In the very next room, I was able to test out my skills with my new hammer on a skeleton warrior. The Elder Scrolls Online sets itself apart with its combat system pretty quickly. It’s not quite a true Elder Scrolls combat system, but it’s far from the normal MMO mentality of simply clicking on skills without having to think about what’s going on. Weapon attacks come in either the light or heavy variety and drain your stamina per swing, so making sure you’re engaged in the battle is the only way to win. While there is some aiming to be found, it’s still a matter of if you’re targeting the enemy you’re going to hit him. Blocking is also done manually, as are evasions, so having quick reflexes and situational awareness will often be the difference between a narrow victory in battle and a costly death.
One fairly drastic change in the formula is how the skill trees and available skills are going to be used. Each class has three main skill trees as well as trees based on weapon and armor choices, guild allegiances, racial skills and crafting. Once you’ve unlocked them with skill points, abilities will continue to upgrade themselves automatically. After you’re a few levels into a skill, you’ll be able to morph it into one of two different options, allowing you to personalize these skills even more to really make your character specially tailored to your play style. Keep racking up kills with your class abilities, and you’ll unlock an ultimate ability that can significantly change the flow of a battle to your favor. There’s an absolute plethora of skills just waiting for you to uncover.
However, nothing in Tamriel comes without a catch it seems. You’ll be limited to 5 active abilities with one ultimate at any given time. That’s not to say you can’t unlock them, but you will only be able to have that many set up in your hotkeys. As you hit level 15, you’ll be able to switch between weapons, giving you access to another 5 ability slots based on that weapon. It’s too early to see how this will play out in the long term, but during our time spent in the beta, it did feel like we were being a bit limited.
As I progressed through Coldharbor, I was impressed with how much it really feels like an Elder Scrolls game. I was avoiding traps, wading through chests and vases that I could loot, and everything felt immediately familiar. Even the small things like opening doors felt like something I would have expected from Skyrim.
While all of the factions will go through the same Coldharbor tutorial, upon completion they’ll be scattered across Tamriel into their own zones. It’s here that the game really begins. You’ll be able to wander the area completing quests, thwarting assassins, helping people in distress and all of your favorite RPG tropes. It did feel a bit odd helping someone fix up their ship when we could clearly see others running around doing the same, but that’s really par for the course with MMOs.
One minor thing that I found charming is how The Elder Scrolls Online encourages team play right from the get go. Even the basic act of grouping with someone to knock out a quest gives a 10% experience bonus. Fishing holes are more likely to produce a rare fish if more people are casting their lines at once, albeit with the risk of it drying it faster.
Perhaps the most impressive example is the inclusion of synergies. Certain abilities can play off each other, triggering secondary effects that are activated by pressing X when prompted. If you want to play this as a single player game, it seems entirely possible based on the low level stuff we encountered, but there’s enough of an upside to even make an anti-social curmudgeon like myself reach out to players through my screen.
There are also a lot of little things that have been done here that seem so obvious in hindsight, making it hard to imagine they haven’t been done before. The most blatant example of this is that when looting corpses, you only need loot one body in the area in order to gather from all of your fallen foes. It’s a great time saving mechanic that’s brilliant in its simplicity.