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PAX East 2013: Elder Scrolls Online is Shaping Up Well

The Elder Scrolls Online

Bethesda hit PAX East full force this year.  Their booth had a commanding presence as a gigantic screen running a looped Elder Scrolls Online trailer stopped con-goers dead in their tracks and throngs of gamers queued up to catch a few minutes of hands-on time with the upcoming title.

While I’m admittedly not well-versed in the world of MMORPGs, I am a huge fan of Skyrim and all the Elder Scrolls adventures that preceded it.  After spending a fair amount of time tinkering with ESO, I can honestly say that this will be the game that ultimately pulls me into MMOs — the reason being that it retains so much of the charm, aesthetic, and streamlined user interface that made Skyrim a joy to play.  Although utilizing a completely new design, fans will instantly feel at home with an intuitive menu system that puts dozens of skills and upgradeable abilities at your fingertips, but without cluttering the screen with icons and hotbars.  Instead, ESO has a nice, clean look that keeps the focus on the action.

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Your skills and proficiencies level up as you use them, similar to past Elder Scrolls titles, so your character becomes custom-tailored to the way you play the game. You are also awarded points as you level up your character which can be used to build your Health, Stamina, or Mana, as well as unlock new class-specific abilities such as various attacks and offensive/defensive spells.  A new minimap on the bottom corner of the screen makes it easy to pinpoint quest locations and points of interest as you traverse the island of Stros M’kai (which savvy players should recognize from 1998’s Elder Scrolls: Redguard) while the familiar quest acquisition process generated through random discoveries and conversations with numerous NPCs continues to encourage a great deal of exploration. 

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While we were not able to get a feel for PvP combat or even group combat in this early demo build, the solo battle mechanics felt great.  The right mouse button blocks while the left triggers an attack.  Blocking an incoming enemy attack usually opens up a window allowing players to land a powerful blow by holding down the button to charge it up.  It’s a basic system that works well although I was not able to level my character up enough in my short time with the game to see the super-powerful offensive skills I would be capable of.

As much as ESO reminded me of what I loved about previous Elder Scrolls titles though, I think it’s fair to say that it can’t offer the same level of detail and flawless single-player gameplay found in say, Skyrim – some things are simply going to be compromised by the design and structure of an MMO as opposed to a game that’s crafted around a solo experience.  But I do feel confident that people like myself, who are delving into the genre for the first time will adjust and settle into the design simply to experience the next chapter in the Elder Scrolls Universe.

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Something that has been great in Elder Scrolls games is the ability to build a character whose race grants players specific bonuses and powers, so you need to weigh the pros and cons of each to determine what race type works best for you.  As I understand it, most current MMORPGs have shied away from placing significance on one species or race over another, so I was glad to see that player’s race selection does still play a part in the game as each will have their own exclusive skill tree. Overall I walked away from the demo quite pleased with what I had seen and eager to see what the future holds for Elder Scrolls Online.  You can currently sign up to beta test the game here.

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