I'm unsure how I feel about The Elder Scrolls Online. An hour with Skyrim, without question, is too little time spent. However, it is enough time to get an essence of what the game feels like, how it plays and how it presents itself.
I wrote on my notepad and underlined the word ÂroughÂ. Part of the reason for this is because the demo that we were treated to, where we started in Bleakrock Village, was neither engaging nor of much interest. The game world looks just like Skyrim (I'll complain about that shortly) but lacks the grit and dark edge of something such as Age of Conan.
Heading out of the village to summon a Dragon Priest as an Argonian Knight Blade, the game at times feels at odds with its own design. On one hand, it's replicated Skyrim within an inch of its life (right down to the UI and interaction with NPCs) but has then crow-barred in traditional MMOG elements that don't quite sit well with its intended premise.
A prime example of this is the skeletons you encounter just outside the village. Armoured up and wielding swords, shields and bows, combat becomes a clumsy affair of rapidly clicking while strafing (akin to many of today's modern MMOG's), and yet enemy attacks hone in on you irrespective of how you dance around them and all without satisfying feedback or attack skills. On that basis, it's much easier to stand there and take their blows (or block them, which doesn't always work well). What I found frustrating though wasn't necessarily this, but the fact that my head was telling me I should be able to avoid all attacks if I maneuver properly (ala Skyrim) but the game was telling me that I can't because this isn't Skyrim Â itÂs a game bound by laws of the massively multiplayer genre, but laws which don't seem to fit. All the worse when a band of Skeletal Archers fire upon me, only for their arrows to curve in mid air like a guided missile, regardless of my movement.
This brings me nicely into the general feel of the game world and animations. Overall I was incredibly disappointed in the latter but pleased with the former. Characters feel weightless and stilted in 3rd person and feel even less natural when in 1st. The game engine really doesn't do 3rd person as well as the likes of WildStar or Guild Wars 2 and lacks any sense of interaction or placement with the environment. Where 1st person is concerned, again it feels as though this late addition is exactly that Â it lacks the tactile feedback we're akin to in 1st person games. When I'm hitting a skeleton with a greatsword I want him to flinch, stumble and stagger not stand in the same place unmoved (the same occurs with all enemies I encountered). As far as the animations are concerned, they are neither polished nor pleasurable to watch, with my Argonian clumsily hauling her shield from her back or dodging awkwardly. The same can also be said for attack indicators that both TESO and WildStar share. When an enemy is about to attack you, a clearly defined animation plays out complete with vulgar area marker. I appreciate the helping hand as much as anyone, but the markers are neither attractive of visually pleasant. Subtlety is not the order of the day here.
All that said, TESO does have its positives. It looks lovely and the world seems, at first impression, plenty large enough to get lost in. The styling is identical to Skyrim to the point where it's hard to separate the two products at times. This really isn't a bad thing but it does lead it to lack identity. There's also a lot to be said for the fact that none of the quests I came across were kill 10 this or 5 of that, in complete contrast to WildStar. For me though (animations and poor combat aside) it was the fact that the game has a lot of potential. Visuals can be ironed out through the course of the Beta while animations can also be improved upon with future iterations. The core structure is there, though it feels like bare bones relying heavily on its predecessor at the current time. Luckily, the release has been delayed and Bethesda have bought themselves time to fine tune and take on feedback such as this.
I do fear that some of the issues run deeper than polish can provide and I'll be returning to the game eagerly to see how it progresses, even if it is to play more with the skill system (there seems a lot of depth there).
Lewis B. managed to score some hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls Online at Eurogamer Expo this weekend. Find out what he thought of the MMORPG in its current state.