It wasn’t until I got off the boat at Davon’s Watch that I realized how far I had come. In an attempt to become fully immersed in the universe, I have always played as a Dark Elf in the Elder Scrolls games and, despite the centuries in between the respective storylines, I imagined them all being part of the same lineage. This is why I was a little bit emotional when my Dunmer, Marchamp, had finally made it back to his home province in Morrowind, a trek that took me twelve years since I first played Elder Scrolls III.
However, my journey did not start there. Like all other members of my family (at least the ones that matter) Marchamp’s journey began in a prison. Here, in an unknown part of Oblivion known as Coldharbour, I built my character. Unlike the previous Elder Scrolls games, there is a significant focus on streamlining the creation of your online persona. Choosing a race does not affect your starting attributes past a few bonuses and race specific spells. Everyone starts out at level zero for all their skills, the race you choose will only determine how fast you can level up in a certain skill tree. There are also only four classes, Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Templar and Nightblade. These only determine the special abilities you can use, not the weapons you are restricted to like the previous games.
Another race specific attribute comes in what style you can craft your gear in. Thankfully the game does a good job at showing you what a high level build will look like so that you can make your cosmetic choice carefully. It is liberating after stressing so much about what character to build in my previous adventures. Suddenly my Dunmer can wear heavy armor and carry a battle axe, yet still have a high enough skill with the bow to be stealthy; this is all within the first ten levels.
What is extremely important comes in what faction you choose. Without the Explorer’s Pack add on, your race will determine what faction you are in. Dark Elves, Argonians and Nords comprise of the Ebonheart Pact, Orcs, Bretons and Redguards the Daggerfall Covenant, and High Elves, Wood Elves and Khajiit form the Aldmeri Dominion. Each of these factions have different starting quests, and until you get to Level 10 and unlock PvP you are locked in these areas. If you are well versed in Elder Scrolls lore, you’ve already made your choice. If you are new, go with whatever sounds more fun.
With Marchamp perfected to my liking I made my way out of the Whaling Prison. Immediately I encountered familiar enemies that I had previously fought in Oblivion. What wasn’t so familiar was seeing other players battling the monsters as well. Elder Scrolls Online does not ease you into the “online” aspect. Suddenly you go from building a character like you always have, to seeing other people populate your game.
Either way, what Elder Scrolls Online does very well is making you feel like it is your own game. If you turn off the chat and stick to the main storyline, it really does feel like another adventuring trek through Tamriel all on your own. The main story keeps your attention like any other of the games, and although the side quests are diminutive in comparison with what we are used to, none of them feel like pointless “go here, kill that” tropes.
Leveling is also done in a very Elder Scrolls kind of way. Not once did I feel like I was grinding, nor do I have to kill fifty thousand mudcrabs to upgrade my dual wielding skill. You earn the most XP by completing quests, and if you get any sort of hit on an enemy before it dies, part of those experience points go to you, regardless of who actually killed it. This helps in making ESO feel like one of the most accessible MMO’s I’ve ever played.
Crafting has grown to become one of my favorite pastimes in the game. Raw materials scatter the land, anything from Iron Ore to Maple to Jute and Rawhide. All of these can be refined at a particular crafting station and turned into the weapon or armor of your choice. It goes past that though, with cooking and alchemy thrown into the mix. Every one of these skills can be learned by any class or character. It will be interesting to see how the raw goods economy flourishes once the in game population grows. Already I was starting to see expert Alchemists crafting potions for their guilds and others selling high level armor at Guild Stores. The crafting system is very well designed. If a weapon is not to your liking, you can deconstruct it to extract raw material or research a trait it might have and use it on something you want to build. If you find books on other kinds of crafting designs, you can also build things in a style other than your race.
In another effort to simplify the Elder Scrolls formula, your inventory is now determined by slots rather than weight. You can carry sixty items when you first start out, with the ability to purchase more space later on. There are banks where you can leave any items for further use and thankfully any crafting material you have in the bank can be used to build things without taking it out. You can’t steal every item on a table like you could on Skyrim, but it is an understandable step back considering the scope of the game.
So this is where Marchamp is right now. I recently bought a horse which I named Joakim Noah, I am fully enjoying exploring my homeland of Morrowind outside of Vvanderfell, and I’ve joined three guilds with very vocal members and an active community. I even made a friend. I am one level away from testing out the PvP which is why I will hold off on a score for the game until a couple of weeks after launch. From the looks of it, the server at ZeniMax is doing a fantastic job at keeping all the players connected and removing any type of queue.
What amazes me the most about the game, however, is how personal an experience it is despite the presence of so many other players. When you leave a city and simply go exploring, and the Elder Scrolls theme comes on, you know you are in a very familiar, yet foreign place. From my initial impressions it would be a crime to pass this experience up if you are an Elder Scrolls fan. This is not some side quest; it is a fully fledged new chapter in the saga.