Let’s get my bias out of the way: I’m completely addicted to Skyrim.
I’ve been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim pretty consistently since July 11, 2013, putting in 147 hours and completing 48 achievements. Considering my current Steam record is 277.6 hours in Fallout: New Vegas (completing all 75 achievements), that’s still not too shabby. There’s just something (more exactly, a lot of somethings) that draws me into the game: the visuals, the storyline, the fantasy element, the neverending supply of explorable areas and quests, the fun with a bow, etc.
Because of all that, I was extremely excited to be invited into The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) beta. It’s been fun to check out so far. Here are the details you need to know to get a good feel for what the game will be like.
(Note: There are official ESO screenshots and my personal screenshots below. Mine are not quite as high resolution as the official ones.)
It is a time of strife and unrest. Armies of revenants and dark spirits manifest in every corner of Tamriel. Winters grow colder and crops fail. Mystics are plagued by nightmares and portents of doom.
Four years ago, in 2E 578, an arcane explosion of energy in the Imperial City set off mystical aftershocks that swept across Nirn. Mages died or went mad. Supernatural abominations from the plane of Oblivion, the Daedra, appeared in greater numbers than ever before. The constellation of the Serpent grew so large that it dominated the night sky.
So began the grand scheme of Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement. His Dark Anchors, vortexes of evil magic, weaken the barrier between worlds, threatening to merge Nirn and Oblivion into a single, nightmarish hellscape.
In the midst of this chaos, three alliances vie for control of the Imperial City and the White-Gold Tower. High Rock, Sentinel, and Orsinium stand as one, united under the rule of the High King in Wayrest. Valenwood and Elsweyr have forged an alliance of their own with Summerset, while Black Marsh, Morrowind, and Skyrim have formed a third, uneasy pact.
The Daggerfall Covenant. The Aldmeri Dominion. The Ebonheart Pact.
Three armies will take up arms against the Empire, and against each other, to wrest control of the Imperial City and White-Gold Tower from the dark forces of Oblivion itself.
Where do your loyalties lie?
While I don’t have much experience with previous Elder Scrolls games (saw a friend play a good bit of Oblivion), I’ve begun to recognize the depth of storytelling possible in the Elder Scrolls universe. There’s always something interesting happening. You would think that “yet another” game with dragons would be a bit “ho hum,” but Skyrim has been a joy to play, and it’s sort-of fun to find yourself freaking out about a dragon landing near you (trust me, on Legendary, they’re monstrous and terrifying). Even the mythical background to some of the quests in Skyrim is fun, and it seems like that’s what’s playing as the foundation of ESO. And for good reason – there’s lots of good content possible with that kind of rich storytelling heritage and potentials.
I.e. I’m really looking forward to more of it.
Let’s move on to the beta experience – did I see some quality storytelling in it; how were the gameplay, visuals; etc.
While I didn’t have a ton of play time (probably ~45 minutes so far), I did get to experience at least a little bit of what ESO has to offer. Keep in mind, the following is based off very limited time, only PVE (Player vs. Enemy; i.e. no PVP, or Player vs. Player), and only going a couple quests/areas into the world.
On the storyline side, they’re obviously going for the spiritual/mythical aspect as the story backdrop (cf. above). The beginning introduces you squarely to the realm of Molag Bal, as you attempt to flee and return to the land of the living. I was able to complete that quest and check out a couple more once in Tamriel (the continent where ESO takes place, on the planet Nirn).
Overall it whetted my appetite to see more of what ESO has to offer. The side quests were interesting enough that I wanted to find out more, and the main quest is enough of an enigma to keep me excited. The spiritual/mythical aspect has been done in previous games, so what will make this storyline different? Is it completely centered on Molag Bal, or will there be other players and excursions? There’s a lot that could happen there.
On the gameplay side, it’s similar to Skyrim (and I’m assuming Oblivion and previous games), but I’ve noticed some key differences:
- While I didn’t get to interact much with them in my limited gameplay, alliances appear to be a big deal in ESO. There’s the Aldmeri Dominion (Altmer, Bosmer, Khajiit), the Daggerfall Covenant (Orcs, Bretons, Redguards), and the Ebonheart Pact (Dunmer, Argonians, Nords).
- UI-wise, they’re going for a much more MMORPG look with the settings, showing your character in the middle, options on the left, and inventory, etc. on the right. Makes a lot of sense – it gives you a deeper connection to your character and their “stuff.”
- Fighting actions appear to be very similar to Skyrim (I mostly used a bow but tried the sword a little), but there are more fighting abilities available. According to the wiki you can use up to six skills at a time: two weapons skills, three class skills, and an Ultimate Ability. The Ultimate Ability skill is achieved by filling up the Finesse bar through combat.
- Additionally, there are five main stats for all characters (health, magicka, stamina, armor, and power) as well as skill points to level up.
Combat-wise, one thing I had some experience with was an active weapon skill – Poison Arrow. As far as I could tell, I acquired it through continual use of my bow. Being used to Skyrim, once I acquired it I assumed it was a poison placed on an arrow – hence, I would use the skill, then use my bow. However, I shortly found out I was wrong. Pressing the button to use that skill immediately fired a poison arrow from my bow. I was unprepared for the first shot and wasted it on the sand. (If only the enemy would’ve stepped a little to the left.) Next time I was ready, and successfully landed the shot. I’m assuming each weapon skill has its own visual, as the poison arrow had sound-like waves rolling off of it as the arrow left the bow (as opposed to the pretty standard visual for the regular shot).
Since I was already expecting a solid storyline, gameplay, and combat, what really impressed me were the visuals. While I haven’t had extensive experience with MMORPGs, I have had a decent bit (seen many a friend and family member playing World of Warcraft; saw a colleague play EVE Online; personally played Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2), and I’m a stickler for good visuals in modern PC games.
It may be most helpful to describe the ESO visuals this way: ESO has the best visuals of any MMORPG I’ve seen, and it looks like Skyrim with some really good mods installed. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s quite pretty for an MMORPG. I think impressive visuals are key for this type of game, as the realism really draws you into the magic and wonder of the world around you.
I didn’t really have any issues during the first beta weekend – did the intro quest, checked out the netherworld, checked out Tamriel, did a couple more quests, fought some enemies, etc. It’s also quite notable that I had no login- or network-related issues during either beta weekend.
However, there were other issues during the second beta weekend. I was instructed to use the PTS (Public Test Server) installation to launch the game instead of the Beta installation, so I followed those instructions and successfully logged in. However, during the first quest I was unable to leave the cell – I talked to the Prophet, he left, and when I went up to the cell door and tried to get out – nothing. No one came up to break me out like they did during the first beta weekend. I moved back, then forward, pressed “E,” etc. and still couldn’t get out. I logged out of that character, came back in – nothing. Completely exited, came back in – nothing. Created a new character, started the quest again – nothing. Considering I was instructed to use the PTS installation I doubt it was because of that, but needless to say there were quest issues. I’m looking forward to seeing them resolved for the third beta weekend. Keep in mind, this is – dun da dun! – a beta. I’m not mad, upset, anything that I had issues with the quest. It’s understandable, and I’m sure it’ll be fixed very soon.
Conclusion (at least thus far)
All in all, I’m very excited about The Elder Scrolls Online. Considering I only had issues during one of the betas, that the storyline is interesting, the UI makes sense, the combat intrigues me, and the visuals are impressive, I think we’re in for a treat. While I’ve had limited experience, even that limited experience has me excited about the final outcome.
If Bethesda and the ESO team can fix the quest issues, make the gameplay simple yet complex enough, continue to provide quality visuals and storyline, and continue to provide quest after quest and map after map, I’ll be incredibly impressed. I’m already impressed with Skyrim, and sorely addicted.
However, there is one caveat to all of this: cost.
I’m not too thrilled about the ongoing cost of ESO. The up-front cost is $59.99 for the Digital Standard Edition and $79.99 for the Digital Imperial Edition (includes some in-game items). After the initial 30 days, the cost is $14.99 a month. (For comparison, WoW costs $19.99 up-front and $14.99 a month, and Guild Wars 2 costs $49.99 as a one-time fee.)
I don’t mind the up-front cost at all, it’s the ongoing one that makes me pause. I paid $35.99 for the Legendary Edition of Skyrim, and I’ve enjoyed many, many hours of play time. I’m not really into PVP as much as PVE, so having to pay $14.99 a month doesn’t appeal to me as much as waiting for the next standalone Elder Scrolls game (assuming they continue the series). I probably have 100-200 hours of playtime left in Skyrim, which will carry me well into (and possibly through) this year. I much prefer Guild Wars 2‘s purchase system, but I can understand the need to provide funding for ongoing development. And keep in mind, I’m a lover of PVE, but many aren’t. Many will gladly pay $14.99 for a wonderful world with great combat and companionship. I’ll probably be stuck somewhere in the middle – knowing I’d love the world, but not willing to pay $14.99 a month for it.
Those are my conclusions after my first couple of experiences with The Elder Scrolls Online. I hope it was at least helpful, and painted a good picture of what’s in store. It’s an exciting universe to play in, and at this point, it doesn’t disappoint!