A Beta Perspective: Elder Scrolls Online

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Since the dawn of time, many have asked why the Beta Perspective has not yet covered the Elder Scrolls Online, and the answer is as old as time itself: Zenimax doesn’t regard us as a press outfit. I hold no grudges against them, I am merely pointing this out for the purpose of transparency. Factored in with unrelated events, I haven’t spend much time playing Elder Scrolls Online prior to the NDA being lifted because, frankly, I don’t have the time to beta test a game for the sake of bug hunting.

The absolute first thought that I had upon starting The Elder Scrolls Online was “this is certainly The Elder Scrolls.” One constant that has appeared in almost every game in the main series is that the player starts off in a prison, but ESO’s take on the series trope is quite possibly one of the most interesting. At the start of the game, you are dead. Not just dead, you were sacrificed in a ritual and are now stuck in a jail cell somewhere in the insane depths of Molag Bal’s district of Oblivion. With a conga line of NPCs running around me towards the exit, I had to soak in that just minutes into the game, I was taking part in a jail break out of hell. Even if the rest of the game turns out to be forgettable, you have to admit that it’s one hell of an opening.

The world of Elder Scrolls Online looks great, from the atmosphere to the lighting to the voice acting and the soundtrack. Upon returning to the world of the living, the player comes to a tutorial island of sorts, specific to their faction, to complete a series of quests and get a lay of the land before heading off to their faction’s territory.

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From a mechanical point of view, I can understand why some Elder Scrolls purists will not enjoy this game. While certain facets of the series are still present, like much of the combat system, reading books and a multitude of boxes strewn about containing mostly crafting ingredients, certain sacrifices had to be made in the transition to an online shared-world experience. Gone are the days of pickpocketing or even killing random NPCs in the streets, friendly NPCs cannot be touched at all. No more breaking into stores in the middle of the night to steal their wares or loot an armorer. Enemies you kill no longer drop all of their belongings, a well equipped bandit might reward a couple of gold and a potion or cooking ingredient.

Going directly from earlier games to Online may result in the feeling that the game is openly mocking you with some of its restrictions, like throwing you into a bandit’s den strewn with large quantities of food, weapons, armor, and potions, and not allowing you to pick up any of it. I get it, Zenimax has a budding interior decorator on staff, but does everything have to be welded to the floor? I am also not a fan of the game’s restriction on sneaking, where you are physically prevented from crouching in certain areas because it “makes you look suspicious,” according to the in-game message. Jumping around like a madman is fine, so is unsheathing my weapon and trying to stab everyone, but I can’t sneak because it would seem suspicious. Right.

I’ve found combat to be mostly enjoyable in Elder Scrolls Online, with a slight exception to the fact that NPCs telegraph their special attacks with those red indicators on the floor. Since I played through most of my time in the beta in first person, however, the floor markings were rarely within my line of sight anyway. Minus a bit of intermittent server lag, combat feels well paced and fluid, and unlike Final Fantasy XIV’s three second lag, I never felt cheated if I missed a block or failed to disrupt a foe’s attack. As you level up you gain special attacks that add more variety to combat, like the ability to leap on your enemy or knock them to the ground.

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And that is nothing to say about the PvP which I was unable to get into this weekend due to lag issues making the area unplayable. What I can say from previous experience is that PvP is insane. The map is huge, combat is frantic, and success on the battlefield feels less reliant on the roving bands of zerg squads found in Guild Wars 2.

After playing the last couple of beta weekends, I decided to go ahead and buy the standard edition on Green Man Gaming with a 20% off coupon. I fully suggest checking out the final beta weekend if you get the chance, when it rolls around.

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