Of the three classes available, Dragon Knight, Sorcerer, Templar, and the numerous races – Breton, Redguard and Orc, High Elf, Wood Elf, Khajiit – at our hands on session during E3 last week, we rolled a Redguard Dragon Knight.
First impressions were surprisingly good. The graphical fidelity is a lot higher than it appears in the YouTube videos released so far. We were playing in 2560×1440 at Ultra, and the game looked outstanding, while still managing to feel smooth. The lighting is beautiful. The fact that there’s no HUD on the screen for the majority of the time really allows for the player to get immersed into the Elder Scrolls universe.
The health, stamina, and mana bars appear on screen when they’re needed, and the quickbar is small and simple: Q for items, R for ‘Ultimates’, and 1 – 5 for abilities. The user interface could certainly use a few design improvements in places though, the inventory and character screens in particular were very basic.
Straight away we’re presented with the level of depth we can expect to see from Elder Scrolls Online. Levelling up isn’t a case of an arbitrary number increasing, players will be able to assign points to their weapons, armour, and class abilities. – similar to what you’d expect from a traditional Elder Scrolls title.
There’s definitely an emphasis on making Elder Scrolls Online look and feel like the next game in the franchise. The phrase ‘Skyrim 2′ is being thrown around comically, but they’re not far off the mark with that one. ESO is still an RPG after all. The small details in the level design, the art style, the ability to pick up random pieces of food or other miscellaneous items from an NPC’s abode, the way your character can pick up and read books containing lore – it’s all very reminiscent of Skyrim.
There are, of course, MMO aspects that would not feel at home in any other Elder Scrolls game. Some of them are great improvements, such as co-op and competitive gameplay. Bethesda estimate around 200 players can be active on the screen at once. We saw a video demonstration of this, and it look quite laggy, but still, that’s an impressive feat. Realistically, we expect to see around half of that number in game, but that’s still going to be triple the amount of players we’re used to seeing in any given area in other large MMO-games. There are a few annoying aspects carried over from MMO titles too, with NPCs spawning in the same places, and triggering the same battles every time you walk through particular areas. It seems the AI could do with some work, if the world is going to have that ‘lived-in’ sense we’ve come to expect, especially from Morrowind, Oblivion, and more recently, Skyrim.
Our first questing experience in Daggerfall was prompted by the arrival of a seemingly stray dog. The dog approached Tafari, our Redguard Dragon Knight with an expression of urgency, so of course we followed the dog to find out what was wrong. Lying on the floor in some back alley was the body of its owner. We picked up a note lying by the body which lead us on a journey of espionage to solve a plot behind the attempted assassination of a key figure in the game. All very interesting stuff, but the key mechanic here is the way the game introduces you to story elements. We only played for a couple of levels, so we can’t comment on the entirety of the game yet, but we’re hoping to see more of this. If Elder Scrolls Online can bring story to the forefront, and introduce it in such creative ways, while avoiding the typical MMORPG quest-givers, it might just stand a chance of appealing to the Elder Scrolls fans who aren’t usually interested in the MMORPG genre. That’s not going to be an easy task.
The combat feels a little rough and old fashioned, but not at all out of place in the universe. There’s quick and hard attacks, as well as blocking, which will allow some effective Elder Scrolls-style combos. If you time it right and get a good block, you’ll stun your target, giving you time to launch a ‘hard’ attack. Pow!
Don’t write this one off as just another MMORPG. Give Elder Scrolls Online the benefit of the doubt, especially if you’re a fan of the franchise. ESO, putting the RPG back into MMORPG.
Elder Scrolls Online will be released for PC, Mac, and “both” next gen consoles.