Alright, it’s not strictly a first look but it’s still an early one! 🙂 This post is going to talk about the game and some of its features, and document some of my initial experiences and thoughts on this part of the Elder Scrolls franchise. I generally dislike opinion pieces from disappointed users with a strong existing bias over particular issues/elements of a game so I try to avoid swaying people in one direction or another – it’s better to play and form your own opinions, without another person’s experience dictating yours!
As in every Elder Scrolls game, you begin as a prisoner. This time your cell is in a realm of Oblivion called Coldharbour, full of other soulless enslaved mortals and servants of Molag Bal.
After learning the ropes and escaping this plane, your chosen faction will determine where you are transported to. The game is set 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim.
My Dark Elf washed up on the shores of Bleakrock Island, part of the province of Skyrim. I ran a bunch of side quests, collected ores and insect parts, and increased a few skills by reading books and cooking. I won’t spoil any more of the storyline, but the fact is that I didn’t actually have time over the Beta weekend to advance beyond about 6 hours’ worth of gameplay. 🙁
The naming system is quite flexible – you can have up to four spaces, hyphens or apostrophes, allowing for more combinations and lore-friendly names. Early on in the game I passed “Rhaegar Targaryen” the Dunmer and “Breton Killer” the Nord, as well as a few Argonians with appropriately hyphenated names. I’m looking forward to some crazy naming possibilities…
You can choose from 11 different races (who fit into 3 factions), and have four classes to pick from, after which you can learn from skill trees in-game to create a truly unique character – if you want to be a heavy armour-wearing mage, feel free! However, controversy began recently when the game announced its “Imperial Edition” (available in a physical copy or digital download), which is the only way players can make an Imperial character. It did seem like a money-grabbing stunt (do they want less Imperials in the game? Is there a lore-friendly reason for this?), and I would’ve bought a collector’s edition regardless, but at the end of the day it’s not exactly “unavailable” – you just have to fork out an extra $20 or so, and, if I’m correct, you can upgrade your standard edition at any time.
Characters are far less ugly than in Oblivion, and you have a good amount of customisation (for an MMO). Everyone seems a bit too clean and pretty, and there is a “cartoonish” element which breaks the immersion a little. NPC interaction is more fully-fleshed than other MMOs, their expressions change and there are new voice actors , including quite a few big names, like Michael Gambon, John Cleese, Kate Beckinsale, and Bill Nighy.
I would sum it up with, “pretty, but hardly ground-breaking”. ESO is designed to be played by the “lowest common denominator” of graphics capability (older PCs, casual players, laptop users, and uh, console gamers) – the minimum graphics settings are like something from a very early 2000s RPG, while my PC (made up of mostly 4-year old mid-range parts) doesn’t struggle at all on the highest settings. The only thing I turned off was the awful bloom. I liked being in the ESO incarnation of Tamriel, but realistically am not sure whether it will age very well.
You can’t always see others in your group if you’re in an instanced area – you only see an arrow indicating their movements in a “parallel” instance. If they make progress on a quest you’re doing together, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone in the group – you still have to trigger parts of quests yourself. However, if you and other players (who are ungrouped) bring down an enemy together, it still counts towards the quest. I believe some phasing issues are still being ironed out, but it’s promising so far – ESO works on a “megaserver” which means no more picking servers or having paid character transfers just to join your friends.
Some people are finding ESO like a “multiplayer Skyrim”, others are finding it “just another MMO”. I think it sits somewhere in between, which is fine. My expectations for a genuinely co-op (two-player) Elder Scrolls game would be considerably higher.
The UI designed to be user-friendly across consoles. I liked the sort functions and found it intuitive for the most part. Crafting was less intuitive but still a welcome change. The map/compass system is very similar to Oblivion/Skyrim. First-person view isn’t bad, though the third-person view is off-center by default, so am hoping there is some way of changing this.
For me, ESO gameplay got more immersive as it went on. Speed was a contributing factor to this, and it’s a lot quicker to get from A to B than say, vanilla World of Warcraft. You can also unlock quick travel, and your character runs automatically (with a sprint option for as long as your stamina lasts).
Quests move quickly so you’re less likely to get bored or frustrated, and the game is much more quest-oriented with hardly any grinding. Exploration is pretty enjoyable, but the rumour is that more of Tamriel will be unlocked with future expansions.
Combat is in first or third-person, and more fun than typical MMO number-bashing, but it is still somewhat clunky. Things like mining will gradually draw the attention of nearby enemies. In general, weapon skills and combat don’t require great accuracy but still require some smart tactics for bosses or groups of mobs.
PVP was not enabled in the Beta so I can’t comment on this.
Themes from Skyrim are interwoven in the ESO soundtrack – it’s lovely to hear reworkings of those familiar melodies but Jeremy Soule doesn’t appear to have been involved this time around (except for some cinematic stuff), which was evident as soon as I opened the game and heard the theme. The music is pretty enjoyable but it didn’t have the same bombastic (or beautiful) quality, and sounds all digitally composed. Music also seems to change quite seamlessly depending on the sort of scene you’re in; for instance, tense music accompanies stuff like heading into a town under siege, appropriate exciting music for battles, or calmer, ambient tracks for just exploring. Read more about how ESO chose to integrate music here.
- This isn’t a “multiplayer Skyrim”, but it is probably the closest thing to it. I have found it less immersive than Elder Scrolls 3, 4 & 5, perhaps because it doesn’t have quite the same “soul” as the ones developed by Bethesda.
- It’s worth playing ESO with an open mind, rather than going in with expectations of something better than Skyrim in terms of graphics and gameplay. Do I recommend the game? Yes, if you like MMOs. Otherwise, I recommend trying it out at least beyond the intro and starting area.
- I can’t wait to unpack my Imperial Edition and get that early access – I’m already itching to get back into the world! That Molag Bal statue is going to look nice next to Alduin, too… [/brag mode]
I’ll probably post again about ESO after the game is officially released! If you’re an Elder Scrolls fan, what are your thoughts? Did you get a Beta key, or do you like what you’ve seen so far? Do you love or loathe the framework of MMORPGs? What is your favourite race to play, and will you be tempted to try another race in ESO?