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While it will still take a while for full The Elder Scrolls Online reviews to come out, some game critics have already started writing diary/impression pieces on the title, like IGN is doing. Excerpt ahead:
But my favorite aspect of yesterday's launch was the willingness of the early access community to work together. I've expressed fears about ESO's potential for group play in the past, but the people here seem eager enough to work with each other to overcome the limitations. A few hours after launch, with 30 or so people working the same quests, it bore some resemblance to the dynamic events of Guild Wars 2, where it becomes hard to tell who was fighting around you in the face of all the chaotic animations and clanging swordplay. As the day went on and I put some distance between me and the bulk of the leveling player base, its true potential revealed itself.
In one of Stonefalls' public dungeons, for instance, I quietly slipped into helping a Sorcerer with my Nightblade archer. These kinds of moments happen often in ESO, as you don't need to group to get shared credit and your own loot for enemies you kill together. But we noticed we worked particularly well together, and so he invited me to his group and we completed a couple more of these public instances and eventually joined the same guild. It gets better. Another person joined up with us, and before long we were engaged in long conversations about Elder Scrolls lore and past MMOs. I know it's anecdotal, but I don't think it was an isolated incident, and it flew in the face of predictions that open enemy tagging in MMORPGs doesn't foster the friendships of MMOs past.
I think part of that springs from the fact that Elder Scrolls Online has very few "big bosses" roaming throughout the world; you know, the kind that a game like early World of Warcraft would require you to attack with a party of three or five people. Here the battles are intimate, and thus feel more like an Elder Scrolls game should. In its finest moments, it's a little like venturing into a Skyrim barrow with NPCs like Lydia or Aela by your side, but in this case such characters actually had brains that prevented them from stepping on traps and blocking doorways.
Combat as a whole feels more active than most MMOs -- but at a price. While I was engaging in particularly tough questlines or dungeons (more on those later), everything just clicked. I wasn't just wailing my left mouse button to attack on a constant basis -- I had to choose my skills effectively, move around, and adapt. It was a refreshing change from most MMOs where you stand in one spot and auto-attack while you cycle through your rotation.
But fighting easy enemies and questing throughout the world does feel repetitive by comparison, because all you really need to do is just hack and slash away with very little thought. Elder Scrolls fans will probably be fine with it, but those of you who get bored easily won't be pleased -- in other words, ESO does not transcend the genre by any means.
You're able to use the first-person perspective throughout the entire game, which is a much needed and welcome addition since it makes the game feel very different when compared to most MMOs -- having said that, the rest of the game is standard fare, to the point where I wouldn't recommend it to those of you who haven't already played or enjoyed an MMO.
Finally when I was kicked out into the world, things were very different from my experience in the beta. First, you no longer start in the original starting island, and instead you arrive at your first major settlement. This causes some pretty funny side effects: suddenly Michael Gambon - who plays The Prophet - sounded rather odd. After a bit of detective work it turns out that due to how recent the change was regarding your starting zone, they couldn't get Gambon to voice the extra lines. It's rather striking and noticeable at first, but I'm confident he'll return to his old self the next time we meet down the main storyline.
The quests and writing is actually pleasing so far. Every NPC is voiced and the actors do a commendable job. I am beginning to notice some repetition thanks to my OCD-like attention to detail, but they're believable, and that's what keeps you immersed. Some quests also feature various moral dilemmas, which allow you to choose a permanent outcome. While this is a nice touch, these choices will mean very little if they don't produce lasting consequences, and also affect future content.