It's hard to imagine a video game world with more lore, more content to dig through for an MMO than The Elder Scrolls. With almost 20 years of history, The Elder Scrolls mythology is ripe for exploration. Sadly, that makes the disappointment that is The Elder Scrolls Online sting that much more. While there is a lot of game to explore, I found myself detached from the experience.
Zenimax Online Studios is trying for a balance between traditional MMO mechanics and Elder Scrolls mechanics, but it definitely leans heavily into the traditional MMO side. In our demo we were able to create a character and then play through an early section of the game. It's important to remember this is an early and incomplete version of the game, and things should improve before the launch next spring.
You can choose one of four classes, which change your basic skills. I picked the Sorcerer for my demo. As in a traditional Elder Scrolls title, you can wear any armor regardless of your class. Armor types, skills, and weapons will level up individually. You can attack with your weapon with the left click, and by holding it down you can unleash a charged attack, and you can block by holding down the right mouse button. Crouching will let you sneak.
Aside from those features, the game plays like a more traditional MMORPG. Health, Magicka, and Stamina are present and have similar utilities to previous Elder Scrolls games. You can spend skill points to level them up as you play. You have a skill bar with standard MMO-like skills, and enemies are attacked through targeting, not aiming. When you point the mouse in the general direction of an enemy they are highlighted, alerting you that your skills will hit that enemy.
In practice the combat feels more World of Warcraft than Elder Scrolls. Your positioning and aim don't matter in the way that they would in a traditional Elder Scrolls title. Instead you block and dodge to avoid enemy attacks, while using preset skills and your left mouse attack to strike targets. There will be a first person view in the final game that wasn't present in our demo, but I can't imagine it will change the feel due to the targeting system.
Quests in the demo were the standard MMO fare. Most required you to go kill or collect a certain number of things. Others would have you defend NPCs as they performed an action, or rescue hostages through the use of a disguise. You will have to find quest NPCs, accept quests, and return to those NPCs to collect your reward. Innovation on this front seems slim at best.
Our build, which was certainly early, was also very buggy. While human enemies showed up on screen, mystical creatures like atronachs were just glows. Their character models completely failed to load, which also meant I couldn't see their choreographed attacks to block them. Compounding this was a general poor graphic quality, significantly worse than what was represented in the trailer, and a lack of ambient sounds and good ambient music.
I can't say I found myself impressed with The Elder Scrolls Online. While the bugs are probably fixable, the game lacks character and straddles an awkward middle ground between traditional MMOs and Elder Scrolls games without doing either style of game particularly well. A generally poor presentation and uninteresting game design may make this feel like all for naught. It doesn't matter if your world is many times larger than the world of Skyrim if it's also many times less interesting. The Elder Scrolls Online hits next spring on Mac, PC, PS4, and Xbox One, but it's going to need a lot of work between now and then.