E3 is of course one of the best times to show off newly announced titles and give the press a chance to take a look at early builds of games. Last year Bethesda wowed everyone in attendance with their presentation of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now only one year later Bethesda had another Elder Scrolls treat for those of us in attendance… a first look at The Elder Scrolls Online in action as well as a few details that hadn’t yet been revealed.
When the presentation began it is quite obvious that the environmental graphics were nearly as impressive as Skyrim’s in their detail and textures (one thing worth noting is the fact that a bookshelf full of books can be lit on fire from a spell, whether this involves more environmental interaction of this like is not known at the moment), although the same could not be said about the player characters nor the races players can choose from, as the Argonian and Khajiit appear similar to what they looked like in Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.
Moving on from that, the setting of Elder Scrolls Online takes place 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim, and the land of Tamriel is in the middle of a massive war, with three factions vying for power. In the North East the EbonHeart Pact has created a strong foothold, while the North West is held by the Daggerfall Covenant. In the south likes the Aldmeri Dominion, while the kings of Cyrodiil have fallen far, so far in fact they have made a pact with the Daedric Prince Molag Bal. Unfortunately for them, this has not gone how they wanted it to.
As such, undead armies have begun roaming the land in an effort to vanquish Cyrodiil’s foes. In fact, the player character himself/herself has undergone quite a devastating theft by the evil Daedric Prince for he has stolen your soul and doomed you to an eternity of death and revival, which puts an interesting twist on the fact that if a player falls in combat, they will simply respawn. Now the main quest for The Elder Scrolls Online focuses on the retrieval of your soul from Molag Bal and Bethesda has revealed that the main quest can be finished entirely solo if players choose to do so
However even if the player chooses to fight solo, they will still run into plenty of other players in the world and with the use of Bethesda’s real time combat system, players will always be able to help one another. If, for example, a warrior stumbles upon a mage who is battling against enemies, they can step in and combine their powers together, sometimes causing a combined skill effect, and finish the enemies off, rewarding both players with EXP and drops. Now this mechanic is accentuated by Elder Scrolls Online’s class system, as the Bethesda representative stated that classes can always play more than one part in a party thanks to these strategies, regardless of their class tree. In fact, skilled fighters will receive something called Finesse Points. At this time, Bethesda hasn’t stated much about these FP, but when demonstrated on-screen, the player received an extra treasure chest of loot as a bonus, so it currently appears to be a reward system for smart fighters.
Now the combat for Elder Scrolls Online will play out in real-time and players will be able to react to their opponents moves in real time as well. For example players can be trying to cast a spell or unleash a skill, see an enemy about to hit them and then block this blow to keep themselves alive. This is quite useful given the fact that the enemies that players will run across will often help one another out and work together. An example of this was shown by Bethesda, where a necromancer immediately raised the skeleton of an enemy just killed by the player, effectively returning them to the fight despite just dying.
Interestingly enough, rather than go the World of Warcraft approach and present a multitude of toolbars and hotkeys, Bethesda has chosen minimalistic approach with their HUD, offering only a small tool bar of skills, the main compass to navigate the map as well as a display of the player’s Health, Stamina and Magicka. This does provide quite an interesting looking title as it makes the game look as if it were a 3rd person multiplayer version of past Elder Scrolls games. This feeling was made even more prominent when Bethesda showed off a number of memorable areas from past titles, including areas from Skyrim, Oblivion, Marrowind and even Daggerfall. These areas will all be available for exploration in ways never before shown.
Now one thing that looks to set The Elder Scrolls Online apart is the fact that the game doesn’t contain any simple quest hubs like other titles, but instead will feature the compass which will point out areas of interest to the player. These points of interest usually contain a quest of some sort, which often will revolve around The Elder Scrolls’ lore. Now NPCs will still give out quests in various areas, with quest givers having a golden aura around them. These quests that players will receive often contain various side-objectives as well. Now while these side-objectives are completely optional, there are consequences for your actions. Saving an ally in one of these side-missions may present an even longer quest-tree or special rewards, while ignoring issues may cause trouble later.
Now with all of these various quests and combat, what about end-game features? Bethesda revealed a number of interesting pieces of content which will keep end-gamers happy, as The Elder Scrolls Online will feature various instances and raids that players can undertake with others and of course, Player vs. Player. Bethesda looks to be trying to create massive battles as they stated that their goal is to have up to two hundred players fighting on screen at any given time, especially when these fights are part of a guild war.
These battles can occur in an open field or even in the castle of another guild, allowing players to either lay siege to others or defend their castle from invaders. The battle presented to us featured around 50 fighters but was rather impressive in scope as it featured plenty of sword fighting, magic spells and more. Now despite these impressive goals, the Bethesda rep stated that they are aiming for a low-spec necessary title, allowing people with computers up to five years old to play the game. Since the company didn’t state what graphical settings we were presented with at the time of the show, the quality can and probably will degrade on older machines.
As it stands, The Elder Scrolls Online looks like it just may be the next WoW killer, as it offers a unique questing system as well, impressive massive player vs player and a world many of us have grown familiar with over the past two decades. We’ll know much more soon as Bethesda is aiming to release The Elder Scrolls Online in 2013 for the PC & Mac.