I am a big Elder Scrolls fan, having put many hundreds of hours into both Oblivion and Skyrim over the years. It seems at least once or twice a year I will get the Skyrim urge again. Elder Scrolls Online seemed like the perfect fit for someone like me who enjoys both Elder Scrolls and MMOs.
I’ve participated in the past 4 beta weekends and have come away somewhat impressed. At first I was a little put off by it because I was so used to MMOs copying the WoW formula. Once I stopped playing the game like WoW and tried to play it like the developers obviously intended, I had a much better time. You can click any of the screenshots that follow in this post for the original 2560×1440 versions.
In ESO, the camera is always controlled by the mouse. You don’t have free movement of your cursor in combat. You literally aim towards what you want to hit. Ranged attacks compensate for lag by homing onto your target as long as your cross hair is close to your enemy when you cast. There are no headshots or anything like that. There is no such thing as targeted heals, they are all either AoE or smart heals.
Basic attacks are made with the left mouse button (click for attack, and hold for heavy attack), and the right mouse button is used for blocking. Holding both mouse buttons simultaneously will interrupt an enemy attack.
Any class can use any weapon type, and they can do so proficiently. A sorcerer with a bow? I’ve done that and it’s viable. A Nightblade (think rogue) with a two-handed axe? Really fun. You have spells on top of your basic weapon attacks which are gained by spending skill points. These skills level up individually the more you use them.
Skills are divided up into class skills, weapon skills, faction skills, racial skills, and crafting skills. You get a skill point every level and after every 3 Skyshards you find throughout the world (there are hundreds of Skyshards), and as well as a few from quests and dungeons. You would need something like ~450 skill points to max out every skill available to your character because each skill can also morph into a different one by spending another skill point once you’ve leveled it enough.
Sound confusing? It’s not really once you’re actually playing it. You can only use 5 skills at a time on your action bar, but when you reach level 15 you are able to swap between weapon sets in combat and each weapon set can have a different action bar. Also keep in mind a lot of the skills, like the crafting ones, are completely passive and don’t need to be slotted into your action bar to work.
Yes, you need to sometimes choose between getting a more powerful spell and being able to craft better. The good news is, there’s a ton of them available to you. 50 from levels, 100+ from Skyshards, and several from other sources. The game really encourages exploration. Without exploring, you will be missing out on a ton of skill points.
That brings me to crafting. The crazy thing about ESO is that the best gear in the game is crafted, not dropped. Don’t get me wrong, drops are still very useful because it takes a lot of time and effort to craft the very best gear. You also need to destroy gear with affixes on it that you want for your own crafted gear, so I wouldn’t say that high-end content can be ignored. Being able to craft high-end gear is something I am looking forward to because ESO is going to be my “secondary” MMO which means I cannot devote as much time to it.
You don’t need to choose which profession you want to do per character, you can do them all innately. Clothier (light and medium armor), Blacksmithing (heavy armor and melee weapons), Woodworking (bows and staves), and Provisioning (cooking), Alchemy, and Enchanting. You don’t need any special tools to harvest materials, like metal ores, out in the world. You just interact with them. You can spend skill points in whatever professions you want to specialize in.
There’s no such thing as an auction house in ESO. All your trading must be done directly with players or through guild stores which can be set up in Cyrodil.
Large scale PvP seems to be one of the main selling points of the game. There are 3 factions in ESO and all will be battling in the central Cyrodil zone which is a permanent PvP zone. All other zones in the game are PvE as far as I know. There are no PvP or PvE servers. If you don’t want to PvP you simply don’t go into Cyrodil.
But you’d probably be missing one of the biggest draws of the game which is the massive combat which can involve hundreds of players, siege weapons, battering rams, castles, keeps, and other fun stuff. I didn’t dabble in it too much in beta since I was so busy rerolling new characters finding out what I enjoyed the most.
Aside from PvP, there is your traditional questing and dungeons, world bosses, random encounters, and the dark anchors. Dungeons come in many forms, including soloable dungeons and public dungeons where you may or may not have help. The more difficult content is instanced and requires a group of 4. Zenimax has been very quiet on their plans for raiding content, but they say it’s coming.
After trying out as many combinations as I could, I am torn between a two-handed weapon Nightblade and a restoration staff Sorcerer right now. Out of the 3 factions, I liked the Aldmeri Dominion the most so I will probably start there.
As a hunter, the archery combat is a little disappointing to be honest. I’ll use a bow as my secondary weapon on a melee character, but that will only really be used for opening sneak attacks before switching back to melee.
Pets are another hunter feature that is sorely lacking in ESO. Sorcerers do have a skill line to summon daedric creatures but the pet system is very basic. They are on permanent assist mode and you cannot control them at all. They will sometimes tank for you, and other times it just doesn’t work.
Mounts are not very varied, at least for now. There are just different colored horses. The cool thing about mounts is you can level them up by feeding them different types of food once a day. You can increase their speed, stamina, and bag space.
The game allows addons much the same way WoW does, and I am grateful for that because the vanilla ESO interface is incredibly minimalistic. I understand they want immersion, but I can’t play a MMO without scrolling combat text. Thankfully there’s already an addon for that, with many more to come I am sure.
I haven’t mentioned the graphics at this point because I think the screens speak for themselves. It’s a beautiful game, and will definitely take advantage of higher end hardware if you have it. The game has an accelerated day-night cycle so you will get to see its breathtaking sunsets quite often.
I had a lot of fun just exploring Tamriel and taking it all in at a relaxed pace. I’m not going to give a shit about item level or ranks or any of that here. I’m just going to explore, dabble in some mass PvP combat, and enjoy myself. I’ll keep the min-maxing and progression-oriented gameplay to WoW.
If you haven’t tried ESO yet, unfortunately this weekend was the final beta before launch (on April 4), but maybe Zenimax will have some kind of promotion to allow people to try without buying. This game is complimentary to WoW. It’s not a WoW replacement. It’s not even in the same league. But I do think it’s worth playing, at least for a few months. We do have a lot of gaming time to kill before Warlords, don’t we?