Those that know me know my current stage of MMO-burnout and overall feelings of disdain with the over-saturated MMO market. With very few exceptions like the upcoming games Neverwinter and Defiance, almost all MMOs seem to follow what is commonly refered to as the “WoW Model.” That is, studios spend inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to make their own copy of World of Warcraft.
While this has left players with a ton of choices, it’s like choosing a carton of white eggs or brown eggs at the grocery store. While they might be just slightly different, unless you’re really nit-picking you can’t tell the difference in taste or smell. The skin looks like it’s a whole new product, but you get the same thing at the core.
With that said, I didn’t actually walk into the press showing of Elder Scrolls Online with any high hopes, and really just expected to see the same game again, this time with a Skyrim-esque outer shell. Boy was I wrong! I was fortunate enough, as well, to have Brian Wheeler (Lead PvP Designer) sitting with me answering my questions during my play session.
Instead of getting our number-row mashing, Everquest / WoW clone, Zenimax and Bethesda decided to take something of a risk in this current market. They have created what I can only think to refer to as the true spiritual successor of a game that some consider to be the greatest PvP-oriented MMO of all time: Dark Age of Camelot.
You may be thinking that I’m crazy, especially because the Elder Scrolls is all about story, and definitely NOT PvP. You would be correct with the second half of that, and after my two-hour play session, I can safely say that what I saw on the PvE and story side of the game thus far is simply phenomenal. It definitely lives up to the Elder Scrolls standards we have grown accustomed to.
From the beautiful scenery, to the fluid action-based combat, the game pushed all of the right buttons for me. While you do have a hot-bar for special abilities, you will not spend the majority of your time just clicking away. Instead, you will be using your mouse clicks to attack and block, and your movement keys to strafe and dodge attacks. The special attacks are just icing on the cake, and definitely not spammable, due to the amount of stamina (or mana depending on class) that they take to use. They are by far the exception to the norm, and only used as a filler, or to unleash fantastic attacks upon your enemy. All of this makes combat feel way more fluid than in other MMOs, and gives you a true feeling of control over your characters actions.
Just as in Oblivion, Skyrim, and the other Elder Scrolls games of the past, fast travel is in place in the form of shrines found throughout the world. These shrines show up on the map in the same manner you’re used to if you’ve played an earlier entry in the series: filled in black before you actually get close enough to activate them, and then filled in white once you are able to jump to them on your own. This makes getting around rather easy. As far as other travel methods, I’ll be the first to admit that I completely forgot to ask about mounts, and whether or not they will be a part of the game.
Now, I mentioned story earlier, and that actually fits in with the game’s questing system. This is probably the part of the game where Zenimax took cues from other MMOs out there. The game’s story is told through dialogue with NPCs who offer up quests. The story changes slightly depending on what dialogue option you choose, but I can see how this system won’t be much different than you would expect anywhere else, and if you want to just click through and not worry about it, you can. While I know that this is how it has to be, since a majority of MMO players don’t care about the lore, it makes me a bit sad that people can miss out on such important pieces of information. The good news is, though, that it is there to be had should the player choose to read/listen to it all. Everything is completely voiced, so it’s entirely possible to just listen and immerse yourself in the mythos.
Unfortunately, there were no PvP demos available at this time. What I was assured of, though, is that it’s coming along well. PvP will take place entirely on the continent of Cyrodil, that way it is by consent only. While the entire continent is open-world PvP, there are PvE quests littered all over the land. These are completely optional, so that those who do not want to deal with a PvP environment won’t have to. What excites me about the PvP elements, is that you’ll be able to jump in as early as level 10 and be viable. While the upper levels will have a bit of an advantage, I’ve been assured that a good level 50 will still be able to be taken down by one or two level 10s if they have at least an equal skill set. There’s nothing more annoying to me that being one- or two-shotted to death by someone way higher level than me. I’ll be glad to be able to fight back, and possibly one-up them for trying to get an easy kill.
Overall, from what I was able to experience, the game stays true to its roots, which is a hard enough concept going from Multiplayer to MMO, let alone Single Player to MMO. It felt like at Elder Scrolls game to me with the perk of now being able to play with my friends. If the PvE can hold up like that throughout the entire game, it will be more than worth the price of admission, and that’s not even including the yet-to-be-seen PvP. And if that is as good as it sounds, The Elder Scrolls Online will be a force to be reckoned with, come release. ESO quickly went from being a game that I didn’t even give a second glance to, to now being my most anticipated title of the year. I can only hope that the release date gets here sooner rather than later. My message to ZeniMax and Bethesda: “Finish your game and take my money!”