The Elder Scrolls Online – Hands On
If there ever was a more ambitious undertaking in games development than building an MMO based on The Elder Scrolls series I'm not sure what it would be.
The sheer size and scope of games like Skyrim and Oblivion on the one had seems almost perfect fodder for an MMORPG. On the other hand, the freedom that these games offer makes building an MMO with the same ethos and flexibility in play in the constrains of even today's hardware makes the whole idea a very tricky proposition.
With the arrival of the Xbox One and the PS4 and the current state of PC hardware technology now it seems is the time and ZeniMax Online Studios has been hard at work polishing off The Elder Scrolls Online to ensure that players can enjoy the very same freedoms of exploration and play that have been enshrined in the venerable RPG series from the very beginning.
As it turns out The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be managing to walk that fine line very well.
The story of the game, epic as ever, follows the player as they attempt to stop the forces of Daedric Prince Molag Bal from conquering Tamriel. Nothing is ever as simple as that all that though as all of Tamriel is at war at this point. The continent is split into three factions, all vying for control of the Ruby Throne in Cyrodil left vacant by the death of the last Emperor.
All of the races from previous Elder Scrolls games are playable with the exception of the Imperials – Redguard, Nord, Breton, Dark Elves, High Elves, Wood Elves, Orcs, Argonians and Khajit. The Imperials come as a playable race only with the special Imperial edition of the game.
The races are organised into factions so, whatever race you choose to go as determines what side you will join in the Alliance War. Your choice of race also determines which part of Tamriel you begin your adventures in.
The Orcs, Bretons and Redguard make up the Daggerfall Covenant and pledge to bring peace to the Empire once more as well as restoring the Orc realm of Orsinium.
The Ebonheart Pact consists of the fiercely independent races of the Nords, Dark Elves and Argonians who are fighting to ensure that the Empire remains but they also retain their autonomy over their own lands of Skyrim, Morrowind and Black Marsh respectively.
Finally there is the Aldmeri Dominion which Skyrim players will find most familiar. The High Elves, Wood Elves and Khajit are fighting to wrest control of the Empire from the humans and place it back under control of elfkind.
There are a host of character creation options available to players so that, once they choose their race, they can customise their character to best represent what they want to look like in the game. Details from height and weight to cheekbone adjustments and eye colour are all changeable in using slider bars in a way that should be entirely familiar to anyone who has touched on either Morrowind, Oblivion or Skyrim.
With character creation out of the way the game proper begins and again, it is very familiar for Elder Scrolls fans. The team at ZeniMax Online Studios has build a very clear and clutter-free interface that really helps players feel like they are playing an Elder Scrolls game and not just another MMO.
For diehard fans the first-person view is excellent and just as visceral as it was in Skyrim giving a very personal feel to the game. Third person view also works nicely and gives an added tactical advantage for veteran MMO players to see all that is going on in the heat of battle.
This is an action RPG like the single-player games that preceded it and all of the controls are geared towards that end. Swing your weapon with mouse button one and block with mouse button two. Adjust your view from a sliding zoom in third person view right in to first person view with the mouse wheel. It really does feel as though you're playing Skyrim, especially if you choose to go as a Nord.
There's also the familiar compass is there too pointing out local places of interest. Like in Skyrim or Oblivion you don't need to talk to anyone. Just strike out in a random direction and explore whatever ruin, cavern or tomb you come across.
In the short time we had with The Elder Scrolls Online at the booth on the EGX show floor it was very apparent that great effort has been expended on making sure this plays first and foremost like and Elder Scrolls game. There's no cooldown for attacks and there's no excessive toolbars in your main view.
Everything here is familiar to Elder Scrolls fans. It is an MMO but it's Elder Scrolls to the core. The potential is here for more freedom to roam and explore than there is in other MMOs that are currently out there.
The Elder Scrolls Online is due for release on PC and Mac on April the 4th. The PS4 and Xbox One versions are due out in June.
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