Elder Scrolls Online is a game caught between a rock and a hard place. It is without question an MMO, and many of the game systems are tailored towards capturing the interest of the usual MMO playing crowd. But it also wants to be a single-player RPG, and attempts to attract fans of the numbered Elder Scrolls titles who may not usually play RPGs with others. What ESO accomplishes is something in between.

Let me be quick to point out that I don't think this is a bad thing. While playing the beta for Elder Scrolls Online I found myself more immersed and having more fun than I have with an MMO since World of Warcraft's Burning Crusade expansion pack. After playing WoW for close to 3 years I became more than a little burned out on many aspects of the MMO genre – quests that don't matter, daily chores to accomplish, static NPCs, and more. I dabbled in the occasional MMO since then (Warhammer Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic) and I even returned to World of Warcraft for a brief stay. None of them left a lasting impression.

Elder Scrolls Online, however, did. My character for the beta was a Redguard Dragonknight, which gives me access to Redguard racial skills – like quicker stamina regeneration – and Dragonknight abilities, which depending on what specification you choose can be tank or damage oriented abilities. The amount of skills and customization available in the game is impressive. Each class has three different skill trees with different abilities. Each race has their own skill line, as does every type of fighting style and armor class. Joining various factions like the Fighters Guild or Mages Guild and completing their quest lines opens up even more skills. Then of course there are skills for each of the game's crafting abilities, such as blacksmithing and enchanting.

Rather than gaining certain skills at certain levels as in other MMOs, ESO leaves the choices up to you. It's a little overwhelming at times. Do I upgrade my armor? Improve my fighting style? What about the Fighter Guild skills, would these be useful? It is both liberating and confusing to have such a wide range of options. Upon using certain skills enough, you can gain the ability to “morph” them. You are always presented with two different options in morphing an ability. As the Tank/DPS Dragonknight, most of my abilities were split between offensive or defensive modifications.

Combat in ESO is a mix of traditional MMO skills and action bars combined with the Health, Magicka, and Stamina system from other Elder Scrolls titles. All the traditional MMO skill types are there, taunt skills, AOE skills, abilities that stun and snare enemies. Unlike in other MMOs however, combat needs your undivided attention. Enemies regularly cast spells or perform charge attacks which need to be interrupted or silenced if you are going to come out alive. As a tank oriented Dragonknight with a sword and shield, I could shield bash enemies winding up powerful attacks, stunning them and allowing for me to follow up with a powerful strike that caused them to collapse to the ground for a time. Many enemies have AOE abilities, which are telegraphed by red range indicators emanating from their bodies. As a result, rolling out of harms way is also crucial.

Most of my fun with ESO has to do with the quests. They don't feel like MMO quests. All NPCs are voiced with far above average writing for an MMO. Very rarely are there “Collect” quests. Instead, many quests can end multiple ways depending on the choices you make, giving it the feel of a single player RPG. Part of it is the way you discover quests as well. Some quests can be found in town, but many of them are also found from just exploring your surroundings. Thankfully the game doesn't want you to waste your time; if you get near an unclaimed quest, an icon will appear on your navigation bar which can be followed to the quest giver. Like I mentioned before, the guild quest lines Elder Scrolls fans know and love are here, though the Dark Brotherhood is noticeably absent at launch. My favorite quest of the first 13 levels of the game happened as part of the Mages Guild quest line, where I was tasked with attempting to steal books from the always hilarious and insane Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. I won't spoil the the quest, but the clever writing and character interactions made me feel like I was playing a single player Elder Scrolls title.

Player versus Player options are important in any MMO, and ESO's is engaging, if a little chaotic. Upon hitting level 10, players can teleport to Cyrodiil, a massive battleground in the middle of the continent, to wage battle against the opposing factions. The easiest way to describe ESO's PvP is to imagine the map in the MMOFPS Planetside, because it is almost identical here. Players fight for control of keeps, attempting to gain more and more control of the map and eventually claim the Imperial City as their factions own. Resources across the map can be captured and used to upgrade keep defenses and siege engines and weapons can be built to bring down Keep walls and gates to allow your faction to storm in.

Battles in Cyrodiil often consist of joining up with a large group of players and charging towards an enemy keep, duking it out with enemy players outside the walls. Death in battle allows you to respawn at the nearest owned keep, often resulting in a long run back to the front line, though players can teleport between keeps their faction controls. Several hundred people all swinging axes and slinging spells is more than a little chaotic, and it was often hard to target the correct enemy or have any real meaningful impact. That being said, I still had fun running around as a part of a warband and battering down the gates of an enemy fortress.

The fact that ESO is gorgeous to look at is just icing on the cake. WoW and SWTOR may have fine visuals, but there is just something about a more realistic and detailed art style that keeps me more engaged and immersed in this fantasy world. Aiding that immersion is ability to play in first person. While in large scale battles or PvP scenarios fighting first person is a severe handicap, in my regular questing or exploring I found myself locked in first person. It makes the game feel more like Elder Scrolls, and adds to that sense of being there.

Overall, I could see myself playing ESO. The subscription fee associated with the game is a bummer, but after spending a weekend in Tamriel I am already itching to go back. If you are expecting a single-player Elder Scrolls game that you can play with your friends, this isn't it. But it also isn't a carbon copy of MMOs before it. ESO feels like a living, breathing world, with intense combat, massive PvP and quests and characters that have weight and meaning behind them aside from the quest reward at the end. Bethesda has managed to merge two different genres into one cohesive whole, a game that appeals to two very different groups of people but somehow satisfies each of them. That is quite an accomplishment.