What does it take to make the perfect MMO? Well, you need to have every facet work just right. I'm not sure we'll ever see such a game exist, but we decided to zero in on each part of ESO to see how it succeeds or fails. Zenimax Online Studios was nice enough to give us some more time with the The Elder Scrolls Online beta this past weekend, and let us play with the much-touted PVP system as an endgame as well as more time with crafting, banging on the user interface, and questing as the Soulless One.
Here's a more detailed view of each section from The Escapist staff who were able to play the near-release version of ESO.
UI Interface (Greg Tito, Escapist Editor-in-Chief)
I'm one of those people who spent hours modding my interface in World of Warcraft. The default interface was great for beginners, but I preferred a clean viewport into the world of Azeroth, with UI elements only popping up when needed. Thankfully, Zenimax Online Studios clearly devoted a lot of energy to providing only the information a player of Elder Scrolls Online needs at any given moment. Not only that, but the interface looks clean and elegant, fitting for guiding your adventures through Tamriel. The only downfall is that it's not moddable, at least not yet.
Fans of Skyrim should feel at home in ESO's interface. There's the compass display at the top of the screen which lets you know which direction you are facing and where nearby landmarks are. One big difference from Skyrim is that the default key used to access most menus is Alt, instead of Tab. Pressing it brings up the menus, and hitting it again will cancel you back out into the world from most screens, including dialogue. The scripted dialogue sequences look almost virtually identical to Skyrim, with the spoken text and dialogue choices displayed over a darker gradient on the view of the world itself. The only thing I missed was the ability to look around while the character is speaking. You are stuck with a fixed view.
I really dug how Zenimax Online handled items in ESO. Your inventory is nicely separated into tabbed categories, rather than the "icon-per-item" system of moving around stuff in virtual bags. Inventory is still limited though by a simple number of items, regardless of weight or number in a stack. A stack of capon meat takes up the same space as an iron axe or that nirnroot you just picked up. There are NPCs you meet in the game which can increase your inventory limit for a reasonable amount of gold. Speaking of gold, nearly every mob you kill in ESO drops 1 gold piece rather than flavorful junk items in other MMOs. While that's something to miss, there's enough lore in other parts of the game that I appreciated not having Broken Axes and Dirty Butt Hairs clogging up my inventory.
Another convenience I didn't know I wanted in an MMO was that in-game mail was delivered directly to you. There's no need to head to a mailbox in town or anything like that. All guild invites and AH purchases are sent directly to you. I could see the argument that this reduces the immersion into a virtual world, but is going to a mailbox the kind of thing you really want to spend doing in a made-up fantasy world?
The combat UI was uncluttered as well. You have only a few abilities you can use at any given time, and these line the bottom of the screen. Your opponents will occasionally make attacks that are AOE, and it's a simple matter to dodge out of the red zones on the ground in front of your character. There's a handy radial favorites menu, which you can fill with consumables like health or mana potions. I never felt hindered by the UI, and most combats flowed naturally so that I was blocking attacks or deftly avoiding an enemy mage's fireballs.
For the most part, I was very impressed with how the interface was designed in The Elder Scrolls Online. As I said, there are no mods available yet, with no plans announced for an API for fans to use to develop their own UI elements, but there was a tantalizing menu item called "Addons" in the Escape menu. You might remember something similar from when I played ESO at E3 last year. It looks like there are still some plans to allow interface modding in ESO and I hope they do. It's a great interface already, but opening it up to the coders would make it truly wonderful.
Remember how much Sky UI improved Skyrim?