Starting out in The Elder Scrolls Online: Coldharbour and Stros M'Kai

When we were planning assignments for The Elder Scrolls Online's embargo lift, I volunteered to go through and document each of the factional starting zones. This was a great plan, except for technical difficulties. I was able to play fine for the first few hours at high settings, but coming back to continue where I left off led to a series of frequent GPU crashes, even at lower settings. Fortunately, I was eventually able to make it work well enough get one zone done, and Matt stepped up to cover the other two.

So today I'm going to cover the shared introductory experience, followed by the first island zone you end up on as a member of the Daggerfall Covenant. That's the faction based in the north-west of Tamriel, consisting of the magically inclined mountain kingdoms of the Bretons, the dark-skinned Redguard and their desert homeland, and the roving clans of Orsimer, better known as Orcs. I actually made a character of each faction but settled first on the very pretty Orc lass with a flower in her hair over the chubby, antlered Wood Elf and ostentatious Argonian lizard featured in the other factions. Spoilers ahead!

This place sucks. Let's go somewhere else

Although there are three factions, each with its own questing zones, every character has a nearly identical introduction to the game. It kicks off with a cutscene in traditional Elder Scrolls fashion; you're a prisoner being carted off to execution, at least according to placeholder text. The cutscene has yet to be implemented, so I can't speak to any specific qualities of it. Where this one departs from tradition is that you actually are executed as part of a sacrifice to a Daedric Prince (that's basically a demon god, for those who don't speak in Tamrielian tongues) to help fuel the summoning of an Anchor (that is like a Rift from RIFT if they all connected to the Plane of Death), and your metaphysical remnants are sent through.

It's at this point that you awaken in a cell that serves as the character creation screen. The options are pretty solid and comprehensive, providing players with character models that are by far the least awful in the franchise yet. It's just a shame the animations are so stiff and lifeless.

When you've finished, you'll be greeted by Obi-Wan Medivh Dumbledore the Prophet, an older man in a cowl mystically projecting a translucent blue image of himself to inform you that you need to get out of there. Hardly a revelation. He does nothing to help you, as you are released from your cell by a random prisoner also making an escape, rather than just running for it.

After darting through some tunnels, you get to a collection of handy weapon racks just lying around in the open. You get to arm yourself as you please from any one rack, which cover the whole range of weapon skills. Any weapon type can be used by any character, so go nuts.

This is not the Anchor I went through but it probably looks exactly the same.
After a few more tunnels and a couple of pushover fights against skeletons, you'll run into Fem Shep Lyris Titanborn, the Prophet's bodyguard. You can opt to question her further for a little clarity on the situation. Emphasis on little. She does inform you that this place is called Coldharbour and that you're now what's known as a Soul Shriven, but she doesn't clarify what either means in specific terms. Once you're done chatting, Lyris will stick with you, helping you fight through yet more tunnels. She's not terribly effective, but she's far from a liability against any of the weakling foes you'll encounter.

You'll come out of the tunnels into a slightly open area. This is where you may start seeing other player characters, not just fleeing NPCs. This is also where the ransacking of every urn in sight begins. Seriously, there are urns, as well as occasional chests and crates, all over here and the following areas until you escape. It's kind of boring to loot them all, but it's worthwhile if you plan to take up the Provisioning craft. The vast majority of items you'll get from these are ingredients for cooking and brewing, as well as Provisioning recipes, lock-picks, and cultural crafting materials. Those are used to define the appearance of gear you craft.

As you continue, you'll encounter a quirky zombie voiced by John Cleese, who appears to be incredibly frail and unlikely to be important later. Great use of a famous voice there. Once you open up the special prison for the Prophet, Lyris will voluntarily swap places with him because the only way to get him out is for a living person to take his place. You're not quite alive just yet.

The Prophet reveals that he no longer remembers his own name, at which point I knew he had to be the last Emperor or his heir. I have no other evidence for this, since I couldn't get very far in the game, but that's exactly the trope that fits.

You and the Prophet continue on, facing the obligatory taunt from a giant hologram of Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince who rules this place right before you get to the Anchor you need to use to make your escape. At the Anchor, the Prophet casually conjures a Skyshard and tells you to attune yourself to it so you can be a real boy regain physical form. These are pretty important, as you'll find them lying around the world; for every three, you gain an extra skill point.

Pirates of the not doing anything piratical

Assuming you're playing a character in the Daggerfall Covenant, you'll find yourself waking up below decks on a pirate ship. The Prophet will appear to you in his astral projection form, letting you know that you fell into the sea and were pulled out by the ship's crew, while he landed somewhere else far off.

There are a few things to loot around here, but from this point on, urnfest is no more. Don't worry, though, because the NPCs don't care what you steal, even from right under their noses. It turns out the ship has suffered a recent mutiny, since the Captain, a Redguard with some loyalty to her people, refuses to raid any more Breton ships for the sake of the Daggerfall covenant.

Curiously, all three NPCs you'll meet who consider themselves pirate captains, whether or not they currently have a crew or a ship, are women. This captain, Kaleen, offers you a proposal: Work with her to assemble a crew and pull a heist, and she'll help you get off the island. She gives you the names of three people who could be a big help and lets you pick one.

Of course, you can and probably should go find all three, but you need just one. Once you've made your choice, it's time to go outside and start exploring. There's actually very little directed content. If you choose to go through the main quest and ignore everything else, you could be off the island in an hour. Assuming you want to make the most of things, you should go explore everywhere. Most of the quests are found off the beaten path.

Sometimes people don't like each other and they start fighting I guess?
The side-quests are rarely interesting, although at least not a single one ordered the killing of generic enemies. You will have to do so in the course of quests, but only because they're in your way. The only side-quest I found noteworthy was a treasure hunt, but it wasn't gripping so much as mildly different.

The quests to recruit your three allies, much like the characters themselves, have the elements to make something interesting, but they come together in a rote, uninspired whole. Once you've recruited the one you asked for directions to, you can choose to go ahead with the heist. Each of the allies you've recruited can help you with the heist by taking care of one of the steps. I accepted the help of all three, so the whole thing was trivial, though I'm not sure it would have been much trouble without them. And at some point by now, the Prophet has probably randomly appeared to you to let you know that you can find him near Daggerfall. What a shame you can't get to Daggerfall yet.

After the heist is over and you feel ready to move on, it's time to set sail... for another island. This time it's primarily inhabited by orcs refusing to join the Covenant. I'm fairly certain they'll change their minds after you help them with their problems, of course, but I am done. I'm never getting to Daggerfall.

Don't miss the rest of Massively's Elder Scrolls Online media NDA lift coverage!
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Starting out in The Elder Scrolls Online: Coldharbour and Stros M'Kai
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This article was originally published on Massively.