Gamescom started off with a flood of fantastic games, both behind closed doors and on the show floor. I was lucky enough to have 2 hours with The Elder Scrolls Online; why two hours you may ask? Well, playing a game like this requires a bit of time especially when making obvious comparisons to Skyrim or Oblivion. It’s difficult to know what to expect, an MMO Skyrim you may say. And in some respects you would be correct, in fact it looks and plays so much like Skyrim that I had to check myself when an online player would join in my battles. But scraping beneath the surface reveals so much more than just having multiple players prance around in The Elder Scrolls universe.
Those familiar with the aforementioned games will be happy to know that the UI will feel like home, albeit with some changes. The radial menu is gone and instead there is a tabbed menu that shows you skill point allocation for your skills and also levelling points for things such as Stamina, Health and Magicka. There is also a skill bar at the bottom in keeping with how an MMO should look, but the feel of the game world such as object interaction and objective pointers on your overhead scrolling compass is still the same. You can still sneak around by crouching for that all important dizzying blow, which by the way must be used on certain mini-boss characters to do enough damage.
Character progression wise, you can level your toon to a cap of 50 and you will receive one point per level to increase your Stamina and so on. Skill point accumulation is also acquired through levelling, but they can also be obtained through the game world via objectives or quests. There are tons of skills to max out on, indeed there are enough skill points in the game world to max out every single skill available. This will of course take a very, very long time. The only exception to this rule is that you cannot become a vampire and a werewolf at the same time, you must choose one or the other. There is also a handy progression bar against each skill, and the more you use a skill the more powerful it becomes. Also worth noting is that the default third person view can be changed to a first person perspective which we all know and love. You can zoom in and out of this via the mouse scroll wheel if you need to change on the fly.
The characters that you create are aligned with the races you would be familiar with. These include the Dark Elf, Nord or Argonian with many more races to choose from. The customisation options are plentiful, and you will be happy to know that yes you can change the bust size for a female character. You can even change the gut size if you wanted to make your Nord look like he’s been drinking too many ales. Facial features are endless, but you can give your character a distinct look of Heroic, Soft or Angular. Since I wanted to make a voluptuous Dark Elf Dragon Knight female, I decided that she would be thin, with a large bust and a soft face. With your customisations set, you can now enter the world of Bleakrock Isle.
The game I played started off a couple of levels later; you were found washed ashore at Bleakrock Isle, which is off the coast of Skyrim. An NPC named Rana tells you that the populous has been ravaged by the Undead and it’s your job to investigate the cause. Without spoiling too much, you battle your way through some walking corpses to find some runes as part of your quest. The last Undead mini-boss was quite a challenge, in fact I had to try four times to beat him and it required the sneaking crouch attack I mentioned before. One of the skills I had unlocked included a fire chain, which not only sets your enemy on fire but also pulls them to you for melee combat. It’s quite remarkable how much of Skyrim is in this game, but after a chat with the people behind TESO, I was in for some surprises.
The massive multiplayer aspects of TESO really comes into play when you start delving into the various campaigns. Although there is one “realm” to play in, I.E one server pool, players are asked to choose which campaign they want to play in. Some will have different themes but the most interesting of all are the campaigns that include open world PVP. Although these campaigns will still have PVE elements, you can be attacked at any time and the challenge is not only the monsters in the game, but also other players that may cross your path. TESO is based on the world of Cyrodiil, so all the familiar towns and cities will be available to play in. The PVP aspects however will also include the controlling of Keeps that are scattered throughout the lands.
Each Keep will hold two Elder Scrolls, obtaining these will not only give points to your faction but also give all the players in that faction specific buffs that not only work in PVP, but also in PVE. If your faction is successful in controlling all the Keeps, an Emperor is appointed from the winning faction based on their contribution to the cause. I was told that taking a Keep in itself will not provide you with many points, instead the number of kills or heals will dictate who will rank the highest to become the Emperor. This will prevent players from Keep sniping for cheap points. From their beta tests so far, Bethesda have yet to witness an Emperor being appointed… demonstrating how difficult this is. You and your friends are able to hop in and out of any campaign they wish so they can play together, but there will be bonuses for people who stick to the campaign they have chosen.
There’s more! The Daedra, who can forget these troublesome princes. They will of course have a pivotal role in TESO, with quests that include obtaining Daedra artifacts (Mace of Molag Bal anyone?) and also a hint on how the Daedra as a whole will work. I asked about whether alignment with specific Daedra is possible, at the moment the way in which alignment will work is still under wraps and there are still many details that need to be fleshed out. What we do know however, is that there will be plenty of chances to be evil if you want to and there will be specific Daedra quests to give you the opportunity. There’s also crafting to be had and I am personally hoping there is a way to craft some Daedra armour. In terms of mounts, only horses will be available (I know you wanted dragons, but alas). There will be different types of horses and the type will change depending on what you feed it. For example, one type of food will give your horse extra speed, another may provide it with plated armour or one that has extra packs which allows the player to carry more items. These will be visually indicated, so if you see a horse with no armour then you know that the rider can be easily knocked off the saddle. This reminds me of Chocobos and Gysahl greens, but I guess horses want apples instead.
Finally onto the pricing and release platforms. The cost of TESO is still to be announced, but it will be subscription based. With the amount of effort put into the game, I can see why. You get what you pay for. The game will be available on the PC, Xbox One and PS4. The current, soon to be old, generation of consoles have been completely skipped, this is due to not only the graphical prowess of TESO but also the number of players they want to support. The aim is to have 600 vs 600 players battling for a keep, with all the player animations going off at once. This is simply just not possible on the Xbox 360 or PS3 and the goal is to make the game exactly the same across all platforms they release it on. With so many F2P games out there, a subscription based MMO could be risky. Having said that, after playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the consensus is that it will be very popular even with the monthly pricing model. What with The Elder Scrolls being a well established franchise with fans across the world, I for one have been begging to have an MMORPG made with it and it is now finally happening. The Elder Scrolls Online is currently in closed beta, with sign-ups available now should you be lucky enough to try this gem for yourself.