A news post over at the official Elder Scrolls Online website announced the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) players agreed to has been lifted, which mean these same players are now able to share their experiences with the game. As fate would have it, I had the opportunity to play the game during last weekend's stress test event. I thought I'd share my thoughts here, since I'm now allowed to.

Before I do, some of you may recall but most probably will not, a few years back I predicted Skyrim would win Game of the Year. This wasn't any grand prophesy - many people made the same prediction because the game was that spectacular (bugs and all).  I ruffled the feathers of a few readers because I also said I hated the game. I'm not a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls and certainly not a huge fun of Skyrim either. But I'd like to think I am capable of setting my own opinions aside and provide some honest feedback about the game. I think I did this with Skyrim and I think I can do it with The Elder Scrolls Online.

The other point worth mentioning is, this is a beta. I took that into consideration when I played the game, so when I experienced unusual behavior or service disruptions, I didn't really hold it against the game. It's still being developed...

So, I kind of lucked into getting access to the beta. A friend from work wasn't going to be around to play and offered the code to anyone who was interested. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. Even though I might not be a fan of these games, I still wanted to give it a shot since I expect it will likely be as big (if not bigger) than Skyrim. I'll describe my experience, since that's about all I can really do.

In order to download the game, you have to register for an account at the Elder Scrolls online website. You can find it here

The website in and of itself is beautiful and of the highest caliber. I was really impressed with it. It possesses all the features you'd expect it to - game guides, media, news and support section. It has a slick look and  clean interface. To sign up for the beta you have to fill out a form asking you some basic questions. I'm not sure why, but whenever I first tried to submit the form it would reset the webpage and go back to the front page. Maybe this was because of the volume of visitors? I dunno. I tried this for the better part of an hour before I got frustrated and quit. I came back about an hour later and it worked. I don't know how or why, I was just glad it did. I was finally able to register and download the game.

The download was large and took a while, but once it was done, I finally had the game...

The first thing you do is create a character, which felt almost identical to the character creator tool in other RPG games. There are all sorts of different options ranging from body size, to hair color and skin tone. I'm not one to spend a lot of time creating a character, but the utility certainly seemed powerful enough to let you create just about whatever look you want to go for.

After I had a character created, I launched the game.

I don't know what happened - or if it was isolated to my computer, but when I launched the game there was an error screen that popped up. Now the kicker was I couldn't close this error box. I pressed the "x" button and I clicked the "close" button. Nothing worked. Logged out of the game and back in. Didn't fix it. Rebooted, logged back in, it was still there. I played anyway and it blocked about a quarter of the screen. The next day when I logged in, it was gone. That was a relief.

The game is beautiful. It looks a lot like Skyrim. I mean, a lot...but that's a good thing, right? It opens with a story that seems rather interesting. Maybe a bit on the slow side before it really gets going, but maybe I was just  being impatient. I won't go into much detail about the story as I don't know how much of it will be in the final game and I wouldn't want to spoil it. I think the character models looked a little dated, but the scenery and level design were wonderful.

You meet a few characters along the way and as you would expect from an Elder Scrolls game, the voice acting is top notch and you get to ask them all sorts of questions about who they are, what they are doing and what they want you to do. I didn't see or hear of any arrows to the knee, but I wouldn't be surprised if that is somehow included in this game, even if just as an Easter Egg.

As in previous Elder Scrolls titles, the gameplay will be mostly nonlinear with a mixture of quests, random events, and encouragement for players to simply explore the world.

I didn’t get far enough along to really experience gameplay with other players so I can’t really speak to that. It will be interesting to see if ESO can lure any of the World of Warcraft players away from that game.

(I thought this was a solid review that echos my sentiments about the game, although the host made it MUCH further along than I have)

Combat is also reminiscent of Skyrim. I was talking with a friend about ESO and he agreed that it is basically Skyrim with friends. I'd have to agree. I didn't play Skyrim, but I watched enough of it to know this game is basically the same game in nearly every way, or so it would seem.

One problem I did have, when you log on you're usually put into a queue, and one particular day my estimated wait was well over an hour. Most of the time it was only five or ten minutes, so hopefully the time it was an hour was an anomaly...perhaps they were doing maintenance or I had a bad connection. I'm not sure why, but I can't imagine a bunch of paying customers would tolerate those kind of wait times.

All in all, I'd say if you were a fan of Skyrim or any of the other Elder Scrolls games, then this is probably the one you've dreamed. I hear a lot of rumblings about the subscription requirement being a detractor, and that is certainly understandable. I guess we'll see how it works out. But I think the game will be well received and will have a lot to offer those who agree to pay for it each month, especially fans of the previous Elder Scrolls games. They're in for a heck of an adventure.