During gamescom I attended a hands-on preview session for ZeniMax Online Studios’ debut project, The Elder Scrolls Online. This title has reportedly been in development for over six years so it’s fair to say that I went into the preview session with high expectations for this MMORPG set in the rich fantasy world of The Elder Scrolls.
After sitting down at a high-end PC on which the game was running, my first task was to choose between three races out of the nine which the final game will boast. Once I had customised my character it was time to get acquainted with the sights, sounds and inhabitants of Bleakrock Isle – an island off the coast of Skyrim where the game begins.
It wasn’t very long before I was setting off on my very first quest whose destination was conveniently marked on the in-game map. If you need to get around the map quickly then you can warp to marked locations, although it will cost you. This is a very useful feature because the quests I accepted were typically multi-tiered affairs which took me all over the map. The Elder Scrolls Online’s quests surprised me with their complexity and story-driven nature, since the last MMO I played was Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn where many quests were a simple case of killing a certain number of enemy or delivering a message to a NPC. For example, one quest I undertook tasked me with exploring a cave in order to collect clues which eventually allowed me to discover a mysterious supernatural being’s identity.
The Elder Scrolls Online will feel very familiar to players who’ve sunk many hours into games from the main series such as Skyrim. The game’s graphics strongly resembled Skyrim running on max settings and the action can be viewed from a first-person perspective, just like in previous Elder Scrolls titles. Plenty of attention has also been paid to the game’s sound design, and everything from the fully voiced NPCs to the sounds of nearby animals when you’re out in the wild are spot on.
Speaking of wildlife, there are plenty of creatures roaming the great outdoors to slay and scavenge from. Items can be crafted by gathering materials from animals such as rabbits and crabs so there’s always an incentive to go after smaller prey when you’re exploring the wilderness or on your way to the next mission marker.
Investigating every nook and cranny of the world also yields other prizes, including books to read and tons of items to loot. If you’re keen to expand your knowledge of The Elder Scrolls lore then paging through these books and reading all your journal entries is a sure-fire way to learn the ins and outs of the world’s incredibly rich history and its significant people and places.
Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online should also feel familiar to fans of the series, with the option to dual-wield weapons or equip a shield which can be raised during battle by pressing the right mouse button. Meanwhile, holding down the left mouse button performs a special attack which I found useful for putting a dent in the respective life bars of a pack of wolves which attacked me while I was exploring the wilds.
You can’t pause gameplay so you’ll need to ensure that you have the best possible apparel and accessories equipped before embroiling yourself in battle. After doing a bit of digging I discovered that the game features four accessory slots (costume, neck, ring 1, and ring 2) and seven apparel slots (head, shoulders, hand, legs, feet, waist, and chest). You can also unlock various skills by levelling up and these can be assigned to quick-slots so they’re easily accessible during combat. Accessories, apparel and skills can all be traded with other players so teaming up with friends will be a great way to experience all that the game has to offer in this regard. During my hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls Online I discovered that you can easily add a player to your friends list or group by holding down F when you’re near them.
Based on my time with the game I think Elder Scrolls fans are going to relish the opportunity to explore Skyrim and other familiar locales with their friends, and the game’s intriguing and unique quests are going to provide hours of entertainment whether playing alone or teamed up with buddies.
The Elder Scrolls Online will be released for PC, Mac, PS4 and Xbox One during Spring 2013. The game will initially adopt a subscription-based model and may eventually transition into free-to-play territory.