For its first foray into the world of massively-multiplayer in The Elder Scrolls Online, Bethesda appears to be cleaving fairly closely to the hugely successful format that took a hardcore RPG and made it a mainstream phenomenon. The Elder Scrolls Online's engine looks and feels like Skyrim, and boasts similar controls and design.

Gameplanet took the game for a brief spin this morning.

But first of all there's a departure from tradition. The first thing fans of The Elder Scrolls series will notice when creating a character in The Elder Scrolls Online is the class selection tab. Typically in an Elder Scrolls title a race is chosen (which comes with particular boons and blemishes) and skills are dynamically honed based on the amount of use they get.

E3: The Elder Scrolls Online preview

With ZeniMax Online Studios’ online trip to Tamriel, the existing behaviours do remain, but they exist alongside a set of class-specific skills that can be further refined. The class skills are an additional category which are loosely aligned with the so-called 'Holy Trinity' MMO group gaming. The class specification can be overridden somewhat, and players are free to expand their skills with weapons, armour, magic, crafting, guilds, and so on, as they please.

E3: The Elder Scrolls Online preview
E3: The Elder Scrolls Online preview
E3: The Elder Scrolls Online preview
E3: The Elder Scrolls Online preview

Character creation done and dusted, the UI is next to become familiar with. Common to Skyrim are the inventory and skills dialogues, although equipping items is now much more simple and accessible. No more scrolling through vertical menus to see what you have and have equipped, a proper mouse roll-over is available for comparisons. This works out well for the PC and Mac editions of the game, but the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 remain to be seen.

Gone too is Skyrim's skill tree, replaced here with a less beautiful and more functional set of tabbed lists. Hotkeys for skills line the bottom of the screen for numbers 1-5, as well as item slots bound to Q and E. Having a quick health potion available is a crucial addition to the Elder Scrolls UI, and one that was necessary with the move to an online world.

Playing as a level 5 Dragon Knight, the game's first dungeon is within easy reach. The game server felt a little underpopulated, as it was local to E3 and still very much in beta. Below the soil was a Red Guard stronghold, with goons guarding a sorcerer holding a magic staff. Standard Skyrim dungeon-cleaning fare abounds, including zapping rats for their whiskers and a quick upgrade of weapon prowess earned in the early levels. By the end of the dungeon, the player’s jerkin is bursting with dodgy old swords and pieces of fruit - time to head back to town.

While still visually engaging, the city of Daggerfall looks a little cut down in comparison to the beauty of Skyrim’s cities, this has to be a consequence of the resources required to go MMO. It’s far from shabby, however, and the players soon finds a plethora of quest stubs to begin exploring. A change from the singleplayer titles, assassins openly attack citizens of Daggerfall inside the city walls - although it’s difficult to tell if that was a response to another adventurer’s shenanigans.

Despite the short amount of beta play available on the showfloor, the impression The Elder Scrolls Online made was positive. Having to leave a quest before it was finished felt mildly heartbreaking, as did leaving so many stones in the city of Daggerfall unturned. ZeniMax Online is promising areas across the worlds of Morrowind, Skyrim and more - including never-before explored areas of Tamriel.

Although the PvP combat was missing from this brief preview, the mix of skills, crafting, trading and warfare is enough to pique our interests. In spite of earlier misgivings, it feels like an Elder Scrolls game. Roll on the open beta.

The Elder Scrolls Online is coming to PC and next-gen consoles in 2014.