The Elder Scrolls Online community event in Seattle at this year’s PAX West was one of many firsts for me. For one, this was the first time I’d ever been personally invited out for a press event. It was also the first time I’d ever interviewed a big-name dev in person. But one thing I didn’t expect from this experience was legitimately getting lost in a game world again. It’s been so long, it legit felt like the first time I’ve played an MMO again.
One of the more notable things ESO is infamous for its lack of a minimap, though of course on your own machine you can mod one in. In my clean demo, that was a little jarring at first, but I soon recognized the benefit of actually not having that minimap. I was told that it was explicitly designed so that people are actually focusing on the game and not the UI. I personally love this decision. I tend to minimize the UI as much as possible in any MMO I play, so having an explicit developer decision remove the minimap to me shows how much they’re dedicated to the immersion factor.
Staring at a minimap wasn’t the only habit I needed to squash. I have a tendency to run around and mindlessly swing my weapon while in town. I soon realized that doing that can hurt the innocent NPCs around me and get me into trouble with the law. I accidentally sliced a merchant in the throat, and we were suddenly throwing down in a brawl. I had to kill the guy; it was self defense. The city guard saw the opposite. He demanded money from me, but I wasn’t about to waste my money on a crime I’m unwilling to take responsibility on, so I told him that he’ll never take me alive and ran. I couldn’t escape though; roots quickly sprang from the ground and I was eliminated with extreme prejudice.
When I came back, I did some light questing, checking out the available main story quests. That’s when I realized what long-time ESO vets already know: that the entire game has lines and lines and lines of spoken dialogue. Since I was poking around the early alpha of the area in Dragonhold, none of the lines have been recorded yet, so a text-to-speech voice would recite the lines at me. This blew me away: There are plenty of MMOs with voice dialogue, but ESO, even its DLC, has voiced lines for everything.
And it really worked for me. Even with the robotic, pre-alpha voice acting and the occasional animation hiccup, I forgot where I was for a second. As soon as I saw a dragon fly overhead, I heard the other testers say, “Let’s get that dragon!” So of course I dropped what I was doing, forgot I had an article to research and write, and commenced dragon-hunting with my impromptu companions. It landed in a clearing where a few players soon flooded in. I was immediately roasted by the dragon. It was on at that point. I went full-on try-hard on this dragon. Even though I didn’t understand the game as well as the hardcore ESO fans at the event, I knew when it was time to throw down. My group and I attempted to fight it off, casting off spells and strategically letting off charged attacks, but it wasn’t enough. The dragon still took us down, over, and over, and over again. Alas, we were forced to retreat.
At that point, my time with the game was up, and it was only then that I realized I was playing an MMO. I wasn’t just a reporter preparing for a write-up in a Seattle pub; I was a Warden with a battlecat, trying to take down a dragon in Tamriel. That immersion is certainly ESO’s greatest strength, and from what I saw with Dragonhold, I think it’s a good time to try the game out and prepare for it!