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Elder Scrolls Online Hands-On: PAX East 2013

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When Bethesda announced that Elder Scrolls was being translated into an MMO with Elder Scrolls Online, we were all rightfully skeptical. Take an expansive, glitch-heavy game like Skyrim or Oblivion and expand it? Wouldn’t a bigger world lead to bigger problems? Well, after nearly an hour of completely free exploration of the game, we can put some of those fears to rest.

Sitting down at the demo booth, we were presented with a typical character creation screen, but with an Elder Scrolls twist. The Dragonknight melee class was first on the list, so we grabbed it (plus, who doesn’t love close quarters swordplay?). Further customization fell under the Elder Scrolls‘ races like Elves, Bretons, and Redguards, though only a few were available for our demo.

Once the characters were created, we were told we could go anywhere. While some chose to wander off into the distance, we decided to head into the nearby town and log some quests. We soon came upon a dog that seemed determined to lead us somewhere…and that somewhere was a well near a dead body. From there, we were rocketed into a “whodunnit” quest, running around the town to find the individual’s murderer.

Movement worked well enough with WASD controls, but a click of a pre-programmed mouse button let us auto run, allowing us to steer a running adventurer around town. That town, by the way, looked great; all told, Elder Scrolls Online really looks and feels like Skyrim with more people. In typical MMORPG fashion, there were plenty of NPC’s to chat up, though they didn’t have much to say if they weren’t important to the quest.

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Assassins ambushed us a few times along the way, and this is where more skeptics’ fears surfaced. Elder Scrolls combat on an MMO interface? Fortunately, the health, magicka, and stamina of Elder Scrolls transfers smoothly to the online setting. Rather than scrolling through radial menus or Skyrim‘s elongated UI, spells and abilities are attached to hotkeys – just like it should be in an MMO. With the ability to switch between the mainstay first-  and third-person viewpoints, it just feels like – you guessed it – Skyrim with more people.

All told, Elder Scrolls Online is exactly what we expected it to be, but still a pleasant surprise. The gameplay just plain works in an MMO format. And while we had one weird animation stutter, the other series mainstay, glitching, wasn’t too pervasive. We’ll have to wait and see how the final product plays, but for a floor demo, Elder Scrolls Online gave a large impression in a short time.