E3 2013: Hands-on with The Elder Scrolls Online
I was kind of new, so I figured I’d practice on some sheep first. A little blood, some meat, some fat. Interesting, but kind of simple. I understood some of the basics on how to move and fight, but I figured I should check out the town. Now, I’m kind of old and ugly, so when the dog came at me, I figured it was attacking me. After a few moments, I realized it was friendly and talked to it. It seemed it wanted me to follow it. This was the start of my first quest in The Elder Scrolls Online.
Now, to be clear, I came into my ESO demo at this year’s E3 as a skeptic. I played Star Wars: The Old Republic. I figured “MMO with story” meant kill 10 rats; choose 1, 2, or 3; then look for another quest icon. It’s not a terrible model, but it’s one that left me wondering if there was a better way to do things. Why make it an MMO when you could just do a multiplayer RPG? I’m not sure I know the answer to this yet, but I do feel I’m getting closer.
I know it was only a demo, but my Orc Dragonknight started only at level 6, which was taking me about 10-15 minutes at most other hands-on booths, so I didn’t mind skipping that. Maybe that made this game easier to approach, but the presentation helped a lot too. See, unlike SWTOR, ESO always made me feel as if I was playing an RPG, not an MMO with a forced story attached. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my bounty hunter’s story, but I honestly can’t remember a tenth of the quests, just the story parts. With my quest today from Gibblets the dog, I can recall several details as well as some of the other quests I accidently found along the way.
Let me take that back, actually. It wasn’t an accident. I just didn’t realize I was starting a quest when I talked to them. Yeah, there was an aura that showed me I could talk to that person, but the couple talking about “riding crops” also had that aura (though maybe because those two seemed kind of off). After a day of yellow exclamation points and “kill 10 X,” being able to run around and not see a quest coming a mile away was refreshing.
And this sense of discovery wasn’t limited to just quests. I could pick up almost everything! Bread, sacks of wheat, mead. Rats dropped ears, chickens dropped eggs, and all was good with the world. This will sound odd, but I wasn’t playing an MMO; I was playing an RPG. I was exploring a world, finding things to do, doing them, and in the process, finding more to do. I wasn’t focused on my stats or how trade skills work (yet), but I was running into homes and dry-looting them like a thief. Unlike NPCs in other Elder Scrolls games, no one seemed upset, but maybe that would come later. I doubt I’ll be able to rob people blind in the street, murder a guard, or kill a vendor, but I still felt as if I had a lot more freedom than in a lot of the current MMOs I play. This wasn’t because story was crammed in to fit an MMO mold. In fact, if anything, an MMO might be crammed in to fit an RPG mold. I realized after nearly an hour that all I had killed was some sheep, rats, chickens, and a few NPCs that ambushed me around town as part of one of the quests I discovered. I actually had to force myself out of town to try combat, which is something that rarely happens to me in an MMO these days.
While the game had first-person as an option for combat, I opted to try the third person, since in MMOs, you’re usually at a disadvantage in first-person. It didn’t look so much like an Elder Scrolls game, but the feeling seemed close enough: I had several moves, but they weren’t all on my hotbar at once. I liked having the interrupt option not as a move but as built in skill. It drained a lot of stamina, so I assume it’s universal, and that’s great. I did notice I couldn’t hit wolves with it, which made me wonder if perhaps my Orc was too tall to land that move on them. My other moves were fun too: a chain to pull people to me, thorn armor, an AoE root, and a more powerful strike. They were important, but I couldn’t just faceroll mobs and hope things died, especially when I was killing multiple enemies or chain pulling. I also couldn’t block forever or I’d get tired and have trouble fighting back.
This may sound like a dream to some people, but after playing some other games that seemed like long lost twins, I found that The Elder Scrolls Online was a good change of pace. However, it also made me wonder about its MMO status. The town felt a bit instanced for me. Other players were also running around grabbing these items, it seemed. I couldn’t see their dogs, but I think most of the level 6s that entered the town were doing the same thing I had been doing. Maybe later the quests will involve multiple players and people will have options, but I don’t know how it will work. One clever element of TOR’s group RPG experience was the way conversations were handled. I know a dice roll to decide the fate of the galaxy sounds like a gamble, but I could live with it. It was interesting to see three people damn an NPC and one person roll higher than the other and save him. I don’t know if ESO will have that, or how it will handle that, but I do want to find out.
Massively’s Jasmine Hruschak also previewed ESO at E3, so stay tuned for her impressions!