I've wanted to write something about Elder Scrolls Online for some time, as I've played it a fair bit since it released almost a month ago. However, whenever I sit down to write something, I end up unsure what to write, as there's a lot of good/bad in it, and I'm not sure what to focus on.
The good parts involve a very pretty game, it has extensive stories, lore, exploration and a "different" combat system for an MMO. Should note that nowadays, "different" means "not like WoW", as that's still the base comparison for all such games. Coincidentally, most of the time, different also means bad...
The bad parts involve a fair bit of bugs, a very insane inventory system, fair bit of imbalance PvP-wise (numbers and lvl50+ is almost everything), and the insane untimely maintenance windows brought on by the company, always during the evening prime-time.
The combat is the core of the game, and it's fairly interesting in itself. There's no targeting, this also applies for healers - so there's the unique system of all heals either being smart heals (targeting the lowest health friendly) or area heals. The most mana-efficient "huge" heal has a 10m radius from the caster, so you need to essentially stay on top of the tank during dungeon runs. The combat is also partially twitch-based in the sense that it focuses a lot on dodging, actively blocking and interrupting. If you're tanking a big mob, all you do is mitigate damage by hiding behind your shield with the odd jumping out of the way every now and then when an extremely powerful attack is up.
The skill-system is also quite flexible, the only permanent choices for your character are race and one out of four different classes. These also give you certain class-specific skills. This doesn't restrict you in any way though, as an example, for our initial dungeon run, we had a Sorcerer put on heavy armor and a shield serving as our main tank, the stats from heavy armor and the skills in the 1hand + shield weapon-line was enough to survive. This means you can have very unique characters and builds. You also get two weaponsets you can swap during combat, so you can have two different styles ready for combat. In some of the more stressful situations, I've found myself swapping between my two weaponsets every 3-4 seconds to use the different skills I have there.
The questing is probably the thing most people will have a love/hate relationship with in this game, as it's *very* story-driven and a fierce focus on immersion, voice and so on. The insane amount of lore and text written in this game is pure and utter madness, and if I had a dollar for every time I was forced to "wait" or "observe" something as a part of a quest, I could probably fund a few more years of development for this game.
The PvP is relatively okay from a Dark Age of Camelot point of view. The three factions trying to get control is well done, keep battles feel interesting, but there's the obvious problem of some faction outnumbering the other faction in open field battles. Even though this can be mitigated through the clever use of abilities and siege engines, most often the outcome favors the faction with the bigger numbers, or the faction with the bigger number of level 50+ players. The sub-50 player scaling doesn't really work all that well, and the minute you hit level 50, you just automagically triple your power in PvP.
One of the more interesting aspects of PvP which can be done in smaller groups, is that all characters have stealth. A group of characters can organize and just remain completely hidden until they strike their unsuspecting victims. Obviously this isn't as much fun if you're soloing and find yourself at the receiving end, but it's something that makes 2-4 person groups viable, even solo is doable if you're trying to cut off stragglers who are trying to reinforce the main lines, but you should have some decent escape tools or be prepared to die a fair amount if you plan to do this.
The crafting in the game is okay-ish, but very hurt by the fact that you end up with such a cluttered insane inventory full of madness that you need 2-3 characters to hold all your crafting materials. I'd still like bigger variety in crafting as you actually need to invest skill points into it to progress it, but I'm starting to think we may never see another SWG-crafting game ever.
The skill "respec" option is fairly weird and extremely expensive after a bit. Every active skill can be "morphed" into one of two different variants, giving further flexibility when making your character, but choose carefully, as you can't respec individual skills, you need to fully respec all your skills for a cost of 100g per skill, which adds up to a fair amount of gold. There really isn't an easy way to get gold, even at high-level, so doing a respec once you've gained a fair few levels is most likely a very rare event.
After the initial few days, when they nerfed PvP kill quests, the only viable ways to level in a sane fashion have been questing or grinding mobs - and in most zones, the questing will be faster and slightly less tedious. This means that leveling alt characters will likely be a very horrible affair, as you're ending up doing the same quest-insanity over again. Should note that I'm a person who have absolutely no problem questing another WoW character from 1-90, but I get physically sick just thinking of the effort of leveling another ESO character to max level due to the insanity of the quests. As such, make sure you've picked the right class before you decide to go all in for leveling. Another note here is that this is probably one of the games where duoing or grouping in general is extremely efficient for quick leveling, just make sure you get all the quests done at the same time or there'll be grumpy people.
All in all, I can't really recommend ESO for everyone, you should ideally enjoy questing and exploration/lore more than anything before jumping into this. If you're in it for the Realm vs Realm combat, and you enjoyed Dark Age of Camelot, you should give it a go, provided you're able to stomach a fair bit of leveling before actually being able to contribute as much as "everyone else".