I’m no stranger to MMORPGs. I’ve ventured across Azeroth in the World of Warcraft for many years and continue to do so. I played Guild Wars 2 for a while and still go back every now and then. I even played Star Wars: The Old Republic for a few months. I was eagerly awaiting Blizzard’s next “Titan” MMO, but it was pushed back a couple of years due to drastic changes. Fortunately, ZeniMax Online Studios announced last year that they were developing The Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO based on the Elder Scrolls universe. It just so happens that I really enjoyed Morrowind and played the hell out of Skyrim, so I was very interested to see what would become of it.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Elder Scrolls franchise is how immersive their fantasy worlds can be. One of the features that attributes to this is character creation. From being able to customize the face or body type of your character to choosing an alliance you’d join, you are allowed to tailor how you will be represented in the game’s world in almost every facet. ESO supports this fully by adding a lot of customization options, similar to Skyrim’s. While not all customizations from Skyrim were in the demo, it’s safe to assume they may be added in later as ESO is still somewhat early in development.
I had the opportunity of playing as a Breton Dragon Knight. There are only three available races and one class to choose from so far. At first glance, ESO may not feel like an Elder Scrolls game because you begin with a third person perspective. It may also not feel like an MMO because there is virtually nothing showing up in the user interface, as opposed to what many World of Warcraft players are accustomed to. I can assure you that ESO is not even close to being a copy & paste version of another MMO with an Elder Scrolls skin over it.
When ability, talent tree, or inventory windows are not open, the action bar is nowhere to be found. It’s there, but you can’t see it. Upon pressing a key to open up a window, the action bar on the bottom of the screen appears. It functions very similarly to Guild Wars‘s own as it only holds a few keys and equipping different weapons opens up a different array of abilities. Having no visible action bar at the cost of having to memorize your keys (you can always view them again by opening a window) adds a real sense of immersion without all the clutter on your screen, just like in an Elder Scrolls game. Once you go around exploring Tamriel and talking to its inhabitants, it really starts to feel like an Elder Scrolls game. NPCs are fully voiced and many dialogue options are provided. Many NPCs react to your presence and greet you as you wander by. You can pick up food at your leisure and lockpick chests during your adventures. It may be because I was playing on what seemed like a high-end PC, but the graphics were absolutely gorgeous and detailed considering it was an MMO.
Combat revolves around left-clicking for melee attacks, using your classes various abilities and a dodge rolling mechanic to avoid enemies’ attacks. When the left mouse button is held, your character charges their melee attack for a devastating blow. Blocking enemies’ attacks dazes them and leaves them vulnerable for such an attack. NPCs don’t appear to be targetable. Attacking an enemy is similar to Guild Wars‘ system of using an attack and hitting whatever is in its path. The difference in using abilities as opposed to World of Warcraft or Guild Wars is that you don’t find yourself constantly clicking them. There is much more leniency in having to use a special attack comparable to using dragon shouts and other long cooldown spells in Skyrim. While duel-wielding, combat felt no different than playing Skyrim as my Nord duel-wielding two Daedric swords. Just like in other Elder Scrolls games, the resources available are health, magic, and stamina. One of the things I’ve never seen in an MMORPG is sprinting, though it’s here at the cost of stamina.
Not having to choose a realm or server when starting off with ESO may seem a bit odd at first for someone who has played an MMO before. ESO will apparently automatically match you up with friends, guild-mates, like-minded players, and people you’ve met before whenever you begin playing. I became so engaged in accepting quests and going out to accomplish them at one point that I completely forgot I was playing an MMORPG and I had this moment with someone I came across. We turned towards each other and simultaneously drew our weapons only to see that we were both real life people playing the same game. The funniest thing was that that player was sitting right beside me so we turned to each other and laughed.
The Elder Scrolls Online is aiming to combine the immersion of an Elder Scrolls game with the addictive nature of connecting with an active community in an online world. Whether it does this successfully is yet to be seen and will surely be decided once it’s fully released. It seems to be a break from the traditional mold of an MMORPG and I look forward to learning more about it as its release date nears in Spring 2014 for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One.