The Elder Scrolls Online (PC) Hands-On Preview
Feb 18th, 2014 No Comments
The Elder Scrolls Online is an upcoming MMO based on Bethesda’s flagship fantasy action-RPG property. ZeniMax Online Studios serves as the developer for the ambitious MMO. The studio was founded in 2007 to develop Bethesda’s first foray into the MMO market.
In The Elder Scrolls Online, there is a war brewing in Tamriel. Three Alliances are vying for control of the Ruby Throne in Cyrodil – The Daggerfall Covenant, The Aldmeri Dominion and The Ebonheart Pact. Within each Alliance, one worthy and powerful warrior shall ascend to emperor should their Alliance wrest control of Cyrodil. When you enter the fight for the Ruby Throne, will you have what it takes to rise to the top of your Alliance? Can you lead your Alliance to victory? Do you think you could distinguish yourself enough become emperor?
Players within each of the three Alliances will help further their Alliance’s goals in order to take control of the throne. A singular high-ranking warrior within the successful Alliance will become emperor should they win. In order to maintain that prestige and control of Cyrodil, players will need to maintain a large number of moving parts from controlling territories to Elder Scrolls. The PvP battles are based around massive numbers of warriors on screen fighting at once. PvP combat involves constant give and take between users’ different Alliances and its massive scale. However, it is the game’s more traditional approach to RPG and MMO structure and gameplay that is far more compelling.
When creating a character to set loose in Tamriel, players can choose between the three Alliances. The story, missions and starting location are determined by this choice. During the recent beta weekend, time was spent as Khajiit following the Aldmeri Dominion storyline. Presumably, all Alliances start off in the same place trying to escape from the prison of Molag Bal.
The overarching storyline involves the creeping menace of the Daedric Prince, Molag Bal. The current chaos spreading across Tamriel is the result of an attack that affected the Imperial City, killed mages or drove them mad, and caused Daedra to appear in across Nirn. This attack began Molag Bal’s machinations to merge Nirn and Oblivion into a single entity to conquer and enslave. Dark Anchors appear across Tamriel to further weaken the barriers preventing Nirn and Oblivion to become one.
At the beginning of your time in The Elder Scrolls Online, you find yourself in a nightmarish prison residing in Molag Bal’s domain, Coldharbour. Before you can despair at the misfortune of the pitiful circumstance, a voice tells you to escape. Soon, you find a very sturdy and tall woman, Lyris, who urges you to come with her to meet the voice. Without so much as a way to say no, you are running grabbing what weapons you can and fighting off the monsters that reside in Coldharbour.
Lyris quickly tells you of the predicament you are in, Molag Bal has stolen your soul and you are simply a shell of yourself. However, that is nothing compared to the danger Tamriel finds itself in at the threat of Molag Bal. You must help Lyris rescue a mage called The Prophet. Escaping Coldharbour comes at a price, but luckily you and The Prophet escape to help save Tamriel from the impending doom Molag Bal intends to inflict upon Nirn.
While the overarching storyline involves you helping The Prophet fight the creeping influence of Molag Bal, there is more to see and do in Tamriel than simply combat the world-crushing ambition of a Daedric Prince. After escaping Coldharbour, you become separated from The Prophet, so you have some time to explore the world around you.
As part of The Aldmeri Dominion, you find yourself in Khenarthi’s Roost. Almost immediately after communing with an astral projection of The Prophet, you speak with a Khajit named Razum-Dar, who quickly enlists you into some tasks. There seems to have been a shipwreck leaving Dominion soldiers hurt and stranded on Khenarthi’s Roost. Razum-Dar has you speak with several commanding Dominion officers to investigate a number of different strange occurrences around the island. The immediate task is to look into possible bands of pirates and gain the local populace’s trust to help the Dominion. However, that will not be the only quests you can undertake while in Khenarthi’s Roost.
As you explore larger quests, side quests will pop up on the compass. While in Khenarthi’s Roost, you can take quests that will have you destroy accursed tomes, help local Khajiits, learn about the scourage of Skooma in the Moon Sugar plantations, and stop a powerful Moamer wizard from sending an undead army to enslave the entirety of Khenarthi’s Roost. Regardless of what you do in The Elder Scrolls Online, it is always to move forward. Even if it is simply allowing a grieving Khajiit family time to mourn their father, the quests in The Elder Scrolls Online feel significant due to good writing and a sense of purpose and motivation to quests.
Dominion players are not simply tied to quests on Khenarthi’s Roost. After resolving issues for Razum-Dar, players eventually find themselves on Auridon. This area is much larger area and gives players much more to explore. Here, players can join up with the fighter and mage guilds and continue the main storyline quest. Even though Razum-Dar sent you on your way after preventing the destruction of Khenarthi’s Roost and solving a treaty issue, he is not done with you by a long shot. The person Razum-Dar sends you to see in Auridon eventually leads you down a rabbit hole that involves you preventing an assassination and uncovering a massive conspiracy against the Aldmeri Dominion monarchy. The early time Dominion players spend in The Elder Scrolls Online is not simply killing and collecting items for whiny NPCs, but actually carries a good deal of weight.
One important facet in making a good MMO is relevant and interesting quests that make players feel like they are accomplishing something rather than simply doing chores. The Elder Scrolls Online succeeds in that area with no issue. None of the time spent in Tamriel feels like busy work. Even when quests were minor, the writing helps add weight by inserting some compelling tidbit about why even this smaller concern has relevance to the larger world.
These smaller tasks are easily balanced out by quests that have major ramifications to a player’s chosen Alliance. All of this is without really tackling the main storyline, which should prove even more significant than the Alliance concerns. The Elder Scrolls Online never really feels like you are playing a MMO, but rather a single-player Elder Scrolls experience that happens to have other players around.
Since it feels like a single-player Elder Scrolls game, it has the same rewarding combat the series is known for. Combat is an active engagement requiring players to dodge, aim and constantly balance melee strikes with special moves. For players used to a keyboard setup, The Elder Scrolls Online should feel right at home. However, console users may be better off waiting for the next-gen version of the game. For a game in which players will be constantly engaged in combat, there is a very rewarding feeling to fighting enemies in The Elder Scrolls Online. Not only does take what makes combat addictive in the single-player game, but adds subtle wrinkles to make those elements fit a MMO.
The Elder Scrolls Online is looking extremely promising. While it still has many of the trappings that make an MMO am MMO, it improves upon many of the pitfalls of MMOs. It also adds elements that could attract gamers who are not necessarily fans of MMOs. Its quest structure always have a good amount of movement, so time spent in the game never feels wasted.
Writing is very good. Unlike most MMOs, there is less desire to skip through the text to get to the combat and it actively engages the player in the story it is telling. In some ways, it is a shame that it is a MMO because it would be another amazing single-player Elder Scrolls game. But there are plenty of interesting social and MMO features ZeniMax Online has added to the Elder Scrolls formula.
The PC version of The Elder Scrolls Online launches on April 4 with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions expected to release in June.
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