- Hands On With Elder Scrolls Online
- Quests, Visuals, and Conclusion
Of all the recent fantasy gaming properties, the Elder Scrolls series would seem best poised to work as an MMORPG. Ever since the first chapter, Arena, was released in 1994, the Bethesda Softworks saga has focused on giving the player the most immersive open-world existence possible. Want to follow the story? Go for it. Prefer to live your life your way, whether it’s weaving clothing or butchering monsters or studying in libraries? Do that instead. About the only thing that distinguished the Elder Scrolls games from popular MMORPGs like World of Warcraft was the lack of other people—the underlying philosophy was the same.
So the only thing shocking about Bethesda’s latest project, Elder Scrolls Online, which officially merges the single-player and MMORPG worlds, is that it didn’t come around sooner. After some six years of development, it now reveals itself to be exactly what you’d expect: a multiplayer rendition of the land of Tamriel, where you have the option of completing an ostensibly endless series of quests to advance your character and discover some writer-provided narrative secrets, or choose the careers and hobbies you pursue on the ever-shifting landscape of a rich and expansive fantasy world.
Though Elder Scrolls Online isn’t slated for release until early April, PCMag.com received the chance to play it ahead of time. What follows is our hands on with it in standard mode; we weren’t allowed to test player-versus-player (PvP) functionality, but will do that as soon as we’re able and report back on what we discover.
Elder Scrolls Online is, at its heart, an Elder Scrolls game, and that heritage is evident in every moment of its game play. After you fire up the game (the beta version we tested required a hefty 24GB download), you must create either a male or female character from a familiar assortment of nine races (orcs, Bretons, high elves, and so on) and three alliances, choose one of five professions, and then customize your avatar’s looks. You have nearly as many options for doing this as you did in the most recent single-player game, Skyrim: You can tweak everything from facial hair and tattoos to body weight and nose width. Recreate yourself or devise a new personality entirely—just about anything is possible with these detailed tools.
Once your character is established, you’ll begin as you always do in Elder Scrolls games: in prison. But you don’t stay there long: Almost immediately you’re brought to a ritual room and sacrificed, at that point you’re thrust into the realm of Oblivion (the setting for the fourth game in the series), which functions as a tutorial of sorts. You meet a mysterious figure called only The Prophet, then are escorted to (relative) safety on a madcap dash through the dimension, learning the intricacies of weapons, magic, and character interaction along the way. Before long, one person’s brave sacrifice ejects you back into Tamriel, and the game proper begins.
There’s still a bit of railroading left after landing, however: You’re guided, rather unceremoniously, into a few quests that introduce you a bit more to the world you’re in. But you also have additional freedom, and may either follow the established path—and attempt to learn who The Prophet is and what he wants of you—or go your own way. The latter option is a bit difficult at first, given your relative inexperience, but improving your skills and growing are integral to the game, so it won’t be long before you’re well positioned to live exactly the kind of life you want (whatever that may be).
Character and Interface
Once you’ve become sufficiently versed in some skills, you can “morph” them into others, which will retain all (or most) of their previous benefits, but add new ones as well. A creature summoning spell one of my characters used, for example, could morph to summon a different kind of being or one that behaved in a certain way. Ultimate abilities also unlock once you’ve reached a certain proficiency: These are special passive skills that you can toggle (on the PC by hitting the R key) to do extra damage or achieve other desired effects—but no matter how many you’ve acquired, you’re limited to using one at a time.
You can arrange commonly used skills in a quick launch bar at the bottom of the screen, and access them by hitting the appropriate key on the keyboard. You don’t have many of these macro slots—just five for individual skills—so you have to populate them wisely. You may also load items into a special quick-use slot (accessed with the Q key), but I generally found that more trouble than it was worth as I frequently hit Q when I meant to use W to move forward.