I know the version of the beta i'm reviewing is a little long gone, but i really felt it necessary to discuss the beta because this game has resparked a passion for the MMORPG genre in me that started dying with World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King and officially died a few weeks after the release of Cataclysm.
Let me start though by explaining what, for me, ruined the genre. Because it was a myriad of reasons, not exclusively World of Warcraft or it's short comings. For starters, i was abrasive towards the free to play movement at first. When it first hit the ground, nobody really had it dialed in with how to do it. It was one of life's great mysteries "what do we do with this? Even if we open a store we won't make the fat wads of cash that we used to make with a subscribe to play format!" Well time went on and it got a little better with the general removal of pay to win stores (i say general because there are still some out there, sadly) and the implementation of fair scaling for everyone regardless of whether you're a monthly subscriber or dumped entire paychecks into the Pay to win store all at once. Another huge reason i got tired of the system was the community. It seemed like World of Warcraft spawned this community of hateful, rude and just overall terrible human beings. I will avoid calling them 12-year-olds because that's largely a farce according to the studies i've read. but never the less that community spread like the plague from one MMO to the next ruining everything in it's path. Even in the ESO beta the chat was constantly alive with the generic "let's compare this MMO to WoW" conversation which is really old and annoying but at least those same players didn't try to ruin the game for everyone else because they see it as WoW's inferior. It's like there's this WoW nazi-esque regime that's out there to create the one true MMORPG master race which consists of nothing but heartless human beings all playing WoW and refusing anything else.
Finally after the Free to Play structure came around this mass exodus from what is commonly called "the holy trinity" gameplay happened where there were no longer identifiers such as tank, healer, or DPS attached to the classes, it was more of a "everyone puts in their fair share" mentality. This approach to MMORPG's is all fine and dandy except for the fact that the earlier games that took this approach, went about the classes in a very definitive holy trinity manner and yet threw all of their trinity specific abilities at the wall repeatedly until they broke. So for instance Tanking classes would exist with real tanking abilities like shout for instance. It would draw aggro for a few seconds until the rogue would use it's new tanking ability and since the rogue did so much more damage, the tank would lose aggro. This caused for a lot of anxiety across holy trinity players and a lot of angst on the forums where tank players would complain that their class was broken and everyone would ignore them because according to some arbitrary master play, they really weren't they were just sharing the wealth. it also had one other effect on the game though. It got to the point where like 60% of players all played rogues because they were a nice well-rounded all-inclusive class. They could do crazy damage, they could tank with the high aggro amounts they pulled and they could keep themselves alive with the crazy high amounts of dodge they could stack.
Now i firmly believe that ESO should be considered a game planted securely in the second generation of this style of MMORPG's because of the way this system has been refined. It is not going to be a free to play with a pay to win shop, it is going to be a subscription based game with AAA-title level graphics. The classes have all been refined so that while no one class performs a specific task they all perform well and balance with each other in a way that won't dismantle the classic make-up of a group, Which may not really be necessary becasue every dungeon can be run with 1-4 other friends depending on the level of the dungeon and the level of you and your friends. As far as i can tell classes generally come with at least some minor healing ability as part of removing that official healing class and spreading the burden of staying alive to everyone in the group.
Anyways, i digress. ESO feels like just the next installment to the Elder Scrolls saga. The race you pick dictates the faction you play and the faction you play dictates the starting area you find yourself in. As a Nord, Argonian or Dunmer (drow elves) you will find yourself on a small island off the coast of skyrim and you fight your way to the mainland, then quickly get transfered to morrowind before you have time to explore all of skyrim. (which is fine with me seeing as Skyrim probably wasn't even recreated for this game, it was probably just copy pasted from Skyrim to ESO). Morrowind gets a breath of fresh air from it's graphical enhancements and takes on a new life of it's own with it's new overtones. As Altmer, bosmer and khajiit, you start on a small island in the summerset isles that is predominately Khajiit and you fight yourself to the small official summerset isle island and i imagine from there you would go to Valenwood but i never made it that far. And as Redguard, Breton, and Orsimer i do not know of where you start or find yourself as i never made a character of that faction to check out but i'm sure i will next time the beta window opens up and then i will revise this blog post.
The questing feels fluid which is important in the Elder Scrolls universe. Where in World of Warcraft all of the quests for the entire zone were clumped up at a central hub that usually has some form of housing near it and then there were a few quests to be had at the actual questing areas themselves, There are very few quests in the central cities in ESO, and the rest are pretty naturally scattered across the entire map. You could be running in the middle of nowhere and notice the little carrot on your compass that lets you know there's a quest to be had somewhere nearby, you go and grab that, and it takes you out into the middle of nowhere again. Or you could be running along and in very Elder Scrolls fashion find some old ruins to go exploring. Come out of those ruins with more experience and a bag filled to the brim with loot to show for it.
The currency in the game is gold. Nothing else, just gold, and to make it fair, most items will not sell for more then 10 or 12 gold pieces. The reason why this is fair is because there is a quick travel system where you can actually travel from one resurrection spot to another for a certain gold quantity that generally starts at 44 gold a jump and goes up from there depending on how far the jump is. I think their goal was to make the quick travel appealing but also make it expensive so that it's not something you just go out and buy every time you travel. They want you to experience the world in the same method you experienced it in the elder scrolls 3-5 and possibly 1. New gear from the store doesn't really help too much with the gold quantity as a new piece of gear in the first major city you land yourself in will cost you anywhere from ~300-750 gold. With the amount of gold you get from gear and exploring at the first 10 levels, that equates to about 4 hours of work per piece of equipment. It's actually much more cost effective to not sell any gear and just craft your own.
Which brings me to the crafting system in the game. It's very intuitive. There's no "pick two professions and have at it!" With this game, everyone starts as level one in every profession. Everyone starts with the ability to make every weapon, and every piece of armor imaginable with the materials they can craft with. The starting metal is iron, starting wood is maple, starting leather is made from hide scraps collected from dead animals with hides and cloth is collected either from other clothes that you dismantle or plants. The catch is: it's only slightly less time consuming to craft your own gear as it is to buy gear, the only difference is, you save boatloads of money, and you get better stats.
You start with Raw materials, you have to "extract" craftable materials from those raw materials at a ratio of 10:8 raw materials to craftable ones. You need a minimum of 10 to craft materials. You can't do any other denominations. So if you have 23? you're only making 2 batches of craftable mats with 3 left over. Once you craft them, every piece of gear (weapons or armor) has a different base value. This base value give you a level 1 piece of equipment. For instance an iron helmet will cost 5 iron ingots to make a level one. 6 iron ingots will craft a level 4 helmet. 7 will craft a level 6 helmet and from there it goes in level increments of 2 per craftable mat. The materials have a max level pre designed in. For the level ones i think it's 15 or 16.
There are specialty metals that you can use to make your gear look faction specific. For instance, bone makes your gear look like Bosmer gear (Wood Elf). Molybdenum makes your gear look nordic, etc. and you can add gems to the crafting process to give your gear special abilities like +2 to armor value and spell resistance. But the catch with those is that you need to have researched them to use them on that specific piece of equipment. Every piece of gear starts at the rating of common (White titled) even if it has gems crafted into it to give it special stat increases. you need craft leveling items to increase the quality of the creation. For instance smithing from common to uncommon (green titled) will require grinding stones. Each grinding stone used will give you a 20% increased probability of succeeding in increasing the quality of the equipment. if you fail at increasing the quality, the piece of equipment disappears as well as it's gems and materials.
For combat it feels just as fluid as it did in all of the other games. There is no more dual wielding magic/weapons like there was in Skyrim as far as i can tell and if you're not paying attention too much, the other players just seem like other inhabitants of the universe which makes for a unique individual experience when you want to play alone and an equally unique group experience when walking through tows.
Overall i would strongly recommend this game, even in it's beta state, to anyone whose a fan of the Elder Scrolls series and willing to pay a $15/month sub fee after purchasing the game. I'm sure we will get years of entertainment out of the game so long as we continue to Support it for Bethesda.