After the rage-inducing installation of the ESO beta finished, I was more than skeptical as I dove into the world of Tamriel. Luckily the gameplay itself wasn’t as insane as the installation, but it sure took a good time to get used to. So I can say that my first second impressions were mixed, but definitely still better than my experience with WoW was.

When I got a month’s free trial of WoW years ago, of course I gave it a try – and I lost motivation and purpose in five minutes or so. I had no idea where should I go or what am I supposed to do, so I ran in the countryside randomly, killed two mobs then got eaten by the third, and never launched the game again.

On the other hand, I’ve spent countless hours playing Skyrim since the game came out, trying a number of playstyles and character classes. Addictive and immersive as it might be, after a painfully short while my characters just became gods. Even the hardest difficulty of Skyrim felt stupidly easy and maybe only frustrating once I’ve figured out how to use companions correctly.

The ESO beta was an entirely different experience. It kept the positive elements from other Elder Scrolls games: the story, the world, the lore, the freedom, and stripped it of what was the most illusion-breaking for me: god mode. Sure you still overpower most enemies you encounter in the first stages, you can’t really do that just by hacking at them, and if there happens to be more than one of them at once, you might be in trouble still.

This was a bit frustrating when I first got my ass owned hard, but once I figured out the basic concepts of combat (which is quite different from Skyrim), such as dodging and charged abilities, it became a reasonable and equal fight for most of it. I simply couldn’t afford to ignore any enemies (to just focus on a zone boss for example), because even a basic mudcrab could tear me apart if I left it be (quite an amusing thing to happen after Skyrim).

Another big difference is just how slow it is. In Skyrim, playing for 20 hours meant that I was already at level 30 and way past the main storyline. In TESO I spent five or so hours trying to clear just one dungeon with my group. Also, leveling and abilities are handled much differently. I had to be very conscious of where I put that single skill point I got after clearing some long quest – because clearing quests (and finding skyshards) is pretty much the only way to gain levels.

The rate at which I could level (and looking around at other players, the rate at which anyone else could level too) sure doesn’t permit anyone to become an undefeatable juggernaut in no time. While that is good for slowing the game down in general, I have my doubts. If I can only level by doing quests, what’s the point of going out there exploring, maybe fighting the occasional wolfpack or slaughtering a camp of bandits?

There’s no indicator about the difficulty of quests or dungeons, which can be quite damn annoying considering I just couldn’t run away from any enemy (felt like sprinting didn’t work), so if I happened on something that was more than I could chew, I just died. Not so pleasing. This especially feels weird in contrast to how most items are strictly level-locked (eg you can’t use a level 7 item until you actually hit level 7).

On the positive side of dying (does that even make sense?), I discovered that items now get damaged if I die (at least not just from using them), which is new after Skyrim. They can be repaired at merchants – any merchant though, which can be fascinating if you imagine a hunter fixing your high level daedric armor for example.

Considering how negative my attitude was when I started the game for the first time, I think it did a damn good job at keeping me playing for three days straight. The world is all there, the combat and leveling is I’d say much better than in Skyrim, and there’s an incentive to actually team up with people – playing the solo man like in the offline Elder Scrolls games just doesn’t pay off. Playing from Japan, I didn’t feel any apparent lag, and even my almost 4 year old PC could handle the game at almost max detail.