"[The Elder Scrolls Online] is shaping up to be a top-tier MMORPG..."
It's tough to make a splash in the current MMORPG genre. Many companies, like juggernaut SOE, are shifting to a free-to-play model, while others, like 38 Studios, have folded entirely. Bethesda and Zenimax Online are headed straight into the crowded fray, though, with The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO), slated for release on PC and Mac in 2013. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get any hands-on time with TESO, but Zenimax Online still had a fairly robust demo of their game.
TESO takes place during the second age of the world, when there is a battle between three warring factions – the Ebonheart Pact in the northeast, the Aldmeri Dominion in the south, and the Daggerfall Covenant in the northwest. All three factions are fighting over the province of Cyrrodil, which has been overtaken by the evil Molag Bal and his undead army. The player character's story focuses on Molag Bal, who has stolen the player's soul, and his quest to regain it and save the world.
TESO also features plenty of standbys from the MMORPG world, including instanced five-man dungeons, which will also have heroic modes for high-end players. Along with that will be raids for guilds and a very interesting feature: public dungeons. These dungeons won't require a group, but they'll have significantly more difficult enemies than those aboveground. Players will have to assist each other for maximum efficacy, but you won't have to stick with someone beyond any single encounter. As well, rewards will be shared by all players involved, not unlike public quests in WAR or rift encounters in Rift.
All of this will be done via action-oriented combat which features the three standard resources found in the Elder Scrolls: Health, Magicka, and Stamina. Different abilities require different resources, just like the core Elder Scrolls titles. Block costs you stamina, magic requires magicka, and everything else falls into line. Each character class also has a different role, so players will never be left out of any group.
Interestingly enough, your party isn't the only group with a balanced build: enemies have groups with their own dynamic. Our demo featured a tank with a necromancer and a healer – it was most effective to kill the necromancer first so that he wouldn't resurrect fallen comrades as skeleton warriors. Should you do well with these encounters, the game rewards you with things such as additional loot.
Quests are also just as robust as you'd expect. Our demo took us through an area that had once been a warzone during the first age and was thus filled with spirits. Using time travel, we were able to put some of these souls to rest, and the area changed to have less spirits in it. As well, different quests open up only when certain actions are taken. However, much like Bethesda Softworks' titles, the onus is on the player to do what they want. Players who rush through to the objective will have different experiences and quests than those who choose to explore every nook and cranny.
We also can't forget PvP, and TESO will feature combat between hundreds of players. You'll have to hold your territory, and there will also be siege weapons and destructible environments for players to destroy each other in. TESO is shaping up to be a top-tier MMORPG, but it's still going to be playable by a wide variety of players. Zenimax Online's goal is to have the game be laptop friendly, so that any mainstream computer from the past five years will be able to play the game with some form of specs. We're excited to see more details for this title, which will probably be at next year's show.