It's been one week since I donned my tail and cat ears and began my journey into The Elder Scrolls Online, and I'm having a much better time on day seven than I did on day one.
My first level Khajiit Nightblade is now a tenth level Khajiit Nightblade who has seen and done many wondrous things. He's grown from a clumsy fighter struggling against "evenly-matched" enemies, to a weaponised whirlwind, confidently leaping into a fray against creatures several levels his senior.
It's a joyous progression that only happens once in every massively multiplayer online role-playing game — the evolution from a frightened and timid neophyte to dauntless adventurer. Once that fearlessness comes to life the virtual world is yours to explore, until everything to be seen has been. I'm a little giddy thinking about it.
What I've Played
For the first ten levels with my character, Rande, I've been focusing mainly on the single-player adventuring experience. I've joined no groups, crafted no items, and have not indulged in player-versus-player battles. I've been accepting quests, completing quests and then heading to the next, following questlines across the better part of two different islands. There's still so much world to see.
What I Liked
Building my character. I don't mean character creation (though it's not too shabby), but rather taking my base character and slowly unlocking skills based on how I want to play. Every level I get a skill point. Major quests will reward them as well. These points unlock new active and passive skills.
If it were just a matter of placing a point in one of my class' three core skill sets, that would be simple — also boring. But I've got those skill sets, skills based on the armour I wear, the weapons I carry, the race of my character, the guilds I join and more. Skills can be evolved into different forms, transforming them in subtle but significant ways.
I may have selected a class template during character creation, but the Rande I'm playing at level ten is very much my own creation.
The quests. Or not performing quests, because most of the major ones in The Elder Scrolls Online feel like they're much more than that. I am curing villages of plague, thwarting invasions, freeing non-player characters from the dripping maw of madness. I am an important player in this world.
It's not that there aren't simple fetch quests in the game. It's that those simple quests inevitably lead to something bigger and more rewarding.
Seeing what there is to see. The freedom to just wander around is very important to me in an MMORPG. I'm an explorer by nature, so give me room to roam and I will roam that room. I get that from The Elder Scrolls Online. Even better, there is motivation for me to explore, with chests to unlock, hidden quests to activate and lore to archive. In other words, if I keep moving I'm bound to find something cool.
It helps that the game is so pretty. It's certainly no modded Skyrim, but with graphics settings maxed out it's quite fetching. You should see the lens flare.
What I Didn't Like
A little hand-holding never hurt anyone. This is not a game that's big on walking players through the ropes. The introductory sequence handles the basics pretty well - click to attack, hold to block, that sort of thing. Once you're out in the world there are skill points to juggle, enchantments to juggle, recipes to file, creatures to asses — it's a complicated world. And that's coming from a 15-year MMO veteran. I can only imagine how lost players compelled to try their first MMO by the franchise name can get.
That first-person combat: First-person exploration is fine. Third-person combat, while the camera is angled off to the side and it looks silly, is fine. First-person combat, as with several games in The Elder Scrolls' universe, is too imprecise and floaty. There is no impact, no sense of connection. There's just windy flailing. Maybe I just need to get used to it, a I have with the past three games in the single-player series.
Despite some early issues with a corrupt install and an an erroneous assumption that I would be completely bored with this day from the moment I first started playing, I'm finding I'm actually enjoying my time in Tamriel. The writing, music and scenery are superb, and character skill system presents me with almost too many options for me to handle. So far, so good.
Tune in next Sunday, as I attempt to group with real people, try out player-versus-player combat, and try to make something from all the scraps I've been looting from NPCs' homes for the past four days.
MMORPG reviews are not built in one day. For major MMORPG releases like The Elder Scrolls Online, Kotaku spends several weeks playing the game, delivering progress reports each week leading up to the full review.