As the release date for The Elder Scrolls Online approaches, collaborators Bethesda and Zenimax Online Studios invited members of the press for an exclusive preview of what was to come. I was lucky enough to get a key to the media beta and so my week full of adventures in Tamriel commenced. I will be accepting questions through the comments section, so please feel free to post and inquire if there’s something you want to know or need clarification on.
You’ll find my overall impressions of the game below, but be sure to check out Elite Monster’s extended coverage including additional features on the game’s combat, crafting and questing, as well as overviews of ESO’s character builder and expansive skill tree and leveling system.
Upon launching the game, I couldn’t help but immediately take notice of the stunning graphics. Vibrant colors and brilliant lights burst from every angle of my screen, allowing me to take in the exceedingly fine details of the virtual world that I was surrounded by. The landscape was incredibly scenic, and one could plainly see that a great deal of thought and artistic talent had gone into creating these realistic yet fantastical images.
While some of the zones seemed recycled and archetypical, there were plenty of original environments. One scene that I found particularly captivating was the caldera of an active volcano and the areas surrounding it, which included an inhabited village where rivers of lava flowing directly through the center of town didn’t appear to prevent the townspeople from engaging in petty squabbles with one another. Another notable location was a zone where the landscape was peppered with mushrooms, ranging in size from skyscraper height, to little guys that could fit in the palm of your hand.
Throughout the entire play test, my game settings were maxed out on the highest quality option available for every setting, and I never experienced any latency in the game. Not even once. The load time between zones was minimal, and the rendering of objects within different areas of a given zone was seamless, as one would expect from a game with an open world.
The game itself was, of course, highly enjoyable. I was forced to cut myself off and take a break after playing for so many consecutive hours that my vision grew fuzzy and any lights I gazed upon had halos encircling them. We gamers are certainly not known for our moderation when it comes to gaming, are we? Needless to say, this online iteration of Tamriel was very immersive. In the back of my mind, I knew it was an MMO style game, but as I played on, I found it to feel much more like an Elder Scrolls Game which happened to take place in an MMO environment. However, ESO doesn’t pander to veterans of the series, so fear not if you happen to be a newcomer.
The world was a vast expanse of multiple zones that transitioned smoothly into one another as players traversed the map. I was fortunately able to fast-travel to areas I had already visited by activating ‘Wayshrines’ I encountered while exploring. Wayshrines occur pretty frequently, so you won’t have to waste much time schlepping your character across the lands. Players can recall their character to any discovered Wayshrine from any location on the map for a price, but traveling from Wayshrine to Wayshrine is free.
Although the learning curve for ESO isn’t too steep in general, there are certain areas of the game that do require a bit more attention. The clever complexities are usually pretty fun once you get the hang of them though, which makes the extra effort totally worth it. Crafting is designed to partially overtake conventional means of item acquisition in the game, and the economy is highly dependent on it. I do wish earning gold from questing and combat was a little easier, but I think the overall economy is fair and balanced.
I was quite impressed by the attention to smaller details and fun quirks of the game. A few particularly charming and humorous examples that highlight this nicely are:
- The diversity of non-enemy animals in the game. In the relatively short time I played, I saw: cows, horses, pigs, cardinals, owls, cats (including one that looked just like my real life seal point Siamese), dogs, bunnies, rats, lizards, snakes, salamanders, butterflies, deer, chickens, fishable fish, and probably more that I’m forgetting. There was also an assortment of miniature dinosaur-esque creatures which appeared to be domesticated. Interestingly enough, I didn’t see any goats, despite the fact that there always seemed to be an abundance of goat meat lying around. I guess we know where all the goats went!
- A cow farmer who yelled at a pig that wandered into his cattle pen, and a poem found in the home of a pig farmer entitled “Ode to Oinkers”, which praised the consistency and deliciousness of pigs (can you tell I’m an animal lover?).
- An NPC who sounded suspiciously like Commander Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager.
- A collectable item that was completely surrounded by lava. The only way to get to it was to cross the molten river and sustain damage in the process. Sacrifices must be made!
- * The distinctive voice of Malukah, a YouTuber who rose to fame by composing and performing beautiful songs about Skyrim, serenading NPCs at Ebonheart’s local inn. She’s really come full circle!
There are still a few kinks to work out, but for the most part, I was able to enjoy the game free of critical bugs and glitches. Some of the issues I encountered even enhanced my enjoyment of the game, as they provided valuable lulz.
Overall, the developers of ESO did a marvelous job of balancing the expectations of MMO gamers while still introducing new concepts and maintaining the context and ambiance of the Elder Scrolls universe. I feel fortunate to have been part of this beta session and I absolutely can’t wait for the game to go live. I’ll see you all in Tamriel!
ADDITIONAL ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE MEDIA BETA COVERAGE: