The Elder Scrolls Online Preview: It’s Like Skyrim – Online
Just the night before my hands-on play session, I was lamenting the move away from discoverable quests in MMOs. Most games are on rails these days. Quests tell you exactly where to go, how to get there, what to do once you’re there, where to go for your reward and what that reward is going to be, all up front. While this is generally an improvement over the good ol’ days of early EverQuest, when you had no idea if an NPC even had a quest for you, much less what to do to fulfill it or what you’d get out of spending your time on it, it seems that MMOs have gone too far in the hand-holding department. Lord of the Rings Online recently dabbled in content that you aren’t directed to, but stumble upon, in its Riders of Rohan expansion, and I wanted to see more of that. And, boy howdy, did I get my wish.
There was a main quest line in the Daggerfall Covenant starter zone I played in. You start on a ship, having been picked up out of the water, and are told to visit the local pirate queen for a mission. Being the contrary person I often like to be, instead of heading up the docks for the appointment with my savior, I instead turned the other direction and dove off the side of the boat. Sure enough, I saw an available quest on my minimap immediately. It brought a tear to my eye. I ran around the island doing random quests for a couple of levels before even starting with the main quest line of the area, and I wasn’t penalized for that play style.
So while you can (and should) follow the main quest line in the area, ducking out around the back of a town or under a cliff, or taking a detour off the path, is encouraged and rewarded, with quest-givers of all kinds waiting for your aid. But if you just want to barrel through the content to catch up with higher-level friends, that’s an option, too. I’m one of those types that has to do them all and won’t leave a zone until I have.
If you engage in combat, your health, mana and stamina bars will appear on screen, but there are no numbers to indicate their levels. To keep you from staring at them and your hotkey bar, the devs have created a few other visual cues. If your health drops dangerously low, the edges of your screen will start flashing red. Many abilities have little or no cooldown, so you don’t have to keep an eye on the hotkey bar for when to use your next one. Mostly, you’re just keeping your reticle on your target, moving away from their attacks and launching your own. While reticle-based combat isn’t new in MMOs, nor is action-based combat, those other titles that employ them still have you playing the interface heavily. I’m not saying you’ll never look at your interface while in combat in TESO, but with the way the UI is designed to bring up information only when you need it, you’ll be spending most of your time looking at the world instead. However, if you want a more traditional MMO experience, player-made, LUA-scripted add-ons will be fully supported.
With each weapon, you have a basic attack and a special attack. Clicking the left mouse button repeatedly will swing/fire your weapon at the monster in a basic but rapid-fire attack. Holding down the left mouse button for a few seconds winds you up for a bigger, special attack. Unfortunately, the mobs can do the same. However, you can also block their attacks with the right mouse button. And if you block one of their special attacks, it dazes the mob for a few seconds, giving you time for your own special attack. Finally, clicking the left and right mouse buttons at the same time will launch a quick attack that can interrupt a spellcaster you have targeted.
Most mobs, as you can imagine, don’t stand still for this kind of treatment. Many will leap over you or burrow underground to get behind you, forcing you to swing around, reorient your reticle and line up your shots again. You also don’t have to stand still. You can strafe, walk backwards and generally act like a moving target to minimize the damage you take.
It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of the mouse button attacks. Soon, I was peppering in spells from my hotkey bar and dropping mobs left and right. It felt intuitive and added to the visceral feel of combat much more than standard hotkey rotation of abilities of games like World of Warcraft.