My Experience in The Elder Scrolls Online (Beta)

Initial Experience

When you first create your character, you’re given the choice of 4 classes, which seem to map onto the standard variety of fighter, thief, wizard, and priest, if not the standard roles.  You’re also given the choice of one of the three factions, and one of the races that make up those factions.  I chose a dragon knight redguard- which put me firmly in the Daggerfall Covenant side.

That done, when first entering TESO, my character was a prisoner.  The spirit of a blind, withered man who appears to be the standard elderly wizened sort appears to the character, proclaiming that he should be ready to go.  Another unforunate unlocked the door, and the game took me through controlling the character, then choosing a weapon, then heading out to meet Lyris Titanborn.  I guessed that she was a Nord- but she’s really a large nord.  And the features looked a bit off.  But then again, the whole area looked off- and after talking to her, I found out that was because I was dead.  Sacrificed in some great ritual, and now, since the prophet came to me, I’m the chosen one.

I tend to dislike such plotlines in MMOs- if they get enough players as you hope they will, the plotline falls down as implausible.

It continues on along a fairly predictable path; you have to rescue the prophet, but Lyris has to exchange herself with the prophet to open his prison; that’s just how the prison works.  Then you get cast out of the area through a portal, and you and the prophet are separated as you are cast through time and space.

The storyline, though a bit hackneyed in places, is pretty engaging.  And the voice acting (where it is- there are some placeholder voices in place) is pretty good.  It’s just as it gets more and more involved, the more like a single-player single playthrough game it becomes.  Think Star Wars: The Old Republic, without the different storylines.  The one thing that seems to be cool- there seem to be real ramifications in your relationships based on your actions.  But the disappointing thing is that by choosing factions based on nationality, and having a single-player storyline running through the game, I’m not optimistic that there will be the opportunity to let the player truly choose the path for the character.

The Systems

  • The inventory system is very remniscient of Skyrim with SkyRE, which is a good thing.  You have pretty standard slots for your armour and weapons and such; and unlock alternate weapon slots after level 15.
  • The combat system is very remnscient of Skyrim; left button controls primary hand attacks, right button controls secondary, and both together control interrupts- the ability to interrupt a long casting skill.  You can also block, which if timed correctly dazes the opponent for a second.  You can also hold down your attack button to charge it into a more damaging version.  You can also tap the direction buttons twice in a direction to dodge in that direction.  You have health, stamina, and magicka, just like in skyrim, and stamina and magicka power your abilities.
  • The skill system is interesting, and a very good way to bring Skyrim in while limiting the options a bit.  You have skill lines that contain active and passive abilities.  One Hand and Shield (which I used this time) has 5 active abilities, 5 passive abilities, and one ultimate ability.  Each of these has a finite number of levels, and the active abilities, once they reach maximum, can be morphed.  At the cost of a skill point, the skill changes, i.e. puncture which was my lower level skill became ransack.  Where puncture was merely a thrusting attack that penetrated armour, ransack adds additional armor penetration and bleeding.  There was also another choice there, so I had to choose between them.  At any given time, you can only have 5 abilities slotted.  You also have an ultimate ability slot for your ultimate ability, that when purchased and slotted, charges as you do a certain action, i.e. for mine, it was while in combat.  When fully charged, it unlocks a very powerful ability.  You can only have one ultimate slotted at any time.  You have a level in the particular skill that’s different from your character level, and affects what your character operates at when using that skill in terms of weapon requirements, etc.  You have a lot of different skill lines, for class, weapon, armor, race, guild, crafts, etc- so there are a lot of places for customization in your skills.
  • The crafting systems is the best that I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s not too much to the level of needing a million reagents to craft anything, but it’s also not a carebear crafting system, where there’s no effort.  You have recipes for each thing that you can craft.  Under each, you have different materials that you can make them out of.  Nodes in the world give you raw ingredients, which you then refine to the form that works with your recipes. Also under each recipe, there are different styles by race that you can learn- you start with the style for your race- merely cosmetic from what I’ve seen.  Then you can add a trait to items, to determine whether its precise and accurate, or whether you train easier with it equipped.  These traits you have to research from having an item of the type that you want to create to destroy and learn the trait.  For example, in order to learn precise for swords, you have to have a sword with precise to research (which destroys the item).  You have to learn the traits individually for each item type.  You can also improve your items, but using ingredients to temper them to the next level.
  • The thing about crafting that I really went back and forth on, but am really on board with is the fact that you have to figure things out.  There wasn’t a tutorial, nor anyone to say do this, then do this.  You have to figure it out.  Not sure if they are going to leave it this way, but I really hope so.  Enchantments (which I haven’t figured out at all yet) and Alchemy (which I have) are good examples of this.  For enchants, you have to have soul gems, which you fill up from your soul siphon skill.  Then you have to have runes (which you find like nodes in game) to create phrases- but they don’t tell you which runes you need.  You find them in books, on scrolls, on recipes.  I think you can also reverse engineer items- but I didn’t get too involved in that part.  The same thing with Alchemy- you get ingredients that have attributes, and you have to combine ingredients with like attributes.  But they don’t tell you- you have to experiment.
  • There are other systems in the game- I know there’s a system for fishing, but I haven’t gotten into it.  There’s also a system for lockpicking; you actually us a tension rod to try to lock the pins into place; depending on the difficulty of the lock, and your skill, you have a time limit, and the range for where you have put the pins is smaller.

All of this seems like it will give the game legs; there are several ways that you can go in terms of your playtime, and you can’t really go through all of them on one character.  Depending on what you’re doing, you can be playing a completely different game than someone else in your particular area.

Impressions of play

In order to reduce load time, the assets in the game defer their rendering based on when they’re ready.  It makes it seem as if the game is ready really quickly.  But there’s a downside to that- if the asset you need to interact with isn’t loaded yet, you can get confused, as there’s no indication that it should even be there, other than your indicator on the compass.

There are quest indicators on the compass to give you an idea of where you are to go, but not necessarily what you are to do.  I like this.  I hate the sparkly path type of lead you through everything you are supposed to do.  On the other side of that are bugs- they become less obvious as it’s not obvious if you’re doing the right thing or if there’s something broken.  Also on the other side of that is the fact that your compass is contextual not just to what question you’re on, but also to distance to target.  So if the quest you’re on has a target that’s outside of a certain radius, then your waypoint might not be there.  But there’s no way to tell if there’s just no waypoint, or you’re outside of the radius.

Books are useful, just like in Skyrim.  Read one, and your skill will go up if it’s an instructional book.  There’s also real quest information in the text; you have to read to complete quests, at least to complete them in the most efficient manner.

You can travel overground to an extent, which makes exploration possible.  In the limited time I had, I couldn’t explore to any great extent, but it’s definitely not a waiting room type game.  That said, in 3 days, about 9-12 hours of play, I played through 3 different areas that were definitely not reachable from each other by overland travel, so there will be some separation of landmasses.

There are instances, but they are few, and seem to be mostly related to strictly storytelling.  This breaks immersion a bit when you’re going to a house that you’re supposed to be breaking into in order to find some evidence, and there’s a toon over there jumping up and down and swinging his sword while another is fighting in another area of the house, and another is standing there just afk.

Conclusion

As of yet, I’ve only been able to get to level 9, so no PvP for me.  There’s also things that if I were paying, I’d be annoyed by.  But I do know that I’ve pre-ordered the game, based purely on my beta experiences, as I hadn’t really had a plan to be in day one before I played.  After each beta experience, it left me thirsting for more.  And I was really interested in seeing where I could take the character.

My Character

Dragon Knight Ardent Flame Skill Line

Dragon Knight Draconic Power Skill Line

Dragon Knight Earthen Heart Skill Line

One Hand and Shield Skill Line

Heavy Armor Skill Line

Redguard Racial Skill Line

Fighter's Guild Skill Line

Morph Skill Example

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