I could have sat and played ESO for hours.
I've been a fan of Bethesda's Elder Scrolls universe since Daggerfall, and I love MMOs in addition to the single player RPGs the franchise is famous for. So I'm pretty much the exact demographic that should love The Elder Scrolls Online and based on an hour playing the game at the Bethesda booth at this E3, I'm ready for this sucker to come out. Even with the distractions of a faulty keyboard and the hullabaloo of E3 around me, I was so lost in its rich storytelling that I almost missed my next appointment.
Only the races of the Daggerfall Covenent - Bretons, Redgaurds and Orcs - were available to experiment, but I still tinkered around with the character creation screen to my heart's content. You can tweak everything about your character's appearance, from facial hair and "adornments" to body type, eyebrow placement and my personal favorite - "posterior protrudement". I created Galfrunt Zabadoo, the Breton sorcerer, and unleashed him upon the town of Daggerfall.
For the demo, I started out at level 5 and that meant I could purchase a few skills as soon as I logged in. I opted for a demon familiar, a delayed lightning attack, a spell that created 3 "mines" on the ground and a skill that let me keep enemies at bay in cage of bone. In addition to those cooldown abilities, I could blast with my staff at range in both heavy and light attack. Like most MMOs these days, the combat in ESO is more action-based with no autoattack. You have to aim your attacks at your enemy for it to land.
The world is just as rich and detailed as Skyrim, but the area around the town of Daggerfall was more akin to Oblivion in its temperate vegetation. Squirrels and rabbits hopped along in the grass, and the trees on the rocky paths through the fields seemed lifelike. On the high-end PC I played it on, the graphics looked great, but there's no word on whether it will be just as good-looking on a middling or low end machine. Hopefully, the graphics scale well.
As soon as I strode into the town of Daggerfall, a dog bounded up to me. I entered a dialogue with the puppy - like you do - and I was led to the body of a young Breton. His supposed killer attacked me immediately, and I got my first taste at combat. The right and left mouse buttons feel a bit odd to constantly press when fighting, at least for me, but I soon figured out a nifty combo of trapping the Bloodthorn Assassin in his place and peppering him with lighting and basic staff attacks.
It turns out the dead guy left a shopping list, and I had to go around to the shopkeepers in town to see what I could find out. Talking to the shopkeepers not only introduced more of the excellent voice-acting for every NPC - on par or better than Skyrim I'd say - but it also let me loot all of the barrels and crates in the market. I was disappointed the guards didn't attack me, my loot OCD will get the better of me in this game, but I gathered a bunch of raw materials like grain and fruit.
Hey, that's a cookfire. What happens if I ... Yep, hello crafting system. From what I had in my inventory, I brewed an ale and a wine - potions which would restore my health or mana over a brief time. You can also "deconstruct" anything you craft to get some raw resources back and possibly discover new recipes, but I didn't learn anything new when I deconstructed my beer. Pity.
One thing I noticed poking around the menus was a menu that said "Mods". Opening it up didn't show any mods installed, but there were buttons that seem to let you enable or disable mods for specific characters. Hopefully this means ESO will have mod support as robust as the single-player franchise. Fingers crossed - I think that kind of functionality would increase the game's popularity with fans sevenfold.
Back to the quest at hand. Speaking to the townsfolk, I uncovered a plot to assassinate the King and hopefully foiled it. Along the way, I picked up a sidequest to help a farmer get his pig back, and I was pretty sure this was a typical MMO garbage task. I found the pig by a large unnatural root, and after consulting the local Mage's Guild about it, I realized it was actually connected to the assassination plot. It was cool that even the seemingly meaningless sidequests informed the major push of the story being told.
Throughout the whole quest line, I might have fought only a handful of enemies. I'm impressed the Elder Scrolls team was able to show off a quest series that proved storytelling in MMOs doesn't have to revolve around killing X amount of dudes.
I was about to plunge into the next quest - taking out the would-be assassins on the docks of Daggerfall - but I glanced at my clock instead. "Crap," I said to myself. "I have to be in West Hall in 5 minutes." I reluctantly got up from the PC and shuffled off, longingly looking behind me at the visage of Galfrunt Zabadoo.
The Elder Scrolls Online will be out in the Spring of 2014 on PC and next gen consoles.