The lights are on
The MMORPG genre and The Elder Scrolls series are known for being engrossing time sinks. Players pour hours into these worlds and still feel like they hardly scratched the surface. Bethesda is combining both game types with The Elder Scrolls Online, potentially creating an even bigger threat to fantasy fans’ calendars (and wallets). I played two hours of Zenimax Online Studio's ambitious title at a Gamescom 2013 preview event in Cologne, Germany. The time I spent exploring Bleakrock Village and clearing bandits from a mine flew by, so I kept a detailed journal to archive my experience.
Bethesda representatives sit us down at our computer stations, explain the basics of character customization and skill distribution, then set us loose.
I begin by selecting a male Dark Elf and am dropped into Bleakrock Village, an island off the coast of Skyrim. I’m a Templar, which is a precursor to the Dawnguard featured in The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim’s post-launch DLC. A Bethesda employee helps me with the skill point distribution system. I drop a point into my combat skills, acquiring Puncturing Strikes, which allows me to attack several enemies in front of me at once. Attacks like these can be leveled up, independent of your character level, allowing players more progression without the regular old grind. I start off with a quest to commander Rana.
I encounter a woman preaching at a statue about Rana. She claims Rana is risking people’s lives. I continue to explore the snowy Nord village and talk to a Denskar Earth-Turner, a dairy farmer that tells me he moved to this village to start a new life.
I find commander Rana, who needs my help warning the townsfolk. She believes an invasion ship is on the way. She tells me I need to find important Bleakrock citizens at a dragon shrine, a haunted hollow, and an abandoned mine. I decide to start off by killing the bandits inhabiting the mine and send Rana’s compatriot Seyne back to town.
I find a journal in your quarters which reveals Rana’s partner Seyne is also a Dark Elf, and that the commander has been exiled to command a garrison or Nords on Bleakrock. The journal mentions a mysterious body that showed up on the beach, which was curiously dry. A Bethesda employee watches me curiously as I type and read this journal entry simultaneously. I believe they think I’m feverishly copying down the content of the in-game journal.
I test out the first-person swordplay on some unsuspecting deer wandering through the woods. I feel like a monster. The action feels familiar to Skyrim, which helps me settle into the experience more quickly. I find sergeant Seyne outside the mine. She killed one of the bandits and asks me to wear its clothes and sneak into the mine and see what they’re doing down there.
I attempt to sneak into the bandit encampment and blow it. I’m discovered pretty quickly and begin battling. The first guard I kill drops a letter. These bandits have been charged to wrangle up villagers and sell them for supplies. I accept a secondary quest to burn the bandits’ supplies, but the quest marker is far off. I attempt stealth again, but a patrolling sentry spots me. I get ambushed, die, revive on my corpse, and try again. I kill the first sentry I see, take its uniform, and try to be more careful. I’m almost discovered again when the sentry immediately respawns on my location.
I make it to the mine, but the person on the other side of the massive door won’t let me in. I explore the surrounding area for clues. I fight some more bandits, settling into a steady attack, block, attack rhythm familiar to Elder Scroll’s basic combat. I find a contract in a nearby house that reveals the bandits took over the town in order to retrieve magical artifacts from the mine, Hozzin’s Folly. The note warns of traps in the mine, as it used to host old Nord rituals.
I find more clues, including a relic and an old journal. The relic is shattered and has lost its magical potency. The journal reveals that the Nords were performing rituals in the mines to appease their god, but otherwordly creatures called scamps are causing trouble. I knock on the door to the mine, tell the guard I’m there to help take care of the trouble, and I’m let in. The fool immediately flees upon recognizing me as a stranger and is immolated by an old booby trap.
I batter enough bandits to level up. I spend the skill point on the Puncture ability, which allows me to damage my enemies’ armor for a short duration. I blow my cover again and am swarmed by disgruntled miners toiling away. Puncture changes up the way I play quite a bit. I now open up combat by using the armor-weakening move on my foes, then peppering them with regular sword swipes for increased damage.
I find my way into the tomb, and I’m prompted to avoid a series of fire traps. The scamps blast me with fire spells as I slowly work my way into the tomb. A swirling, glowing mass of purple and yellow light is in the middle of an improvised ritual chamber. This is a portal to the hellish world of Oblivion, and I have the option to enter. Stepping within I’m prompted to destroy the Unspeakable Sigil. I stare down the mouth of a twisted, red cavern with intimidating red banners hanging from above.
I fight several more scamps. The little fiery goblins like to cast area-of-effect fire spells, but the casting time and telltale ruins give me a moment to step out of the way. I kill the remaining scamps and approach a floating sphere basking in bright light. I click the Unspeakable Sigil and my character is knocked back, sent through a portal, and suddenly outside the mine. A message informs me that I’ve destroyed the strange item. Seargeant Seyne meets me outside. I tell her what happens and she tells me a group called the Covenant is behind it all. She rewards me with a new sword and suggests we head back to speak with Captain Rana.
I return to Bleakrock via a toll-based shrine teleportation system. This luxury cuts my travel time in half, which allows me to warn Rana more quickly to evacuate citizens. Seyne is already there, fervently reading a book near her commander. Rana asks me to start rounding up people to get out safely. Being the upstanding denizen of Tamriel I am, I set out to find the 15 people I need to help evacuate.
I run into a wounded warrior named Hoknir. A beast named Deathclaw has eaten off his foot (though his character model still clearly has the appendage). He wants me to end the beast in his stead. Hoknir lost a slew of gear as he limped away from Deathclaw’s base. He suggests I follow the trail of equipment like breadcrumbs to the fiend’s lair.
I find Hoknir’s arrows and sword on the wait to Deathclaw’s lair. I take out a couple of wolves chewing on a deer carcass. I loot the dead doe’s carcass and use the meat to lure Deathclaw outside. An unremarkable battle ensues that I easily win. I begin questioning Hoknir’s claim to be a lifelong hunter of dangerous beasts. Nevertheless, I take Deathclaw’s talon and head back. Hoknir miraculously rises to his feet and asks me how my hunt went. I exchange the memento for Hoknir’s axe, he limps a few steps towards the road, the dissolves into nothing. My quest tracker indicates I’ve rescued one of the missing townsfolk of Bleakstone. I decide to head back to Bleakstone to see if we can advance the quest without rescuing any more schleps like Hoknir.
Rana gives me a chance to change my mind about abandoning the missing people. I’m still rewarded for rescuing the people that I did. I gladly equip the new pair of pants. The Covenant has arrived, and Rana charges me with cutting a swath through them and lighting a warning beacon to warn the mainland about them. In the meantime, Rana goes to rally the villagers.
I fight a handful of Covenant troops on my way to the tower. One enemy rogue uses an ability to leap over my head and land behind me, forcing me to turn quickly and block his follow up attack. I encounter an archer with a red, glowing charge shot which can perceptive players can sidestep. I like the simple cues the game displays to telegraph enemy attacks. I climb the tower, light the warning beacon, and am prompted to go talk to Tillrani Snow-Bourne.
A trail of dead villagers leads all the way back to Bleakstone Village. Snow-Bourne is mortally wounded. Between bloody coughs she mentions that the townsfolk must be saved from the spreading fire. She points me towards a well and water buckets, so I get to work. I click on the buckets near the well and make for the closest flaming building. An incendiary mage is blocking barring my route, but the blade Seyne gave me makes short work of him. I use the water bucket on the flaming door and enter. Within I find the dairy farmer cowering in building and lead him out. I set out to put out more fires when I’m informed my two hours is up.
Time in Tamriel flies by whether you’re playing a single-player Elder Scrolls game or checking out Bethesda’s new MMO. I haven’t played World of Warcraft for years, and Star Wars: The Old Republic couldn’t hold my attention, but I’m excited to play more of The Elder Scrolls Online. The interesting questlines and familiar combat have kept me engaged so far, and doing it all with friends should make the experience even more exciting. The Elder Scrolls Online hits Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC early next year.
Check out more impressions from a previous The Elder Scrolls Online preview