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    The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, Beyond Skyrim

    How do you follow one of the most well-received RPGs of all time? In 2011, we described The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as “one of the finest adventures this Generation has seen.” The short answer to that is just two words: with difficulty. The slightly longer, much more accurate answer takes four:  The Elder Scrolls Online. On 9 June, the prequel to one of the Xbox 360’s best games lands on Xbox One after a hefty delay. In fact, we first played the PC version of the game almost 18 months ago. That version was released to the public in April 2014, and we’ve been waiting for the Xbox One release ever since.

    But with that launch just a few months away, we’ve spoken to ZeniMax, the team behind the MMO, and we can now finally, exclusively, show you the first screenshots of the console version of the game. And guess what? It’s looking pretty freaking awesome.


    The game unlocks a world that players of previous Elder Scrolls titles will certainly recognise as well as the realm of Skyrim, players can also explore the shores of Morrowind, creep through the dark dungeons of Oblivion, and discover a huge game world that has never been open to gamers. It’s by far the biggest Elder Scrolls game ever made.

    This is, perhaps, to help give gamers enough space to explore.  TESO is the first multiplayer game in the series as you progress through the story, you’ll encounter other online players, complete challenges with them, battle against them, or join them on quests. For a series that has been decidedly a single-player experience in the past, the jump to MMO is a huge departure, but it also doesn’t mean that the single-player experience has completely disappeared.

    “We designed the game to be able to be played solo if the player wants to do that there are many  Elder Scrolls players who have never before played an online RPG of this type, so we wanted to be sure that option was there,” says Matt Firor, TESO’s game director. “The idea is that you can play the game solo, but you’ll run into other players while you are doing so, organically join with them, and form groups, join guilds, and learn the joys of interacting and socialising with other players.”

    Don’t expect to be trekking across the continent to join your friends right from the start, though. When you first begin the game you’ll need to pick a race from the nine available, and your choice will decide the area in which you will start your quest. The races are divided up into three factions clashing over the throne of Emperor of Tamriel: the First Aldmeri Dominion is made up of High Elves, Wood Elves and Khajiit; the Daggerfall Covenant comprise of Bretons, Redguards and Orcs; and the Nord, Dark Elves, and Argonian make up the Ebonheart Pact. But don’t worry if you think you’ll be trapped in a small area with nothing to do. ZeniMax has packed so much into the world that your biggest problem will be choosing what to do first.

    “There are tons of things to do in Tamriel besides main story quests,” explained Firor. “You can explore for chests, delves (mini dungeons), create sellable goods with the crafting system, PvP, and if you wish, engage in criminal activity for fun and profit. You can do all of these simultaneously as you level, or just concentrate on one of them it’s up to you.”

    All of this is, of course, alongside the levelling system for your character. When you pick a race and customise your character, you’ll also need to choose a class. Like any good RPG, you’ll have a choice of four Dragon Knight, Sorcerer, Templar and Knightblade. But no matter which one you pick,  The Elder Scrolls Online doesn’t limit you in what you can equip. So if you’re a Sorcerer but you want some extra protection, you can kit yourself out with heavy armour, or you can give the Dragon Knight a bow and a staff if you prefer a long-range option.

    This frees you up to do all kinds of things with your character no matter what kind of player you are, you’ll be able to customise them to suit you. And with so much of Tamriel to explore, taking the time to craft the perfect character will be just as addictive as the previous games in the series. Which brings us to the map. Did you play Skyrim? That game was pretty big, right? Well, Skyrim itself is just one small part of the continent of Tamriel there are eight other regions for you to explore. Some of them will be locked from the outset, ready for DLC later in the game’s lifespan, but there is still a lot to see. And, while you’re contained at first, once you hit level 50 you can cross the borders and start venturing out into more of the game world, including familiar areas you won’t have visited since your first Elder Scrolls title.
    “ If you’re a Sorcerer but you want some extra protection, whynot equip heavy armour and dive into battle? ”
    In fact, even after you hit level 50 and progress onto ‘Veteran’ class there is an astonishing number of things to do. At that point you start levelling different, you’ll face tougher enemies in the new areas you can explore, and find new items and dungeons that only Veterans can delve into. And boy are they tough you’ll likely need a team of other powerful friends if you want to get through them in one piece. Additionally, there’s Vampirism and Lycanthropy to play with. That’s right, in TESO you can literally turn your character into a vampire or a werewolf, like in Skyrim’s Dawnguard DLC, giving your access to new skills, but also adding a range of unique weaknesses. These transformations are technically available at any point in the game, but level 50 is the perfect point to try them out they will give you a completely new outlook on the game, and new quests to complete.

    If you’re not getting the picture yet, we’ll sum it up for you: The Elder Scrolls Online is huge. There’s so much to do that you could easily sink weeks if not months into the world and still only scratch the surface. And when we consider that, we can almost forgive ZeniMax for taking so long to finish the Xbox One version. “[It] is a very complex game, technically, and moving from one platform to another involves many moving parts and pieces, including underlying infrastructure, transition to controller-based gameplay, etc,” said Firor. “What took the longest, though, was our commitment to continually improve the game through a series of PC updates over the last eight months before launching it on console.”

    These updates are another reason that the game took a while to get the game finished for Xbox One. TESO is, of course, an MMO, and as such regular updates are a given. New areas, quests, missions, and items are common with a title like this, but it must be difficult to finish a game when new features are constantly being added. What’s great to see is that ZeniMax hasn’t been cutting corners when getting the game onto home consoles. Instead, the focus has been on making it a good fit for the controller, which provides a very different experience to a mouse and keyboard. “At its heart, the game is just the same on console as it is on PC,” explains Frior. “But the way the player interacts with the game, the world, and each other has been updated to take advantage of what consoles do best play with a controller, be able to sit in your living room and read text on the screen, have a UI that is built from the ground up to take advantage of the controller.”
    “There’s so much to do that you could sink weeks if not months into the world and only scratch the surface”
    We’ve now got our first good look at what this means thanks to ZeniMax showing us the control setup for the Xbox One. You can take a look at the layout in the image to the left, but Skyrim players be warned things seem to have changed a fair bit from the previous game in the series. We’ll wait for our first hands on to see what it means for gameplay, but we’re quietly confident that it should feel pretty natural when we pick it up in a few weeks.

    For now, we’re content just getting our first look at the game on Xbox One. It’s looking pretty fantastic thanks to the power that Microsoft’s console provides. Perhaps the biggest question, in light of other recent multiplayer releases, is how the servers will hold up when the game goes live on 9 June. If they don’t, TESO’s launch will be tainted and the game could really suffer. And, even more so than Halo: The Master Chief Collection, this is one title that can’t afford to get the online part wrong. But if it works, it could be the biggest jump forward in gaming for a long time. This is the first proper MMO on Xbox One, and its scale is enormous.

    Yes, we’ve been waiting for this game for more than a year, but as the final release gets close we’re becoming more and more confident that it could be an Xbox One classic. Prepare yourself for another epic adventure into Tamriel this time it’s going to be bigger than ever before.

    The ‘FREE-TO-PLAY’ Question
    HOW WILL THE MOVE TO AN OPTIONAL SUBSCRIPTION MODEL AFFECT THE BALANCE OF THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE?
    When Bethesda announced it would be making TESO’s monthly subscription fee optional, the community reaction was mixed. Some welcomed the news that would save them $9.99 a month, while others questioned whether it would result in a system in which players could spend money to buy better weapons, effectively paying to win.

    We asked Matt Firor, game director on TESO, for the inspiration behind the decision. “We listened to our customer base, we analysed playing habits, and came to the conclusion that it was time to move to a subscription-optional plan,” he said. “And when we made that decision, it just made sense to do it for all platforms.”

    Instead, players can now pay for the ‘ESO Plus’ membership available in 30, 90 or 180-day durations. These will offer access to all DLC, as well as ‘character progression bonuses’ and a monthly supply of crowns, the in-game currency that is used to purchase consumables, costumes, mounts and pets. You can access all of these without spending money, but it will take time, and of course the DLC will still be available to purchase individually, if you wish.

    THE STORY SO FAR…
    THE ELDER SCROLLS TIMELINE IS COMPLEX, HERE’S HOW THE NEW GAME FITS IN…

    THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE (SECOND ERA 582)
    Set 750 years before Morrowind, TESO is set in a time of chaos and war in which three factions fight over the Ruby Throne. An agent of Molag Bal completes a ritual to merge worlds and give his master more power.

    MORROWIND (THIRD ERA 427)
    The deity Dagoth Ur seeks to gain power and break Morrowind from Imperial reign. You must fulfil the seven prophesies of the Nerevarine to become strong enough to defeat Dagoth Ur before he can break free from the Red Mountain.

    OBLIVION (THIRD ERA 433)
    After the death of Emperor Uriel Septim, barriers open to Oblivion, a realm in another dimension. Cities are attacked by dark creatures known as Daedra, and you must defeat the enemy forces to close the barriers again.

    SKYRIM (FOURTH ERA 201)
    The latest of the main games, Skyrim takes place almost 1000 years after The Elder Scrolls Online in a time of dragons. You gain the powers of a Dragonborn, and must defeat the evil leader of the dragons, Alduin, before he destroys the world.

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