The most significant choice, that of alliance, was already made for us. My character allied himself with the Ebonheart Pact, leaving the other two alliances (Daggerfall Covenant and Aldmeri Dominion) a mystery for now. This choice determines which areas your character will explore, including all the NPCs and minor narrative threads contained therein. All the classic Elder Scrolls races are represented, but each alliance has racial limits. Classes are universal, but only two were available, and I was unable to preview both. I chose the martial healing class called the Templar over the magic-infused tank named the Dragonknight. Every class has completely open weapon and armor options while special abilities and passive skills are unique to each.
Aside from a mandatory first and last name, character customization options were limited, but likely unfinished. My corpulent argonian was distinctive, but I can easily imagine a thousand other gamers having the same idea. Armor and weapon choices would increase diversity, but only to a degree. If TESO manages to gain millions of players, there would undoubtedly be a confusing number of identical twins. Hopefully additional cosmetic options are added before launch.
There's not even a cursor on screen, and that means less clicking than the average hack'n'slash MMORPG. Instead, players use a reticule to actively target an enemy and then use a light, heavy, or special attack with the click of a mouse or key. Blocks are also available, even when not using a shield, just like Skyrim. Visual cues alert the player when it would be wise to block. Successful blocking can lead to counterattacks, which in turn lead to stunned enemies and increased damage. If you master the system and make the right moves, you obtain finesse, which awards players with extra experience or gold.
Most fights were quite easy, but the difficulty balance is completely and admittedly unfinished at this stage. I died a few times, however, and was then given the option of resurrection on the spot for a penalty (the details of this were unclear, but my experience seemed to be depleted) or at a shrine for no penalty except being teleported away from my current position. The relatively easy difficulty does imply that the game is completely solo-able, however, so more single-player-centric gamers like me can rejoice. Of course, when in a group, enemy encounters scale to the number of players present, providing a more appropriate challenge. Most of the early enemies (skeleton warriors, nix hounds, humans, and even a hargraven) employ little strategy, but high-level enemies promise to offer tactical set-ups. We were shown how certain enemies provide synergies for one another. For example, dwarven constructs give each other potent magic power if given the chance. Players can also benefit one another, however, and we saw how a sorcerer can grant another player an AoE attack.
Character progression occurs along three different paths: attributes, abilities, and weapon skills. The first two are class specific, while the third is universal. Attributes are purchased with skill points earned at each new level. These are tied to Health, Stamina, and Magicka, the classic Elder Scrolls trio of depletable bars. Abilities develop alongside regular experience levels. Weapon skills increase with the use of each respective weapon, just like typical Elder Scrolls abilities.