The Elder Scrolls Online: Hands On

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


The Elder Scrolls Online has caused frothing at the mouth for many gamers, either those who started flinging their money at the screen as soon as it was announced (hence an upswing in monitor sales before E3 last year), or those who found the whole idea of an Elder Scrolls MMO sacrilege.

Either way, interest for this game is higher than any upcoming MMO and it was with suitable anticipation that I visited ZeniMax Online Studios in Maryland last week. As part of the visit to the impressive locale, I was afforded the privilege of playing The Elder Scrolls Online for a few hours (for my first impressions back in October, read here).

Partly to overcome the staggering number of misconceptions that follow the game around (seriously, if I had a cent for every time I’d been asked if it had a reticule like Skyrim I would have $2.56), the ZeniMax team wanted to put the game in our hands. Whether that would mean the fears of some were assuaged or confirmed would be down to the game itself.


After being given the introduction to the playtest by Game Director Matt Firor and Creative Director Paul Sage, the throng of journalists began to play with the air of a gang failing to look like they were keeping their cool.

Ready to race through content with no knee related hindrance, I, of course, stumbled to a halt as soon as I came face to face with my first Orc.

Character Creation

As we turned on our monitors, with the eagerness one would expect of a ravenous horde of gaming journalists, we were presented with the Daggerfall Covenant Alliance. For those unaware, the Covenant is made up of three races: Breton, Orc and Redguard.

After switching between the first races, I decided on Orc because, well, they look really cool. Each character has three choices for the armor they wear, to give you a good idea of how they will look; starter gear, veteran gear and no gear.

The veteran gear looked very shiny; flecks of gold gleaming from the epaulets with the first display of the graphics engine that already looked sharper than my first play session. It could have been my imagination in regard to the character creation screen, but the rest of the game seemed to bear out the crisper visuals.

An array of sliders is available, in a variety of categories, to customize your character, my two favorites being Gut Size and Posterior Dimensions, so if you want your character to have a beer belly and a bodacious behind, go right ahead.

Everything from a thicker neck to chunkier hands is available to make your toon just that little bit different than the rest.

Though there will be four classes available on release, I had to choose between Dragonknight, Sorcerer and Templar for this playthrough.

Although the importance of classes in ESO is less emphasized than in many MMOs, due to its progression system, there are still class abilities and once I had played the Dragonknight for a while I was exceedingly pleased with my choice.

Running a Dragonknight and General Progression

To begin with, you will have three main areas to focus on in progression:

  • Class abilities
  • Weapon Skills
  • Armor Skills

As has been iterated on many occasions, any class can wear any armor type and wield any weapon. It is by mixing and matching these different abilities and deciding on the focus for each of the skill lines that you will hone your character. Different skill lines become available later in the game. For details on that, read my overview article here.

Each class has abilities split across three categories. For the Dragonknight they are Ardent Flame, Draconic Power and Earthen Heart (though all names might change, this is early in beta after all), each type giving a different emphasis on your choice of attack and defense.

For example, for my first choice upon leveling, I went with the Ardent Flame ability, Fiery Reach. This cool power flings out a flame licked chain to grab your target, cause damage and then pull it into melee range.

A very useful move to focus on casters and ranged mobs from packs; allowing you to take them out quickly before dealing with onrushing melee creatures.

It also works well for those who are tank inclined, such as myself, when their group’s Sorcerer starts letting rip with Destructive Touch (a Destruction Staff ability) before the tank can grab aggro.

DPS - the more games change the more those players stay the same.

Each weapon and armor type has active and passive abilities which become available through levels and by spending skill points which you can earn in a few different ways.

Character levels are the obvious key provider of skill points, but you can also find Skyshards, glowing beacons out in the world which grant a skill point for every three that you find.


The addition of the progression UI since the last build makes a tremendous difference and really brought home the plethora of options available to customize your character. Each skill line levels up as you use the item; when you have passed level IV, you receive the Morph option, by which you pick one of two further branches for each skill in order to specialize. You will be able to respec your Morph choice but not the original skill points spent.

The first passive for carrying a one hander with a shield is, as one might expect, called Sword and Board, which gives a damage and armor bonus.

The first active ability for that weapon set, Puncture, causes damage, places an armor debuff on the target and causes a three second taunt; highly useful for snatching aggro from a wanton caster.

Speaking of Richie Procopio from Massively, my partner in crime for the day, his tendency to fling spells first and ask questions later was a good test for how quickly I was able to put together a set of abilities to make tanking viable.

Sword and Board gave me survivability, Fiery Reach gave me control and Puncture delivered snap aggro, all within the first few levels.

This was without having an armor skill set up, the most obvious for a tank of course being the heavy armor set. For plate wearers, the passive of Bracing gives a 3% reduction in the Stamina cost of blocking for every piece of heavy armor equipped.

Medium armor’s bonus is Improved Sneak while light armor gives the Evocation bonus to boost caster efficiency.

The combinations between the different skill lines seem endless and it’s going to be a lot of fun to try various set ups to maximize the different play styles available (or just do daft things that look cool, of course).

Page 2: Combat and Questing>>>

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