Hands-On ‘The Elder Scrolls Online’ at E3 2012

Our Impressions from a First Look

June 15, 2012 by

If it weren’t for BioShock: Infinite last year at E3, Skyrim would have probably stolen the show, and in many people’s minds, it still did. After winning numerous Game of the Year awards last year with their previous open-world Elder Scrolls RPG, Bethesda is looking to take the series in a slightly different direction with an MMORPG. A direction that at first sounds very promising by allowing multiple people to play together for the first time in a Elder Scrolls game, but after what we saw behind-closed-doors, might be a little too generic and end up living in the shadow of Bethesda’s last megahit.

The Elder Scrolls Online is a very ambitious title that Zenimax has been working on for five years and still has a ways to go in development, so we weren’t shown much behind closed doors during this year’s E3 demo. Most of what was shown by the developers displayed the beautiful open-world environments that resemble what you would find in previous Elder Scrolls games.

Taking place in Tamriel a millennium before the events of previous games in the series, TESO will allow players to join one of three factions warring over the throne of the Emperor of Tamriel: The Aldmeri Dominion, composed of Altmer, Bosmer, and Khajiit (represented by a bird); the Daggerfall Covenant, composed of Bretons, Redguards, and Orcs (represented by a lion); and the Ebonheart Pact, composed of Dunmer, Nords, and Argonians (represented by a dragon).

What little we did get to see of gameplay was interesting. TESO unfortunately doesn’t use the same first-person perspective and simplified dual-wielding system that players fell in love with in Skyrim. Instead, TESO puts players into a more traditional MMORPG third-person view with a row of skills on a hotbar and other player stats shown on screen. This is where TESO was somewhat disappointing; fans of MMOs and the Elder Scrolls series will instantly accept the changes, but more casual gamers looking for a multiplayer version of Skyrim will probably not get what they were hoping for.

Despite not being Skyrim Online, the game does have some pretty innovative features that still make it look promising. Like competing MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, the game will be fully voiced, and the game will take some features from the Elder Scrolls series, such as dungeons full of puzzles and traps and even a unique questing system that will allow players to go back to areas where they’ve already quested and replay quests to unlock even more story.

There are also some interesting gameplay concepts, such as the game’s combat system, which makes fighting feel more engaging and rewards players with stronger hits and powerful counters when timing attacks and blocks correctly. It was neat seeing how the gameplay actually challenges players to fight better and as a result buffs them when they start getting in the zone by stringing together better combos and avoiding being hit.

Zenimax also made it clear that players will be able to play the game how they want like in previous singleplayer Elder Scrolls games. Whether someone wants to play the game alone or with friends in a group of players that are all the same class, the game will allow players to have fun while progressing to the maximum level and not force players to make characters with cookie cutter builds and have to play together in generic healer, tank, caster, and DPS groups.

Raid groups of up to 25 and player vs. player zones that will support up to 200 players on screen at the same time were also promised by the developers. We got a short teaser at the end of the presentation, which showed off what a chaotic 200 player PVP battle would look like, which is definitely one of the game’s stronger selling points, if possible without lag or other issues.

With gamers starting to feel MMORPG fatigue and World of Warcraft dominating the scene, it’s strange that Zenimax would choose to stray away from the simplistic yet visually stunning gameplay of Skyrim and make their game feel more like a traditional MMORPG. Obviously, it would be a lot harder to pull off something like Skyrim in a massive multiplayer open world, but that’s what I’m sure many (myself included) were hoping for. The game is still very early into development, so it’s still too early to judge, but from what has been shown off so far, it’s likely gamers won’t be making the journey from Skyrim or the World of Warcraft to The Elder Scrolls Online unless Bethesda and Zenimax start showing off some ground-breaking new MMORPG features when the game is released on PCs in 2013.