I am a huge fan of the last game in The Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, having spent over two hundred hours playing it in the years since it launched, so I was really looking forward to the launch of The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) last week.
In case you don’t know, TESO is a massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game set in the Elder Scrolls universe, featuring the same lore, weapons, landscapes, enemies and magic (as well as new ones, obviously) as those seen in Skyrim and the four games that preceded it. The world is huge, comprising of several provinces in the land of Tamriel, and TESO incorporates nearly all of them.
Only now, thanks to the internet you can roam the land with friends, find strangers to play with or just ignore everyone and do your own thing, pretty much like I did this weekend, all in a gloriously-rendered new interpretation of the lands, people and politics of Tamriel.
Presentation-wise, it’s hard to fault what Bethesda and the Zenimax Online Team have done; The Elder Scrolls Online is clearly an Elder Scrolls game through and through. In fact, I was as gobsmacked by the game’s visuals as I was when I first got into Skyrim: the buildings, scenery, NPCs, other players, they all looked amazing, with plenty of detail and lots of care and attention poured into making them all look unique.
Of course, there is always a bit of room for improvement in places – some of the game’s textures, particularly in the landscapes, look a little low-res to my high-resolution loving, texture pack installing, PC-trained eye. Then again concessions have to be made somewhere so that the game doesn’t ship on ten Blu-ray disks; as it is, The Elder Scrolls Online is a massive 30GB download. Even with the occasional low-res blight on an otherwise attractive landscape, TESO ends up looking pretty damn good.
And the environments… my word. Just walking from place to place is a pleasure, as there is so much to see and do thanks to an interesting landscape that’s full of things to look at, and quests that you’ll often stumble upon by chance. That’s another thing I noticed – everywhere you go, things are happening, quests are available, and there a sense that this truly is a living, breathing world.
But what about the combat? In my time with the game, I loved thwacking things from a first-person view, and there was a decided sense of weight to my strikes. I loved that there were a host of weapons available to choose from, all of them Elder Scrolls staples – swords, daggers, axes, maces and more – so I immediately felt right at home.
In a nod to MMO design, Bethesda added various combat abilities, like special strikes, healing, buffs and more. These are unlocked with skill points that become available when your character levels up, and are improved through use. I thought it was a nice blend of the levelling system of the single-player Elder Scrolls games, and the MMO-esque tendency to give characters special powers that are activated with button-presses.
And of course there is enchanting, alchemy, blacksmithing, and other crafts to engage in. If you have the materials, of course, which aren’t easy to come by. At least, I found very little in my own wanderings; presumably you’ll find more as you play more.
All told, I really liked what I saw. I was worried that having real people in my Elder Scrolls game would ruin the vibe, but that didn’t happen at all. In fact, I could ignore the people around me and still do okay, or join in on random dungeon crawls without saying a word to anyone. In other words, it offered just my kind of social experience, one where I could play on my own when I wanted to, while also offering all the socialising, grouping and real-person interaction for people that like that sort of thing.
Connectivity and server stability are a challenge for any new MMO, and The Elder Scrolls Online had its share. Lag occasionally kicked in, and I was disconnected with the unhelpful “Unknown Error” message a number of times over the weekend, which I hope won’t happen as much as player numbers stabilise.
Still, I’m really looking forward to playing a bit more tonight, and in the nights to come. The Elder Scrolls Online so far feels like the next big Elder Scrolls game that I’ve been waiting for since Skyrim, and I can’t wait to see more. In fact, once my free 30 days are up, I’m probably going to shell out $14.99 (around R150) a month to play.