On Wednesday I got a chance to spend a huge 30 minutes with Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls Online, and frankly I had a hard time parting with the game. Just imagine your favorite Elder Scrolls title (Morrowind, Skyrim etc.), but in a multiplayer setting. Oh and with fewer objects to cram in your backpack.
The great news is that, unlike Final Fantasy XIV which I played earlier, ESO has absolutely no learning curve for the veteran MMORPG player. The Bethesda reps, who hovered over a number of us during the hands-on for suggestions and questions, seemed a little anxious about my left-handed gaming style, butI was able to jump in and work the magic like there's some standard across all MMORPGs without breaking a sweat.
Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take my own screenshots or video footage, so I can't show what the actual visuals look like. It's unquestionably Elder Scrolls although the facial movements of NPCs so far are sub-par. I think I was more enthralled with the whole environment which was the city of Daggerfall parked next to a bay of water. I spent a good deal of the time just sightseeing and fighting off the bandit or two who sprang out of the shadows and thought they could whoop my ass.
Bethesda started us off at level five, and walked us through the process of choosing a class, skills and assigning points to attributes. I ended up playing a human Sorcerer (Templar and Dragon Knight were the other two I believe) packed with a mean fireball that I could shoot from a relatively safe distance. One mouse button, left I think, was dedicated to blocking with my staff while the other cast the fireworks. Oh so tasty.
What I loved about this game – at least from the demo - is that players seemingly don't merely get a quest to go kill pigs or other wildlife in order to to level up. There wasn't any grinding in the scenario we played. Instead, it felt like an Elder Scrolls RPG where you go talk to this person, talk to that person, find this moron's lost pig, search a boat for an item in particular and so on. The scenario didn't feel like a multiplayer experience iced with a shallow story. Instead, it was the other way around: your story iced with a cool multiplayer experience.
Now, I can't say that will indeed be the case when the game finally arrives on the PC and next-generation consoles. But I think I know where Bethesda is going, and it's in the right direction. Unfortunately, there weren't any staged epic boss battles like the way Square Enix demoed Final Fantasy XIV, so we didn't get to experience the group effort. We were left to wander the city and the dock on our own, to discover what The Elder Scrolls Online had to offer.
Being a lefty, I was somehow able to play this game like a first-person shooter. You can assume third-person or first-person by scrolling the mouse wheel up and down, and move about using the WASD setup or arrow keys – "E" is used to open doors, trunks and so on. In one scenario, I was searching through crates in two ships parked at a dock. Some of the crates produced bandits who thought they could take me down in close quarters. I was able to strafe around the fools and dose up with balls of fire without any effort. The gameplay just simply rocks.
Finding quests was rather simple. Actually, it was a string of quests that started with one individual with a glowing aura. Talk to him, and the next segment pops up on your radar at the top right corner as a small dot. I used this radar to navigate through the city which made questing super easy. Players can take on multiple quests too, but I somehow managed to stay on one path and had a blast doing so. Honestly, I'm a little impatient waiting for long, spoken and written dialog, even more so when I'm on a time limit.
I noticed that some of the elements made popular in the other Elder Scrolls games made it into this online version. For instance, I was tasked to speak to someone in one of the houses. After entering, I discovered several "glowing" objects that begged for my attention such as scrolls and books. Like Skyrim and Morrowind, these give some of the world's history, enriching your immersion. Other items can be scooped up like bread, but not to the extreme numbers as seen in the single-player games (where you can seemingly pick anything up and sell it at a local market).
Unfortunately, what I played was just a brief taste of what ESO offers. I'm not sure if we could actually leave the city; I focused on the quest line that eventually led me down to the docks. However I think newcomers and veteran Elder Scrolls gamers will find ESO highly satisfying and addicting, and should give Blizzard's rival MMORPG something to worry about when it crashes the MMORPG scene next year.
I can't wait.