I was invited to play ESO this past weekend by a friend who's in the closed beta. Since they're letting people talk about it freely, I though I should do so. I'm a big Elder Scrolls fan while I've mostly kicked the MMO bug, so there were several things about the proposition of ESO that didn't sit right with me. Nevertheless, what I saw wasn't as bad as it could have been, so I'll share my thoughts in the hopes they inform others who are sort of on the fence and haven't had a chance to play it. I only made it to level 12 and PVP was locked, so my impressions are obviously restricted as such.
Reasons I saw to buy ESO based on the beta:
Well-realized world: The main promise of this game that actually exceeds the ambition of the core Elder Scrolls games is that it intends to present the entire world of Tamriel, rather than simply doling it out piecemeal. As such, it's a pleasant surprise that so much care has been gone into designing interesting topography and rewarding divergence from the core path in ways that few MMOs do.
Character Freedom: I was sorry to see that there were any class-specific skills in this game, but it genuinely feels like any combination of weapons, armor, and class could combine to make a viable character, and when you add in skills that are based on your rank with the various guilds (that's fighters/mages/etc.) there's plenty of chance to go off the beaten path where character design is concerned as well. I played as a dual-wielding summoner, which isn't bad as far as MMOs go.
Good Quest Design: One positive I came away with in ESO that I wasn't expecting at all was that they've really cut down on the amount of superfluous "fetch" quests and done their best to tie most quests into some storyline or other. It may only be a one time thing - maybe a ghost asks you to discover the legendary treasure in this cultist-infested ruin or maybe a group of harmless farmers performing an old harvest ceremony turn out to be summoning a Daedra that you have to put down, but it's rare (though occasionally, it happens) that you undertake meaningless fetch or kill quests purely for the narrative sake of character advancement.
Reasons that if I buy ESO, I doubt it will be at release:
Underuse of Instancing: Remember that quest I told you about with the ghost and the ruins? Well, what if I told you that when I got into the ruins, they were already swarmed with other players running in every whichway pillaging them for their secrets? Kind of kills that intrepid mood, doesn't it? What if I told you in another quest, I was sent back in time to fill the role of a legendary warrior who killed a powerful villain, and yet, when I reached that villain, a dozen other people filling the role of a legendary warrior did all the hard work while I sat back and watched? These are problems that could be solved if ESO instanced its indoor areas, but the only cases where I saw them use the mechanic was in group dungeons and in a limited capacity, to shift around NPCs when reflecting story progress (e.g. a camp overrun with werewolves is recaptured by the guards). If those sound like a bummer to you, you definitely ought to wait for the preorder hordes to move up through the ranks.
Skill Limitations: Somewhere between Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3, skill bars limited to a handful of buttons became the vogue for multiplayer RPGs.. I don't know if this was done to restrain player power or to make games more console-friendly, but it's a serious bummer in this game, where you're restricted to five abilities and one ultimate. Now keeping in mind that between your class skills (3) your weapon skills (6), your armor skills (technically 3, but these are mostly passive), your race skills (1, but mostly passive) your guild skills (up to 5) and your world skills (Just for soul trap, that I saw, but a legitimate skill tree) you have almost twenty skill trees you could be spending points in by the time you're level twenty.
Okay. I'll be more realistic. You're probably in no more than two class trees, one weapon tree, one armor tree, and a couple of guild trees, along with the world & race tree.. you'd still be hard-pressed to fit even one skill from each tree you're using on your bar, and each tree has four skills associated with it. Honestly, I think it's fucked and that they need to at least double it or seriously reconsider how the skill trees work so that they give fewer abilities.
You're probably right that it's destined to go F2P: There's nothing wrong with them trying to make some money up front, and the game is definitely not designed with microtransactions in mind, so it'll require some overhead to get the model turned around, but from what I saw, the people playing the game weren't so overwhelmingly positive that it's destined to become a home-run success.
So, those are my thoughts. And in case it isn't obvious, my recommendation is that if you were thinking of playing it, you totally should, but just not at release. In addition to the surge of players ruining the atmosphere they're going for, I'm hoping that some fundamental design decisions get reversed, and odds are that's not going to happen for six months minimum.