The Elder Scrolls series has always tantalized players with the promise of a massive world, one roughly the size of an MMO, through which players could adventure on their own. Of course, there were a lot of people out there who always wondered why the Elder Scrolls experience had to be a solitary one, and Bethesda has responded to the cries (and the dollars held out with people saying “Shut up and take my money!”) to finally unleash an MMO edition of the much loved series. Bethesda was on hand at E3 to give journalists a taste of what it was going to be like stepping into the world of Tamriel with other people around. As you’d expect, this was both enchanting and irritating at the same time.
Keep in mind two things; this MMO is still a long way from release and it’s being developed under the Bethesda flag, a company which is notorious for releasing buggy games. At this early stage, it should not surprise anyone that the game wasn’t a smooth, polished experience, it’s still early days.
The press got some hands-on time at some point near the beginning of the game, with level five characters that showed off a few of the early character development options. Unfortunately most of the races and classes were disabled for demo purposes with only the Daggerfall Covenant of Bretons, Red Guard and Orcs available for play. There was a nearby village with many quests available, as well the rest of the forested world to explore if people weren’t in the mood for a guided experience.
By MMO standards, ESO looks pretty good. Of course, the game was being shown on PCs with decent gear in them, so it was no surprise that textures were crisp and frame rates were high. What’s surprising is how much of the Elder Scrolls feel Zenimax Online Studios was able to build into their world. NPCs quest givers have many things to say aside from telling you to go out and kill/gather X amount of things, and the established lore of Tamriel is well represented for people that have played the past games and know the difference between a Dunmer and a Dwemer. One big point of appeal for fans of the series is that chronologically, this game—like The Old Republic MMO—is a massive prequel, taking place 1000 years before the events of the latest game, Skyrim. It’s time when a Daedric Prince is aggressively trying to conquer the land, and all the races are taking steps to ensure their survival.
As to be expected from the beginning of any MMO, the quests available weren’t too ambitious. Missions ranged from running around a flaming town throwing buckets of water to extinguish the fires, to the usual “grocery list” missions that required a certain amount of enemies killed and looted in order to return the quest-specific loot back to the requesting NPC. There were still plenty of trademark Bethesda bugs on show; some corpses couldn’t be looted, and some fires refused to respond to the water filled bucket, but a new wrinkle is contending with other players. Experienced MMO veterans will be familiar with the irritation of fighting something for a mission only to have another random player run over the deal the killing blow. With a bunch of journalists all starting near the same village for demo purposes, it was bound to happen here too.
As such, it’s hard to make any recommendations positive or negative about The Elder Scrolls Online. No MMO can be accurately judged by its opening hours, and this is even less fair when the game is still in development and bugs are running rampant. What can be confirmed at this time is that the graphics look good (at least on the PC, which is no surprise) and the mechanics and lore of the world feel familiar. The game is still slated for a 2014 release on PCs, Macs, the Xbox One and Playstation 4.