Character creation, true to any Elder Scrolls game, is in-depth. Right off the bat, you customize everything about your character’s appearance from the height of their cheek bones to their voice. There are also shortcuts to designing a character if you don’t want to spend an hour fiddling with their cheekbones: there’s a face triangle spectrum between heroic, soft, and angular. Somewhat unusually, spaces are allowed in your character’s name, and you get a generous number of characters, so elaborate names are doable.
Classes aren’t restricted by race, though different races are distinctly suited to different roles. The beta released four classes, Dragon Knight, Templar, Sorcerer, and Nightblade, but they’re far more open-ended than your usual MMO. They really feel more like starting templates than classes. For instance, the Sorcerer focuses around spells and summoning minions, but is also loaded with abilities that you could use to make a very capable melee fighter who uses spells to get in close and compliment sword swings. These customizations won’t be common to see in play, but they are workable.
Talent points don’t just need to go into class-specific abilities, either. As you get better with two-handed weapons, for instance, you gain access to new attacks with those kinds of weapons. Same goes with crafting and armor. For a magic class, this means that your weapon is more than just a stat stick you hit things with, its a part of your character, giving you abilities you wouldn’t otherwise have in another MMO. For example, and to bring back our fighter-sorcerer, while a lightly-armored staff-wielding wizard might be “standard”, nothing is stopping you from wearing heavy armor and bashing in some skulls with a hammer, because weapon and armor abilities aren’t class limited.
Combat is pretty interactive for an MMO. Its all in real time, no sitting there trading blows a la WoW. You can dodge and block enemy attacks while timing your own for minimum risk, and if you’re playing on your own, you more or less have to. A lightly armored character who doesn’t avoid damage will die very quickly.
As a long-time player of magic-wielding characters, John was thrilled to find that even a pure wizard will be using his weapon actively, unlocking a variety of spells by improving his skills with staves and using it for basic attacks that don’t consume precious magicka.
Resource management is important for everyone. You use either stamina, magicka, or some combination of both for your abilities. It doesn’t regenerate quickly during combat, meaning your ability choices in combat are important.
Our ability to test group dynamics was limited by our time, but group roles seem to be moderately nebulous. You’ll want to make sure you’re taking characters built for tanking and characters built for healing, but healers can expect to do more than just make sure all the bars are full.
The game walks a thin line between staying true to the Elder Scrolls open-ended world, and introducing multiplayer and social elements to the franchise for the first time. Some MMO players or Elder Scrolls fans might find the experience wanting, or they could enjoy the fresh take on an established genre.
While gameplay was enjoyable, it doesn’t feel like an MMO. For at least the first ten levels, questing is mostly a linear narrative with a notable absence of “kill 10 coyotes and bring back their pelts” quests. While some players may welcome a reprieve from quest grinding, others might be put off by the additional text and directed gameplay. The quests, however, are compelling, and the tutorial is a great way to make the story exciting, even for a level 1 character. ESO is also not gear-oriented; character strength is derived mostly from leveling up skills, which can be done though the faction’s main storyline.
Visually, Elder Scrolls Online is very appealing. Graphics were fantastic for a beta, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching our characters quest together from town to town as they interacted with players, NPCs, and the stunning world overall. However, the towns seemed quiet and empty, something which hopefully will be addressed with the open release. The world doesn’t feel as seamless as something like WoW; zones tend to be much larger than ones in WoW, and they’re not as smoothly connected to neighboring zones. Hopefully in later levels, this will be addressed with PvP opportunities between the factions.
Partying with other players is similar to many other MMOs like WoW, but it feels more like playing side by side than playing together. Quest items are collected separately, and the extended storyline is seen separately; one of our characters’ bodies would always disappear when a longer cinematic event occurred. Whether this is a beta glitch or an aspect of the gameplay remains to be seen. For fans of zone chat, you will be happy to know the ESO zone chat was just as off-topic and ridiculous as any other MMO.
PVP: Unfortunately, our characters did not get to a level where we could take part in pvp after 8-12 hours of gameplay. Some of the beta glitches slowed us down; main quests would be buggy and slow, and in certain areas, we had to restart multiple times. While we are confident these will be fixed, it did hinder our ability to level as fast as we would have liked. While the first ten or so levels don’t feel like they were played in an MMO, we are hopeful that PvP will be seamlessly woven into the world, rather than feeling like a separate multiplayer component.
Crafting: Unfortunately, there was a lack of instructions concerning crafting, but it appears that this is part of your character and not a secondary skill, it’s a strength just like learning spells or abilities. While we couldn’t delve into this much, it looks like players will be forced to choose between using skill points to develop their abilities or to develop their crafting. How this impacts character development and trading remains to be seen.
Subscription Fees: On top of a purchase price, there will also be a 15 dollars/month subscription fee. While pre-order bonuses are pretty lucrative, we would like to know more about end game content, PvP, and how it stacks up against other successful MMOs like WoW, to justify the monthly cost. The beginning ten levels felt like multiplayer Skyrim, which so far doesn’t justify a monthly cost.
ESO is a highly customizable, engaging beta with good graphics and story telling. It feels like multiplayer Skyrim more than an MMO, but we are hopeful for solid pvp and end game content to round things out.