“Elder Scrolls Online,” as the name might imply, is the first venture of the “Elder Scrolls” series into the Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) genre. Set to release for the PC on April 4, 2014, the game has had several open beta tests in the lead-up to the release.
The first impression is pretty promising. As with most Elder Scrolls games, players are free to customize their characters, including facial design, body design and race. A new addition to character creation is the ability to preview your character in basic and advanced gear during character creation, allowing for long-term appearance customization.
Once you create your character, the game falls into another Elder Scrolls tradition by starting as a prisoner and escaping to begin your adventure. But this time, you’re running from the clutches of Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of domination and the father of all vampires.
Once escaped, players appear in the heart of one of the three main factions of the game: the Aldmeri Dominion, the Ebonheart Pact and the Daggerfall Covenant, all of which vie for control of Cyrodiil, the base of operations of Molag Bal and the setting of “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” Your character’s race determines its faction possibilities, which somewhat limits players in choice.
The game is pleasing to play. Like in “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” the music and visuals are highly atmospheric and immersive, which is welcome for an MMO and great for exploring the land of Tamriel. Quests are a mixed bag between MMO-style quests (such as killing a certain number of creatures) and Elder Scrolls-style quests (such as an foiling an assassination attempt on the queen). Almost all characters are fully voiced, with only a few missing lines of dialogue among quest givers, which may appear in the final release. Several high-profile voice actors have been recruited for “Elder Scrolls Online,” including Michael Gambon, John Cleese, Jennifer Hale and Kevin Michael Richardson. Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) are fully voiced as well, with most having a line or two of dialogue as you pass them. Animation quality increased, with animations for everything from opening doors to equipping your character with a new outfit.
Combat in “Elder Scrolls Online” is quite similar to “Skyrim,” with a plethora of swords, bows and magic to fight enemies. Like in “Skyrim,” leveling up allows players to invest an attribute point in health, stamina or magic, and a skill point to get new spells and abilities. However, unlike “Skyrim,” most of the skill point unlocks are active, rather than passive, abilities. These active abilities and spells appear on a quickslot bar and can be fired in combat without having to switch to a spell. Fast-paced combat features faster weapon swings and highly mobile characters and enemies.
Crafting, smithing, enchanting and potion-making all return in “Elder Scrolls Online,” and promise to be even more expansive, such as being able to smith a weapon to have high stats and refine it with a non-arcane quality. Some weapons and armor can even convert to a character’s unique racial style.
By and far, however, the biggest strength of “Elder Scrolls Online” is the player versus player content. Within Cyrodiil, the three warring factions can vie for control of forts and villages and engage in massive battles between hundreds of players. Players can bring deployable siege weapons to the fort and attack the walls. Once the walls are down, players can storm in, swords raised and fight their way to the keep, taking the fort. However, the two factions fighting are not alone. At any time, the third faction may join in the battle, making for an incredible three-way fight between factions.
Overall, the “Elder Scrolls Online” beta are far from the “MMO Skyrim” label that some have placed on it. Beside a few minor bugs and some missing voice lines from NPCs, the game seems to be well worth the $60 price tag at launch, and potentially worth the $15 subscription fee.