The Elder Scrolls Online – First Impressions (Part Two)

The Elder Scrolls Online Screen 16

Adam takes you into the war-ravaged land of Cyrodil, in the second part to his beta experience.

Whilst the first leg of my experience (part one here) didn’t enchant me the way I wanted it to, spending more time with The Elder Scrolls Online was most definitely the remedy I needed. Not only did I hit level 10 and cast myself into the war-ravaged lands of Cyrodil, but I also spent a little more time questing, and sampled some of the crafting system.

Firstly let’s talk about questing in a little more detail; whilst it’s standard-fare as far as MMOs go, it’s still got that Elder Scrolls feel and Skyrim aesthetic. The NPCS, for the most part, are fully voice-acted which adds depth and tone to the quests, allowing you to feel more invested in the quests you’re taking on. Particularly the more famous of the cast, who make their own unique mark on the characters they portray – in particular John Cleese’s comedic role as Cadwell, and Michael Gambon as The Prophet.

That being said, I didn’t amass much appreciation for the quests in the earlier areas, but by the time I hit the later quests I felt much more interested in what was going on, and why I was being asked to perform certain tasks. Sure, some of them can be the run-of-the-mill ‘go and collect four <inanimate object>’ or ‘slay ten <nameless soldier>’. But with the addition of the surrounding environment, voice-acting, orchestral soundtrack, and the combat, I began to feel more involved in the story, and not like I was just filling my quest log to farm experience. This in turn caused me to lose myself in the game here and there, forgetting it was an MMO, amassing a more single-player-like experience - which slightly, although nowhere near completely, gave me delusions of Skyrim.

Whilst I had next to no trouble questing, and didn’t have to group up with other players even once to complete my objectives, I was aware most of the time that other players were around me. Plenty of the quest areas were awash with people waiting for enemy or item respawns, although this was only a problem in a couple of quests I had, due to the sheer number of players attempting to complete the same task.

The crafting system, whilst I didn’t spend much time with it, appears quite extensive and rewarding. And I focussed mainly on Blacksmithing in the short time I did spend with it. For instance, to level your Blacksmithing skill you will need to craft weapons and armour at the forge. Starting out being able to craft basic items, and as you gain in skill your repertoire of item possibilities will increase. Requiring raw materials to craft weapons and armour, you will need to mine ore deposits scattered about the world, although I only came across two in my time with the game, which you will be able to mine for raw materials to use in your crafting. Fortunately this isn’t the only way to gain raw materials – you can extract them from weapons and armour in your inventory at the forge. The quality of the item determines what you can extract, for instance a normal quality, or white item, will yield less materials or lesser quality materials than if you extracted from a green or blue quality item. The extraction system is a plus, as it gives you a choice on how you want to gain the materials you need, meaning gathering those materials isn’t so much of a slog as in similar games – sure you can mine ore deposits out in the great yonder, but if you’ve also got weapons or armour in your bag you’re not too bothered about selling, you can extract materials from those too. Some other crafting skills available are enchanting, woodworking, and alchemy.

The Elder Scrolls Online Screen CraftingMy character had a very precise watch-making hammer...

So I quested, I explored, and I crafted… I did all of these things right up until I hit level 10. As soon as that happened, it was time to see what the PVP side of things had to offer me.

The PVP is really what opened the game up, and showed me what was truly exciting about it. When you first enter Cyrodil, the sole PVP area of the game, you’re first confronted by its size - the map is huge! All three of the warring factions – The Ebonheart Pact, The Aldmeri Dominion, and The Daggerfall Covenant – are planted into their own corner of the map. Each faction must battle for control of Cyrodil’s outposts, gates, keeps and Elder Scrolls etc. You will see which faction holds which area by its colour - red (Ebonheart Pact), yellow (Aldmeri Dominion), or blue (Daggerfall Covenant) – resources that are linked and held by the same faction will provide bonuses and fast-travel (transitus network) to the players within that faction. However, should one of those linked resources come under attack the fast-travel option will not be available. Not being able to fast-travel into the fray has it’s perks though, as this brings forth epic-looking scenes of tens of hundreds of players running or riding across the battlefield towards the contested area to help defend, or attack.

The Elder Scrolls Online Screen 8As you can see, the map is massive!

When I first entered Cyrodil I opened up my map, picked the first outpost that my alliance (Aldmeri Dominion) was attacking, and headed straight for it. I asked for an invite into a group that was heading up the attack, and promptly received one. As soon as I accepted that invite I could see a bunch of white arrow markers showing me where my allies in the group were. To my surprise they were all fairly well grouped together and heading for the right place - with my experience of online games in which teamwork is key (Dota 2, I’m looking at you) I mainly see a random haphazard approach to team objective based gameplay, especially when it comes to grouping with random people. There was plenty of coordination in the chat too, with everyone quickly agreeing on where to head next, focussing our strikes on key areas.

As I was running toward my destination I could see a trebuchet on top of a rocky mound, slinging it’s payload into the distance – I knew I was close. Once I climb up onto the rock next to the trebuchet, my jaw literally dropped… it was a battlefield. The Ebonheart Pact were trying, and failing, to defend the small outpost we were hellbent on taking from them. Combat was a little sporadic in places, but you could clearly see the divide between factions. Now and again a brave individual would charge away from their group into the enemies attempting to pick off who they could. Smaller pockets of fighting were dotted around the area, which I jumped in and out of, trying to make a difference where I could. When we eventually took the outpost, it was time to move onto the keep, and that’s where the real battle began.

The Elder Scrolls Online Screen 17We had already breached their outer walls, so I thought I’d test out my trebuchet, and actually set it up on their outer walls, to bombard their defense on the keep itself.

We only had there keep’s main door to breach with our battering ram, and once we had that down it was a bloody battle to clear out the remaining Ebonheart Pact to claim the keep as our own.

I also had some experience defending one of our own keeps too, which was quite a different story. Where previously everything seemed to be working perfectly, in this instance we were getting slaughtered. I was ambushed twice on my way to defend the keep, by three roaming enemy players, who were quite cleverly lying in wait to pick off lone reinforcements – one of them being me.

When I finally got to our keep, the amount of players was quite staggering, and unfortunately so was the lag. Despite this I set up my trebuchet directly behind the wall our enemies had almost breached, to try and scatter them so my allies could repair our defences. Not long after setting up, our wall came down and about sixty enemy players came charging towards me… which was terrifyingly hilarious!

The Elder Scrolls Online Screen 15Being charged by the enemy faction's entire attacking force once our wall was breached, was one of the highlights of the beta for me!

I could have spent my entire experience of The Elder Scrolls Online just inside the PVP – it feels like a world all of its own. There are the alliance hub areas, where you can craft, sell your items, buy siege weapons, fast-travel, pick up quests. And then there’s the entire area of Cyrodil itself, with the many areas of it I didn’t even get to explore. I don’t know if the lag issues I had were a one-off, but if they can be kept to a minimum within the PVP then it’s going to be a solid, enjoyable experience, which will create intense and memorable battles 24 hours a day.

So, in summary, The Elder Scrolls Online isn’t the most revolutionary MMO to ever be created, but it’s a well-built and gorgeous looking game. I actually pre-ordered the game before playing it, and I was a little worried I’d made a mistake at first, but after spending more time with it I’m looking forward to April when it’s released. Fans of the series are sure to get lost in it, MMO veterans will have a blast with the PVP, and players new to MMOs will hopefully experience something that they have never experienced before.

The Elder Scrolls Online is set for release on April 4 2014 for PC and Mac, and June 2014 for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

Did you get the opportunity to participate in the beta? What do you think of the game? Let us know in the comments below!

image: © ZeniMax Media Inc

Register for HITC Gaming Digest