There’s one thing that really stuck out to me after my recent conversation with Elder Scrolls Online’s Paul Sage (Creative Director): the team at Zenimax Online Studios really want to make crafting an integral part of the gameplay experience in their version of Tamriel. Paul only barely hinted at things to come in TESO, but from the sound of things it’s looking like Elder Scrolls’ crafting will be a community oriented affair, and one of several avenues to obtaining the best items in the game. That’s definitely welcome news for this MMO-er.
One thing that’s plagued a great many themepark games over the years is the notion that all the best items must either a.) be obtained through group-centric encounters or b.) through arduous grinding or c.) all of the above. In recent years, there have been a handful of games which try to break this stodgy old mold: The Secret World comes to mind. In that game you can make some fantastic stuff, but even then the best items are still obtained through the dungeons and other group content and I hear reports that crafting is actually falling behind.
Where is it written that a themepark MMO must rely on dungeons and instanced content as the purveyor of the game’s best items? TESO is aiming to fix that, if Paul’s words are any indication. To paraphrase my fellow four-eyed friend the entire community will likely have to come together to make the best items in the world. What I imagine is that you’ll have crafters working with adventurers, working with Alliance War mongers to get all of the materials needed to make the best weapons and armor in Tamriel.
This is pure theorycrafting at this point, but it’s perfect fodder for a column on a game we still have so much to learn about. In my mind, I imagine it going something like this: crafter decides he wants to make something out of dragon bones. But they’re not exactly growing on trees, so he needs to either enlist the help of a dragon-killing badass, go tackle some winged beasts himself, or find them via some sort of trading community (one assumed TESO will have an auction house). Said crafter might also need some leather, perhaps for a hilt, which is easy enough to obtain through any other crafting professional like himself. He’ll also get some other materials from various sources. Maybe he needs some powerful magical inscriptions which can only be obtained from someone with enough knowledge to craft them.
Really, this shouldn’t sound like anything too different from what you already do in games. Find materials, make item, right? I think the key component to making crafting worthwhile in TESO will be twofold. The first part is making sure that players don’t have static recipes they must fulfill over and over to progress, and the second is that the actual act of discovery plays a part in crafting. The third (yes, I know I said twofold) would be that the playerbase would need to work together to thrive.
The first part seems like it would be the hardest to solve. But really, to get rid of recipes and craft grinding you need only do two things: 1.) remove recipes and make players discover them on their own and 2.) remove crafting “levels” as some arbitrary form of progression in the system. Let players discover what mats make what items by a system that allows them to truly experiment. Perhaps there can be three ways to make a common sword, but only one way to make a Sword of Bloodletting. If you make the “recipe” system transparent to the player, the game of crafting becomes less about “find this, to make this” and more about “let’s see what this does if we put it all together.”
And lastly, though I know the purest of pure soloers will disagree, I don’t think any one person should be able to make everything themselves. MMOs are one part you, and ninety-nine parts the rest of the world. Just like a great MMO shines when players play together, a great crafting system needs to draw players together as well. What I’d really love to see in TESO is a city where player shops are run, but the sheer logistics of doing this on a single server is mind-boggling. Instead, I’ll settle for the little things like my name on the items I make, a server-wide bazaar that allows freeform haggling and bartering, and items that must be made by combining parts created by several different artisans.
These are just a few of the things I’d like to see from TESO’s crafting. What about you? What are you hoping Zenimax does to make crafting in its Elder Scrolls game unique and meaningful?