The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim fans would feel right at home on Bleakrock Isle, a relatively small and snowy island that we've been busy traipsing across during our first day of taking part in The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited beta on the PlayStation 4. It's not just the white stuff that's on the ground which reminds us of the Nord homeland, though – it's also the architecture, the burly Northerners, and the old undead-ridden crypts.
In hindsight, it's quite funny that Bleakrock Isle turned out to be the first location that we really sunk our teeth into, especially since we've already spent countless hours in Skyrim on the PlayStation 3. It's not where we initially started our beta journey, but it was the first place where we found suitable, low level quests in abundance. Indeed, the world of The Elder Scrolls Online is gigantic, as evidenced by the fact that it takes several seconds to even fully expand map screen, which reveals vast explorable lands that reach all across the continent of Tamriel.
The game's bloody massive, then, but as you might expect, this does seem to have its drawbacks. For starters, the environments themselves aren't all that detailed, and although there's still more than enough to discover – from treasure chests to caves and villages to bandit camps – none of it feels as intricate as what's on offer in previous Elder Scrolls titles. However, we can't forget that this is the franchise's first jaunt into massively multiplayer online territory.
Whether you're wandering around town or hacking your way through some old ruins, you'll usually come across other players going about their own fantasy business, but unfortunately, the implementation of these multiplayer elements seems to be a bit hit and miss. In some ways, it's nice to see other players doing their own thing, if only for the fact that it makes the world itself appear that much more alive, and there's some real fun to be had tackling roaming beasts and bandits with a random passer-by, or helping someone out who's clearly caught in a troubling encounter. On the other hand, though, it can be a tad annoying to see other players swarming quest areas or certain important locations.
This was no more apparent than when we fought our way into a crypt in order to slay a necromancer. When we got to the central chamber to smite the baddie, three other players were already there, beating him to a pulp. Needless to say, they slaughtered the old fool before we could even get a hit in. Our quest was marked as completed in our journal, but we hadn't played much of a part in it.
Speaking of quests, our adventures on Bleakrock Isle began with the head of a small town telling us to go out into the wilderness and gather missing townsfolk, preferably before the island fell to an army that was encroaching on its borders. It immediately sounded like typical role-playing game fluff, and it was, but the whole process was handled quite well. To start with, our quest-giver gave us the names of three different citizens, each with their own reasons for being out in the wolf-infested countryside. One needed an item from within an old tomb, another was investigating nearby bandit activity, and the last was looking for her lost sibling.
Although there we no real surprises in how things played out – we conquered the crypt, carved through the cut-throats, and found the hapless brother – each task rewarded us with gold and gear, and there was a satisfying pace to it all. After the characters had all made their way back to town, we were presented with a choice: we could either continue the search for more hopeless townsfolk, or we could tell our quest-giver to proceed with an early evacuation of Bleakrock, before the aforementioned invasion began.
Being a helpful little adventurer with nothing better to do, we decided to head back out across the snow, and gather whoever we could find. This led to our first real dose of free-flowing exploration, as we followed paths off the beaten trail, discovered clusters of raw crafting materials, and skinned countless bears and wolves. In time, we came across the still-missing townsfolk one by one, each of them asking for our assistance, and again, presenting us with spoils when we came back to them, victorious in our endeavours.
With our journal now full of completed quests, we hurried back to town, sold all of the bits and pieces that we didn't need, and then decided that it was time to give the questline a kick in the rear. The evacuation began, and we were told to go and light the island's signal fire, letting allies know that emergency ships were needed. We slashed our way through enemy soldiers on the way to the tower with the help of another player and lit the fire, before being tasked with shepherding the townsfolk through yet another ancient tomb, smashing up some undead on the way.
When all was said and done, we had sailed away from the island alongside our newfound friends, landing on the shores of Morrowind, which, as fans will know, boasts a completely different look to the cold northern reaches of Skyrim. That look is fully realised here, with massive mushrooms and a dusty, but colourful landscape stretching out into the distance. In any case, it was clear that our Bleakrock Isle adventures were over.
We'd spent a good six or seven hours seeing all that the island had to offer, and while much of what we did there was a bit by-the-numbers, we can't deny that it was an enjoyable stay. Exploration and discovery perhaps isn't as potent as it is in previous, single player Elder Scrolls titles, but we reckon that there's still going to be a lot to see and experience, and it'll all be tied together by a reasonably enjoyable, quick-paced quest system. Will that be enough to keep us engaged in this ridiculously large online world? Only time will tell.
Did you manage to get into the beta? What are your thoughts so far? Join our alliance in the comments section below.