To be honest I'm kind of dreading the game. Part of it is that I'm very fond of Elder Scrolls and I don't want to play a shoddy MMO imposter dressed up in its mythology developed by a new developer who doesn't quite get the point. But also I don't much like the idea of being forced to co-ordinate with complete strangers just to make it through dungeons.
In fact the whole idea of being forced to be online for the whole game really puts me off, because I don't really want my embarrassing attempts at figuring out basic things for the first time to be on full display to crowds of people. But then I basically do that twice a week for this website so I should just get over it and play the game already. I mean it took forever to download all 30GB of it so I might as well.
(Click the images to expand them to an exotic 1265x786 resolution. Not what I set it to, but it'll do.)
I started off by picking my character's race and also their class, which is interesting, as Bethesda had moved away from classes in Skyrim. All the standard Elder Scrolls races are there to choose from, each with their own inherent racial bonuses, except for the Imperials who are greyed out because they're special exclusive content exclusive to the special exclusive Imperial Edition (which costs more). This time though each race belongs to one of three alliances, which determines what side they'll be fighting for.
I'm liking all these sliders I've got here to play with; the game has a fair amount of body and face customising options. Not an excessive amount mind you, it isn't on Saints Row's level, but there's enough to keep me busy for a while. There's triangular 'face heroism' sliders, beard sliders, butt sliders... I can pick my voice as well, but sadly that seems to just be limited to yells and grunts. One thing I find weird is that they've really limited the selection of human skin tones this time around, so now Nords are always pale and if you want darker skin you'll need to go Redguard.
This isn't going to be my character by the way; I'm just playing around with the editor.
I'm in the middle of a jail break right now, but these other prisoners running by are all labelled 'Soul Shriven' so I doubt they're other players. This seems to be a nice safe tutorial area to teach me the basics. First though I get to choose a weapon from this fairly impressive selection just lying out here in the open. I guess the warden believes that prison riots are more fun to watch if the prisoners are well armed. I mean we're all in a hell dimension right now, so it's not like there's any danger of us escaping.
They've got something for everyone here, from two handed sledgehammers to staffs of healing, though I only get to pick up one type. It doesn't seem like my character class puts any restrictions on what weapons I may wield, so my templar's going to be running around with a pair of axes for the time being.
(Important edit: I'm an idiot, the damage column appears when you select the Weapon tab.)
The traditional weight limit has been replaced by an inventory space limit though, which is an interesting change. Well maybe not that interesting, but it seemed like something I should point out.
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC)|
One thing that's definitely new is this 'double-tap to dodge' feature, which lets me roll out of the way of danger at the cost of stamina. Blocking costs stamina too, though it recharges fairly fast. It's gone a tiny bit Dark Souls I suppose, with a new focus on the third person view, but it's faster and there's no stamina penalty for just hammering the attack button like an idiot (though it's not likely to be the most effective way to fight).
Health also regenerates, but I can't really complain about that at the moment seeing as I have no potions or heal magic. On the other hand it's definitely not encouraging me to go run and hide behind a wall for three seconds whenever I take a hit.
I'm not allowed to raise any attributes, but that's fine because the game doesn't have any; not in a 'strength, constitution, dexterity etc.' sense anyway. I did get a point to invest into either magicka, health or stamina though, which is a very Skyrim way of operating.
I also get a skill point to put into one of my abilities and I've got a lot to choose from. It seems that my class, my weapons, my armour type, my race etc. all come with their own skill lines and have their own XP bars. So if I invest a point in this radial sweep skill (for instance) I'll likely be able to raise my whole Aedric Spear skill line rank just by using it a lot (not that I can get it right now as I need Aedric Spear rank 12 to unlock it).
Lyris explains that my character is currently deceased, which is kind of a downer. He was sacrificed by a guy called Mannimarco, and I'd find that name hilarious if I wasn't desperately rummaging around in my brain right now to figure out if I've heard it before. That's the trouble with Elder Scrolls lore, there's so damn much of it to keep track of.
This seems like a fairly innocuous dungeon maze, aside from all the spike traps shooting out of the floor, though I'm not entirely confident I'm going in the right direction.
Lyris informed me that my quest right now is to rescue a guy called the Prophet from his cell. He was dragged to this dimension the conventional non-dying kind of way, and he may be able to help me get back to the land of the living somehow.
MERE MINUTES LATER.
You may be wondering how I got the Prophet out of his magically locked cell. It was actually very straightforward! I simply followed the quest arrows, walked over to two glowy objects on either side of the room and activated them each in turn. I mention this now because guess what I need to do next to open the portal back home to Tamriel... I hope this doesn't become a theme.
It took about 25 minutes in total to be done with this prison in the end, and it didn't give me a second chance to edit my character afterwards.
Huh, there's a table full of junk here, but it's not letting me pick any of it up. Apparently it's all just part of the scenery. I managed to loot some ingredients out of a barrel, but it wouldn't let me drop anything of mine inside. It won't let me drop anything at all in fact! Collectable items generally don't have a physical presence in the world any more and nothing is affected by physics, so I'll never be able to put a basket over a shopkeeper's head, or Fus Ro Dah shout the King's dinner into his face.
It's not usually Num 4 to talk to people by the way, I changed it. If there's one thing the game does objectively better than the PC port of Skyrim, it's redefining keys. I can't believe Bethesda still hasn't fixed that game's UI yet, it's ridiculous.
It's nice to see that the voiced NPCs and dialogue trees are apparently going to stick around, and this time I even have a choice of what objective I want to take care of first. I decided I'd look for Jakarn, and found out that he's being held in a prison called the Grave. So I guess I'm going back to jail again.
This is the island of Stros M'kai, part of the kingdom of Hammerfell (home of the Redguard). In fact the last time players were able to visit this place in the series was in the game Redguard back in 1998, where it was the main setting.
|The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard (PC)|
Hang on I'm going to look up some dates.
Incidentally, I am so so glad this isn't a numbered sequel called Elder Scrolls VI: Online or something. I didn't like it when Final Fantasy XI did it, I didn't like it when Final Fantasy XIV went and did it again, and I don't like how Dragon Quest X is joining in as well now.
After finally teaming up we went and beat up some innocent mudcrabs on the beach. This particular creature had apparently eaten some unlucky adventurer, as I found a two-handed ice staff lodged in his gut. Typically in an Elder Scrolls game the loot you find on an enemy is exactly what you see on them: their clothes, their weapon, a couple of potions etc. but this seems to be following classic RPG rules, where you get a random drop instead (usually 1 gold piece). Sadly it doesn't seem like I'll be leaving the traditional trail of naked corpses behind me as I cross Stros M'kai.
Oh, plus it seems that everyone who took part in the fight (or shares a group with someone who did) gets to pick up a copy of the loot, so there's an incentive to help out strangers.
Alright, so I've joined up with my friend and we've learned how to beat up wolves. I guess we should probably go enter the Grave already and find this thief that Captain Kaleen told me to rescue. Oh that reminds me, it's impossible to actually play as a thief in this as none of these NPCs actually owns anything. Sure I can break into houses and take all the stuff I find, but none of it counts as stealing, no one cares, and I don't have to fence the loot afterwards.
Though Jakarn wouldn't sign up with us until we promised to retrieve his treasure from the Goblins, so now we're running through a mine hitting everyone we see. Then we stop, collect 1gp from the pile of corpses, and then continue running to the next group.
I was expecting that we'd be working together on these quests, but it seems like we're each playing our own single player missions simultaneously.
LATER, BACK IN TOWN.
Morrowind, where I ended up with a house full of high quality weaponry I couldn't find a buyer for. I was disappointed though to find out that my prison pants aren't actually worth all that much, despite the fact that they're ghost trousers from a hell dimension.
On the plus side, even an innkeeper has the skills and equipment required to repair any weapon or armour, which is pretty convenient. Especially seeing as I can't fix gear myself without buying repair kits.
By the way, that map is incredibly similar to the one that showed up 16 years ago for Redguard:
I can also take items apart to recover a pitiful amount of ingots, or if they have a trait I can sacrifice them to the cause of science to learn how to apply it to other equipment at the cost of 6 hours of real time. I can also upgrade equipment if I have the special items needed, but I need to use up a fair few special items to maximise my chance of success or else the equipment will likely EXPLODE (or something).
Basically what this means is my 50 inventory slots are going to fill up with all kinds of crafting crap very quickly. I can access them from the bank as well thankfully, but that only has limited slots too!
Oh by the way I should probably mention that I've jumped ahead a few hours here, to a point after I assembled Captain Kaleen's crew, carried out the heist and earned myself passage to island of Betnikh (formally known as Betony before the Orcs moved in and stole the place). I think the last game this place showed up in was actually Daggerfall, way back in 1996.
|Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (MS-DOS)|
Honestly though I'm surprised that it took this long for me to find a proper issue considering that's it's a beta. Plus there are plenty of other things to do on this island no doubt, and places to explore. In fact I wonder what Jihaus is up to right now, I haven't seen that guy in ages.
Well if we're going to be waiting for Drusilla to appear we might as well do it somewhere new. I wonder where the Ebonheart Pact faction starts off.
SOME CHARACTER CREATION AND A PRISON BREAK LATER.
|Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC)|
Another thing I've noticed is that Elder Scrolls Online is as at home in third person view as Skyrim is in first person. You can switch between the camera modes at any time in either game, play both using whatever view you want, but it doesn't quite feel right to play ESO in first person somehow, to me anyway.
Though the downside of that is that I can never find the shop I need in these places. Somewhere in here is a table that lets me construct clothing and I'll have to search every stall in the market to find it again. Unless it's actually outside the building next door. I'm just glad I dumped all of my first character's crafting resources into the bank earlier as now I get to make use of them here to made some badass light armour for my mage.
BETA TEST DAY 2.
It's also huge, seemingly much bigger than those islands I started on. As a guess I'd say this slice of High Rock is about a third of the size of Oblivion or Skyrim's maps, but I admittedly don't have much to base that on.
Oh oh, I finally have a main plot related quest to get on with. This is where the Prophet ended up after his trip through the portal from Oblivion and he's waiting to meet me nearby.
Side quests! Rescuing villagers from a fire, catching a missing pig, solving a series of murders, stopping an assassination etc.
I don't expect I'll be allow to carry on into the next region of High Rock for the time being, but I'm curious to see if there's any level scaling in place. If not, then enemies should be getting much tougher the further north I travel.
If I had a soul gem on me I could use it to respawn on the spot, but without it I get respawned at the nearest wayshrine instead, whether I've discovered it yet or not. Either way my gear gets beat up, meaning that this mudcrab just gave me a repair bill to deal with. At least I didn't drop anything.
Alright then, I've got limited time left before they kick me out of the beta and one faction left, so I suppose I should go see how things are in the Aldmeri Dominion.
ANOTHER VISIT TO THE CHARACTER GENERATOR LATER.
Raz explains that Dominion troops have also washed up here after a hurricane and they may mistake me for a spy. He asks me again what I'll tell people if they ask where I'm from, and this time I tell him that I'm a Dominion soldier who survived a shipwreck. My ability to lie with confidence pleases him greatly. I think Raz and I are going to get on just fine.
By the way, there's no 'chance for success' for any of my lines. Joining guilds can give me the option to persuade or intimidate occasionally (very occasionally) but otherwise conversation is straightforward.
Sure it may not be all that awe inspiring as a screenshot, especially with the graphics on medium, but it looked great to me in motion. Of course as this is an Elder Scrolls game I get to explore all of it: jump on every rooftop, climb every cliff... well, jump at every cliff and get halfway up before falling off anyway. There's no invisible walls waiting at the top of rocks to block my jumping, no paths that I have to stick to; if I want to go somewhere I can go there.
Chrome, because my mind reaches to strange places when I'm forced to think of a name in a hurry.
I'm making more of an effort to stick with Jihaus this time around, though it does mean figuring out what quest he's on at any time. I often catch him stopping and talking to people who aren't there, which is either a sign of dementia or that he's got a side quest in his journal that I haven't stumbled across yet. He can manually pass quests over to me using the group menu, and who knows what other options lurk within that thing, but right now we're not exactly a well oiled machine, team-wise.
Still, I can see all the same enemies he does, so when there's violence to be done I can jump right into his fray.
This is the town of Vulkhel Guard on the Elven Summerset Isles, and that's one of those wayshrines I mentioned earlier. I can teleport back to any wayshrine for a small fee, or fast travel between them for free. It's not Morrowind's Mark/Recall magic, but there's usually one close by to the market so it'll do.
|Elder Scrolls: Arena (MS-DOS)|
FINAL DAY OF THE BETA.
There, I've finally gotten hold of this spell I saw Jihaus flaunting all the way through Stros M'kai. Always nice to be able to harpoon someone, yank them away from their friends, and smack them around a bit with my massive two handed beam of sharpened iron. I was a bit put off at first by the way I can actually walk through other characters and enemies, but once the fighting starts things tend to connect in the way you'd want them to. Two handed style in particular has a good feel to it.
I'm getting a good selection of skills now, but only limited slots to stash them in. It seems that once combat starts I'm stuck with just the five abilities in my deck, so I have to choose carefully. Though it appears that once a skill is in that bar it get levelled up whether I use it or not, even from things like discovering new areas. Seems like a smart system to me.
Right, time to help myself to a share of this loot, before these Sea Vipers respawn.
Oblivion and the game even gave me instructions, but I can't get a single tumbler into place before snapping the pick.
I've stopped and watched other players try as well and I've never seen anyone get one of these open, though Jihaus claims he managed it once.
I've ended up separated from Jihaus again, but that's fine as it seems that I can make steady progress playing it as single player game. No one else has shown up to this particular boss fight for a change so I guess this dungeon has a separate instance for every player or group who shows up here.
It's really hard to run away from a fight in this to heal up, as getting hit tends to slow me down. Plus if I get too far away the fight resets and I'm back to square one.
Well I held out the best I could, but Norion bested me and I respawned at the beginning of the dungeon... only to find that the quest was successfully completed without me. It seems that Jihaus and his brother crept in without me realising it and got the killing blow. Yeah, I think I'm going to stick with the group from now on.
LATER, AT THE END OF DAY THREE.
And those who know the chat commands to summon instruments play on, as the beta goes down.
I'm not going to try to review a game that isn't even finished yet and I definitely won't be attaching any of my stupid awards, but here are my first impressions of what I got to play of it:
I don't believe it, it seems that they actually went and nailed it. This isn't some barely related spin-off game using the Elder Scrolls name to benefit from brand recognition, this is basically Elder Scrolls with co-op (and all the compromises needed to make that work).
Sure you can't utterly break the game with clever use of magic, steal all your gear from a merchant, fill every room in your house with cheese, or slaughter the NPCs and persist in the doomed world that you have created, but when it comes to following quest arrows and listening to people talk it's got you covered. There's plenty of story and mission variety here, but also plenty of scope to go off and explore instead, collecting side quests and crafting materials as you go. You never know if that house on the hill is going to have a new crafting style or a treasure map hidden in a desk drawer, and the game still has all of the books and notes full of lore scattered around that you'd expect from an Elder Scrolls RPG.
Combat feels surprisingly fast and responsive, with more focus on player skill than hitting ability buttons, and you have to be careful with those abilities or you'll run out of the stamina you need for blocking and rolling. This ain't Dark Souls though, and it hasn't been overly challenging for me unless I'd deliberately strayed out too far. But I appreciated how even easy fights got interesting when certain skills were involved. For instance, when playing as a melee character I'd have to think about where my moves would put enemies, as the archers and mages weren't likely to thank me if I hookshotted an imp right into the middle of their group.
It's also mercifully free of microtransaction bullshit right now seeing as it won't be free to play for the foreseeable future, though the subscription model brings with it other downsides. Such as costing money every month. Elder Scrolls Online isn't the future of the series though, it's not going to replace Elder Scrolls VI, I'll still get my single player game with its single upfront cost eventually (disregarding DLC)... though until then I'll be wishing that I was playing this again.