When I first put my hands on the keyboard I was nervous that everything that followed would be a huge disappointment. I had little faith that Zenimax and Bethesda could take the award winning experience from Skyrim and apply it to an MMO. While my time with the game did not quell all my fears I am eagerly looking forward to what The Elder Scrolls Online has to offer upon release.
I chose to make an orc Sorcerer named “Tim Orcman” for my preview. I figured magic is always one of the more difficult gameplay styles to make engaging in an MMO and was curious to see how TESO handled the arcane. At level one the combat options were limited to using a fire staff and one spell which used a good portion of my mana. TESO follows in the footsteps of some recent action-MMORGS like Tera or Guild Wars 2 encouraging players to move and block attacks during combat. This keeps the TESO from being compared too closely to World of Warcraft and captures some of the spirit of Skyrim’s combat. If you block an enemy’s attack you can put them in a dazed state that earns you extra experience points. Besides that it was left-clicking to shoot blasts of fire from my staff, summoning a familiar then at later levels throwing some offensive magic.
I started out in the Daggerfall Covenant, one of the game’s three starting areas. This was a desert locale that still managed to keep the feel of previous Elder Scroll games with ample use of Dwemer Ruins and a similar art direction as Skyrim. A local pirate wanted me to help with a handful of tasks that ultimately led to me gaining her trust and safe passage out of the starting area. In a fresh change of pace I was given the option of completing a series of sidequests that promised to make the final quest a cake walk and gave much needed experience points. I could have chosen to skip the sidequests and attempt the zone’s final quest much earlier, but it would have been much more difficult since I wouldn’t have earned the aid of the other quest givers in town. Once I completed the side characters’ stories they promised to offer me some help with my quest.
Leveling borrows more from Oblivion than it does from Skyrim. Once you gain enough xp to increase your level you can spend a point in one of the many talent trees. I chose to spend most of my points in the Daedric Summoning tree but I had the option to place them in different armor skill trees or my other Sorcerer trees. I was told that as you play through the game you will unlock more skill trees from the various guilds’ factions. Advance far enough along the Thieves Guild and you could unlock their skill tree. After spending your point to unlock the skill you gain individual levels for it through use. My Summon Familiar spell gained in strength after summoning several familiars.
The same is true for other non-combat skills. The design of TESO is much more open then previous entries in the series. The creators want to give the player as much choice without punishing their creativity. I could have chosen to spend my points in both the Dark Magic and Heavy Armor trees without any penalties. After you gain a handful of levels combat opens up and you start earning rewards at a fairly constant rate. Being attacked will give you higher skills in you armor tree and attacking will increase whichever tree you decided to spec down. Some of the more powerful spells even require you to have earned certain skill levels. For instance, if you didn’t attack enough with your staff you wouldn’t have earned enough experience in staffs to unlock the deep tree talents. The balance between spending skill points and leveling up skills is definitely something that makes TESO feel like it earns its place with the series.
There are plenty of MMO tropes that pop their annoying heads up to remind you that you are in fact not playing a traditional Elder Scrolls game. The designers try to inject more story within the quests but at the end you still have to kill 8 goblins or escort a friendly NPC. That doesn’t mean that the quests are boring, but fans of Skyrim that have never played an MMO will definitely be disappointed.