Last weekend I had the opportunity to get my hands on The Elder Scrolls Online. On the downside, I only had about five minutes to play. On the upside, there was no NDA for those five minutes!
My sense is that the answer to almost any question about TESO is “Skyrim”. What is the character creator like? Skyrim. How does the UI work? Like Skyrim. How does the game look and feel? Tooootally Skyrim. You even have that little compass at the top of your screen that tells you which direction to go for quests.
TESO handles class specs slightly differently, and there is no giant skill wheel in the sky like Skyrim. Players still gain skill points through action, like earning Light Armor by being hit, but they can also purchase specific skills at certain levels. This is where you can start to steer your character towards magic or physical damage. The skills you buy are placed on your hotbar, and otherwise you have two attacks bound to each mouse button.
So what of the multiplayer part of this MMO? First, the other players are displayed in a way that blends into the environment well and doesn’t mess with immersion. (In fact, I spent a good half of my battle time fruitlessly hitting my fellow players, thinking they were enemies.) That was all well and good when you had another one or two people running around, but once you had a lot of players on your screen it genuinely started to feel a bit silly.
Although I personally never really enjoyed Skyrim, my understanding from others is that a large part of its appeal was the immersion. It was having random encounters happen, it was getting lost in the giant world, it was overhearing bits of gossip as you walked by someone in town. (There’s a reason first person view is so popular with players!)
Having played TESO I feel like ZeniMax Online got the mechanics of that same Skyrim immersion correct, but it quickly becomes trampled by the old MMO structure. It’s just hard to feel like a part of a virtual world when PlayerX zips in front of you and steals your quest mob, or when there are 15 people all running around the same area trying to find the same plant.
I admit that from the outset I knew that TESO was not a title that interested me, but I left their booth feeling that while the game played well and had that old Skyrim spirit the title would still have been much better served as a game you play with a couple of friends and not the whole world.