The Elder Scrolls Online: Hands On

ZAM grabbed several hours of play time with the latest beta build of ESO


Take Up Your Weapons

Left mouse click for main hand quick strike (hold down for power attack), right click for block; click both to interrupt your foe or to break crowd control. The simplicity of the combat system will be quickly evident and the limited hotbar means that you can spend your time playing the game as it moves in the world rather than watching a series of bars fluctuate (though Matt Firor informed me that if people wanted to go that route, the LUA based add on system would allow them to do so).

The hotbar abilities do add a lot, but often I found myself having to remind myself that they were there because mouse attacks were just so straight forward and fun. The hotbar itself has five basic attacks, an ultimate ability and a slot for consumables (activated with the Q key). The limited number of slots is purposefully designed to encourage “deck building,” one of the ways to help balance all of the options you will have for skills and abilities is to make you have to choose from a limited number of them.

There are no cooldowns for abilities; combat in ESO is a resource based management system. Those tanks going too far in focusing on increasing their Health stat will find themselves short on Stamina to unleash damage and maintain threat due to being starved of the necessary resource.

For those who haven’t read my previous article, mouse based combat with NPCs is based around basic attacks and power attacks. The NPC will pause and a stream of particles will emanate from it as it charges up a big nuke or swing. If you interrupt at this point it will daze the enemy, leaving it open for you to land one of your own charged strikes.

Getting this perfect builds an unseen Finesse meter, any mistake puts it back to zero, get a string of attacks, blocks interrupts and finishes correct and you are rewarded with extra XP and Finesse gear which is shown in the loot inventory with a gold check mark next to it.

It can also generate a Kill Cam, a slow motion view of you finishing your opponent in a fashion familiar to Elder Scrolls RPG fans.

Working in a group it was very difficult to get Finesse rewards due to having put my foe in a prone position with an interrupt, my lightning bolt obsessed group member would then rain down havoc before I could perform the requisite finisher.

I asked Maria Aliprando, Creature Combat Designer, if this was intentional and she said that there is a trade off between playing solo and grouping at early levels. Players who group up will get an XP bonus on top of being able to clear through mobs faster.

Those who solo will much more easily benefit from the Finesse bonuses. At higher levels, dungeons are the best way for groups to earn Finesse due to the large waves of mobs which are intended to be “buckets of Finesse” for players.

When fighting a crowd, you can focus on one target by aiming the reticule over them and hitting the tab key. This creates a rectangle around the target and, as long as you are aiming at it, other mobs that come between you and your focus will not stop your attacks from hitting.


Dodge roll was a new ability from the last play event and it worked with just as much responsiveness and touch as the same system in Guild Wars 2. Some of the players were having issues with double tapping (I had no problem) and we were told that a later build will actually have a slider so you can set dodge sensitivity.

What stood out for me with the combat system was how good it feels compared to even a few months ago. The animations are much tighter in execution and timing virtually all of the time. There are a few moments when animations cycle too long in order to react to an incoming blow, but at this point of development that is easy to forgive.

ZeniMax has stuck a great balance with the feel of the game's combat. Comparisons with Guild Wars 2 are obvious, but I think ESO might have the edge.

Attacks feel powerful and allow movement without feeling too “floaty.” The sound design is excellent, with the clash of steel on steel ringing in your ears as fire audibly sears the air around you. All of this comes together to create a very satisfying experience, which is all important as this is an MMO; you’re going to spend a lot of time fighting things.

When mobs are encountered, experience and loot are available to all as long as you pass the 10% contribution barrier, meaning you need to do 10% of the total damage to the NPC or provide the equivalent in healing or buffs.

Though not in the game last week, loot will be handled by every player rolling on the loot table individually for what they receive. You might get nothing or you might get something awesome, but it will not be dependant on what anyone else in the group gets.

Although there are tweaks to be made, the complexity of the interlocking skill lines, the ease and immediacy of combat provide an engaging, fun combat system that I think MMO players will revel in.

First Steps in a New and Old World

As the tutorial was not ready for consumption, the first area as a member of the Daggerfall Covenant is Stros M’kai. This hive of scum and villainy is a port where privateers and smugglers make their living, a place with plenty of opportunities to get up to no good.

Captain Kaleen is the first main NPC you approach; she saved you from the briny deeps and wants you to help her carry off one last big heist. If you want to you can just go straight ahead and attempt to carry off the job on your own. Or you can go and recruit a variety of NPCs for the job, performing tasks for them in order to get them on board.

This is where ESO’s quest system starts to take shape. Throughout the game you will be offered choices in how much you want to do, how far you want to explore and how much help you want to have.

Each member of the team that you recruit will take care of one task that is needed to successfully perform the heist. These characters can also become recurring as the main story progresses across Tamriel.

If you don’t recruit a member of the team, that NPC will not be there for the final event before moving on to the next area, Betnikh, or for the stories that follow.

Within each quest there are also opportunities for different choices and for different results.


At one point, Crafty Lerisa poisons another NPC and you have the choice to save that person with the antidote or leave him to die. As I was grouped with Richie Procopio, he chose the noble way and administered the cure, while I let the rotter perish.

When turning the quest in, I was praised for saving many lives from the further villainous escapades of the now dead pirate. Richie was called a fool for allowing many more to die now that the pirate was back up on his feet.

The quest system gives plenty of chances to make fun of party members, which is nice.


When in a group each quest is phased for each player individually. When I freed an NPC, my group mate could not see it and vice versa. We were told that only when the quest involves an escort that needs the NPC to be protected will it be visible to all.

From this phased quest system, ESO does look to be very solo player friendly (until reaching Cyrodiil at least) and it will be in the dungeons and larger events that we see just how socially engrossing the game will be. However, just running around and questing in a small group was a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Page 3: World Building and Final Thoughts>>>


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