So finally I can talk, at least partially about my experience within Tamriel!
I have pretty much enjoyed ESO since I first stepped foot in Tamriel last year. Stros M’Kai, the starting zone for the Daggerfall covenant has become as familiar to me as romping around the fields of Cyrodiil in Oblivion years ago, and this feeling of both newness and familiarity really lend itself well to the overall scope of The Elder Scrolls Online.
But you don’t start there, instead you begin your game as you might expect from an Elder Scrolls game: as a prisoner. Instead of awaiting execution, however, you are actually imprisoned in a realm of Oblivion owned by Molag Bal called Coldharbour, and everything seems so…blue. Much different from the planes of Oblivion we experience in TESIV. Essentially you make your way through the prison with the game subtly teaching you how to fight, as well as causing you to make decisions that will effect your gameplay going forward, right from the get go; another hallmark of the series.
The voice acting from the get go is superb. The Prophet, played by Michael Gambon, issues his advice with absolute command, his voice reverberating throughout your ears as if you’ve heard him play a old, wizened guide to the main character before. Jennifer Hale’s exquisite performance as Lyris Titanborn is on full display as well, guiding you through to your destiny.
As you leave the prison and make your way throughout Coldharbour, you begin to see how questing really works within ESO. Much like they’ve stated before in previous interviews, ZOS is trying to get away from the traditional “quest hub” idea, and because of this questing is a bit more fluid in their implementation. Too fluid in some cases. Later on while questing in Glenumbra, I found myself wishing a quest would take me back to a specific area, as I had more quests to do around there. Sometimes they do, but more often than not you can move your way through a zone basically by doing one quest after another.
Back in Coldharbour, my Redguard Templar has been asked to talk to a certain character played by one of my favorite actors of all time: John Cleese. The Monty Python member plays Cadwell, and while it was refreshing to hear a funny voice rise above the din of combat with Flame Atronachs and Soul Shrivens, I don’t think his humor and talent were used to its fullest. Cadwell sends you on your way through a tunnel, and Lyris leaves you for a bit, allowing you to escape from Coldharbour with The Prophet.
As I stepped off the boat in Stros M’Kai, I was hit with this feeling of excitement, but also a wave apprehension. Having played in previous betas and the build at E3, I always thought the game was good, but I always felt a bit dissatisfied whenever I stopped playing the game. I could never put my finger on why though. Honestly, it was enough of a feeling to give me pause about buying ESO at launch. What was it that left me feeling this way?
The combat was never an issue. While it is a bit buggy in some instances, and I sometimes feel as though my attacks are a bit “floaty,” I was always happy with the combat. Having played LOTRO for the past 6+ years, a change of pace concerning MMO combat was needed. ESO provided this. I was involved with each strike; no longer was I simply hitting predefined keystrokes in a skill rotation. Every action, every interrupt, every reaction – this all kept me focused and engaged from the beginning of the fight till the end. I have used many weapon types from Sword and Shield, Dual Wield, Bow and Staves, and each on has their pros, cons and high level of satisfaction in using them.
Exploration is also a major hallmark of any Elder Scrolls game, as I’m sure my friend Shank will detail in a later article on Quest Gaming. The amount you can explore in ESO is really up to you. Are you more of a pure quester, or do you love finding little nooks and crannies to poke in? Either way, you can do it, and it’s viable for both. I can honestly say I leveled up purely by finding landmarks and fighting monsters along the way to the next one.
As far as an Elder Scrolls experience, I think this entry pays homage to the games before it fairly well. Obviously there will be certain aspects that are just impossible to implement due to the MMO nature of the game, but the developers at Zenimax have done, in my estimation, a very good job being faithful to the core of the Elder Scrolls experience.
My only real complaint about this is that it plays too well as a single player game. Not once during my session have I needed to quest within a group. From 1-15, I have played mostly solo, dabbling in crafting and exploration on the side. As far as quests go, I have been able to tackle everything by myself. As a single player fan, this is great news. The MMO fan in me is a little upset at this. The public dungeons are a big reason as well. I may never have grouped up, but it doesn’t mean I’ve not taken part in taking down a foe as part of one. We focus our fire on a group of enemies, reap the rewards, say thank you and run along on our own separate paths.
As far as questing goes, sometimes they can feel a bit linear as well. While there are no quest hubs, and your decisions will impact some of the story aspects of the game (one major one coming before you land in Glenumbra. I stewed over that for about 20 minutes before I decided what to do!). As I stated above, the quests do move you fluidly from one to the next, but it felt like to me as if it were on a straight line path. While the actions and decisions you make in some quests will effect the outcome, I couldn’t shake that “path-like” feeling in places. This isn’t to say that all quests are this way, but a lot are and it’s worth noting.
Remember when I said that I always logged off a little dissatisfied? I could never put my finger on it, until the last time I tested. I always felt rushed since there was that time limit for when the servers would close, or in the case of E3 I needed to go to other booths. With the last test, I took my time and really played the game. I didn’t take notes for a future piece, I didn’t try and dissect why one thing worked or looked a certain way, I just played the game. As I logged off that evening I awaited the all familiar wave to wash over me, but this time it didn’t. I simply just had…fun. This feeling that I can lose myself for a couple of hours has me more excited to explore the rest of Tamriel. This may be the game that finally pulls me from Middle-earth to a new game.
Keep it tuned to ESOTR and The Quest Gaming Network as we bring you more articles and some video coverage of The Elder Scrolls Online throughout the weekend.