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How is The Elder Scrolls Online different to other fantasy MMOs?

Steph Nunneley is an MMORPG obsessive. Se we sent her to Tamriel to uncover the differences in Zenimax Online's upcoming role-player.

The Elder Scrolls Online

"I have yet to be asked to go kill 10 skeevers, or cut some maple wood for someone's house, or gather 20 wolf pelts. This is extremely refreshing."

The Elder Scrolls Online will feel familiar to fans of the series. The way the MMO plays, looks, feels, it's all there; however, don't go into it expecting Skyrim. I have read this comparison many times by people who have played in the beta. That it's a Skyrim MMO. As someone who has played every Elder Scrolls game on PC, Xbox and Xbox 360 - each - I can assure you, it is not.

Not only is that a disservice to Skyrim, but The Elder Scrolls Online as well. There are very familiar aspects to the online game such as the directional bar at the top of the screen. There's your health, mana and stamina bar. Even the skill trees in which the player spends points in various ways to enrich their character is familiar. But that is where the similarity ends, at least from my perspective.

I'm not going to give you a run down of the gameplay. If you have immersed yourself in an Elder Scrolls game in the past, you are already familiar with it. Nothing has changed. Only this time, instead of an RPG which can last upwards of 700 hours, it's, well, an MMO. Obviously.

Instead, I want to talk about what is different from other MMOS I have played. How does it differ to World of Warcraft, EverQuest, Lord of the Rings Online? On the face of it, not much.

The Elder Scrolls Online

Granted, I have yet to be asked to go kill 10 skeevers, or cut some maple wood for someone's house, or gather 20 wolf pelts. Just about every MMO out there has small fetch quests players need to complete in the starting levels which, in turn, help build up their character so they are strong enough to go out into the massive, online world. So, this part is extremely refreshing. There's also no running from one end of the section map to the other to relay messages to other NPCs. Which, in and of itself is nothing more than an extended version of the dreaded fetch quest. Again, refreshing, and well done on Zenimax Online's part.

"Enemies can be frustratingly hard at times. I'm not talking about general mobs such as bears, wolves, thunderbugs or skeevers. I'm talking about the humanoid enemies."

Enemies in the game will also feel familiar to Elder Scrolls players, but like the aforementioned MMOS and unlike the offline versions of the franchise, enemies tend to spawn in the same spot. They have to really. In previous Elder Scrolls games, you had an idea of where something or someone would spawn, but it could also be entirely random. Surely this will be incorporated in some capacity in the game - wouldn't it be fantastic to run into M'aig the Liar, as he just randomly popped up someplace? It wouldn't be an Elder Scrolls game without such randomness, but I have yet to run into any this early in the game. As far as general enemies are concerned, if you kill one, and come back to the area, expect him to have reappeared and to use the same pathing. It makes sense from a development standpoint considering the size of the game.

Speaking of enemies, they are rather tough, which surprised me so early in the game. Generally, enemies in an MMO are on par with your character level, providing you don't go running off into an area full of high-level mobs. In TESO, they are tough. I cannot tell you how many times I have died already and I'm just at level eight. Enemies can be frustratingly hard at times. I'm not talking about general mobs such as bears, wolves, thunderbugs, skeevers, and mudcrabs meandering around the landscape. I'm talking about the humanoid enemies.

The Elder Scrolls Online

In an MMO, there's neither a difficulty option nor a slider to adjust by going into the main game menu. The difficulty is set per area and that is it. It's easy to just run off and do other, smaller quests to level yourself up and come back to a quest you are having issues with, and, it appears you can do this – to some extent – in TESO. With the majority of MMOs, enemies who are at your level early in the game, or one above or below for that matter, are rather simple to dispatch providing you are not mobbed by more than two at a time. This is not the case in TESO, at least from my perspective. Two humanoid enemies can make quick work of me if I don't run off fast enough. Don't even get me started on the main questline enemies who happened to conjure up some sort of undead minion or spirit to protect them. And don't expect the quest giver who happens to go into the bowels of the dungeon with you to be of any help. It doesn't take them long to become “tired” and need a rest.

In others words, you need to be at least a level above your enemy in certain cases in order to best the odds. Don't expect to go into every situation with an NPC hoping they will tank or perform any sort of proper crowd control - par for the course with an Elder Scrolls game. Instead, go into as if you were the only person fighting the enemy. This will save you some frustration in the long run. Glasses are expensive, as are keyboards, and no amount of frustration in a game is worth Hulk-smashing your desk after dying for the umpteenth time.

Now, before you get the impression I am some namby-pamby whiner who wants things dumbed down for her, check yourself. This is not the case. I don't like things being dumbed down. I love a challenge. In my opinion, I am a rather seasoned MMO player. It's just the level discrepancy is just rather 'sharp'.

For example: I started the beta as a Bosmer, which is a Wood Elf and a member of the Aldmeri Dominion. This class is agile, quick, and proficient with the bow. I liked the idea of stealthiness, so I chose the dual wield option and the Nightblade class. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, as I normally play Hunters or the equivalent. I found this class difficult. Again, it could be that I am out of practice when it comes to melee. But I don't feel that is the case. I usually play 'in your face' characters in regular RPGs and I had a rough go of it in TESO. But I am not the only one who has touched upon the difficulty level in TESO.

The Elder Scrolls Online

Just know going in that your experience may vary. I found this particular class hard to play. I made a second character, a Dunmer (Dark Elf), which are both good warriors and sorcerers and part of the Ebonheart Pact. I chose the sorcerer class, leveled her to eight like the previous toon, and didn't die near as often. I actually enjoyed the hell out of this class and had quite a bit of fun playing her.

Of course, some of the issues I experienced with the Nightblade could have something to so with the interface, and here is where I will probably get flamed to hell and back by many 'hardcore' MMO players who have a key binding or macro for every flipping thing imaginable. If you are one of those who use the keys anyway, you will feel right at home so just skip over my whinging if you like.

"The interface in TESO is nothing, I repeat, nothing like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, or Lord Of The Rings Online."

The interface in TESO is nothing, I repeat, nothing like WoW, EQ, or LOTRO. You do not use your mouse to click an attack on your action bar. The left and right mouse buttons are used for attacks, blocking, and interruptions. Sure, you can change things around a bit, but not much. Luckily, I have a rather nice Razer Naga with 12 buttons on the side which I can assign to various attacks. I still found in certain situations with the Nightblade that I couldn't press buttons fast enough, thus getting my ass handed to me.

ZeniMax Online wanted to make the interface as simple as possible, and they really did. There aren't a gazillion bars filling up your screen. This, while a plus, is also rather hard to get to use if you're an MMO players used to mouse clicking bars. Just know that going in there may be a bit of a learning curve for you.

Your secondary bar, or wheel in this case, is brought up when you hit the Q key on your keyboard. This is where you can bind various potions or food you may need in a pinch. I found it to be quite worthless when in battle, because you have to hit the Q button and then use your mouse to select which potion you want to use. If you are fast or dexterous enough to accomplish this when you are about to die, my hat is off to you. I couldn't. It really made me feel like an idiot.

The Elder Scrolls Online

Honestly, the interface reminds me of Neverwinter's, which I was not too fond of, in the sense that the camera is tied to the mouse. I don't like that at all. I know it takes a lot of getting used to, but in an MMO where there are multiple attacks and items you need to bring up in an instant, having the camera move in the player's direction when using the WASD keys is more user friendly. I play predominately on PC so I am used to this on shooters and other first-person games. However, I just don't think it works well in an MMO, especially if it doesn't feel very fast to begin with. This is just personal preference. Despite the issues I had getting used to the interface and the controls, I don't want you to think I am knocking the game for it, or the developers for wanting to make things simple and less cluttered. It's just a preference I am sharing with you, because, well, it's my opinion on the matter.

Other than my ineptness with the controls, which, I am rightfully taking ownership of, I rather enjoy the world. It's detailed, lovely, varied, and fun to explore. A couple of my friends have described the game as being rather linear when it comes to exploration. I feel differently.

For starters, you can pretty much travel anywhere you wish on the game map in which your chosen alliance is in control. Granted, some spots on the map you will want to steer clear of if your level isn't high enough. This is the case in all MMOs, but my point is you are free to go running about the landscape as much as you want. Nothing is stopping you, and if you can see it, you can climb it. There is no linearity to it. Period. You are free to run about the place finding extra quests on the map, or searching for crafting nodes, or finding a chest to loot. The lore is rich, some quests have choices, and did I mention it was lovely? Yes, I did, but it's worth noting again.

The Elder Scrolls Online

I have heard that once players reach the level cap at 50 they will be able to travel to any zone in the game, no matter which alliance they chose, so while there will be even more freedom down the line, there is still plenty to do and see no matter which level you are sitting at, providing you have finished the starting area.

"If I can get used to the controls, find a class I am comfortable playing and a nice Guild in which to align myself, I can see myself at least trying it out again post launch"

Those interested in PvP can also start rather early at level 11, and there are public dungeons available as well, just know these are scaled rather high due to the amount of players available to dish out their own brand of Aldmeri Dominion justice - or whichever alliance they chose. So, no, it's not linear.

Now, here comes the million dollar question: after my time in the beta comes to close, will I be willing to purchase the game and pay a monthly subscription for it? I honestly cannot answer that question at this time. I have only played two characters to level eight so I am unable to make an informed decision. But I did have fun the second time through with my sorcerer.

Reviewing and previewing MMOs is rather difficult. The games are huge, varied, contain a massive amount of content, and considering the gameplay changes as one levels, it's unfair to provide a score or an informed option on one unless you've played it to at least level 20 or above.

I adore the Elder Scrolls franchise. I really do. I have been eager to play TESO since rumors of its development first surfaced in 2007, but can I see myself paying over $50 for the base game and doling out $14.99 a month to play it? I'm not quite sure just yet. However, if I can get used to the controls, find a class I am comfortable playing and a nice Guild in which to align myself, I can see myself at least trying it out again post launch.

Whether I continue to play it will be another matter entirely. I tend to hop from MMO to MMO with the frequency of a cheap ham radio*.

The Elder Scrolls Online is slated for release on PC and Mac on April 4, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions expected in June.

*Plus one to charisma if you get the reference.

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