No more beta versions, no more test weekends, no more waiting. The Elder Scrolls Online — ESO to its close friends — is here.
To be honest, it's not a wildly different game to what we'd been playing before and a lot of what we liked back then is still valid.
But there certainly are changes, so here's a few things that we've been loving about ESO during the Early Access period of the launch version.
Character Progression (again): There's still a great sense of the character 'classes' just being rough archetypes rather than set in stone progression paths. This time I spent more time working on guild quests — mage's guild in particular. Just joining opened up some new skill progression paths, the first of which (Persuasion) was useful from the get go.
I decided to create a new character, and I wanted a dark elf summoner who was handy with dual blades. ESO allowed me to do this and while I ended up wishing I'd gone with something else, it's a testament to the game that I could actually create something like that in the first place. (My heart will always belong to hard-hitting orcs, I was just trying something new this time around.)
World variety: Trying out a whole new character build also showcased how different the tones of the starting areas are. While that's a feature of many MMOs, it's great to see it done in a world such as Tamriel. The ESO universe has a huge legacy and a tremendous amount of lore, and all are being put to great use with this game.
It's not just the starting areas, of course — there's great variety to be found in all the game areas.
Questing for quests: As with all Elder Scrolls games, ESO rewards you for just having a wander around and exploring. Like Skyrim, some of the best experiences I had in ESO came from just picking a direction and seeing what was there.
Of course, there are still questions to be answered. During the early access period, server load was obviously quite light, so it'll be intriguing to see how the world feels when packed with new players. Gamers have a lot of choice out there at the moment, especially when it comes to MMOs. It also remains to be seen if Bethesda can deliver a good grouping experience for friends looking to play together over a long time frame.
With the Standard digital edition costing AU$89.95 and the Imperial edition costing AU$119.95 for digital download, and a monthly fee of AU$15 after the first 30 days, this is an investment for gamers. Other MMOs have found the subscription model hard going against the monolithic World of Warcraft (we're looking at you here, Star Wars: The Old Republic).
But WoW is starting to look a little long in the tooth, and Bethesda is offering a fresh new experience. One that looks great and is playing to an already dedicated fan base. Could The Elder Scrolls Online truly challenge Warcraft? Watch this space.