The Elder Scrolls Online
Back in June 2012 we announced Bethesda’s new MMORPG, The Elder Scrolls Online. Since then, we’ve been able to explore one of the starting zones extensively (read Adam’s preview for an in-depth look). During my recent hands-on time with the game, I chased down an intriguing sidequest that hooked me with more than just the promise of XP and better gear.
The playable section of the game starts me off with a level six character. A ZeniMax Online Studios developer fills in for the tutorial, and I begin crafting my character. I create a spellcaster, whose repertoire includes flinging fireballs, summoning an imp companion, and calling down lightning strikes from above. With my spell selection limited by my low level, I settle into a reliable routine. I put my fledgling skills to the test in a straightforward dungeon, which I clear out easily. My prize is an overpowered staff (the developer says it's being balanced), which makes the rest of the demonstration a cakewalk.
I wander along the main road, which stretches out from a nearby castle city. I accept a quest from a man with a ghost problem. This frightened individual has inherited an estate that lays mostly in ruin. Nevertheless, he’s interested in the land and wants me to drive out a malicious spirit. This sparks a chain of quests that sweetens my barebones combat options with an engaging story about love, betrayal, and revenge.
The local fauna has invaded the ruined estate. These winged pests are easily distracted by my imp helper, freeing me up to rifle through the rubble for clues about the ghost. Instead of collecting meaningless quest objectives, I uncover entries from a heart-breaking diary. Each page tells a unique section of the tale, complete with voice acting (which is a robotic placeholder voice at this point in development). I learn of an affair between a young noble and the family’s servant girl. The noble shows his love to the servant by giving her a family heirloom. The matriarch finds the prize in the servant girls’ quarters and accuses her of theft. The noble refuses to speak up in the servant’s defense, and she’s then locked away in a tower as punishment.
The rest of the quest involves tracking down a magic user with spectral experience, further investigation of the ruins, and a showdown with the enraged ghost. Without giving the twist away, I learn the servant girl was in possession of something precious and made a pact with dark forces to ensure its safety. In Elder Scrolls Online, characters you help may return to assist you later. I’m curious to see whether this tale continues down the road.
As you can tell by my impressions here, Elder Scrolls Online’s storytelling has left an impact on me. I was more impressed with the tale told in this brief quest chain than I ever was in my hundreds of hours exploring World of Warcraft's barebones stories. Star Wars: The Old Republic’s waning community proves that players need more that good storylines to keep them engaged with an MMO, but I’m hopeful for Elder Scrolls Online. I walked away from my hands-on time eager to jump back in hunt down more fascinating stories when the game hits PC and Mac later this year.