For two weekends now, I’ve had the pleasure of beta testing the highly anticipated Elder Scrolls Online. Peter was the one who first turned me on to the Elder Scrolls franchise, starting with Oblivion, and he has recently become immersed in the world of Skyrim. But I’ll admit it: They’re not really my type of game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fantasy and medieval geek, so rich storylines and immense world was really attractive. Sadly, it was the gameplay that has deterred me from these games. I’ve never been great at the first person POV games because I get so stupid nervous when I can’t see what’s behind or to the side of me—I barely got through the Fallout games with my sanity—so I tend to die a lot and freak out.
But I knew I was missing out on something amazing when it came to the Elder Scrolls games, which is why I jumped at the chance to get a peek at the upcoming The Elder Scrolls Online MMO. I knew that the MMO would provide the third person action I enjoyed, while still immersing players in the rich mythology of the Elder Scrolls, and let me tell you: fans of both the Elder Scrolls and MMOs will be pleased with this game.
First off, even in the bit of the game we got to play in the beta, I can tell you that the voice talent that was booked is A-List. Actors like Harry Potter’s Michael Gambon, Underworld’s Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy, Monty Python’s John Cleese, Halloween’s Malcom McDowell, and Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale all lent their voices. Plus, all of the NPC and supporting characters were very well-voiced, as well, which isn’t something you always find in an MMO.
I could tell from the get-go that this game was going to be gorgeous. Through creating my character (which was as elaborate and customizable as you’d expect from an Elder Scrolls game), I got a sense of how things would took. As you can see, I chose a female, Wood Elf Sorcerer. You could choose between a handful of races—including the Khajiit, Dark Elf, Orc and others—as well as a variety of classes. I’ll talk later about how each effects your skill tree.
You are also apart of one of three alliances based on your race: Aldmeri Dominion, Daggerfall Covenant, and Ebonheart Pact. My character, as a Wood Elf, belongs to the Aldmeri Dominion along with the Khajit and High Elfs. From what I can tell from the beta, your alliance dictates your storyline, including where you start and who your supporting NPCs are, much like any other MMO.
After you’ve created your character, you are immediately immersed in the storyline. I don’t want to go into it (I want you to be surprised and excited for the actual game, and it might not be the same anyway) but it’s obvious how absolutely beautiful the game looks. I played on a brand new Alienware hooked up to an HD TV, so that probably helped, but seriously the graphics are amazing. The colors and details are all so rich, it really makes you want to explore the world just to see more of it. I have this weird obsession with CGI water and the water in this game made me want to jump through the TV and swim in it and drink it, it was that beautiful. Aside from your own character, all of the NPC characters you encounter also look unique and thought out, not just carbon copies of each other.
As I mentioned, your race and class both play roles in how you build your skill tree. I found the leveling up process to be pretty simple. You gain attribute points so you can add permanent additions to stamina, magika and health. You also gain skill points and place them in a variety of areas, as you can see in the screenshot. I had about 10 skills after 3 full days of playing, so leveling up was a good pace. Differing race and class also allows for a variety of weapons and armor. As an elf sorcerer, I started with a bow and ended up switching to a staff instead. And while I started with light armor, you have opportunities to improve your proficiencies (such as through reading books) in order to obtain a greater skill in, say, medium armor. This also applies to crafting.
I didn’t do much crafting since I was more interested in progressing through the beta’s story, but believe me, if you love crafting things, you will love this. Check out the above video from the developers to see it first hand. Along with blacksmithing, there’s alchemy, cooking, and others to keep you busy for a while. I did do a bit of cooking—OK, I made beer—and it was pretty easy to follow and craft. I did end up with a lot of consumables and not a lot of recipes, however, so that was a bit of a problem. I think the crafting enhances the overall experience because it forces you to explore the world, collect materials, and actually make things that your character could use. Even the act of collecting things was engaged or at least made sense. Like instead of some wood just showing up in your inventory, you watch your character chop up a log. Fishing was probably my favorite gathering activity.
The inventory system was also very simple and easy to use. Everything was separated out into categories and you could equip, unequipt, split materials up and destroy things all with a right click. Like I mentioned, I ended up with A LOT of consumables so that tended to weigh down my inventory. Lots of easily collected things from barrels and crates, but not a lot of big ticket items like armor or weapons. You got those by completing the quests, which is pretty typical for an MMO. I liked the look of the character equip module on the left, as well, and I liked that the inventory and character were on the same screen.
Now for the battle gameplay. I thought the skills and weaponry were cool and easy to access through numerical hot keys. I didn’t see anyone with companions yet, but as a sorcerer, I did get a little Familiar minion (he’s the little purple mutant up there) who helped take some hits and keep enemies away from me. The first part of the beta was fine. You were a low level, the enemies were low level, not a problem. But it did get progressively harder to combat enemies that were the same level as you, and especially if there were two or three of them. No surprises there, but you really do have to try and level up quickly in order to stay ahead of the curve. It definitely got frustrating when I died every 2 minutes during a quest. I’d suggest teaming up and doing some quests in a group. Plus, you know, friends and junk!
My main beef with the battle system is that the hot key system only allowed for skills to be keyed, at least that I could see. And the hot key only had room for 5 skills, so hopefully that will improve for the actual game (or you could expand it all along and I’m a moron). This was particularly difficult during battle when you’d want to take a stamina or magika or health potion and you’d have to open your inventory and try and select the correct thing, all the while still trying to fight whatever creature or person you were engaged with.
Overall, I had a ton of fun (if not a bit of frustration) playing this beta and I hope I get another opportunity before the game is released. It’s the type of game that makes you interested in the world and the characters and your place in it, much like its console predecessors. There’s still time to sign up for the beta, if you’d like to try it out for yourself!
The Elder Scrolls Online will be released on April 4, 2014 for PC and Mac and June 30, 2014 for PS4 and Xbox One. You can pre-order The Elder Scrolls Online and The Elder Scrolls Online: Imperial Edition now!