On one hand, I’m very excited about the prospect of key members of the Dark Age of Camelot team designing Elder Scrolls Online Cyrodiil “Alliance vs. Alliance” warfare. On the other, I’m a little confused as to why the team has made an active decision to keep PVP out of the rest of the world, and more than that... opposing factions won’t even be able to see each other when they’re in each other’s PVE content areas (see the ZAM interview linked at the bottom of this article, from Matt Firor himself). So in this week’s column, I’m going to briefly touch on the good and bad parts of this decision, and what it could mean for the elder game of an online Tamriel.
As I said above, I’m pretty excited that a lot of the folks who once worked on Dark Age of Camelot’s RvR are heading up the team working on Elder Scrolls Online AvA. Brian Wheeler was one of the ingredients that made the magic happen in DAOC. He was also part of the WAR team, but we can’t put that game’s failings on one man’s shoulders, so we’ll just sidestep it and chalk it up as a learning process. At least we know ESO will have three factions as opposed to the inherently broken two.
By all means, the core team of ESO is a veritable who’s who of classic MMO PvP with Paul Sage, Matt Firor, and Wheeler leading the pack. But one has to wonder why they’d decide to keep Cyrodiil cut off from the rest of the world when it comes to PvP. Why not allow the other regions to become part of the fight, even if in a minor way? The answer, I believe, is twofold. We can whine and moan all day about how we won’t be storming into Skyrim to assault the Nords but there are some fair reasons as to why it won’t be possible in ESO.
KEEP THE FIGHT CENTRALIZED
The first, and most obvious reason for keeping PVP to Cyrodiil only, is that in doing so the developers are making sure that all willing participants and all of the action goes directly towards what the design intends: the AvA conquest. Let’s say they did allow Ebonheart to attack Aldmeri or the Daggerfall. In the massive world Zenimax is building, you’d suddenly have your interested PVP participants scattered to the three corners of the world... instead of in the center of Tamriel where the real fight is supposed to take place. Conversely, if you allowed fighting in the factions’ PVE zones, you’d wind up having people who care deeply and truly about the AvA warfare in Cyrodiil disappointed with the fact that able-bodied warriors are off harassing the newbies for no reason. That leads me to my second hypothesized reason for the limiting design of ESO’s PVP.
PVE AND PVP SHOULDN’T MIX ON A SUPERSERVER
Those aren’t my words, just a nice catchy bullet point for the angle I think ZOS is working. The Zenimax folks are making sure that PVE and PVP remain separate beasts. They’re doing so because their game’s social toolsets are designed from the ground up to put you on the map with players of a like mind. If you like PVE, and only PVE, you’ll be set forth with people who are of the same desired play style. If you like to solo, you can be placed with others who like to solo, and the same will be done for those who like to group up, quest, explore, etc. You’ll effectively set the sorts of players you want to see in the world. Of course, the game will filter in more than just those people you prefer to see, for the sake of having a populated game world.
ESO is also using a “Super Server” setup, and so in effect you’ll all be playing on the same “server” and placed in “layers” or “instances” of the same game with those players you’re familiar with, or who share common interests. Could you imagine the balancing needed to have server-side if you had players who liked PVP mixing with players who liked PVE? Yes, as a player, you could select to never see PVP in your world if it suits you. But what if one faction overwhelmed another in one instance, but then wasn’t overrun in another? It’s a load-balancing nightmare.
Now, chances are, they’re likely going to have some sort of faction balance issues, even with the Super Server, when it comes to Cyrodiil’s AVA, but at least there it will only be limited to one core map...and not the many dozens the game will ship with. Something tells me that the team at one point had to choose whether to go forward with PVP as a possibility everywhere, or just in Cyrodiil, and they ultimately came to the same conclusion I did: it’s better for the importance of the AVA conquest if all of the PVP is relegated to the core map of Cyrodiil.
STILL, I’D LIKE TO SEE OTHER FACTIONS
All that said, don’t get me wrong: I still wish we’d be able to see the other factions in their home territory when we’re doing that content at the max level. It’s kind of immersion breaking to know that we’ll be questioning and exploring Morrowind as another race, but we’ll not see any of that region’s races. And how do you explain the NPCs and how they interact with you throughout the adventure? It’s an overuse of the “phasing” mechanic, in my eyes, and one that could be fixed instead by keeping PVP turned off in these regions and scaling down the max level players in the area to appropriate level for the content as if they were playing it as a fresh member of that faction.
Maybe the AVA team is worried that opposing factions would use these safe areas to meet in secret and direct the flow of action in AVA. If that’s the case, why not turn off communication, but still allow us to acknowledge each other’s existence? Or better yet: let us conspire against the opposition in the “non-combat” zones outside of Cyrodiil. That seems like a more apt part of the intrigue and vying for control of the heart of Tamriel.
But hey, I’m just playing armchair designer here. What are you thoughts on the notion of PVP only in Cyrodiil and no cross-faction interaction?
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.