Elder Scrolls Online beta sign-ups begin

Bethesda Softworks wants to find gamers to participate in a closed beta for The Elder Scrolls Online, the upcoming massive multiplayer version of the popular RPG series.

Prospective players can sign up on Bethesda's website, but should only do so from their actual gaming PCs so they can perform a suggested DirectX diagnostic test. Bethesda says completing all the optional sections of the questionnaire will “significantly” increase your chances of being selected for the beta.

Bethesda hasn't said when the beta will begin, or for that matter when the game will launch in finished form. But the company's FAQ page suggests that there will be several rounds of closed beta testing, followed by an open beta. It's unclear of beta participants' progress will carry over to the final game, but Bethesda does plan to reward participants in some way.

To coincide with the beta sign up process, Bethesda has launched a 5-minute CGI trailer, featuring the requisite skulking through dungeons and slaying of monsters. It's pretty to look at, as shown below, but it won't tell you much about the game itself.

Big differences to come

From what we know so far, though, The Elder Scrolls Online will be quite different from its single-player predecessors. Action will unfold from a third-person perspective, and while there will be an element of real-time combat in the form of timed blocks, dodges, and charged attacks, the game will play somewhat like a traditional MMO with a targeting system and an arsenal of attack skills to choose from. (Tamriel Foundry has a good in-depth description of how combat works in The Elder Scrolls Online.)

Sign up now for participating in the Elder Scrolls Online beta

The divergence from first-person combat has polarized fans of previous Elder Scrolls games, such as Oblivion and Skyrim, but Bethesda is hoping that the lore of the series and the strategic aspects of the gameplay will help win people over. The potential for large-scale battles, where factions can conquer cities and declare one of their players as King, sounds promising as well.

If all else fails, there's always brand recognition. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was the second-most popular game of 2011 (behind only Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3); on the PC gaming platform Steam, it was the fastest-selling game in history.

We don't yet know what the pricing model for The Elder Scrolls Online will be, but if Bethesda goes with a subscription plan, it could be the most serious attempt yet to dethrone World of Warcraft as the king of traditional MMOs. The reaction to the beta will be worth watching, whenever it launches.

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