The Elder Scrolls Online is an ambitious MMORPG that seeks to duplicate the epic atmosphere and depth of its offline counterparts like Oblivion and Skyrim. While it's still too early to say how closely ZeniMax and Bethesda have come to their target, my impressions from the most recent beta test period lead me to believe the game has a lot of potential.
Over the next few posts, I'll be giving a brief run-down on some of the most stand-out aspects of this hotly-anticipated game -- beginning, of course, with the process of generating a new character.
First, you choose from a whopping selection of nine different playable races, grouped according to three alliances, as follows:
The Aldmeri Dominion: Altmer (high elves), Bosmer (wood elves), Khajit (cat-like people)
The Daggerfall Covenant: Orcs, Bretons (human), Redguards (also human)
The Ebonheart Pact: Dunmer (dark elves), Nords (human), Argonians (reptile-like people)
Your alliance will determine your character's starting zone and initial story quests, as well as your team in competitive PvP territory.
When it comes to tweaking character appearance, modern MMORPG players have become accustomed to a wealth of customization options, and Elder Scrolls Online will not disappoint in this respect. There are sliders to adjust height, body proportions, facial structure, hair style and colour, skin tone, eye colour, markings like scars and tattoos, and decorative accessories. There's sure to be a wide variety of characters running around out there, though sizes and proportions are limited to a reasonable range so as to eliminate anything too freaky.
Each race has distinct features and colour ranges, so even though there are technically multiple kinds of "humans" or "elves," they'll tend not to look exactly like each other. In fact, if I had a complaint, it would be about ESO's strict adherence to a natural, "realistic" palette (for lack of a better word) that was designed to suit the rules of the established Elder Scrolls lore. I understand the compulsion to work within tasteful stylistic restrictions, but I feel it's generally better for a game to err on the side of choice, at least for player avatars. It always seems a bit arbitrary, when yellow or red eyes are considered perfectly reasonable yet blue or green hair is rejected as heretical madness.
Like in previous Elder Scrolls titles, one's choice of race isn't merely an aesthetic matter. Each has natural talents that can heavily suggest an optimal class or skill set. For example, high elves gain experience faster with a destruction staff, have higher maximum Magicka points, and recover Magicka faster in battle. The khajit gain levels in medium armour quickly, benefit from an improved stealth radius, do more damage while stealthed, and have increased critical hit rating with melee attacks.
Personally, I'm turned off by these kinds of racial affinities, especially in a series that prides itself on being so free and open. Why push the player in a certain direction, rather than let people play how they want? A level of distinction between races certainly adds diversity, but surely it's possible to give each race a unique, non-situational perk without pushing it strongly toward a specific role, class, or weapon type. Perhaps these initial racial affinities gradually play a fading role as players train new skills and attain better equipment over the course of the game. Still, the principle that thinking outside the box should come with a disincentive seems a questionable design decision.
One neat thing I noticed is that naming your character is relatively hassle-free. Thankfully, there are no old-fashioned rules about having one-word names only, and names can be up to 20 characters long (including up to four hyphens, apostrophes, or spaces).
Despite a few gripes, ESO's character creation engine is quite impressive. Although the system might block some of the more irreverent players from getting too creative, and the hair styles are a bit wanting for variety, there are certainly more than sufficient options to keep worries about looking like everyone else at bay.