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Steven Previews "The Elder Scrolls Online"

Character creation screen.  All characters start out in Molag Baal's realm of Coldharbour.
Character creation screen. All characters start out in Molag Baal's realm of Coldharbour.Image captured using Fraps

The Elder Scrolls Online

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This past weekend I got to try out the exclusive beta of The Elder Scrolls Online. Like most other reviewers, I have mixed opinions about it. The good news is that ESO is a functioning MMORPG, with enough quests and activities to keep you busy and having fun. You’re allowed more character customization options than I’ve seen in many of the MMOs I’ve played. For instance, you can adjust just about every aspect of your character’s face, including cheekbone size, nose type, the size and color of his or her eyes, etc. You can even decide how tall or short your character looks, as well as how heavy set or skinny.

Unfortunately that’s where the amount of detail ends. Previous Elder Scrolls games, especially Skyrim, had such an immersive world with tons and tons of items to pick up, including not only weapons and armor but books (that you can also read), food, treasure, herbs, mineral ore, lockpicks, clothes, and just random junk that you can sell or display in your house. The Elder Scrolls Online throws very little at you in terms of items. Instead of looting individual crates and barrels, you may only loot a group of them, and sometimes someone else has already looted that group and left it empty. Similarly, instead of reading a single book on a shelf full of books, you activate the whole shelf only to read one of the stories in it. Minerals and herbs are also hard to come by. I only picked about two or three herbs during my three to four hour beta test. I also didn’t come across any iron deposits on the map, but I managed to get a little iron from breaking down some equipment.

In addition to lacking a very detailed universe, ESO also lacks Skyrim’s detailed graphics engine. Close-up objects look fine, but distant mountains are only plainly visible. Character models don’t have as much detail, yet, when spoken to, NPCs are more animated with proper body language. The game also lacks ragdoll physics whenever you kill creatures or enemies, but perhaps this is a wise choice since you don’t want your loot rolling down a hill. But on a whole the graphics do not give you the sense of awe and wonder like previous Elder Scrolls titles.

In its current condition, The Elder Scrolls Online is by no means a bad game, but it could be much better. I understand that this is the first time that The Elder Scrolls has delved into an MMO universe and that things have to be different from the single player RPGs of the past. But there’s got to be a way to add more content into this game and get us really excited about playing it. Until then I’d recommend waiting later to try it with hopes that it will either fix this problem or go to a free-to-play model.