Bowling for Bleakrock…
This past month was a big one for The Elder Scrolls Online. First, Bethesda announced that their MMORPG will ask players to pay a monthly fee to retain access to servers, and then against all odds they confirmed that TESO will also appear on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 after launching for PC next year. Both of these decisions raised a significant number of eyebrows. Firstly because the subscription model is almost dead in the MMO community, and secondly any fan of the humble MMORPG knows that playing them on consoles unreservedly sucks.
It wasn’t until after we spent 90 minutes playing TESO at gamescom that we began to understand the thought processes behind both of those decisions. Despite certain assertions from Zenimax Online Studios, this experience is very much an MMORPG. Our time on Bleakrock Island, suitably filling the role of a starter isle/tutorial area, proved that beyond any doubt.
After spending 20 minutes or so creating our Argonian Sorcerer we spawned into Bleakrock, having been awakened by an NPC who explained that he found us unconscious on the shore and that apparently our soul had been stolen. A cinematic to properly introduce players into the world is still in development, but from there we were free to explore the icy landscape ahead of us in any direction we wished. There was a much grander story arc at play involving a dark covenant worshipping the Daedric gods on the island and a pesky bandit clan who kept kidnapping villagers for whatever reason. But rather than mess about with all that life and death nonsense we decided to help a random civilian who wandered into our path, calmly explaining that his friends had been transformed into skeevers by an evil Necromancer.
We found his friends by simply following markers on the mini-map and using a magical stone in their presence, and from there we came across another random rambler who wanted us to venture into a cave to save her missing warrior band. Now this quest was actually quite different and involved reasoning with a ghostly apparition driven mad by loneliness and greedy adventurers trespassing into his domain, and it was at this point where the distinctly MMO-like structure of TESO felt a bit more like Skyrim.
It’s the high calibre of stories inherent to Bethesda’s consistently inventive and engaging quest design which has enabled The Elder Scrolls series to stay relevant when so many lesser RPGs have faded away, and TESO is undoubtedly at its best when it follows that tradition.
Further adventures involved being transported to the Daedric realm, searching out relevant factual material on a recently deceased adventurer’s shelf, and stealing the hidden innards of every chest we found via skillful bouts of lockpicking, with all of these opportunities for world interaction coming across organically.
Zenimax has recreated Skyrim’s level of environmental interaction expertly and the world therefore feels much more ripe for random exploration as a result.
The more established MMO tropes, like having a hot bar at the bottom of the screen and scrolling through multiple skill screens to have an idea of where to invest skill points, we weren’t fans of. Still, this series’ tradition of only levelling up areas of expertise that you use remains. Players still choose to spend those points towards different combat skills, so it’s possible to level up the Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Nightblade and Sorcerer archetypes in any manner you wish.
Combat on the other hand seemed simple enough, with the ability to roll away from attacks, block and chuck out skills by pressing a numerical key. It’d be easy to imagine that the console versions of TESO will sport a similar system, only the hot bar abilities will be tied to buttons or a press on the D-pad instead.
Overall, our time with TESO was enjoyable and proved to us once and for all that ZeniMax can combine the hallmarks of the titular series with common MMO staples successfully. Our time on Bleakrock was hand-holdy, but that’s to be expected from a tutorial zone.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to sample TESO’s ambitious PvP component, which features hundreds of players fighting to retain possession of individual regions, castles and towns in the name of their clan in a persistent realm, but no doubt that’s being held back for future reveals. Wrap up your time with Skyrim boys and girls, soon they’ll be a new Elder Scrolls in town!
This preview has been lifted in full from Issue 9 of the free-to-read magazine FirstLook. To read more exciting previews check out the latest issue below:
Tags: The Elder Scrolls Online