Now, to be clear, I came into my ESO demo at this year's E3 as a skeptic. I played Star Wars: The Old Republic. I figured "MMO with story" meant kill 10 rats; choose 1, 2, or 3; then look for another quest icon. It's not a terrible model, but it's one that left me wondering if there was a better way to do things. Why make it an MMO when you could just do a multiplayer RPG? I'm not sure I know the answer to this yet, but I do feel I'm getting closer.
I know it was only a demo, but my Orc Dragonknight started only at level 6, which was taking me about 10-15 minutes at most other hands-on booths, so I didn't mind skipping that. Maybe that made this game easier to approach, but the presentation helped a lot too. See, unlike SWTOR, ESO always made me feel as if I was playing an RPG, not an MMO with a forced story attached. Don't get me wrong; I loved my bounty hunter's story, but I honestly can't remember a tenth of the quests, just the story parts. With my quest today from Gibblets the dog, I can recall several details as well as some of the other quests I accidently found along the way.
Let me take that back, actually. It wasn't an accident. I just didn't realize I was starting a quest when I talked to them. Yeah, there was an aura that showed me I could talk to that person, but the couple talking about "riding crops" also had that aura (though maybe because those two seemed kind of off). After a day of yellow exclamation points and "kill 10 X," being able to run around and not see a quest coming a mile away was refreshing.
And this sense of discovery wasn't limited to just quests. I could pick up almost everything! Bread, sacks of wheat, mead. Rats dropped ears, chickens dropped eggs, and all was good with the world. This will sound odd, but I wasn't playing an MMO; I was playing an RPG. I was exploring a world, finding things to do, doing them, and in the process, finding more to do. I wasn't focused on my stats or how trade skills work (yet), but I was running into homes and dry-looting them like a thief. Unlike NPCs in other Elder Scrolls games, no one seemed upset, but maybe that would come later. I doubt I'll be able to rob people blind in the street, murder a guard, or kill a vendor, but I still felt as if I had a lot more freedom than in a lot of the current MMOs I play. This wasn't because story was crammed in to fit an MMO mold. In fact, if anything, an MMO might be crammed in to fit an RPG mold. I realized after nearly an hour that all I had killed was some sheep, rats, chickens, and a few NPCs that ambushed me around town as part of one of the quests I discovered. I actually had to force myself out of town to try combat, which is something that rarely happens to me in an MMO these days.
This may sound like a dream to some people, but after playing some other games that seemed like long lost twins, I found that The Elder Scrolls Online was a good change of pace. However, it also made me wonder about its MMO status. The town felt a bit instanced for me. Other players were also running around grabbing these items, it seemed. I couldn't see their dogs, but I think most of the level 6s that entered the town were doing the same thing I had been doing. Maybe later the quests will involve multiple players and people will have options, but I don't know how it will work. One clever element of TOR's group RPG experience was the way conversations were handled. I know a dice roll to decide the fate of the galaxy sounds like a gamble, but I could live with it. It was interesting to see three people damn an NPC and one person roll higher than the other and save him. I don't know if ESO will have that, or how it will handle that, but I do want to find out.
Massively's Jasmine Hruschak also previewed ESO at E3, so stay tuned for her impressions!
Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-13, bringing you all the best news from E3 2013. We're covering everything from WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online and ArcheAge to FFXIV's inbound revamp and TERA's latest update, so stay tuned!