I’ve got our first look at the Elder Scrolls Online hands on demo, straight from the PAX East show floor.

Just yesterday, in the final hours of PAX East, I had the opportunity to play The Elder Scrolls Online hands on demo…And it was awesome. Combat is satisfying, every NPC has things to say, questing is fluid, and the character creation is incredible. Ok, done. Go home.

What’s that? You want more? Ok, fine. You asked for it.

To give you an idea how it all works I’ve split everything up I saw as I played through my TESO hands on demo session. There is a lot to go over and I know I can’t cover every little detail, but I’ll try my darndest.

Note: my access to the TESO hands on demo only covers one faction’s starting zone. I had no access to high level content. No access to PvP or dungeons. Also, the party system is still in development, so I did not have any experience with that, either.

First Things First: Character Creation

The first thing we see in the creation screen is a collection of three banners that serve as our choices for faction. On each faction banner there are three races for us to pick from and clicking each will cycle through a default character models for each. Because this is still an early build, I only had access to the Daggerfall Covenant, which is made up of Bretons, Redgaurd, and Orcs – so, I picked a robust looking Orc for myself.

Once you pick your faction and race, you are off to picking a class. We have three options: Templar, Dragon Knight, and Sorcerer. Remember, each class has access to every weapon and armor type, so these are pretty loose guidelines. I didn’t have time to try all three so I picked Templar and continued.

Now comes the best part: customizing your character model. In the entire Elder Scrolls Online hands on demo, this was easily the most impressive aspect. Character customization, even in the beta build, is actually more in depth than it was for Skyrim. You can change every imaginable feature of your character and it looks great. I easily could have spent hours creating my character, but I knew I had to just make one and go so I could get to the real content. I gave my Orc a big ol’ pot belly, named him Jigga Jay, and started the game.

Wake Up Neo, The Elder Scrolls Has You

Without giving too much away, my pot-bellied Orc awakens on a ship after being saved by a pirate and he owes her his life. We are on an island and she has a plan to leave that requires a good amount of trial and intrigue to pull off: that’s where we come in. With a default sword and board, we get sent out on a few quests to recruit members for a great heist that will get us off this island. I should’ve named my Orc George Clooney because this is some sort of Ocean’s 11 kind of heist right here.

Interface and Immersion

The game’s UI is as simple or complicated as you’d like it to be. Even in the TESO hands on demo there were already tons of customization options ranging from full featured to extremely minimal. I went with fairly minimal set up: a simple and small action bar at the bottom of the screen, a mini-map in the top right, and a small quest tracker under the mini-map.

If you didn’t already know: along with an action bar, there are small bars for your character’s Magicka, Health, and Stamina.

The interface seems to take care not to distract or clutter up the screen to avoid breaking immersion.

Again, even thought this was an early build, nearly every NPC had voiced lines of dialogue. Speech options worked like a refined version of the dialogue system in Skyrim. The camera zooms in a bit and a semi-transparent dialogue box pops up with speech options. The story is entertaining and immersive and I really wanted to hear what each character had to say. So immersive that I forgot I was crammed into a tiny booth with a dozen other people.

So, How the Hell Does Combat Work?!

The Elder Scrolls Online hands on demo has us perform a few simple quests to recruit a crew and introduce us to combat mechanics. Combat is simple and is mouse oriented. Press left click to attack. Hold left to charge and execute a power attack. Right click is block (available even if you don’t have a shield). If you block an enemy power attack (they’ll glow white just before) you’ll knock them back and stun them. Once that enemy is stunned, you’ll have enough time to perform a big power attack and deal lots of damage.

From a third person view, you use the mouse to look around and aim your small crosshairs at an enemy. Whenever a mob is selected it will gain a red outline. You can press ALT to gain control of the mouse and do other point and click functions.

In addition to the mouse attacks, we have a minimalist action bar consisting of the 1-5 and R keys, as well as Q for a quick slot item like a potion.

Weapon Specialization: Hit It

Just like in the single player Elder Scrolls games, the more you use a weapon the more proficient you become. This works by giving you weapon specific skills and passive bonuses when using specific weapons. That said, you can use any weapon in the game, if you want. You’ll just have to train up to get the best skills.

In my short hands on playtime I tried using the default sword and shield, dual wielding swords, and an ember staff. Sword and shield was nice, but a bit boring at such a low level. Dual wielding was more fun to me, and a single click uses both weapons at once. Fun, but didn’t do it for me. Finally, I got an ember staff and I found my play style. The staff lets out a magic missile-type ranged attack, and the power attack unleashes a barrage of several missiles all at once.

Once I ranked up my ember staff use a bit I got access to two abilities: a knockback and a pull. The knockback is great for putting distance between you and an enemy and the pull hooks them to you with a magic chain. I worked out a neat little combo: power attack from afar, hook an enemy in, then I’d smash them away with the knockback. It wasn’t the most efficient way to deal with enemies, but I was just having so much fun throwing enemies all over the place…at level 3. The combat system is fun and you gain access to awesome abilities fast. The whole system is significantly better than anything in the single player Elder Scrolls games.

Because you can use any weapon, you are really encouraged to find your own play style. I found one I liked, but that’s just what I preferred  I didn’t even get to use 2-handed weapons or bows or healing staves. The developers hinted that there might be even more weapon types to come.

Leveling: Mighty Morphing Time

Another cool thing about obtained weapon abilities is that each ability can also rank up. I didn’t get to see much of it, it is a higher-level mechanic, but I saw that another journalist next to me managed to grind to a skill rank up. Once you train an ability enough, a small morph tree opens up and you can have the option to morph it so that it permanently gains an extra effect. You have a choice, for example, of giving one ability an extra damage over time (DOT) effect or the ability to effect multiple opponents. Again, I didn’t see much of this, so I have no idea what other kinds of morphs might be available. I am definitely interested to see how it ends up working out. At the moment, each ability will only have one opportunity to morph.

Leveling has two basic aspects: Stat points and weapon points. When you level you can put a point into either Magicka, Health, or Stamina (sound familiar?) and you can put a point into gaining a weapon ability. Oh, and you get a satisfying “whoosh!” and a flashy leveling graphic that is hard to miss.

Questing: Adventure Time

Questing is handled pretty much in the same way as every other modern MMORPG. The quests are tracked on your map and mini-map and each objective is signified in some way. Questing is fluid and intuitive and you definitely will not be stuck trying to figure out what to do or where to go next.

You are encouraged to explore and find new stories to become a part of. You have the opportunity to stumble upon new quests as you wander about. Maybe you’ll spot new quest markers on the mini-map or an NPC will run up to you and ask for help as you wander an area. Additionally, there are collectable shards hidden around the map. Once you gain three of them, your character gains an additional skill point to use.

Misc: Lock Picking and Stealth

Lock picking is much different than it was in Skyrim. We can see all the key pins inside the lock in cross cut-away fashion. In order to solve the lock puzzles, you’ll have to push down each pin to the correct height in order to emulate the way the key fits. Each pin will wiggle when it gets close to the correct position. Lock picking is timed, so you’ll have to be quick to get loot.

Speaking of sneaky things, you can use stealth to sneak around and get a jump on enemies. The first attack you do out of stealth is a guaranteed critical hit.


While I only got little over and hour and a half with the Elder Scrolls Online hands on demo, I had a lot of fun with it. It is really too early to tell if the actual game will be good or bad. A short beta demo simply does not represent the whole game in its entirety, but this first look was promising. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of the game as we get access to it.

This is a lot to take in, so feel free to discuss in our forums and leave comments below!

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  • http://twitter.com/QuietNine Quiet

    Great review. I think we will all have to see for ourselves if combat is better than Skyrim, but if they can combine a leveling story that is as engaging as SWTOR while actually managing to support large end-game pvp and beautiful worlds, this might be the game that holds me over until Camelot Unchained.
    I am torn about their announcement to fully support addons. On one hand, players make some beautiful interfaces, on another, damage meters make for a community permeated by toolbags.

    • Key Foster

      Agreed it is a great review. And I am kind of half and half about the addons, the fabled “your not doing enough dps” or “your not healing enough” will soon be back, then we can all say “here we go again” lol. But everything seems very intriguing, I’m really looking forward to it.

      • Jeremy Keat

        In a skilled based game where you can dodge by moving and have to aim, I think it is going to be more a matter about staying alive the whole fight than button mashing to beat an enrage timer- (because the devs suck to much to design an encounter or gameplay to not rely on that).

        • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.hornsby.7 Jonathan Hornsby

          That is what people said about GW2, and yet we still have elitist jerks complaining about people not doing enough damage or not wearing min/max gear. Trust me, history has proven that a skill based game will not silence the players who only know how to look at numbers.

          • Jeremy Keat

            Because GW2 is essential the same combat system as WoW. There is no real “hitbox” system, and combat being cooldown based. It makes a very big deal.

            The way you avoid damage in GW2 is different than say a game like Vindictus, you actually have dodges that aren’t mere immunity buttons whether your character dodges or not to be used on occasion. Even if you don’t dodge, you can avoid attacks by trying to anticipate the next enemy attack and simply moving.

            Also take into account many of the action oriented games take the route of when you attack depending on the power of it, you generally aren’t running at full speed or running at all- not necessarily to cast spells but even basic attacks.

            The gameplay of the sort mimics real physics or reality in a way that is intuitive as a player. You actually want to dodge attacks, you actually have to aim your hits and be in position to land the hit. There is no auto attacks or auto hits, auto dodges, auto misses just because of stats or a target being in melee range, hell sometimes there isn’t even auto-crits.

            Lastly, backpeddling… that isn’t a problem with these games. Usually if you are aiming you back peddle and you need it to direct attacks right if not you are typically mouse turning by default. There is no sideways spell casting and attacks.

            All of this is a much greater deal and difference, and why I call the whole lot of those games WoW/EQ clones when i comes to gameplay. We have seen so much of that combat design and I for one, as many where never really into it, the market has always been there but no MMO developer has yet to really deliver on it until games like Vindictus or Tera which weren’t exactly the best for the MMO experience or their progress design.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.hornsby.7 Jonathan Hornsby

            Not to turn this into some kind of GW2 based argument, but in truth the bulk of how I avoid attacks in GW2 is by simply moving. Projectiles don’t track and melee hits have a hit zone you can simply step out of. Likewise auto-attacks are an option you can easily disable and you do actually have to face your target for the vast majority of skills, at least with an engineer. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you either haven’t played GW2, or at least haven’t played it right. After all it does seem to have the same combat system as WoW when you are deliberately ignoring features and mechanics in order to play it exactly like WoW.

          • Jeremy Keat

            Have you ever played vindictus or a game with that actual style of combat? You would know what I mean than the technical nuances I have played GW2 but I could not get into that same combat again, fundamentally unless you hold a mouse button down you don’t turn by mouse but that is a minor detail.

            I remember doing the whole sidestep and spam ice shards and when enemy ai does melee attacks you don’t dodge them by moving, they’ll just hit you. I don’t care about boss attacks or charged attacks which are obvious to avoid or die by, that isn’t quite the same.

            GW2 had a lot of great abilities but I could not get into much of which needing a target to use and if you don’t use tab targeting or whatever method you are severely handicapped. The char warrior I played, is how I see people could say you don’t need to target but then that is hardly how the real action combat games do it, it isn’t a mere in game AoE or auto target.

            There is a big difference and you would have to play a more real action combat emulating rpg to understand (mind you it is all relative on what is more reality emulating). As in Skyrim it was vastly different than playing WoW or GW2.

            When I played Vindictus not a single day has gone by in that game were people complained about DPS, the issues were either lag or being too unskilled to dodge attacks and dying too frequently(you could be resurrected multiple times in combat). It was all about staying alive sharing the boss “aggro” so others could attack more. Games like this there is a big difference in when playing defensively and offensively.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.hornsby.7 Jonathan Hornsby

            “All about staying alive, sharing the boss “aggro” so other could attack more.”

            Pretty much sums up GW2 combat. Likewise you don’t need a target to use any abilities, and the auto-target function can be turned off if you find it annoying. Personally I prefer going with auto-target off and “fast casting” turned on, then I just roll the camera in close, enable a few third-party control options like xpadder (so I don’t have to hold down right-click), and play in full on shooter mode with my engineer.

            Also no, I haven’t had the pleasure of playing Vindictus, although I have played more recent MMOs claiming to have “action combat” and found them lacking in one way or another. Again I can’t speak to what Vindictus was, nor say with certainty what Elder Scrolls Online will offer, but I can say that based on the current trend in Action-MMOs you likely shouldn’t be expecting some awesome experience similar to a single player game. For one latency issues prevent it, so I’d expect some kind of traditional system or mechanic in place to slow down combat and hide the lag. Heck while I haven’t played it yet, I can say that based on the videos I’ve seen ESO combat actually looks rather slow; perhaps even among the slowest “action combat” I’ve seen in the genre.

    • http://twitter.com/Luke_Malcolm Luke Malcolm

      I’m on the fence aswell.

  • Key Foster


  • http://www.facebook.com/benoit.chalifoux Benoit Chalifoux

    Video or this did not happend. lol

    Great review.

  • Hearthless

    Got to play this game and it was very satisfying.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Spears/100000045054762 Joseph Spears

    WoW clone. well i was gonna try it out but i already have WoW. But good luck i hope they bring some good stuff that Blizz can copy and make better.

    • Deacon1979

      A wow clone with aim and shoot combat, 3 faction pvp, dynamic events, no hub based questing and one of the most open ended progression systems ever in a mmo?

      How is this a wow clone exactly?

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.hornsby.7 Jonathan Hornsby

        Because haters hate and trolls troll.

      • DoctorOverlord

        Because it’s an MMO and every MMO including Everquest and Ultima Online and Meridian 59 were WoW clones lol

        I hear Blizzard invented hit points and RPGs and D&D just copied WoW too.

  • Deacon1979

    Nice preview, cant wait to get my hands on it myself.

  • http://twitter.com/dularr Dularr

    Good to hear. Sound like leveling has a lot of promise and could be fun.

  • Hearthless

    This may not be the best place for this but I’ve been waiting over a week for an email confirmation for the forums. Wassupwitdat!

  • DoctorOverlord

    Nice to hear some opinions from someone who played the game, those are always worth more than any developer hype.

    I’ll be very interested to hear how this combat systems works in large PvP battles.

  • bahl isvet

    for sum reason i cant get exited about this. And im such a huge skyrim fan. Neverwinter looks so much better. And zenimax makes me feel like ea ?

    • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.hornsby.7 Jonathan Hornsby

      I was really disappointed with Neverwinter. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but to me after Guild Wars 2 changed so much Neverwinter just felt like a big step backward for the genre. I couldn’t stand backtracking to quest givers, not being able to move and attack at the same time completely undermined the “action combat” the game claimed to have, and the strictly linear and level based skill progression made me feel like I had no control over my character’s development.

      On top of that the game’s graphics are extremely outdated, and it isn’t optimized worth a damn. As a D&D fan I was looking forward to Neverwinter, but as a gamer and a MMO fan I just felt like it fell far, far short of its potential. Good thing it is free-to-play, because to me it isn’t even worth a one time fee, let alone a subscription.

  • bahl isvet

    @jay Ricciardy : Lol looked at your g+ profile, what did u play b4 this, mmo related ? Why didnt richie do this or Liz, at least they could give us sum comparison to gw2 or sumthing, The review feels a bit like one done by a mmo newby soz :(

  • jan

    Why aren’t they making a fallout mmo instead – that one would stand out – this is just another high fantasy mmo, couldnt be less interested even though I like the elder scrolls games.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.hornsby.7 Jonathan Hornsby

      Long story short; the Fallout MMO was in development by Interplay; as they were the original owner of the Fallout brand. Bethesda had originally only leased, or rented, it. And were technically only allowed to make three games (so far they have made one, New Vegas was made by another developer), and explicitly forbidden to make an MMO because Interplay already had one in development. Then some legal stuff happened, there was some back and forth, things went to court…

      These days Zenimax is the sole owner of the Fallout brand and can do anything they want with it, Interplay is out of the picture. However because this was a recent change of status, and MMOs take so long to develop, Zenimax’s only option for a MMO using a known IP at the time the project started was Elder Scrolls. It would have been literally illegal for them to make a Fallout MMO at that time. Personally though I am hoping that their newfound legal freedom leads them to develop a Fallout MMO, however that is pretty unlikely as I don’t see any developer wanting to compete with their own game.