The Elder Scrolls Online is one of the most anticipated upcoming MMOs – and was arguably one of the top games of the 2013 Eurogamer Expo – but how does it play?
We got hands-on with the PC version for 20 minutes as a dark elf nightblade – here’s what we loved (and disliked) about the latest Elder Scrolls game.
The full game will have three factions to choose from, each with their own three character classes, as well as in-depth character creation tools, but we jumped straight in as a dark elf as time was short.
The first thing that strikes you about The Elder Scrolls Online is that you know this is not going to be your ordinary MMO. It rejects the typical (and now somewhat boring) HUD layout which is usually crammed full of many small action buttons, text boxes and quest details, and replaces it with a simple clutter-free display.
A tidier row of action command buttons sit at the bottom, which can be customised in the order you like, and above them you have your mana, health and stamina bars. Quest names are displayed on the right.
A quick press of the V key will switch between third-person and first-person viewpoints, while C brings up your character upgrade and skills box, and I lists your inventory. Standard stuff, but it looks easier on the eye and feels more intuitive than games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. Playing in first-person is a delight and really works. It just feels like an Elder Scrolls game from the off, which is reassuring, considering the early build looked more like WoW.
Conversations aren’t static – you’re not talked at, and there aren’t reams of dialogue to soft through. There’s just a few lines or so on the right, with three or four responses to choose from below them. The camera zooms in to whoever you’re speaking to and places them on the left side of the screen, with text on the right.
On to the gameplay… our demo started in a hall with a few other players who were strafing into each other and swinging their swords around aimlessly, in a bid to adapt to the game’s style.
After leaving and wandering out into the snowy Skyrim-style world, we picked up a quest from a nearby innkeeper. We were tasked with rescuing someone and burning some stolen goods.
It’s not entirely obvious where you’re supposed to go, but that’s what makes this more challenging and fun. We found ourselves checking the map frequently to make sure we were heading to the right destination (there are no flashing quest marker beacons) and encountered some wolves on the way.
Left click attacks while right-click blocks, and you can use the number keys or click the skill on-screen to activate one. We had a stealth skill, which made us invisible for 2.5 seconds – ideal for creeping up on enemies while sneaking.
The enemy health bars do feel like they take a while to diminish, but we’re sure they’ll go down quicker at later levels, especially as a damage dealer. Otherwise, combat feels similar to Skyrim. Gameplay is super fun and isn’t as easy as you might think. Pull too many mobs and you will get killed – quickly. It punishes you for your mistakes, which makes levelling up and grabbing loot even more rewarding.
We met a few other players on our travels, too, and formed a party. One guy was called Dave. He soon died by a pack of wolves, so we abandoned him. The land in this game is open wider than the Sahara desert, so there should be lots of room for thousands of players running around during launch.
After finding our target, we stealthed into a bandit camp and avoided guards to get to him, before taking out the bandit leader. We grabbed some loot, levelled up, freed him… then our time was up.
Unfortunately, the 20 minutes whizzed by. But we loved every second of it. And having played World of Warcraft for years, and more recently Final Fantasy XIV, we can safely say that The Elder Scrolls Online was the PC game of the show.
One to watch out for in 2014, then. In the meantime, make sure you save up for a decent graphics card, or for an Xbox One/PS4 – it looks genuinely amazing and plays it too.
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.