an MMO and Elder Scrolls. It was a bit of an adjustment to be out fulfilling a quest and then have a fellow adventurer sprint onto the scene and help me fend off some skeletons or walk over and take my rightful loot. In our demo session the world was populated only with those in the room, so it’s hard to tell how crowded the landscape will really feel when things are running full bore. With this small population of players though, I probably spent half my time alone and the other half with others nearby.

As someone who avoids the MMO scene for fear of becoming hopelessly addicted to them, The Elder Scrolls Online might have just enough of a pull to make me overcome my responsible self-constraint. I really love playing Skyrim, and I hardly do any of the primary quest tasks when I do. So having an entire world set up for me to explore with no stress about actually doing anything is immensely appealing. And, if I should ever get bored doing nothing, I can always do the unthinkable and actually talk to another person and find someone who wants to do nothing together.



Justin Matkowski Staff Alumnus

08/02/2013 at 04:16 PM

As a huge fan of Skyrim, I really hope this lives up to the scope and grandeur that game established - if they can match that immersion, wandering all of Tamriel online will be one hell of an experience!


08/02/2013 at 09:14 PM

"So having an entire world set up for me to explore with no stress about actually doing anything is immensely appealing. And, if I should ever get bored doing nothing, I can always do the unthinkable and actually talk to another person and find someone who wants to do nothing together." 

You just summed up my entire MMO experience and the reason why I love them!  Thank you for the review of ESO, I cannot wait for it to come out (or at least be invited to beta test...).

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