What appears to be the upcoming GameInformer cover story on The Elder Scrolls Online has leaked into the wild, outing a huge pile of new information.
The 19 page PDF looks to be pulled from the digital issue for June, and includes screenshots, artwork, and oodles of new intel.
"What happens when hundreds or thousands of prophesised heroes all think that they should be emperor?" the feature asks in discussing the game's plot, which has the Tharn family making a pact with Minnimarco in order to re-establish Imperial dominance. Minnimarco's alliance with Molag Bal explains the player's ability to be resurrected over and over again.
According to the document, players can join every guild in the game, with the Fighters, Thieves and Mages Guild mentioned specifically, and will be able to learn a "far broader" set of skills than ever before. Reaching the level cap is said to take about 120 hours.
An emphasis on stamina management seems to be key to combat, although skilful fighting increases a player's "finesse", which is then used to unleash an "ultimate" attack and unlock more loot. Finesse can be built by combining attacks with fellow players. Enemies have access to the same skills as player characters.
The three factions mentioned in earlier leaks are linked to specific races, and each maintains large armies and seeks to expand its territories while remaining independent of the Imperials. Nords, Dunmer and Argonians hold the north and east as part of the Ebonheart Pact; Altmer, Bosmer and Khajiit make up the Aldmeri Dominion in the south east; while Bretons, Redguard and Orcs hold the north west as the Daggerfall Covenant. Environments are fully explorable, and the game world is said to be much, much larger than Skyrim's. The article says Khajiit homeland Elsweyr and Altmer realm Summerser Isle are included, but that not every province will be available at launch - expansions are expected. Cyrodil is the main PvP realm.
The MMO is said to feature a levelling and quest system similar to single-player Elder Scrolls games, with a strong emphasis on small events, like the random encounters with bandits and villagers in the wilds of Skyrim. Zenimax Online is aiming for a "hubless" design, so players don't have to be constantly running back to one or two towns for quests. One quest was detailed, involving an army of werewolves and a trip back into the past, in which a player can wipe out an entire family with the result that NPCs disappear from the game's present.
Screens show a skeletal knight in an Alyeid ruin; a mage and a sworsdman battling a pair of storm atronachs outside a ruined fort; what seems to be the same pair fighting a weird and horrible plant thing in a mushroom filled cavern; a warrior chatting in a library; what seems to be an Ordinator; a swordsman fighting a flesh atronach; three characters attacking a flesh atronach; a female mage and warrior pair having a chat outside another Alyied ruin; one of those crab men things; and more.
AGB has the shots from the PDF here.
The Elder Scrolls Online is expected to launch in 2013, on Mac and PC.