A First Look at The Elder Scrolls Online
Robyn Miller gets lost in the immersive world of The Elder Scrolls Online and chats with Creative Director Paul Sage about the experience.
At E3, I had the opportunity to get my hands on The Elder Scrolls Online. What happened next should come as no surprise: an hour sprinted by before I pried my eyes from the computer screen, and, even then, I only pulled myself away because the show floor was closing.
My first foray in ESO naturally began with character creation. I could have spent hours toggling options until I was satisfied with my character’s look, but the Bethesda staff wisely advised me to jump right into the game. What I did see of the character creation screen revealed nine familiar races and the usual fare of customizable options. I impulsively went with a female Nord, made her a sorceress, and clicked through randomized faces until one came up with warpaint not unlike Aela the Huntress’s.
The character attributes and skills screens were structurally closer to what one would expect from an MMO. Gone were the effulgent constellations of Skyrim’s leveling menus. Instead, I had the option of selecting both active and passive skills from tabbed discipline trees. The demo had us starting off with level five characters in order to give us a better feel for abilities. I quickly grabbed a skill called Mage’s Fury—which proved to be a deadly long range burst attack—and dragged it to my skill bar. I did the same with another spell that would allow me to summon a goblin-like familiar, and I finally selected a passive skill called Tri-Focus. These abilities exhausted my available skill points, so all that was left was selecting my character’s weapon. Naturally, as a sorceress, I went with a destruction staff.
With my character equipped, I entered the world of Tamriel. I found myself on a wooden bridge in the midst of a lush forest. The world had the same muted palette of browns and dim greens that I’d come to expect from an Elder Scrolls title. Dirt paths wove through the woodland in every direction, bearing with them the promise of exploration that figures so heavily into games like Skyrim and Oblivion.
For this session, exploration was not a priority. I was demoing the game with my fellow journalist Katy Goodman, and so the Bethesda staff was quick to encourage us to group up in order to run a dungeon. Katy and I gladly obliged. She sent me a party invite, and we met just inside of a city called Daggerfall.
This particular setting may be familiar to veterans of previous Elder Scrolls titles. Needless to say, Daggerfall looks quite different in The Elder Scrolls Online than it does in The Elder Scrolls II. The town was devoid of other players upon our arrival, but it was not difficult to imagine it as a hub for player interaction upon the game’s official release. Shops and inns were plentiful, and the streets and buildings alike were teeming with quest-touting NPCs.
For now, we blazed past the scenery in an effort to reach a nearby beachhead. We dropped down from the Daggerfall docks and treaded carefully through the water, keeping a weather eye out for any aggressive slaughterfish. A torch icon on our mini map marked the location of a dungeon called Bad Man’s Hollow—our intended destination.
We eventually discovered a small cave. Inside, a friendly-faced NPC invited us to participate in a harvest ceremony. The dialogue box presented me with a familiar set of responses to choose from, and these ranged from a rather plain acceptance of his offer to a query about why he was allowing outsiders to attend. In the interest of time, I selected the first option. The ceremony was taking place at an idyllic glen within the cave, and at the glen’s heart was a towering tree. Our host instructed us to place offerings of apples and grain on an altar before the tree, and that was as simple as finding the illuminated quest items scattered about the glen.
With the grain and apples in place, the final part of the offering called for us to throw dirt on the altar in hopes of securing a bountiful harvest for the future. The moment the dirt left our fingers, we burst into flames and plummeted through the earth. The fire eventually cleared to reveal a complex system of tunnels beneath the glen. Predictably, the harvest ceremony was a trap. Another NPC imprisoned in the tunnels revealed that the tree was a powerful Daedra whom the residents of the glen worshipped. If we wished to escape, we had to find the Daedra’s roots in the tunnels and incinerate them. Standing in our way was a horde of bug-like foes for us to vanquish.