E3 2012 Preview: The Elder Scrolls Online

Synergy system and long quests.

ZeniMax Online Studios creative director Paul Sage greeted us as we took our seats for the E3 demonstration of The Elder Scrolls Online. The massively-multiplayer online game has been five years in the making, and this is the first time that they have been able to present the fruit of their efforts. The Elder Scrolls Online takes the basic structure of an MMORPG like World of Warcraft and refines it through discreet attention to the lore, unique combat experiences, and beautifully-crafted atmospheres. 

The game is set 1000 years before the events of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. As with any MMORPG, players enter the game after building a custom character, in creating which are able to choose from a variety of races, each belonging to one of three factions. There is the Ebonheart Pact in the northeast, a formation of Dark Elves, Nords, and the free Argonians, who have set aside their differences in effort to strengthen themselves. The Daggerfall Covenant formed in the west, for the Bretons, Orcs, and Redguards believe a more suitable king should sit upon the throne in middle ground Cyrodill’s Imperial City. Finally, there is the Aldmeri Diminon in the south, made up of the High Elves, Wood Elves, and the Khajiit, who believe in righting the wrongs of man.

Aside from its role in the The Elder Scrolls series, The Elder Scrolls Online stands out against the many MMORPGs already on the market because of the attention it pays to the player’s unique experience. The game can be played solo or with up to 200 players in PVP and provides numerous types of dungeons, from smaller six-player dungeons to 25-man raids. Each class is designed to be balanced, so that everything can be accomplished by players who prefer to take on the game solo.

Fighting in a group introduces a new feature called “Synergy,” which allows players to combine attack strategies. For instance, if one player casts a fire spell, another party member can use it to attack and create fireballs. On the other side, enemy AIs can use these same Synergy techniques, making battles trickier. The idea was to create common combat mechanics with complexity, like allowing the player to block mid-attack or hold down a button longer to launch an attack with more power.

The game is also aiming for a more unique take on quests, which are often meant to take a while rather than be collect-and-drop-off missions. In our demo, the player was on a mission to kill an undead werewolf, but along the way bumped into mages who were having a problem with some ghosts in the field. If you follow the mages’ sidequest, you’ll discover that the ghosts are from a battle that the werewolf was a general in. Through it, you travel back in time to the same area, and where there were ghosts in your time, there are men in the past. You can save the life of a ghost you meet and defeat the werewolf before he was undead, which impacts the world once you return to your home-time.

Of course, travelling back in time wasn’t the only way to get rid of the undead werewolf. You could have ignored the sidquest and went on to defeat the werewolf as he was. It’s these unique twists that The Elder Scrolls Online brings to the table that make it one to look out for next year.

Check out a new set of screenshots and concept art at the gallery. Watch the E3 trailer below.

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