Elder Scrolls Online Hands-on Impressions

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The Elder Scrolls series has made it’s latest game open to the media, and I was able to play the first bit of Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) over the past weekend. I played to level 6, which isn’t terribly far, but that did represent about 5 hours of gameplay, which is far enough in to determine whether you want to continue on or not.

Let me start out by saying that I am a fan of the lore within the Elder Scrolls games, but the series hasn’t been one of my favorites in comparison to others. I played a little bit of Arena and Daggerfall back in the day, but really picked up with the series when Morrowind was released. I played it a little bit on my PC, but at the time, my PC was having a hard time playing the game with it’s amazing (at the time) graphics, so I switched over to playing it on my Xbox. I played Oblivion on the 360, but went back to the PC master race for Skyrim. One thing that made Skyrim great was it’s openness in not only the world in which you played, but the ability to do so many things within the game. You could have many quest lines going at once, you could steal stuff, you could murder everyone, you could mod the game to get married, introduce wacky elements into the game, make your characters settle down and have a family, and even run around naked.

All of that gets lost in ESO.

ESO is, for a lack of a better term, boring. The things that made the previous games, including Skyrim, great, was how much you could actually do within the game. After I beat the main storyline, I had friends who had played 5x longer than I had, yet they hadn’t even gotten halfway through the main story.

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The problem is, before you get to the point of raiding or steady PvP, you have to level your character. Many times, games lose players before they ever get to experience end game content due to a boring leveling phase, and saving everything “cool” until the end. I can’t tell you how many characters I have in other lesser known MMO’s that are hovering about level 10-30 of a 50-60 level cap. That doesn’t mean I don’t play other MMO’s all the way. I have multiple 90’s in WoW (and had 60’s in vanilla), I have a max level character in games such as Guild Wars, Neverwinter, and more. However, I’m not so sure I’ll be able to add ESO to that list, solely because, I’m not sure I will even buy it.

The game starts out as most Elder Scrolls games do. You’re in a prison, and you create your character and try to get out. However, this time, you’re dead. You’re in Oblivion, but trying to escape to the real world by following a prophet’s orders to help another prisoner escape. It took me about an hour to get out of the prison, but I wouldn’t say because I’m slow, but rather because I was trying to do things I’ve done before in the prisons, yet couldn’t do here. Almost always, there is something you can steal, but stealing isn’t an option. You can also go nuts and start killing people, but no dice there either. You have to fight a bit to get out, and avoid traps and such, so it’s not totally different.

Once you get out, you wash up on shore in Skyrim. It’s not quite the Skyrim you remember from before, but you run up and start actually questing. As you begin to quest, you start to realize that every quest is a dull, “follow the arrow” kind of quest. There isn’t really any exploring to do, you are just stuck in a rut of trying to get the quests done to level up. Before in Elder Scrolls games, I wasn’t so worried about leveling up, but rather what kind of gear I could find, and I would only work on leveling if I really had to. Plus, if you got too frustrated, a simple console command gave you all the power you needed.

None of that applies here. The gear rarely comes, and you’re really just trying to get that number up to whatever it needs to be to do the next thing. There are side quests to do while you’re leveling, so you aren’t stuck in a main story line, but they rarely follow a story line of their own, at least in the small bit I’ve played. It’s just “I’ve lost 3 ‘insert animal’, get them back, I’m scared to move.” The best is when they ask to find people, yet the people are standing in the same area and can be seen by the NPC asking you for the favor. There isn’t a lot of imagination in the quests.

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There is a lot of conversation, which isn’t a terrible thing, but the initial levels are spent fast forwarding through all the small talk to get to whatever the point is. It’s a problem games like Star Wars: The Old Republic ran into too with every quest being a massive cut-scene style conversation. In games like World of Warcraft, Rift, or even in the upcoming Wildstar, you get the quest text in one bubble that you can easily get out of and just see what you need to see. Some people are loremasters and enjoy reading the walls of text that come in these early quests so they know where they are coming from once they reach max level, but many times in the early questing stage, you just want to get to the point. The problem is, if you aren’t up on Elder Scrolls lore before going in, then you probably won’t understand it anyway.

I didn’t get to experience many cool parts of the game before getting bored. I tried to buy a mount, but it cost about 20x the gold that I had. I didn’t get to PvP, although there is a massive PvP event this weekend. The combat system is more similar to games like Guild Wars 2, where you can see the cone of damage coming at you so you can dodge it. However, unlike other TES games, you now get talents to use on your number keys. I played an Ardent Flame Dragonknight, which is a melee DPS character. I had a Scorpion-like “get over here” chain, a fire slash, and my trusty mace which I could swing into a cone in front of me. It took me about 3 hours before I finally found an upgrade to the mace I found in the prison at the beginning.

Bottom line, it seems like they should have just taken this story and turned it into a sixth Elder Scrolls game. It was just a beta, but the game comes out in less than two months on PC. Considering the other games that are coming out soon, such as Destiny, Wildstar, and World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor – I’m not sure this game will last long. It’s entering a realm it’s not prepared to enter. There isn’t a lot of coming back from a disastrous MMO, but I would imagine the game wouldn’t last more than 2-3 years.

I am looking forward to seeing what the PvP event is like. Hopefully there is more there to interest me. But in the first few hours, I had no incentive to continue playing. Especially with a Wildstar beta invite sitting in my email.

But I’ll talk about that game later.

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Jon Lunceford is a sports media broadcaster and digital professional. Jon is a graduate of the University of Alabama school of journalism, and played football at Birmingham-Southern College. He has also won two AHSAA Football State Championships while at Homewood High School and was a two-time World Cyber Games Team USA representative. He currently hosts Primetime on WJOX 94.5 and runs the high school athletics site JoxPreps.