I eagerly consumed about 45 minutes of The Elder Scrolls Online during E3 this week. I stayed glued to my keyboard and headphones until the expo hall closed and I was told to clear out. Part of this time was spent interviewing the nearest willing Bethesda employee, and every other second was hauling Orc butt around ESO.
My character of choice, an Orc Dragonknight, loaded into the game on the other side of a polygon-rich bridge from an equally polygon-rich town. The Bethesda employee standing nearby mentioned I could go into the town for some guided content the team had prepared. I made a sharp right turn into the stream and killed a deer instead.
At this point it became painfully apparent that I didn’t log into ESO already skilled at the combat system. Nothing about the system seemed bad (not too slow or clumsy). The problem seemed to be all me. This proved true as I fought another deer, then a humanoid, and my fighting technique became progressively less awkward. I fought quite a few mobs during my brief time in ESO, and by the 15th or so enemy I was attacking the air five feet past my target at least 60% less frequently.
After getting my combat footing in the woods, I cautiously approached the town. I’m always skeptical of content that developers choose specifically to show off at a convention. There’s no guarantee it’s anything like the rest of the game. But I figured I had over 30 minutes left, so why not see what they’ve got?
I loved the detail of the town, just as I loved the detail of the forest. The NPCs talking out loud made the place feel alive, and the design struck a nice balance between too fancy and too dismal. The town looked lived-in, functional, and believable. I thought my character could reasonably be a part of this place. My favorite touch was being able to go into houses; since the houses weren’t merely facades, I was able to enter each house I tried. For me this added to the “alive and functional” feeling more than anything else.
A dog ran up to me once I entered the town, and when I talked to him, he indicated that I should follow. I did, but then the game glitched. I couldn’t move. The dog was moving, and the people around me were moving, but I couldn’t move. Attacks worked, but none of the movement hotkeys worked. I tried for a couple minutes before I called an employee over. As soon as he arrived at my station, my Orc took off running. I glared at my character. I thought we were in this together.
I completed another quest or two in that chain and looted everything I could pick up. Shopkeepers didn’t seem bothered when I walked behind their stalls and grabbed every cabbage they appeared to be selling. It must have been my handsome Orc physique.
Eventually I hit a quest mob that slaughtered me. I chose to head back to my quest goal and give it another shot, which ended the same way as the first time. After my second death, I wandered off. As I talked to NPCs, it struck me how easy it was, at least in this chosen-for-a-press-demo town, to find quests, even though they weren’t glaringly obvious. Every direction I went in, I ended up finding quests. I tried a few more but eventually spent the last 15 minutes just exploring.
I think it’s worth noting that while I explored the town, I found myself clicking on NPCs just to hear what they said. Their dialogues were interesting and well-acted enough to make me curious. This stuck in my mind because it’s completely opposite my typical MMO playstyle. I skip cutscenes, I don’t read quest text, and I go to new areas as soon as possible. If it’s not giving me experience, I’m not doing it. But there I was, in a demo with limited time, clicking on a guy near some chickens hoping to hear about his farm life.
After enough town exploring, I booked it north. I spent the rest of my demo time exploring the wilderness and getting to the next zone. This was all sightseeing, of course, since the mobs could eat me whole.
What I explored was mostly a pretty, forested area dotted with neutral and aggressive mobs. I ran across camps of hostile NPCs and at one point a hostile ocean dock/town. I tried to get closer to the ships, but there were too many mobs. When they spotted me, I was able to escape by hopping into the water and swimming with all the power of a Harvard rowing team. I ended up on an island with large crystals and a swirling, magical vortex that summoned some kind of reptilian creature.
Right before my time with ESO was up, I made it into another zone and located what I thought was yet another cute little town. When I got up close, the inhabitants appeared zombielike and weren’t too keen on letting me explore their bungalows. My demo time ended with my Orc fleeing from the zombie horde. OK, two zombies. Horde just sounded better.
For me personally, my hands-on experience pushed me over from the camp of “cautiously optimistic” to “genuinely excited.” Every time I’ve played an Elder Scrolls game, I’ve enjoyed myself but quickly felt lonely and ended up abandoning it early on. I enjoy online gaming more than anything, and despite appreciating how rich and detailed each RPG I’ve tried has been, I swiftly end up back in a world populated by other players. My time with The Elder Scrolls Online rekindled my hope for an MMORPG with a heavy emphasis on RPG that still manages to make me feel right at home.