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!

[portfolio_slideshow size=custom]