To be honest, leading up to the beta my interest in the Elder Scrolls Online was not that great. It just looked very average from the outside. So when I got into the beta, I was not expecting very much. My very first impressions of the game seemed to back up my pre-beta thoughts.
The tutorial area is nothing special. The only thing I noticed was a little phasing. There was also a fun little bug where you would fall to your death when trying to leave the prison. They fixed that thankfully. After leaving the tutorial area, you are sent to the starting area for your alliance.
I chose the Ebonheart alliance for my beta experience, which means I won't be playing them when the game goes live. The Ebonheart starting area was also not very exciting. Again, the only thing that stood out to me was the use of phasing. I stopped playing after completing the starting area. At this point I was not even sure I was going to pre-order the standard edition.
Fast forward a bit to the next beta and the dropping of the press NDA. A number of outlets posts PvP info about the game and my interest was rekindled. I decided to give the game another shot and try to get myself to level 10 so I could participate in the Alliance War.
So I started over, and again chose the Ebonheart. This time everything seemed a good bit more polished. The initial areas are still a bit slow. However, I continued to play when reaching Morrowind. I'm sure glad I did.
Graphics. While I have seen complaints about the textures, the world that Zenimax has crafted is simply amazing. I was blown away by what I saw in Morrowind. It is much improved over the initial areas. It really does remind me of a single player game's quality.
Combat. I'm not totally sold on the combat yet. Once I started to rack up the skill points, it improved a good amount. I'm using a bow in combination with Templar healing skills. It seems ok in PvE, I'm really concerned about the PvP combat though. I'm not very good at aiming, so we'll see how it goes.
Skills. ESO limits you to 5 skills plus an Ultimate at a time. As it stands right now, I have access to 6 skills lines with active abilities. That's not including a few Guild skill lines, or other special ones. It allows for a lot of mix and matching. I am really pleased with this system. There are also a lot of passive skills in each line for you to spend skill points on too.
Skills also improve with use. At certain points you can 'morph' abilities which is basically choosing between new effects. So it adds even more customization. Also, you get attribute points to spend... so much customization.
Phasing. ESO makes use of phasing quite a lot. I was pretty impressed with how it worked, as it really made it feel like a single player game while questing. I never grouped up, so I can't speak to how well it worked in that case. Overall, it felt very seamless.
PvP. Not level 10 yet, but it looks pretty cool.
PvE. Once you get past the initial areas it really comes into its own. First game I've played that really gets close to matching a single player game.
So I've gone from not being sure about pre-ordering to deciding whether or not I want the Imperial edition. I really want to try out the PvP before making my final decision though. The game starts off slow, but really improves.