Going into PAX this was the game I was most excited to see. Day 1, minute 1 (well after I got by swag bag from the queue room) I headed straight to the Bethesda booth to get in line for the demo. It took an hour and a half of standing on very hard concrete, but it was worth it to get an amazing 20 minute session of playing the game. So worth it, in fact, that I stood in that line again the next day just so I could spend more time looking at the game again. Now, before I get into an in-depth review of the game, y’all need to understand two things about my perspective. One: I am a primarily an MMO player and a TES player second. I’ve only played Oblivion and Skyrim, and I’ve never actually finished either game despite having spent well over 100 hours in each. Second: I am not into hardcore game mechanics or such. I play a game based on the feel, looks, and lore. The mechanics have to be decent, but as long as the combat feels fun and solid, the looks are good (and not horribly problematic) and story setting interesting, then I’ll gladly play it and enjoy it for at least a little while.
With all that being said, I freaking loved what I saw of the Elder Scrolls Online.
So let’s start off with where you start in game: character customization. The Elder Scrolls games are definitely known for their in-depth character customization and that is still going to be true of ESO. Most MMOs strictly limit the customization of your character’s appearance to save on memory space and prevent lag, or some other such logistical reasons. ESO has either found a way around this limitation, or is an MMO willing to show that this was never really a limitation in the first place. There are sliders galore, much like what was available in Skyrim. A few big differences are that there are two triangle sliders, one for body size and shape (muscular, thin, fat) and one for face shape (angular, heroic, soft). On top of that you have the ability to tweak the major areas on both the body (legs, arms, posterior, chest, gut, etc.) and face (jaw shape, nose, eyes, and really in depth things like angles and slopes, etc.) These triangle sliders are awesome. You can make actually heavy set characters and really play with their face shapes. It’s fantastic. There is also an amazing age slider. Amazing as in you can actually make female characters look young and fresh, old and wizened, and anything in between. It also affects more than just your face! No more neck seam with wrinkly neck skin on one side and smooth collar bones on the other. The age details in the hands and body skin are gorgeous.
The only negatives I saw of the customization screen was that there were no color pallets, just tiles to choose from. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked in the character customization screen (I only had two twenty minute intervals, that’s not nearly enough time and I still had to check out gameplay, too!) and we were also only allowed to choose from the Ebonheart pact (aka the Nords, Dunmer, and Argonians). I would have loved, LOVED, getting the chance to check out how the Kahjitt look in game, but I guess that’ll have to wait till beta or launch day.
As for the gameplay, it felt really great and solid for me. Some people did not like it as much as Skyrim or as WoW, but to me it really felt like playing Skyrim but with other people. The default attacks of the staff and bow were really fun and fluid. I never did get a chance to use an actual ability because I decided to play a Nightblade with a sword attack ability and then promptly dropped my sword and shield for a magic staff and then a bow. It was a hectic twenty minutes okay and I almost didnt even choose an ability at all because I was so distracted by the character creation I missed the first time the dev told us how to do so. There are books and chests and lockpicking in the game, as well as voice acting, sneak, and the same directional system sans minimap as in Skyrim and Oblivion. The graphics aren’t quite as good and are slightly more stylized than in Skyrim, especially if you’re like my husband and moded the shit out of things, but it still feels and looks like a TES game.
All in all the only negative criticism I have for the game is the gendered armors. It’s not horribly bad like a lot of the current spate of MMOs, but it is annoying in that it still manages to rear its head in this game. The character creation screen showed two armor examples (as well as a no armor option for fine tuning your character) for each race/class/gender combo. The Nords were pretty equitable in their armor, but the Dunmer and Argonians were not so much. The Argonians seemed to like showing skin in their armor, but the women seemed to like showing a bit more skin than the men. Meanwhile Dunmer men wore fully covering armor, but the women again seemed to like showing some skin, especially cleavage. Also, it looked like one of the armors was just plain missing the neckguard piece. It was fully covering, except her neck was bare while her male counterpart’s was not. The female characters also have the slight problem of having armor that is vacuum suctioned onto their torso. Not quite boob socks, but definite underboob creases and dips in between the chests. This is most likely just a factor of the armor being mostly a skin laid over top the character model, but it’s not how you’d actually want to construct real armor for female warriors. I think the armor sets would look a lot better and a lot more substantial if they were to fix that aspect.
I talked with one of the devs about my concerns with the armors. He told me that its more up to the particular design of the armor style, thus why all the Nord armor was pretty much full coverage and the Argonian was mostly leather straps and feathers, and that some styles will tend to show more or less skin. He did agree that having armor that protects everything but the heart is kinda silly, but that he doesn’t know if it will change between now and release. My guess is that it will not, but I did suggest they add some sort of system to allow for layering under or over the armor gaps (kinda like WoW’s shirt and pants slots) to allow for people to get the look they want.
I find myself really looking forward to the release of this game. I really enjoyed playing Skyrim and Oblivion, and even though my particular play style of sneaky sniper may not translate well to this new game, I am really excited to be able to share my experience in the TES world with my friends and family. And other random people who will hopefully become friends. Yay MMOs!