PAX East 2013 | Venturing Into Elder Scrolls Online

It’s a well known fact that conventions aren’t the best place to get some hands on time with an MMORPG. It’s also a fact Bethesda knows as well, apparently, as we spent two full hours trying out Elder Scrolls Online.

To be frank, the initial reaction for the game was a bit mixed.

Actually, it wasn’t very mixed. It was a little negative. The game looked ancient, the gameplay sounded bland, and despite the power behind the game, we were already lamenting a missed opportunity. Bethesda showed more of the game off at E3 last year, but did little to qualm our fears.

Enter PAX East 2013, where those fears are starting to subside. Press were able to enjoy an extended demo compared to the show-floor experience. Regular attendees started off in the city of Daggerfall, while I started out a few areas before that. The initial starting zone was skipped, however, but rest assured it will begin in jail, just like every other Elder Scrolls title. Before long, I was safely settling into an MMO groove, enjoying the familiar feel of both the MMO genre and past Elder Scrolls titles.

It’s that second point that’s so incredibly key: playing like past Elder Scrolls titles. The MMO genre has gotten into a rut, and that rut’s name is combat. As a gamer, the prospect of entering a brand new world highlighted by right click combat is far from exciting, regardless of how well revered that world is. No amount of cinematic narrative, story, or voice acting can make up for old gameplay; it’s a problem even World of Warcraft continually faces and addresses (the monk class is a perfect example of this). How does Elder Scrolls Online face this challenge? By having the game play like any other entry in the series. You’ll attack with a left click, block with a right click, and have various skills open on your skill bar.

Equally impressive is the actual combat. TERA was able to pull off the fantastic ability to feel like an action game. That sense of action may not be present here, but that’s because Elder Scrolls isn’t an action oriented experience. Steps are indeed being done to ensure an experience that requires more of our attention. While I couldn’t help but feel like auto attacks from enemies were will locked on, there will be occasionally be special attacks performed. They’ll jump over me and stab my back, charge up a powerful AOE, or attempt a high powered attack. These can be avoided my moving out of the way in a timely manner, or I can shield bash and stun them, allowing to return with a powerful attack of my own. Is this anything to write home about? Not necessarily, but it livens up the sometimes monotonous grind of questing. My only concern is the possibility of a lack of variety in these special attacks. The first one I saw left me impressed, but after the tenth enemy jumping over me, its shock and awe factor was already gone.

After I became comfortable with the gameplay experience, I was surprised with the game’s narrative experience. Just like Star Wars: The Old Republic, every NPC is planned to be fully voice acted. While this won’t necessarily be a shock for an Elder Scrolls game, it’s surprising for an MMO, but that could be because Bethesda isn’t shoving this fact down our throats. I was also surprised by the regular occurrence of being given choices. I was told some of these choices were just a matter of doing one quest before another, but certain choices will have their own consequences. For example, destroying an item made one NPC happy, yet pissed off another one. There’s some fantastic potential for these choices to directly affect gameplay, but for now it’s all potential.

In many ways, Elder Scrolls Online is in a no-win situation. Not only does it have to live up to the lofty expectations set by previous Elder Scrolls titles in terms of gameplay and story-telling, but it also has to be an MMO that’s able to stand above its peers. Does it need to take down World of Warcraft? No, but it at least needs to offer an enjoyable alternative experience. Finally, after much concern, I can safely say that Elder Scrolls Online is capable of doing just that.

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