Elder Scrolls Online – E3 Preview
There are few games that look like they might compete with World of Warcraft but, from what I’ve seen, Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) may be one of them. Set one thousand years before the events of Skyrim and the rise of Tiber Septim, ESO focuses on a time period free of lore, allowing the developers, ZeniMax Online Studios, to create their own unique story in the beautiful Elder Scrolls universe. We managed to get a quick presentation at E3 on the new features of this new MMO, delivered by Paul Sage – the creative director on the game. ESO has been in production for around five years and they have not been wasted. Environments in the game are unbelievably pretty and detailed, ranging from Skyrim in the far north to the Black Marsh in the south, the entire land of Tamriel is fully explorable.
In terms of gameplay, the first thing you notice is the lack of a UI. The mini-map is always visible, but things like your hotbar, health, stamina and mana only appear when you enter combat or mouse over the bottom of the screen, giving the game a very cinematic look. Environments may also change depending on which quests you actually carry out. Details were thin, but in the presentation the player takes a side quest to travel back in time and kill a werewolf leader before he becomes immortal. On completing this quest the player travels back to the present and finds that the quest giver and some other details in the game world have changed. This branching organic storytelling is apparently rife in the game, with minor decisions to take on side quests changing the overall game in various minor ways.
Dungeons are back in a big way – it wouldn’t be an Elder Scrolls game without them. Each dungeon will have a type of rating, some will be designed to be completed by a single player, or by 1.5 – no, you don’t need to play with a dwarf, but it should present an achievable challenge to the solo player. Others will require much larger groups and be more akin to raid content in other MMORPGs. Many of the dungeons will have various types of gameplay elements and the developers are keen to include puzzles, traps and much of the standard fare from the Elder Scrolls series.
Where ESO differs from many games in the MMORPG genre is in its combat mechanics. There is none of the standard “select a target, select an ability” combat from other games. If players hold down the attack button you will swing and hit harder. If you see an enemy building up to strike, you can block; this makes a really nice change from the regular combat that always seems to feel a little detached. There is also a lack of text based combat indicators, instead, you will need to keep an eye on the enemy combatant and watch out for them building up to special attacks. The hotbar is also only currently sitting at around six slots – this is, again, to keep combat flowing and avoid having the huge hotbars that are seen in games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Combat moves can also be combined with other player abilities in a very similar way to Guild Wars 2. Elemental attacks can augment each other, for example, if one player sets out an oil slick trap, another player could come along and set fire to it, causing huge problems for whoever was trapped within. This kind of combat creates whole new scenarios that the player then has to deal with. Enemy NPCs will also have the ability combine attacks to stop players, and as there are no text based indicators, they will have to be aware of this and take appropriate action. Doing well in combat also builds up finesse. Blocking, countering and defeating enemies builds this resource, which can then be spent on something that Paul called the ‘Ultimate Ability’, which seemed to help the player kick some serious arse. It’s unclear if finesse will be used for anything else, but it’s nice to see a more unique feature.
Player Verses Player was touched on in the game but, again, details were thin on the ground. Paul explained that the three factions in ESO are battling for control of the throne of Cyrodiil. One Empire will crown an emperor and then have control over all of Tamriel. There was no mention of game types or mechanics in general, but we were told that there would be 200 players on screen at the same time and from the little demo fight we saw, it did look spectacular.
Elder Scrolls Online already looks to be a very polished game, mixing interesting, unique features and staples that the more hardcore player will recognise and enjoy. Could it take on World of Warcraft? I think it’s too early to tell, but with the popularity of games like Skyrim I can’t think of a better time to announce it. The game will be released early next year hopefully and I for one am looking forward to seeing what they do with it.
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