Recently, I scored some sweet hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls Online and a few of its developers. After getting a character set up with the help of Combat Designer, Maria Aliprando, I was off and running. Since our time was limited, rather than starting out at level one, my Dragonknight was bumped up to level six and I was promptly dumped on the steps of Daggerfall.
I was introduced to a quest within the main storyline and of course, like any true adventurer, I promptly ignored it and went my merry way. No game could call itself The Elder Scrolls unless this was not only allowed but actively supported. With this aspect of the title quickly tested (and passed with flying colors), I was off to find what kind of trouble I could get myself into. It only took moments before I was in the thick of it.
Unlike those in recent Elder Scrolls games, such as Oblivion and Skyrim, the monsters you come across in ESO have individual levels rather than an auto-scaling feature. While some players loved auto-scaling in the single-player games, it simply wasnt feasible to include such a system in the MMORPG version. To be quite frank, Im glad this didnt happen. Part of what makes playing an MMORPG great is the ability to level up, gain power, and come back to ravage those monsters that made your early levels a living hell. I still have a number of monsters on my revenge list, dating back to my EverQuest days. Revenge is such a sweet, sweet dish; it would be a crime if we were denied its succulent satisfaction.
Combat with the Dragonknight took a little practice, even after getting some lessons from Maria, but eventually I got the hang of it. Once that happened, no mob in the areas I explored was safe. I was casting and bashing skulls and carapaces alike and nothing was able to take me down! Except, of course, those veteran mobs I wasnt paying attention to. Or the two adds that spawned on top of me in a public dungeon (more on public dungeons later this week!), or the time I thought I could take on a boss mob and his three minions without any help.
The first few times I tried to take on groups of two or three mobs, or perhaps didnt see the add walking towards me, the battles were extremely frustrating. After a couple lessons from Maria (lessons the game and its tutorial would have provided had I not skipped 6 levels), I found I was able to use careful planning, timing, and resource management to get through them successfully, even if only by the skin of my teeth.
Does this sound like complaining? Its actually just the opposite. My character was powerful for sure, but when I got cocky, pushed too quickly, or just didnt pay attention to the type of monster I was battling, I paid for it (with a minor XP penalty I then needed to make up). And that that is something that we rarely see these days and something which Im extremely happy to see come back challenge. Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online takes patience, quick thinking, and the ability to think on your feet because the battleground can change in an instant when a healer mob or add are involved.
One interesting thing I discovered during my brief time with the game is that there are no cooldowns. Instead, abilities rely on different resources, such as Stamina and Mana. As long as you have either, you can use any corresponding ability. If youre out, however, youre out and left helpless. This adds an interesting resource management dynamic to the game. Do I use the last of my stamina and block the incoming blow, or do I take the hit and save it for a stronger attack I know is coming? Do I conserve my stamina and concentrate on one target out of a group, or do I burn through most of it and daze them all, hoping I can DPS my way through their health before they recover? These questions become even more important when youre playing in a group.
"It's hard to put into a list of features what it takes to make it an Elder Scrolls game, but you know it when you feel it." - Matt Firor
Sadly, my time with the game was shorter than I would have liked (though the development team was kind enough to let me stay there an extra hour past my scheduled visit). Ive been playing the Elder Scrolls games since Daggerfall was originally released in 1996. While I may not be as fanatical as a few of my friends, the exploration and dungeon crawls of those games have resonated within me deeply for almost two decades now.
After playing, I had a chance to talk with Game Director and founding father, Matt Firor (also of Dark Age of Camelot founder fame). We chatted about different aspects of what the team was going for when making The Elder Scrolls Online, and I think this comment from Matt sums up the feelings I left the game with: It's all about feel. People always talk about is the combat this, is the crafting that, but it's the kind of thing that you know it when you sit down and play. It's hard to put into a list of features what it takes to make it an Elder Scrolls game, but you know it when you feel it."
So at the end of the day, the question becomes, Does it feel like an Elder Scrolls game? To that, ladies and gentlemen, I loudly and clearly proclaim the answer is yes. My time in the game felt like I was playing Skyrim with other players and in my book, thats a good thing. Be sure to tune in Wednesday morning to read all about my dungeon delving adventures!