The Elder Scrolls Online Diary: Day 1

Platforms: PC

Day 1 - Freedom for a Khajit

There’s a cell. I crawl around this dirty, dusty, room searching for a something, anything. There’s a bottle, some cheese and some dried maggots that I stuff into my tattered loincloth for safe keeping. Surely they will come in useful later. So far so Elder Scrolls. The voice of an ethereal Michael Gambon fills the silence. A ghostlike form of the Prophet appears. I am the chosen one, appointed above all to avert the destruction of Tamriel. Of course I am Michael, now get me out of this cell. A figure appears at the gate. The prisoners are escaping he announces, and swiftly unlocks my cell. I am free. Clicking on the now open portal, the screen drifts into a loading sequence. I smile, reminiscing about all those loading screens that constantly shatter the open world illusion of the Elder Scrolls series. Has the move online really changed so little?

The loading bar collapses into a hallway filled with shattered bones and horrific torture devices. It is quickly apparent that this isn’t the cells of the Imperial city prison, as we saw at the start of Oblivion, but much more like the Oblivion dimension itself. I’m told to run as fast as I can to escape, before the guards return. I don’t of course. The compulsion of a gamer to constantly contort the false illusion of reality in any game drives me to explore my surroundings. Cracking open a few iron maidens and rummaging through a basket of skulls rewards me with some more miscellaneous items. I smile at the irrelevance of it all. My first quest, as told by the Prophet, is to find Lyris Titanborn. Fortunately she is straight in front of me. Chalk that one off the list. The next mission is to save the Prophet from his cell, and escape.
With a flick of the scroll wheel, the view zooms out into the third person and I take the time to admire my creation. A Khajit, a stunning feminine feline whose blue eyes shine out between the tiger stripes of her furred face. I’d spent a good chunk of time modelling this face and body, sliding the many scales of the character creation screen to form just the right shape. With the the exception that the player can choose a faction (Daggerfall, Aldemeri or Ebonheart) which decides the player’s eventual starting location and the far more limited class selection (Dragonknight, Sorcerer, Nightblade or Templar), the tools, and indeed the resultant creation are very similar, if not virtually identical, to those within Skyrim. Again it’s a familiarity that makes me gleam as I realise that Bethesda may have created the game I have dreamt of for some time.

While still idly picking through corpses or plonking my hands into strange devices of pain searching for, well, whatever, I hark back to all those times I’ve tried to play an Elder Scrolls game multiplayer. A brisk search online and you will find many mods that purport to allow players to adventure together through the provinces of Cyrodiil or Skyrim, yet none actually work, at least not in the way you would hope. It’s a pipe dream, a gargantuan project that may never be possible with just a tiny team of highly committed modders. But there’s such a huge demand that it seems strange that Bethesda have never attempted any form of multiplayer in Elder Scrolls previously.
A skeleton blocks my path. It’s time for some action. My Khajit is a wily Nightblade, skilled in assassination techniques and stealth. Only she’s not yet, she’s just a level one kitty with a rusty sword and a gnarled shield. Switching to first person view, as one should, I strike out. The skeleton’s health bar depletes slightly. I sigh. It felt so feeble, so weak, as if the blade simply floated through its bones. Holding down the mouse button, I power up a strong attack. The health bar depletes slightly more. Perhaps it’s because I’ve just tumbled out of the majestic battle system of Dark Souls 2, but this unresponsive fighting feels woeful in comparison even to that of Skyrim. Yet it is early days still, perhaps it will grow on me.

Through another loading screen, I tumble out into an open area and experience my first meeting with another player. She is standing at the doorway reading a book, a strange sight considering we are supposed to be running for our lives. I prod her, telling her not to just stand there. There are after all enemies all around us, at the corner of my vision I spot a fearsome flame atronach bearing down upon us. ‘I’m just checking my skills’ she says, nonchalantly. ‘Skills? Skills? This is Elder Scrolls’ I yell, ‘there are no skills’. Only I’m wrong. I quick tap of the keyboard brings up my skills area, which I have so far yet to advance. I can invest points in either health, stamina or magic as well as unlocking a new skill. I choose the Assassin's Blade ability, which apparently deals high damage to low health opponents. It gets assigned to the 1 key. I feel a little sick suddenly.
I’ve played my fair share of MMORPGs. World Of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Everquest and with a slight exaggeration they all come down to the same thing: pressing the sodding 1 key. Maybe the 2 key if you’re lucky. I’ve never quite understood its appeal, but I had hoped with the Elder Scrolls’ heritage it may have attempted a different route. It begins to dawn on me now that the Elder Scrolls Online may actually have more in common with those games just mentioned, than with its own lineage. Perhaps this is not quite what I was looking for after all.

Putting my fears aside, I push on. Passing other adventures jumping ludicrously at soulless Shriven (zombie like creatures), reducing their health slightly. Past John Cleese (playing the part of mad lost soul Cadwell) wearing a tin saucepan hat and playing the lute. Past a few more skeletons whom I dispatch quickly with my 1 key and into the final room of this tutorial world. Here I discover the Prophet trapped in a crystal prison. His freedom is the key to my release so together with the valiant Lyris Titanborn we unlock his cell. Yet there is a huge cost, for someone must take his place within this palace of torment. Well Lyris, it ain’t going to be me. In you go… ah well I’m free now and as I step out into the much more colourful and lively city of Daggerfall I begin to wonder how much more there is to discover...

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