The day after ESO was announced to be releasing on the consoles, the buzz has not died down. The Elder Scrolls Online sure didn’t disappoint on it’s presentation. Armor, weapons, and of course an Elder Scroll were on full display surrounding a pit full of blazing PCs waiting for you to start exploring Tamriel with.
I sat down at a PC to see the character creation screen. For this version of the game I was able to play as a member of the Daggerfall Covenant. I chose to make a Redguard Templar, as I wanted some healing skills built into my class and after about 10 mins of creation, settled on a ebon-skinned man with a medium build and facial tattoos.
The game brought me to Daggerfall, and I had some skill points to spend, so I dove into making the first choices on how my character would be built. I chose to put the three attribute points into Health (2) and Magicka (1) and then started to look at the skills available. Choosing a 2 handed weapon skill, as well as a skill allowing my Templar to heal myself and allies, I dove into the vast streets of Daggerfall, eager to start exploring the new vision of Tamriel.
Brian sat next to me, his character now in a group with myself. Grouping is easy in ESO. You can do it through chat, like in all MMOS, or there is a radial interaction menu you can easily access to group up, trade, disband and add as friend. Once we were grouped we began walking the streets. Daggerfall looked amazing, as well as perfectly to scale. It felt as if I was standing next to the buildings in real life. Walls towered overhead, market stalls barely reached the top of my bald head. The layout of the city also wasn’t confusing, though it was rather large and sprawling.
One point I would like to drive home is the art direction in this game is fantastic. Daggerfall looked amazing: ancient and majestic, though also humble and carefree at the same time. The ultra realism of Skyrim was great, but in terms of Tamriel as a whole, this type of graphical quality is truly the only way I could imagine Zenimax aiming for.
Once we started on a quest it was clear that while we were grouped, we would progress through the quest chain separately. This way the two of us could experience the quest differently. We were trying to solve the mystery of a corpse lying in a puddle behind a shop. Following a dog to the body, when we got close an assassin jumped from the bushes trying to ambush us. Quickly dispatching the fiend, we turned our attention back to the dog. The next couple minutes comprised of the two of us speaking with various shopkeeps regarding the dead man’s identity. I don’t want to give any more of the quest away, but we noticed that while we were working together to complete the objectives, we were playing through the story in our own way.
We decided to do some exploring outside of Daggerfall Castle Town and so we headed north into the countryside. As the cobblestone roads and walls gave way to rolling hills and dirt roads, I audibly gasped. The landscape looked amazing. I couldn’t wait to start exploring this area! Minutes later I was reveling in the defeat of a few Bloodthorn assassins, loving every minute of playing this great looking title.
The build unfortunately did not feature 1st person with arms. While talking with a member of the Zenimax team, they simply did not believe that it was “ready” for demoing. Also, even though this was announced on console, there was no console demo available to play, only PC. The controls and mechanics from ESO made me immediately think Skyrim. It all felt very natural to me. Even though there was a list of controls in front of me, I only had to look at the sheet once. I had remapped the “sheathe” key in Skyrim on my PC and needed to figure out which key it was in the ESO demo. Otherwise I never even considered the controls as being a hindrance.
Combat in the game was possibly the most satisfying element of the day’s playthrough. I started off with the standard two-handed ax given to it seems all Templars. I was ok with this, but about 25 mins into the playthrough a Bow of Weakening was unlocked from a chest thanks to my excellent lock-picking skills. I immediately switched weapons to get the feel of the ability to customize and learn weapons on the fly. I was surprised at how simple it was to just switch weapons easily. While I didn’t have any skills on the bow, I found myself using it the rest of our time in game. The animation needed some work as the arrow wasn’t sitting in the hand of my Redguard, but rather on top of it, but you can chalk that up to this just being an early build.
Back to combat – So Brian and I ambushed a mercenary camp, catching the AI by surprise (if it’s possible). Brian closed in, jumping into the fray; slicing and dicing them with his Dragonknight Sword and Shield build. I sat back with my bow picking enemies off. One, by one. As we dispatched some more enemies throughout the forest, I called upon my inner huntsman and took out a few innocent deer, and we were on our way. A few minutes later we found ourselves confronting a conjurer with a diseased spriggan (looked like an atronach from a distance). It was here I had my favorite time while playing the game.
For most MMO fans, combat has always been pretty standard. Your skills do most of the heavy lifting, auto-attacks are used as DPS fillers inbetween attacks or to reduce threat, and you are typically stationary whilst doing so. ESO combat is nothing like this. It was the traditional Elder Scrolls combat – but online. When wielding a melee weapon, Left Click swings your weapon. Hold it down and you charge up a more powerful attack. Blocking is as easy as clicking the Right button, but make sure you time it right. Any attack/block, successful or unsuccessful uses up precious stamina resources. Finding a way to balance your magicka and stamina is crucial to your success in ESO.
The defining moment of my playthrough came while “pew-pewing” with my bow. The conjurer was flinging some projectile magicka at my Templar. Being the MMO-vet, it never dawned on me that I could dodge these attacks till I remembered some of the ESOTR host’s playthrough. The next attack came and I rolled from danger. After I calmed down from such an epic battle (I ended up dodging a few more times, it’s as easy as just double-tapping the direction you want to dodge) we decided to go grab Paul Sage for an interview.
During our playthrough I tested out some of the gathering talked about in ESO’s Gathering and Exploration video released a while back. In MMOs, most everything you see is unable to be interacted with. One of the hallmarks of the Elder Scrolls series is that everything is interactable – from bolts of rough cotton to flaying tools, etc. ESO is the same. While not everything is able to be picked up, the majority of things are. I remember walking through a tavern in Daggerfall and swiping every piece of food, drink, goblet I could get my hands on. The phasing in this game is simply seamless. It happens so well in the background your mind never truly realizes it’s going on. As we get more time with the game, expect me to end up ransacking every single place I can in the future. My goblet collection will be the talk of Tamriel!
All in all, expectations were met for this game. I wanted to see how well Skyrim style controls could really be harnessed into an MMO. Zenimax didn’t disappoint. The game itself is gorgeous, so much so you forget the game won’t be out till next year! We will be trying to stop by the Bethesda booth again this week to get some more hands on time as well as more developer interviews, so if there is a part of gameplay you’d like us to focus on, leave us a comment below!