The Elder Scrolls Online Preview from E3 2012 -- Are You Ready to Share Your Elder Scrolls?By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jun 11, 2012
Zenimax Online Studios is taking a huge chance with The Elder Scrolls Online. Bethesda's popular open-world RPG series needs no introduction thanks to the well-earned success of games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but the upcoming MMO treatment of the fantasy universe does away with the established core gameplay for more typical third-person hotbar-powered play.
There's a lot of love for the Elder Scrolls fiction out there, but is it enough to draw in the sort of user base that is necessary for a AAA MMORPG experience of the sort that Bethesda is aiming for? We're promised a fully voiced game with a solo play-oriented (but not required) main quest and all of the MMO multiplayer trappings--co-op dungeons, raids, PvP--that you might expect. I learned as much from the game's public debut at E3 2012, though there was little more to be gleaned about how Elder Scrolls Online will set itself apart in the ever-crowded MMO space.
The half-hour demo started off with a video showing off looks at different parts of ESO's Tamriel. It's a bigger chunk of the world than fans have ever seen, with a story set 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim. The main quest starts with the player's soul being stolen by the Daedric lord Molag Bal. Your quest to recover what's yours soon gives way to a bigger threat that ultimately sees you saving the world.
You're probably starting to get a sense from that description of Zenimax's solo play aspirations for Elder Scrolls Online. Just like every other Elder Scrolls game, the core idea here is to let the player live out his or her own story. That's the sales pitch, at any rate. We'll have to wait for some proper hands-on time before we can see if those words amount to anything more than promises.
From the sound of things, co-op play is built more around the side quests that you can come upon in instanced dungeons. These locations are sprinkled throughout the world, offering 4-6 players a chunk of story to play through, with a repeat visit to the same location resulting in a second story to play through. In addition to the combat grind, you'll also find yourself contending with traps and puzzles in these dungeons. We didn't actually get to see this in action, but that's the plan.
Those who put in enough time to reach late-game activities will be able to embark on raids in groups of up to 25, in exchange for high-level rewards. It sounds like PvP is going to be a huge focus too, with support for up to 200 players on the screen at the same time. A short clip at the end of the presentation showed what the chaotic PvP could look like in action, but none of the actual content was demoed. In fairness, it's probably far too early to realistically show off a feature with that sort of scale.
Combat is largely based around a hotbar and cooldowns, though by default the different parts of the user interface remain invisible until you mouse over them. All character classes can block attacks at any time, consuming some of their stamina gauge in the process. Combat ought to feel a bit more active than the standard MMO clickfest thanks to this, since timing becomes an added concern when you can turn aside incoming attacks. All classes will also be able to sprint and sneak.
The brief "play" portion of the demo showed off portions of a quest involving a rogue werewolf and the nearby town that it's been terrorizing. After fighting through a graveyard, the demo driver's character came to the burial site of an ancient warrior. A time travel sequence followed in which the hero learned the werewolf's big weakness. Completing the quest restores the beleaguered town to its normal bustling self, though you'll also have the option of skipping the quest entirely and leaving the town in its sorry state.
There's still plenty more to be revealed about Elder Scrolls Online. I'll remain cautiously optimistic for now, but I can't say that I walked way from the demo with the feeling that I'd seen anything truly unique or new. Maybe it's not fair to make negative comments about a game that we've hardly seen anything from yet, but it's going to take more than promises and a few feature reveals to set this one apart in the crowded MMO genre.