PAX East 2013 - Elder Scrolls Online Demo
By Shannon Doyle (Leliah), OnRPG Elder Scribe
Co-Written by Jonathan Doyle (Ardua), OnRPG Journalist
With the exception of the cult following that League of Legends enjoys, the most consistently busy booth at PAX East was that of Elder Scrolls Online. And it was well deserved. This is by far the most beautiful game I have ever seen. The images you will see throughout this article and all over the internet really don’t do it justice. Ardua and I got about 3 hours of game time combined during PAX. We both focused on very different aspects. Of course, we both spent a generous amount of time in the character creator. But once out of it we went different ways. He focused more on combat, the UI, and the main quests while I ran off into the wilds to find, well... to find out what I would find. We ended up crossing paths several times before we had to pry ourselves away to ask Matt Firor few questions before his next appointment. So to make our coverage the most complete we possibly can we’re teaming up.
I could have easily spent the whole two hours I had in the character creator. There is a slider for everything from arm width to foot size. I easily spent ten minutes there before I finally decided to just go with everything preset as it was so I could see the real meat of the game. Lets just say if you want to make a fresh faced teen, or a chubby, round faced bastard not to be trusted, you can do it and anything else you can imagine in between and beyond.
The first time you get asked to help it’s with recruiting three men for a task I won’t go into, spoilers and all. So I accepted one of them then took a right away from the direction the quest wanted me to go. Why? I wanted to see what else was out there. I found a world very much alive with tasks and random NPCs everywhere. The first quest I actually completed required a monkey. Not just any monkey though, this one had a knack for finding treasure. So I brought up that quest on the minimap and lead a monkey around while it uncovered treasure for me to give a man who had somehow lost it all in the sand. And though I didn’t get to experience it I asked about the concerns of the single player story quests making ESO feel more like a single player game that happens to take place in an MMO. These quests are done much like those already seen in MMOs like Guild Wars 2 where they only pop up every few levels. Unlike GW2 though the ones in ESO must be done solo. But this only accounts for a very small portion of the game so it isn’t something to be concerned about.
So Leliah has drafted me (Jonathan "Ardua" Doyle) in to talk about some things. Here we go. Let’s talk UI. It’s clean. Like really really clean. It’s as though Zenimax had a look at Funcom’s The Secret World and said “You call that minimalist? This is minimalist!”
Perhaps it was the nice big monitor I was playing on. Perhaps it was the world distracting me. Whatever it happened to be, I barely noticed what little of the UI that was on the screen. At this point I am half certain that Skyrim players are either scoffing at me or nodding in sage wisdom.
Nothing in any of the windows that I found myself diving into was ever cluttered in my experience or looked ungainly. The on screen display was, as I said, out of the way and not causing me any great trouble or distraction. All in all the game menus and information was out of the way and meant that I could sink into the gorgeous visuals instead.
However we need a disclaimer here. I am one of those odd ducks. I have never played Skyrim. Nor Oblivion. Nor in fact any Bethesda game that I can think of. I just have never had the pleasure. That’s pertinent to the next section as I will be describing content from the perspective of an old school MMORPG player rather than from an Elder Scrolls vet.
I enjoyed the combat on my little level 1 sorcerer. Sure I could have gone with the other classes on offer in the beta but … fireballs. Sword, mace, whatever. FIREBALLS!
As it turned out, and as players of the Elder Scrolls are aware, that isn’t really much of an issue. I equipped a bow (arrows sadly were not fireballs), a two handed hammer and tried my hand at a mace. With me being a complete noob to both the game itself and the franchise in general, I found the ability to opt in to any weapon or armor (from what I could see) to be a really refreshing and enjoyable thing. Yes of course you will not be able to master every last thing in the game. Many things yes but not everything, at least on one character. However it still entertained me to see it was an option.
As for combat itself, it’s exceptionally straight forward. Right mouse button blocks, left mouse button does a basic attack based on the weapon. Hold the left to go for a stronger attack. Other powers, as you get them, will be on the number keys along with a really big stick of a power which I didn’t get to witness as I was just playing in the kids pool down in level 1-land.
It keeps with the ideas put forward by many games recently, notably Neverwinter and The Secret World for me. Fewer powers, more choice.
After getting sucked into Elder Scrolls Online for well over an hour I had to step away, if for nothing else to find out what kind of system requirements it would take to run this beautiful game. As it turns out my Grandmother’s toaster from the 60s could run it, if it had somewhere to plug in a monitor. Elder Scrolls Online will run on just about any computer. It may not be pretty, but it will run. If you want to see the game in all it’s beauty though you may want to start investigating your local kidney black market*
*OnRPG does not suggest or condone the selling of one’s organs for computer upgrades. That’s what little brothers/sisters are for.
I asked the one question I’m sure they heard a million times over. “When is beta?” The answer was soon. So yesterday in my half dazed jet lagged state I was reading Facebook when a little message from ESO popped up announcing that beta keys had been sent out! When they said soon they really meant it! I’m sure mine just got lost in the mail, or eaten by the e-dog.
The Elephant in the Room
Let’s quickly jump back and talk about Elder Scrolls as a franchise. Some people I spoke too over the weekend weren’t exactly blown away with TESO. “It’s just Skyrim with people” some said. Others were very positive and came away having enjoyed the experience.
Me personally? I, as stated, have never played in Bethesda's world. So on that I cannot say things like “If you loved Skyrim’s X you’ll love TESO’s Y!” or the inverse. All I can say is as a clean slate going in and having barely scratched the surface, I was left wanting more. At no time during my various deaths (all my fault), explorations or wild flailings with a staff did I not enjoy myself.
Can I say with certainty that the game delivers on either promises made or fans own imaginings? No I cannot.
All I can say with absolute certainty is that I want to get my hands on it and experience even more. If they can keep that up... leaving me wanting more of the world... it doesn’t matter to me if it is or isn’t Skyrim ONLINE! or whatever detractors or supporters might call it. All that will matter is I want it and that’s enough for me.
That and fireballs.
Before PAX I wasn’t sure what to think about Elder Scrolls Online. I always wanted to know more and felt that need to get my hands on it. Now I’ve played it, told my friends about it, told the internet about it. All that’s left I suppose is to tell ZeniMax shut up and take my money.