Edit: I have kept details vague due to the NDA; and plan to elaborate when it comes down.
So the almost comically restrictive ESO NDA was partially lifted for specific media outlets enough that between them, previous articles, and rumors from people who give zero fucks about the NDA they clicked "I agree to abide by..." we the anticipating public now have enough information to form some opinions on the game.*
Frankly, I'm unimpressed. My interest with ESO, as it has been well disclosed on this blog, has been lukewarm at best and stirred to a ball of incoherent rage at worst. I actually became somewhat optimistic over what I saw coming out of the stress test but then things quickly started to go downhill. As the picture came into view it became clear that this game was exactly what I feared, a modern theme park MMO--complete with a trinity, linear quests, and group-oriented endgame--painted in the veneer of my beloved franchise but with the soul conspicuously missing. Sure the game looks like Skyrim (albeit with poorer graphics) and it's set in the same world, but this linear, end-game focused monstrosity is not what I wanted to see from an online version of the Elder Scrolls.
The closest description I can provide to anyone who has utterly ignored the situation is that it is like an award winning restaurant's chef staff sat down and said to themselves, "Well, customers LOVE our steak, so we decided to replace it with steak-flavored tofu." Then they act surprised by the incredulous looks their customers give. I loathe to use the phrase "slap in the face" but I find in this instance it is the most appropriate way to describe my feelings. It's like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake, the one we all keep hoping will turn out to be nothing more than a bad dream and not Michael Bay's attempt to destroy my childhood. I keep hoping to see a news article about ESO that starts, "LOL JK, we got you! Here is the real game."
But Clockwork, can't Zenimax try and bring new players into the ES fold? A fair point, and yet perhaps they could have done it in a way that does not completely debase what made the franchise successful in the first place? Battlefield and Call of Duty players would have just as much cause to complain if suddenly EA/Activision decided that a puzzle variant of the series should be the next big release. If you like the modern trend of MMOs I am sure you'll love ESO, and while I don't begrudge you for enjoying it, I am disappointed that this is the way it jumped online.
I think at this point an NDA is a giant red flag, especially when it is still in force this close to release. Certainly many companies have them for alphas and some even for paid betas. But it alarms me if one is around with only a few months before release. Like someone pleading the fifth, it makes us feel like the developer has something to hide. Even more suspicious is them only allowing certain reviewers to talk. Now to be fair, many of them had very critical things to say, but it still makes one wary.
Please developers, I know that the prospect of being the "WoW Killer" sounds amazing and I know you love your franchise, but please don't throw it at the twenty-ton Pandaren hoping you're going to unseat it. Stick to what you are good at. Meanwhile I'll be over here crossing everything in my body that can be crossed in hopes that we'll one day see an "Elder Scrolls 6: Finally all of Tamriel" and that the adage, "An MMO is where a franchise goes to die," proves to be untrue.
*Full disclosure: I have only seen early content, it is possible that later on the game drastically changes...but it doesn't look that way.