Hands on with the Elder Scrolls Online
Katy Goodman dances in the streets of Daggerfall, participates in a Harvest Festival gone wrong, tanks some evil bugs, and chats with creative director Paul Sage—all with her partner in crime, Robyn Miller.
When I sat down to play the Elder Scrolls Online at E3 this year, I was cautiously excited. As a long time fan of both MMORPGs and the Elder Scrolls series, I worried that an amalgamation of the two entities would come at a sacrifice. In reality, I simply thought an MMO with the RPG scope of games like Skyrim or Oblivion was simply too good to be true.
Well, it would appear that the folks at Zenimax and Bethesda can create things that are too good to be true, and upon sitting down to play the game my collogue Robyn and I were swiftly consumed into the world of Tamriel.
With the character creation, we were inundated with options—not a surprising attribute for a title the bears the Elder Scrolls name. From the races to the general appearances, the interface of the character screen is something that will be familiar to players of the series. Creative director Paul Sage walked over to help us get started, and as I fiddled around with different hair-styles for my Nord he gave us some advice. “You can spend hours on character customization,” he cautioned, “If I were you, I would pick your class and go explore the world.” Heeding his words, I promptly hit the randomize button until I looked like any female Dragon Warrior would—deadly with a hint of blue facial tattoos—and entered the world of Tamriel.
My Dragon Warrior started off at level five in the city of Daggerfall. Everything about the setting was reminiscent of an Elder Scrolls title. In the background, citizens of the town spoke amongst themselves; lively dogs, cats, and chickens roamed the streets, which were lined with detailed taverns and homes teeming with diverse characters. Even without direct interaction, it is apparent that Daggerfall is a living, breathing city that will easily befit the social environment of an MMORPG. Given my sheer excitement of being in a world that begs to be explored, I ran around aimlessly chasing chickens, using my /point and /silly commands, and speaking with every NPC in site. As an avid play of World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls, I felt at home. This meandering about led to the unintentional start of a plethora of quests, something TESO will never run short of. I then, thanks partially to my directional impairedness, became very lost. So naturally I did what any lost character in an MMO should do—/dance.
Seeing my dilemma, or perhaps my striking Nord dance skills, a Bethesda staff member came over and pointed me to the map. Realizing that Robyn and I knew each other, he recommended that we try our hands at a low-level instance located just northwest of the city. He warned that the instance may prove to be challenging, as typically the instances in TESO are meant for 4-man parties. However, he noted that we had a well-balanced duo—with Robyn playing as a Sorceress in the company of her summoned familiar and myself playing as a Dragon Knight with the ability to block and take damage, we had the means to successfully complete the dungeon.
Still lost despite the clarity of the map, Robyn found me and took point as we made our way to the Daggerfall docks. Given my curious nature, I strayed from Robyn’s lead and suddenly found myself crossing a river into a lush woodland area, comparable to the forests of Cyrodil in Oblvion. A deer leapt past me, spooked from my approach, and as I turned to watch it run off into the distance a group of humanoid figures caught my eye—bandits. Unfortunately, they were alerted to my presence and combat ensued.
My previous experience with MMOs created minor difficulties when adjusting to the controls of TESO. I am accustomed to using the mouse for complete movement, with the occasional spell here and there. With the interface in TESO, the movement is done with the traditional arrow pad or keyboard commands and special attacks are assigned to numbers via the action bar; basic attacks are actually done with the mouse. With a left-click your avatar places a light attack, with the left-button held down, your avatar places a heavy attack. With a right-click, your avatar can block attacks. All of this is done in real time with no cool downs, and abilities rely on the amount of magicka you have.
After a few minutes in combat the controls became fluid and responsive, and I regained confidence in my tanking ability. However, even with a solid understanding of the controls, the bandits proved to be formidable opponents fronted by intelligent AI. Fortunately, Robyn came to my aid, and as a tactical tank and DPS duo we took out the bandits and marched on our marry way to Bad Man’s Hollow.
Entering a small cave off the edges of the Daggerfall beachfront, Robyn and I looked upon a woodland glade with a single towering tree at its center. At first I was perplexed—my idea of an instance or dungeon is often a linear set of aggressive monster pulls and boss battles. As of now, this peaceful glade showed no potential for provocation or hostility.
Festival tents lined the outskirts of the glade, and NPCs roamed the area gleefully talking about the harvest. One of the NPCs approached us and gave us a simple task—collect apples and wheat and then place them on the altar of the tree. As asked, Robyn and I gathered the glowing harvest offerings in the surrounding area and placed them on the altar. The NPC then requested that we finish the offering by sprinkling soil on top of the altar. So sprinkle soil we did.
Suddenly, everything in the glade became engulfed in flame and Robyn and I sank into the bellows of a tunnel system.
Hint: It’s a trap.
In a natural Bethesda-esque style, not everything is as it seems; it turns out that the tree being worshipped was actually an ancient Daedra lord. Even low-level dungeons and instances will be accompanied with a story or narrative.
Inside the instance, we met other NPCs who were also entrapped by the same ritual. One of them was a woman who explained that the only way to escape the tunnels and loosen the grasp of the Daedra was to incinerate the roots of the tree. As the tank, I took lead, and the NPCs followed Robyn and I through the maze-like series of tunnels. This instance in particular was filled with insect-like enemies that attacked with both ranged and heavy melee attacks. As total noobs, Robyn and I both had our fair share of dying, which eventually taught us how to work out characters together as a team. We also learned that in death, a player can either choose to resurrect at their body— unsurprisingly for a small price that has yet to be determined—or at a way-shrine, which are places that can be discovered at different locations all over the world.
Alone, we were no match for the insectoids. However, once we learned to combine our ranged DPS and tanking skills, we began to progress swiftly. Using two of my Dragon Warrior abilities, I was able to pull an enemy towards me and impale them with spikes, a potent combination for crowd control that called for accurate timing. Robyn was then able to toss powerful spells from afar without risk of aggro. In the dungeon, it became clear to us that at its core TESO shines as a multiplayer experience.
Once Robyn and I cleared the dungeon and defeated the Daedra we found ourselves wandering back to the city of Daggerfall, where we met a dog who led us to a murder investigation, a quest that would not seem out of place in any Elder Scrolls game.
From our overall experience, TESO provides a sense of familiarityat all levels, an aspect that many Elder Scrolls and MMO fans can take heart it—and one that new players can embrace and enjoy. Unfortunately, as we were drawn into the murder investigation, our time with that game had to come to an end. In the outside world, an echoing voice warned that the show floor was closing for that night. On that note, Robyn and I took off our headsets and re-entered reality, saying goodbye to the world of Tamriel…. for now.
After our play-time, we got to briefly chat with creative director Paul Sage, who provided us with some more insight on the game.
KATY: What is your overall job with The Elder Scrolls Online?
I’m the Creative Director of the project, so basically—
All of the things.
ROBYN: What are you most proud of about the project? If you had to pick a single, favorite aspect, what would it be?
Okay… so, probably—well, that’s a tough question!
If you look at the art, I think that our art team is amazing. When you see the world for the first time, you see that it’s expansive, it’s beautiful, but then you look at our tech team. Not only do you have this beautiful world, but you also have 200 players on screen at once, which is a pretty huge feat. If you’re playing on PC or Mac, or if you have a machine that’s five years old, [the game] still runs really smoothly. It’s hard to say what I’m more proud of from those things. I think the combat system is also really great. Getting an MMO to feel reactive and feel like something that’s really engaging is a real challenge.
Yeah, it’s very unique. I had to adjust to it because I’m so used to using the mouse to move the camera, but it’s a lot more interactive now which is awesome.
And you did get the combat to feel reactive, as well. It’s very intuitive.
Yeah! We have a combat team, and I think they did a great job.
It feels like Skyrim, pretty much. Everything looks like how an Elder Scrolls game would look.
Today you didn’t even play first person, so you know that’s coming. We’re beta, and we have the first person active now. We’re getting a lot of feedback on that.
How has the feedback been so far?
Great. I think the people who want to PVP like to play in third person to get that situational awareness. But if you’re just adventuring in the world, there’s something really cool and engaging about being able to experience it in first person.
There are a lot of easter eggs in Skyrim. Are there any in The Elder Scrolls Online that we can look forward to?
I can promise you that there will be tons of easter eggs in the game. Even if it’s not considered an easter egg, a good example is M’aiq the Liar. M’aiq the Liar makes an appearance in Elder Scrolls a lot, so there will be a little bit of M’aiq for everybody. But how is M’aiq here? It’s a thousand years in the past! Why is M’aiq here?
That’s a very good question!
How will the endgame content work?
Endgame is really interesting. What is “endgame”? Is endgame level 50? When you hit the level cap, if you completed the main quest in the last zone, you realize that you can move from that to another alliance with the same character. So, you have that whole alliance, but now it’s leveled up to 50 versus if you started in that alliance, so it’s an even bigger challenge. If you get through with that alliance, you can move onto the next. There’s hundreds of hours of content available there. That, you know, is straight content. There’s also the Alliance War that we have. We have dungeons, and if you go through the dungeons—the normal dungeons up to 50—then once you get to 50, you get to play what we call the Master Dungeons. At that Master level, you can go in, and it’s that much harder. It’s not just the same dungeon. It’s got a second story and new areas that have opened up. We’ve talked a little bit about Adventure Zones, but we haven’t revealed a lot of details. Adventure Zones are more like if you have a really big group, and you want to go in and take on large challenges. So, there’s a lot of content planned for what you do once you’ve hit the level cap.
How big would you consider a big group to be for that kind of stuff?
A normal group size is 4, so right now a large group is around 24.
The Elder Scrolls Online is set to be released in the Spring of 2014. For more information, visit the official website.