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The Elder Scrolls Online is finally coming to consoles in a few weeks. Ahead of the June 9th release date Bethesda ran a weekend long beta on PS4 and Xbox One. So I jumped into the beta and spent about 8-9 hours in the world of Tamriel. And my time with the beta was filled with some surprises. Though if you have played the PC version most of this wouldn’t be a surprise to you. And for the record I haven’t played the PC version of The Elder Scrolls Online.
But anyway, let me tell you about one of first things you see in an Elder Scrolls game. The character creator.
The Elder Scrolls Online character creator isn’t the first thing you see in the game. Before you see any of the fun character options you have to read and agree to four separate terms of agreement pages. Four. And they are all fairly long and filled with tons of legal words like forbidden and unlawful. What a lame way to start a game.
But once you get past “reading” all of those agreements you reach the character creator. And like previous Elder Scrolls games you choose stuff like your race, sex, skin color, height, hairstyle and more. There are good amount of sliders that you can play with and with enough time you could make a beautiful character. Or you could create some hideous monstrosity.
I chose an Orc. I always play an Orc in Elder Scrolls games. But all the other Elder Scrolls races are here and ready to be picked. Redguard, Argonians, the cat people, and the rest of them. Though the races are split among three factions. Which seems weird. I know nothing about these factions beyond the small text blurb on the character creator menu. So I just chose the faction that let me play as an Orc. (And a gross tidbit here, but Bethesda allowed those who preordered the game to pick any race and any faction.)
Now I had a character and a name and I was ready to explore the world of The Elder Scrolls Online. BUT first, there is tradition we must partake in. A classic Elder Scrolls tradition.
As with nearly every Elder Scrolls game, The Elder Scrolls Online starts with you in a jail cell and escaping your fate as a prisoner. This time though you are in a jail cell in a strange and hellish place. Welcome to Coldharbour, a plane of Oblivion run by the evil Molag Bal. With a name like that its not a shocker he’s not a good guy. That is totally a bad guy name.
After you fight and sneak your way out of Coldharbour you find yourself in Tamriel, the world where all the Elder Scrolls series takes place in. Exactly where you end up is based upon what faction you choose.
So I was finally in the big open world of The Elder Scrolls Online. I wasn’t interested in doing any main quests. I was going to play this game like I do other Elder Scrolls games.Which for me means: Running around and doing random stuff. So, I was curious to see if Elder Scrolls Online would allow me to play like I usually play. Or if it would be more MMORPG like and want me to go to a bank and a guild hall and yada yada yada.
I ran around Daggerfall, my faction’s starting area, and found some basic quests. I found a dead body. And so I looked into what happened to this person and why. That eventually led me to a plot to kill the king, so I helped foil that and saved the king’s life in the process. I’ve only been here an hour an already I’m a hero.
After saving the king, I decided to explore more. I was surprised at how much like Elder Scrolls this game felt. Dotted around the world were random people to talk to. Some had quests, other just wanted to chat. Some of these quests were big and epic adventures. Others were smaller, like go grab me some rocks. All the characters I met had voices and the writing felt as good as any Elder Scrolls game. Fairly quickly I had forgotten I was playing an MMO. Instead I was playing the new Elder Scrolls game.
It was this mindset that led me to steal. You see, in the Elder Scrolls games I steal everything that isn’t nailed down. And when I visited the blacksmith in Daggerfall I noticed a rack of weapons behind him. As I got closer I was told I could steal them. I instinctively crouched and saw the familiar eye icon pop up and I moved around until it told me I was hidden. And then I stole every weapon on the rack. As I was still crouched, I walked by the blacksmith and noticed I could pickpocket him. I’m still surprised at how much this game feels like an Elder Scrolls game.
Now with a bundle of ill-gotten weapons, I headed to a anvil in the blacksmith’s shop and began dismantling the weapons I stole and refining the iron I had mined. (Yes you can mine in this game and it works just like it did in Skyrim.) With enough materials I could make all sorts of armor and weapons. Which I could then wear or if I was a cruel asshole I could sell to blacksmith.
But greed is very real thing, and soon I was stealing some more and quickly I discovered that The Elder Scrolls Online has guards in it. These guards hate criminal scum and will demand some gold or chase you down. So I split and headed out to the country to let my wanted timer tick down.
Away from the guards and the people I stole from I was free to kill wolves, mudcrabs and bandits. The biggest issue I have with The Elder Scrolls Online is the combat. In first person the game looks so much like an Elder Scrolls game. But this is still an MMO. So enemies would hit me even if I was eight feet away. But up close the combat had a similar flow and feel to Elder Scrolls combat.Block, mash attack, repeat. But to be fair the series has always had dull combat, so in a way ESO is recreating even that aspect of the series. Outside of combat the game handles well. You can sprint around and jump and crouch. It all felt like an Elder Scrolls game.
The menus and UI feel straight ripped out of Skyrim. Which isn’t a bad thing, unless you hated those menus. In which case, then it’s probably a bad thing. Navigating the menus felt fine with a controller. I never felt like I was yearning for a mouse. Everything felt snappy and quick enough and I never felt like I was getting lost in menus.
An interesting aspect of The Elder Scrolls Online is the voice chat. It defaults to on, so as I walked around Tamriel I heard people talking to other people.The closer you get the louder they get and as you walk away they fade away. It works well and I enjoyed hearing people randomly walk by as I was on a quest killing wolves. One time, I heard someone talking to his audience that was watching his stream. I followed him around a bit and did some Orc dancing for him. Yes, The Elder Scrolls Online has dancing in it. If you were worried about that, don’t be. There are tons of dances in the game, including my favorite “drunk dance.”
Visually, The Elder Scrolls Online looks nice. The art style is not quite as “real” as previous Elder Scrolls game. Characters and buildings and such all have more round edges and colors. I like the look of the game, But I hate the amount of framerate drops. This is still a beta, so keep that in mind. But my time with The Elder Scrolls Online was filled with framerate drops. In some more populated areas or complex areas it would get almost unplayable. Hopefully the final retail version will run better.
So after stealing a bunch of weapons, doing some quests, meeting Tom from Toonami (or at least Steve Blum) and reaching level 8, I left The Elder Scrolls Online beta with a good feeling. The game seems to work well on a console and it feels surprisingly like an Elder Scrolls game. Some framerate issues and lag were my biggest problems, outside of the MMO combat. But if the game can pack in enough quests and places to explore, The Elder Scrolls Online could be a lot of fun on consoles.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited launches June 9th on PS4 and Xbox One. The PC version is available to buy and play now.