I don’t think it would be a mistake to say that Elder Scrolls Online has become one of the most highly anticipated MMORPGs since the announcement of its development. While the release of the game is scheduled for April 4th, 2014, thousands of people had already had a chance to play it during beta tests, which have been taking place for the last several months. I myself was among their lucky numbers and now I’m excited to share this experience.
The plot of the game was announced before I was invited into the beta test. It was known that the events of the Elder Scrolls Online were going to take place approximately one thousand years before the events of the latest single-player installment, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, which was not surprising considering it’s not the first game in the series to be out of chronological order.
Besides the general timeline, we were also introduced with a little bit of plot. The main villain of the game, a Daedric Prince named Molag Bar, decided to merge the world of the dead with the mortal plane, which would bring chaos upon everyone living in Tamriel. This is where the player comes into play, destined to stop Molag Bar from completing his goal.
But before that moment there is still an entire process of character creation. Here the player can choose one from the three main factions they wish to join: The Daggerfall Covenant, The Aldmeri Dominion, or The Ebonheart Pact. Each of the factions consists of several different races and each of them can become one of the four classes. While the character personalization in the game is less various than in any other Elder Scrolls games that I played, it is still enough to build a unique looking character.
Seeming that waking up in a prison or being transported towards execution has become a sort of a trademark in the Elder Scrolls games, the introduction part of their online brother starts with the player character waking up in a prison cell. A prophet appears before the player and explains that they are dead, trapped in the planes of Oblivion. The prophet asks for the player’s help and in turn he helps them to escape the prison and return to the mortal plane, setting them on the way of becoming a hero capable of stopping Molag Bar.
This introduction, even while following the tradition of the Elder Scrolls series, has become one of my major complaints. The story of a chosen one foretold by ancient scrolls and destined for greatness is an amazing plot device for a single player game which allows anyone who plays to experience being that hero for a period of time. For a multiplayer online game, on the other hand, the idea of a chosen one is never the best solution as it tends to ruin the role-playing element. It is difficult to believe in a story where the player is introduced to be a destined hero while several thousands of other destined heroes are running around the same server.
Speaking of running around, I personally found the controls of the game to be extremely uncomfortable. Granted, they are very intuitive and all of the buttons are doing exactly what I want them to do. But the camera controlled by a mouse is really awkward none the less. Such a system makes it necessary to use both hands at the same time, even to simply run down a road from one location to another, because it is impossible to make turns otherwise. Not to mention that such a system doesn’t allow the player to have an extra ability bar on the side of the screen where players can place abilities out of the main rotation and easily access them.
After getting out of the Wailing Prison I finally got to the main game and concentrated on questing, exploration, and leveling. Here, after my personal disappointment in the general plot of Skyrim, I didn’t have an expectation for the Elder Scrolls Online to be any better. Fortunately, I didn’t stop playing then and there, because the rest of the game easily made up for its every con. The plot of every quest line was really well-done, with good, developed characters and complex moral choices. In fact, having leveled beyond level 10, I haven’t encountered a single repetitive quest, which on its own was a breath of fresh air in the online multiplayer games genre.
The leveling in the game is also balanced. The first ten levels were gained fast enough not to be stuck in the beginner’s location for too long, but long enough to enjoy the majority of the storyline and quests introduced there. What I liked about the leveling the most was the way the developers managed to combine the traditional Elder Scrolls leveling system, where each of the character skills grows stronger depending on how often the player uses them, with the system more often used in MMORPG games, where the player character gains new abilities while progressing in levels.
The combat system in the ESO isn’t innovative, but each of the encounters has a good balance between character’s stats and the player’s skill where the player still needs to rely on their level and gear, but at the same time can’t simply stay in one place during the combat, needing to dodge the enemies projectiles or block their special attacks. Every enemy encountered is also in a range of one or two levels within the character level, which makes the battles challenging but not over the top.
Besides the engaging plot and balanced encounters, the world of the Elder Scrolls is simply a beautiful place to explore. Players can travel through all of Tamriel and are allowed to revisit familiar locations from the previous installments like Morrowind and Skyrim. Every continent or city looks unique and well designed. Not to mention that wandering around locations, even without anyone guiding the player there for a quest, has rewards beyond the enjoyment of the scenery. Good loot and crafting materials are scattered all around the world.
The crafting system in the game is worth mentioning as well. So far this system looked like one of the most comprehensible and easy to understand among any other MMORPG I’ve tried. Granted that there was a little inconvenience in finding how to refine raw materials, which set me off a little. But after finding this simple function, everything seemed to get into places without further complications. What appealed to me the most about crafting was the seeming lack of grinding. I managed to level several crafting skills pretty high for my level with the materials I picked while exploring and doing quests. The game developers mentioned that it was in fact their original plan to reduce grinding to a minimum and make crafting a more natural part of the game.
Another aspect of the game, which appealed to me personally, was the PvP system. As a mostly PvE player, I prefer to concentrate on the plot and quest more so than fighting other players. Unfortunately, what often happens to me in multiplayer games is that I encounter people from opposite factions traveling around the world and killing other players for fun. I’m not sure what kind of fun it can be for a group of high level characters to ambush lower levels who don’t stand a chance against them, but I can guarantee that there is no fun in it for the ones being ambushed. Fortunately, the only place you can fight other players is Cyrodiil, a province designed for PvP specifically. Reachable at level 10, it contains many battlegrounds, towns, and fortresses to siege. Other than that, there is no PvP allowed in the world. From another perspective, an attempt to keep PvP harassment out of the game may have gone a little too far as ESO hasn’t presented players with a dueling option, nor with arenas where the players could have fought each-other at any level or any continent on their own free will.
Overall the game appealed to me more than I expected and I think it has a high potential of becoming a great experience for both the fans of the series and general MMORPG players. The unfitting plot device of a ‘chosen one’ takes away from the roleplaying aspect of the game but is compensated with a great overall plot, just as much as uncomfortable controls are compensated with otherwise the well-balanced combat system. Despite it’s minor flaws, the game is engaging enough to spend hours playing without even noticing it.
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