Impressions: ‘The Elder Scrolls Online’ Beta PvE

I have to say, I am quite impressed. Zenimax Online Studios have made a tremendous start to their bid in the MMORPG genre. Last weekend I was given the opportunity to experience the world of Tamriel in The Elder Scrolls Online – well the PVE side at least. Keep in mind, this is an impressions piece and not a review so only the important details will be present!

Obviously before you start exploring Tamriel you have to choose and create a character. You have three alliances to pledge allegiance with: Daggerfall Convenet, Aldmeri Dominion and Ebonheart Pact. From there you can pick a race. Daggerfall includes: Breton, Orc and Redguard. Aldmeri Dominion have the Altmer, Bosmer and Khajiit. While the Ebonheart Pact contain the Argonians, Dunmer and Nord. Also there is a fourth race, the Imperials, which can join any alliance. Apparently however, you only get that with the collector’s edition which is needless and perhaps a bit greedy. To further shell out money for a subscription based game, just to get a race is a slap in the face. Hopefully it is changed soon because it won’t help their convincing that the subscription model is the way to go.

When all that is done you get to choose between four different classes; Dragonknight, Templar, Sorcerer and Knightblade. With my play through I chose a Nord Templar which I thought might suit the two-handed weapon over the other classes.

Further into the character selection you have an abundance of options to make your character unique. It is the most amount of tools I have been given in any MMORPG I have played which I love, because at the end of the day, it’s about how cool your character looks. Also you have the option to see what your character will look like in Veteran gear which is a handy tool that might even change your choice of class and race.

When you are finally done, your character awakens in a cell to which you must escape and after a bit of searching you encounter an NPC called the Prophet, who is voiced by Golden Globe nominee Michael Gambon (he plays Dumbledore in Harry Potter). Once you are released out of the cell with the help of a prisoner, the tutorial begins. Overall the tutorial is solid; it shows you the basics of all the movements, skills, mechanics and the main story line.

It only takes about 20 minutes, give or take, to complete the tutorial so you are out of there pretty quickly. During the tutorial you begin your talent tree which is shelved into three different categories. It offers a wide range to mix and match your toolbar to provide a good variation of melee and ranged moves depending on your class.

You can also enhance your choices by further developing what style of weapon you use, what armour you wear and also your passive abilities. Each class also has their own racial abilities so that also effects what style of fighting you might choose.

After finishing the campaign you are teleported to Bleakrock Isle which is essentially the beginner’s area. However isn’t really till you get to the mainland that you begin your journey and realise how big this world actually is. When you get to Stonefalls which is the main section when you disembark from Bleakrock, it takes a long time before you move to the next area.

I have probably spent roughly 8-10 hours leveling in Stonefalls alone, and nearly all of that time I have quested. There is an abundance of content and detail in each zone from what I have experienced. Nearly every direction you walk will lead you to a quest, but until you get a mount, you spend a lot of time just walking from point A to B and then sometimes back to A. So while there is a tonne of content, there is a lot of land free with no real significance.

However to counteract that is the inclusion of wayshrines which are essentially quick teleportations that cost with each use. It might cost 50-70 gold (quite cheap actually) to port once, but if you need to port immediately after it will cost around 250-300 gold. It basically means that unless you want to splash the cash to get there quicker, you will have to do a lot of running. Unless you get a lot of money of course in which case you can buy a mount, the cheapest being around 17k gold. The cost does gradually go down however for wayshrines, you just have to be patient.

Perhaps one of the most infuriating things I encountered that involved a lot of running is when you die, you get sent to the nearest wayshrine (unless you have a soul gem). It basically means if you get to the end of fighting through an enemy camp or village, you have to go through the enemies over and over again. I wish it had been similar to World of Warcraft in which you still had to run to your body, but you didn’t have to fight the same enemies again because you were a ghost. It is a huge waste of time and very, very frustrating if you die a couple times. Basically the message is – always have a soul gem. Always.

Now for one of the most important factors for this game to thrive – the combat. As to be expected, the first few levels were quite tedious, as moves and spells were limited and so too was the weapon variety. But as you progress, obviously the weapon bank grows larger and more skills open up. You are armed with five moves and an ultimate attack.

You aren’t restricted to a certain talent tree if you pick a melee tree first or a caster tree, which opens up a lot of different avenues for you to tinker with. Personally, I wish there were more hotkeys to use as having a large variety allows for more diverse attacks but maybe it might be developed later on. As earlier mentioned, you can upgrade a lot of different aspects so by end game the combinations of moves are enormous which might make up for the lack of hotkeys. The enemies however while they are diverse in appearance, they don’t differ from one another.

Alright, take a breather and check out some gameplay footage from the beta test period.

Perhaps towards the end game content there will be more interesting enemy encounters, but from what I have seen so far there leaves much to be desired. I still think the combat needs some tweaking and perhaps a few patches to completely sort it out. A lot of the time animations seem to be non-existent as they still hit you without actually hitting you. It can become quite aggravating because you can’t tell when to dodge an incoming attack.

The audio seems to drop out on occasion too, but I have heard there are patches coming to fix those bugs. I feel like the skill variety that you have to choose from are is the only thing to keep it interesting, otherwise it is an ordinary combat experience.

Obviously, combat isn’t the only thing that will keep you entertained. That is left to quests, dungeons and PVP. At the moment, PVP is set for another weekend so I can’t cannot inform of what it involves. The quests and dungeons however, are a mixed bag. I have not encountered any particularly exciting quests that have kept me thoroughly entertained.

One good aspect about questing though is that while the basic structures of some quests are similar to each other, ZeniMax channels it through different varieties of uses. Another good thing is the depth to which you can learn about different parts of the quests. You can ask quite a number of questions about the area, or about the person you’re looking for. Throughout the quest you also encounter books, notes or leaflets about what has happened in the area. It is one of Elder Scrolls strongest aspects – the depth of their storytelling. It isn’t as enlightening as you would see in an Elder Scrolls game like Skyrim or Morrowind, but it adds a lot for an MMORPG game.

Now for the dungeons. I haven’t have not been able to experiment with many dungeons simply because of my level, and also because there is not enough people in my time zone. I did experience one play through of a dungeon however called Fungal Grotto which is the first dungeon you can clear. I actually found it quite enjoyable, it’s quite basic.

Kill one group of mobs, then another, then another and then you encounter the boss. The boss fights I found to be quite difficult and challenging which I loved, it made you stay on your toes. It is important for dungeons to be bearable, simply because you will be running through them again and again. One thing that disappointed me however was the loot drops. While I got a damn good weapon off the first boss, the final boss dropped nothing.

It allowed me to complete the quest, but what is the point of running through it again if I don’t get loot? I hope it was just a once off, because it completely undermines the point of a dungeon. You clear them because they offer loot that you won’t get from questing or random loot drops. Speaking of loot drops, everyone gets their own loot off bosses and enemies which I really like.

What I don’t like however is the quest objectives that rely on picking up X number of a certain object. Simply because if there are heaps of people around you have to wait until you time it well enough to get the item. It is a needless feature, and essentially just wastes time and frustrates people. It is a poison that this game can do without; you don’t want people to get abusive simply because you got there first. I hope it changes.

Lastly, the visuals and sound effects. Simply put, it is one of the best visually aesthetic MMORPGs you will see. The sunlight effects are brilliant, the world is colorful and detailed and the environment is diverse.

It is a distinctly different art style to what people are accustomed with Elder Scroll games, but any better and most people’s computers  could not cope. It almost seems a bit cartoon-y. I played on Ultra-High and was really impressed. The hearing side of it was, as usual, pleasant on the ears. The soundscape is as good as any other Elder Scrolls game which has always been top notch.

You can listen to the music for hours without getting tired of it which is really important. Like I mentioned before, sometimes the audio drops out in combat but that is being fixed.

Overall it has been a fantastic start to ZeniMax Online’s first MMORPG and it can only get better as the population grows when it is released fully. At the moment it seems a bit empty simply because there are not as many people, well not for my time zone anyway.

I found myself enjoying the game more and more as I continued to level, and I couldn’t wait to play it when I got home from work. That alone is a healthy sign for a good MMORPG. The main thing holding them back is their persistence with the subscription model. It has two different avenues it can take, with each drastically changing how well received the game is. Those being free-to-play, and subscription based.

If it ends up going free-to-play it might well be the best F2P game there has ever been, or it could get lost in the crowd of other subscription based MMORPGs. They can only ride their reputation for so long before people change their mind. No doubt, having a subscription based model would ensure a healthy future full of content. But Bethesda don’t exactly lack in the money department. It will be interesting to see how the future of The Elder Scrolls Online unfolds.