If there’s one thing about Elder Scrolls Online that intrigues me the most, it’s the game’s character progression. ESO, like many titles before it, will ultimately be a theme park MMO experience. But unlike many games in the genre, character progression won’t suddenly become solely about gear treadmills at the level cap of fifty. I’m sure ESO will wind up having some gear to hunt down at the cap, complete with dungeons to run, tokens to gather, and so on. There’s a proven sect of gamers that love this sort of thing and who am I to deny them their preferred carrot on a stick? Me though? I’m all about adding to my character’s actual power, not playing dress up. I like to look cool just like the next guy, but I’d rather be learning some new abilities as opposed to chasing down some epic sword.
There’s something weirdly exciting about the prospect of being able to pick a base class (Dragon Knight, Templar, Sorcerer, and Nightblade) and then shape it to fit your personal playstyle. One of the interesting things I think ESO is keeping with the Elder Scrolls tradition of leveling up individual skills in weapons, magic, and even armor. The more you use one, the better it will become. In our playtime at various shows and events, this meant that one spell you use could level up higher than others. My question would then be: why level the others, if they’re not the sort of thing you’d care about anyway?
Like any facet of an MMORPG, some will love building out every possibility with their character while others will find their ideal build and stick with it until the end of time. Those players will get to the cap and likely be perfectly happy about it. Personally, I need to know that I’ve not just hit a brick wall at some artificial statistical cap, and ESO’s form of continued progression past level 50 means I can also experiment to my heart’s content without having to start a brand new character on a class I might not like as much as the one I took to the endgame in the first place. If I want to play a Templar, I want to play a Templar and find different ways to enjoy that class and the character I’ve built for hours and hours.
Looking at the skill trees from Skyrim (see below), I wonder just what form the trees will take in ESO. Admittedly, there’s a bit of complexity to these trees that belies a simple fact: you can specialize in pretty much everything so long as you’re willing to put the time in and gain enough experience. From what we know of ESO’s spells, you might start off with say a basic fireball as a Sorcerer, but as you use that spell and put skill points into it (earned every level and beyond the cap as well) you’ll be offered the ability to “morph” it into one of two different forms. Then as you progress that spell even further, you can morph it again.
The end result is that everyone might start with a fireball in its basic form, but player choice dictates whether later on that same fireball does splash damage, damage over time, or maybe jumps from one enemy to another. And what’s more is that well beyond the level cap, if you so desire, you can eventually unlock all forms and use the ones that suit you best. You may not be able to mix and match classes, but you can essentially master any one class’ many skills and have access to an incredibly large pool of abilities to build your ideal character. What’s more? You’ll have to earn the right to do so. You won’t just unlock these skills and spells all at once. You’ll have to earn them through play.
Toss in the fact that every type of armor (light, medium, and heavy), plus every weapon has its own skill tree and morphs and that any class can wear any armor and use any weapon... and well, you get the idea. There’s a phenomenal amount of choice in just how you deck out your character in ESO. I’m going to aim for a sort of Battle Mage: wielding a sword and shield, a mix of light and heavy armors (for the bonuses to magic and defence respectively) while hurling balls of lightning and fire. My sorcerer will quickly go from a typically squishy class to a hearty tanking master of destruction. And if I get to the level cap and want to further explore my class’ potential? I’ll be free to do so, because I’ll have so many more skills and abilities to unlock and try out.
But what about you? Do you see the potential in ESO’s class system? Let us know in the comments!
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.
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