A few days ago, Zenimax lifted the NDA that they had in place for the Beta players of The Elder Scrolls Online, This essentially means that people are now free to share their impressions of the game, and about time I say. I myself have been lucky enough to participate in two Beta sessions now, lasting two whole weekends. So now, without further ado, here are my personal impressions of The Elder Scrolls Online. Be warned; spoilers lie ahead for those of you that wish to remain unspoiled.
The Elder Scrolls Online takes place 1000 years before the events of Skyrim, the last Elder Scrolls title to be released. Tamriel is in a bit of a mess. There is a three way war going on between three factions; The Ebonheart Pact, The Daggerfall Covenant and The Aldmeri Dominion all vying for the ruby throne of Tamriel. Not only that, but the rather nasty Daedric prince Molag Bal has been stealing the souls of the people of Tamriel to power his Dark Anchors and pull all of Nirn into his plane of Oblivion, with a little help from his agent Mannimarco and his Worm Cult. (Some of you may remember Mannimarco from Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion).
This is where you come in. You are The Soulless One.
The game begins, perhaps unsurprisingly, in a prison cell. You awake in a strange place held captive, and then a figure appears before you. The Prophet. (Voiced absolutely wonderfully by Sir Michael Gambon).
You find out that you are in a place called Coldharbour, which is the realm of Oblivion of Molag Bal. You need to escape and get back to Tamriel. Thus begins the first area, which is, of course, a tutorial area. You go through Coldharbour doing a couple of quests, which ultimately winds up with you ending up back in Tamriel,
The first thing that I immediately noticed was the visual impact of the world. Even for an MMO, the graphics are really, really pretty and very much like the single player Elder Scrolls games. (As close as an MMO can get, as we all know that MMO’s can’t have the graphical fidelity of single player games for a few reasons). Coldharbour was a very dark and foreboding looking place, with tons of atmosphere. The second thing that I noticed was lots and lots of other players running around along with me. This was slightly jarring coming from playing the Single Player games. More about that later.
After the initial tutorial level, you land on Tamriel. This is where it opens up a little more.
I played on the side of the Daggerfall Covenant. This meant that I wound up on an island called Stros M’kai, off the coast of High Rock. The moment that I landed, I was again greeted by The Prophet and told to talk to someone to help out. I did so, and the moment I walked out of the house, it hit me. I had that same feeling as when you first walk out of the cave at the beginning of Skyrim, the same feeling I get with every Elder Scrolls game that I have ever played – “Woah. What should I do now then?”. I elected to follow the quest marker for a while, and found myself paying very close attention to the world around me. There is a lot of detail crammed into the game world.
Naturally with it being an Elder Scrolls title if you wander off the trail a little bit, you come across things. I came across some side quests and some points of interest visually. That’s the lovely thing about these games, there is always something new to stumble across.
That being said, this is an MMO. Whilst there are side quests, it’s nowhere near on the level of side quests in the Single Player titles, driven by the Radiant Quest system in Skyrim. They aren’t endless in number, but that is not such a bad thing, in my opinion. But neither are they the usual
After completing some more quests and getting through the main quests that I had to do, I ended up on another smallish island populated by Orcs and a cult known as The Bloodthorn Cult. More quests later, I was given a first big choice in the game. Do I destroy an artefact, or keep it? I chose to destroy it, and the Orcs were thankful enough to pledge themselves to joining the Daggerfall Covenant i their war efforts. However, the person that I had been travelling with was not so thankful. They did however allow me safe passage on their boat to the next area. The city of Daggerfall.
I have been waiting to see a properly 3D rendered Daggerfall for a long time. I was not disappointed. The city felt alive. Every NPC was voiced, chatting around me as I walked past. The art style was lovely. Even the music added to the atmosphere. I can not stress enough how much work Zenimax have clearly put into the game’s world. It is highly immersive, and very, very impressive.
Now down to business. Firstly, this is not your traditional grind fest. The quests are very Elder Scrolls. Out of all of the quests that I did, (Which was a lot) I came across maybe two or three that were of the standard “collect me five of these” or something along those lines. The quests have chains and stages, and are rather immersive in the ways that they are both written and implemented. This helps greatly when it comes to p an Elder Scrolls experience.
Next up – combat. The combat in Elder Scrolls Online is actually rather well done and it isn’t a traditional spam the button MMO combat. You will need to block and dodge (Blocking at times is your friend in this game) and time some attacks, as well as think about your next attack, especially with the bosses. Occasionally though the combat can feel as if you are hitting the air rather than the enemy, and it can feel a bit weird. But then, the combat has never been a great feature of Elder Scrolls titles. I will say though that I enjoyed the combat here more than the combat in Skyrim.
Next onto the skills and levelling. I picked my usual class to play with – the Sorcerer. The levelling is quite fast – I manages to get to level 14 over three days with quite casual playing. But it certainly does slow down the higher level that you get. The skills that I was given were okay. The problem that I found here was that in other Elder Scrolls titles, if you choose to do magic then you are given a huge range of spells to choose from. Here the spells are quite restrictive with the class that I went for, however once I came across the Mage’s Guild in Daggerfall I saw that there would be more spells available by doing quests for them, which after a think about it, i found to be quite a novel idea and would prevent a character from getting overpowered too quickly. The spells that I did have were fun to execute though, especially the ultimate ability of conjuring a Storm Atronach. It takes a while to charge the ultimate ability, but it was very worth it. Armours are plentiful, and you can choose to use any armour that you desire, which is very refreshing.
The interface of the game is very, very minimal and I really liked this. It greatly helps with the immersion. You have your compass at the top of the screen, and it works in exactly the same way as the compass in Skyrim, by pointing out things to see and quest markers. There is no mini map, and I really enjoyed that. Without a mini map, you are kind of forced to see the world and explore between your quests, rather than just going from point A to point B and seeing nothing in-between. Fast travel does exist in the game by way of Wayshrines, and they can prove very handy at times.
The final thing that I am going to talk about is the PVP. Now, to get into the PVP, you have to get to level 10. You will be immediately boosted to level 50 upon entering Cyrodiil. The first thing that I immediately noticed about Cyrodiil is that it is huge, and that’s not an understatement. in any way – and it is very much like Cyrodiil in Oblivion. The mechanics of PVP are that your faction has to take keeps for dominance of the province to crown an Emperor. The battles are absolutely massive, and it genuinely does feel like being in the middle of a full scale war. You can use siege weapons to attack enemy keeps and forts, face off against loads of other players from other factions, and it is all very fast and furious and at times a little bit chaotic. I myself am not a huge fan of PVP, but I found this to be hugely enjoyable. Aside from that, you can undertake missions in Cyrodiil for your faction, or just wander around the province finding things to explore if you so wish. The biggest problem that I have with it is that aside from the faction players, Cyrodiil feels very quiet and underpopulated. There needs to be from, at least my perspective, more NPC’s to interact with and maybe do quests for. This would add to it feeling like a war torn province in my humble opinion. It would just add that extra layer of polish. But apart from that, I can see that you would be able to spend many hours fighting in Cyrodiil, and this will be a great selling point for fans of PVP. I will certainly be in the midst of the battle helping my chosen faction take all of the keeps.
There are of course a few problems . A lot of the quests were bugged (However this is Beta – the bugs are there to be found, reported and fixed) and that did tend to beak the immersion at times. The enemy AI can feel a little bit sloppy at times, and some of the enemies are genuinely very easy to beat. I would like to see the combat worked on a little more to feel somewhat more responsive, and feel like you are hitting the enemy. The swords, I have to say, can feel absolutely awful for this. One of the most jarring things, which I touched upon earlier, is having loads of other players around you. Of course, this is an MMO and I am used to MMO’s, but some players may not be. They may find it very weird having loads of other players doing the same quest objective as them. The phasing really needs to be worked on as well. A couple of times I grouped up, and people disappeared as they were on different stages of the quest. The same goes for treasure chests – they can be looted by anyone, even when you are in the middle of looting it. That can be a little bit infuriating. Although none of the bad phasing occurred during the dungeon run that I did (Which was great fun).
A big bone of contention for a lot of gamers seems to be the subscription fee. Whilst I agree that there are a lot of MMO’s out there that go with the F2P model, I honestly, hand on heart, do not think that F2P would work for this game. I would not like to see a huge cash shop in the game selling gold or armours or weapons to get the advantage over other players. It would not fit into the world that has been created. There’s not even an Auction House in the game, so I fail to see where a big cash shop would fit. £8.99/$15 can seem like a lot to play a game on a month by month basis, but you can bet that your money will be spent well on patches, updates and new content for the game, as well as keeping the servers running well.
All in all, I have to say that I am highly impressed by The Elder Scrolls Online. It looks like an Elder Scrolls title, and more importantly, to me, it feels like one as opposed to a generic fantasy MMO with the Elder Scrolls title tacked on. Zenimax have clearly worked very, very hard on this game and I can not wait to see more of it, and continue playing come launch date. To lovers of the Elder Scrolls – come and give it a try, even though you may not be used to the mechanics of an MMO. And to MMO lovers, I say that if you are looking for a new game, come and have an adventure in Tamriel. You could do much, much worse. I look forward to helping you all save Tamriel from Molag Bal.