The Elder Scrolls Online Preview - Mud Crabs & Joe DiMaggio

Susan Arendt | 19 Mar 2013 14:00
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I didn't feel The Elder Scrolls Online's differentness until it came time to level up and choose my skills. The skill allocation is, as you might expect, slightly different than in offline Elder Scrolls games. You gain a skill point with each level, which you can then put towards abilities in any of several different categories - such as light armor, Storm Calling, Daedric Summoning, or even Destruction Staff . The skills you can unlock depend on your character's level, and skills can be active, passive, or ultimate. I didn't advance far enough to unlock all that much, but the first skill on the Destruction Staff basically turned it into a baseball bat that would knock the holy bejeezus out of anything and send it flying about thirty feet backward. I'm sure it was called something appropriate like "Staff of Might" or something, but I just called it Joe DiMaggio. Oh, hey, spider, what's up? BOOM! FOR THE FENCES! Mages' Fury (a lighting spell) and Encase (which holds enemies in place) were certainly useful, but giving bad guys a big mouthful of smackity never got old.

We didn't have enough time with the game (a mere four hours) to really get the feel for group combat, but in the full game, parties will be able to take advantage of synergy, which allows them to use skills in concert to achieve a much greater effect. The Templar, for example, has an ability called Nova, which spellcasters can turn into Supernova. Enemies will have their own synergies, however, such as the footsoldier who throws down oil for the fire mage to ignite. There will even be something called "Factional Synergy" - the example we saw involved several members of a necromancy cult. One performed a rite, sacrificing himself so that a Soul Shriven could rise in his place.

Even when they're not performing specific synergy attacks, we were told you should expect a bit more from the enemy AI in Elder Scrolls Online. Working as a pack, enemies will see your group as a whole and go after whoever is the biggest threat, which may change over the course of the altercation. The larger the pack gets, the more its members will sense each other and try to set up synergy moves, which should lead to some very fluid fighting on both sides.

I can't say anything much for certain about Elder Scrolls Online yet - it's just too damn big for me to give any kind of informed option after just a few hours of play . But I will say that those three hours felt like five minutes because I was interested and engaged at all times. I barely made it out of the starting area, but enjoyed exploring my surroundings (which felt just the right amount of familiar) and talking to NPCs (yes, I enjoyed talking to the NPCs ... let that one soak in for a bit). It's still very much a work in progress, but I'm encouraged by how easily I dropped into the game and how much I enjoyed what I got to see.

Also, if you wind up being able to pet the cats on Captain Kaleen's ship, you know who to thank. (Seriously, you start me in an area with something like four or five cats and you don't let me pet them or feed them or anything? What is that about?)

There's tons to know about The Elder Scrolls Online, so let's move on to the lightning round:

  • There are three starting areas, one for each alliance: the Daggerfall Covenant (which we saw), the Ebonheart Pact, and the Aldmeri Dominion.
  • You can learn new abilities at any point. You could pick up a new weapon and start a new skill line whenever you liked.
  • The level cap is 50, but once you hit it, you'll be given the option to go to one of the other two alliances and do all their content. Once you've hit 50 in that one, you can finish up the third. The loot drops are tied to your character and your level, so the Ebonheart content will be far more difficult on your third playthrough than on your first, but you don't have to start a brand new character to experience the other alliances' stories. You can, of course, if you'd rather, but you don't have to. Overall, you'll get a "couple hundred hours' worth of extra content" by going through the other alliances.
  • There will be Fighters and Mages Guilds at launch, but "most likely" no Thieves or Assassins. Hang on, hang on, don't start shouting just yet. Just because they won't make launch doesn't mean they won't eventually be making an appearance.
  • First person mode will be available at launch. We saw a brief video of it that looked like it was ripped right from a single-player Elder Scrolls game. Gameplay Lead Nick Konkle swore to me - many, many times - it was just a straight-up recording from his personal play session the previous weekend. They'd wanted to do it all along, but had to work out the kinks of the animation first.
  • There will be about 16 four-man dungeons at launch, one in every zone, with one public dungeon per zone.
  • It will be available for Mac OS at launch, which means you have a far greater chance of playing with yours truly.
  • You'll make friends with NPCs - the trio you track down for Captain Keeler, for example, will follow you to your next destination and even fight with you - but you won't have a Lydia-esque companion as you did in Skyrim. Which is just as well, because there won't be any personal housing at launch, so there wouldn't be anywhere for her to watch you sleep. Bethesda isn't saying anything one way or the other about mounts, so keep that horse armor joke in your pocket for now.
  • A guild system for social events is currently in the works, but is far from finalized.
  • There will be PVP. We watched a live PVP demo in which one alliance was laying siege to another alliance's keep with trebuchets. It was a very brief glimpse and it was difficult to really get a sense of what was going on but hey ... trebuchets. Those are fun.
  • In response to whether or not there were plans to release any kind of modding for The Elder Scrolls Online, Pete Hines quipped "We kinda did. It's called Skyrim It works great, use that." (Note, this wasn't addressing UI modding.)
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