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Elder Scrolls Online Column: The Need for Respec

By Garrett Fuller on October 22, 2013

Two things on every MMO gamer’s mind are their skills and abilities. More MMOs are getting away from the holy trinity model and moving towards an open system. Elder Scrolls Online only features four character classes, but each offers an almost infinite number of skill combinations. In order to work with a system this complex you need a lot of room for error. How will the development team at ZeniMax Online tackle the “respec” factor?

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In the demos I have played for ESO, I had the chance to play the Templar, Dragon Knight, and Sorcerer. The last time I played the game I chose the Sorcerer class since I really like the idea that a caster type character can wear medium armor, swing a big two handed sword, and blast enemies from afar. All Elder Scrolls games feature something like this. One thing, however, that bothered me with Skyrim was my inability to go back and retrain my character. It took me a few attempts with early characters to really settle on something I enjoyed. I used my experiences in Skyrim to think about how Elder Scrolls Online will work. 

Let’s create a hypothetical character with what we know and see where it leads us. To begin with, we’ll choose the Orc race. Orc racials give one set of abilities. Next we will choose a class and make a Sorcerer. From there, we begin the game and start to do adventures. As we go, we find a two-handed sword. We don’t want to use a staff, so we switch to melee and start hacking away at targets. We can still cast spells and boost stamina, health, and magic, but more importantly, any class can use any weapon. Our two handed sword unlocks a new skill line. As we fight with this combination we find that robes just won’t cut it anymore and decide to go for heavier armor. We go with medium, which unlocks another skill line.

Do you see where this is leading?

Now, do not get me wrong. I love the options that players will have. I like that I can be a mage style character who can also do heavy melee combat. It is everything that Elder Scrolls players would expect in a game. The missing element is the MMO factor. Players are no longer alone in the world and have several thousand players along for the ride. Developers have to make sure that their skill lines are worthwhile, but also consider how the skills interact with other players. I won’t even start in on PvP balance since that is an article all on its own.

With all of these options, giving players the chance to respecialize their characters is definitely a no brainer. What you do not want to see is a system that traps players into an inescapable build. What if my Sorcerer, Great Weapon, Medium Armor wearing Orc is just absolutely horrible? I need to be able to get out of my bad design and start down a new path. 

With such an open system, having access to skill trees and studying them will be critical for players. ZeniMax needs to give people a generous amount of time to try testing out systems and changing them on their character if need be.

Another question that arises is how effective will purist classes be versus some kind of hybrid design? If I choose the Nightblade and go full on into a stealth, rogue, assassin style class will that actually benefit me over taking some different armor and weapons that I normally would disregard? Maybe a shield on a Nightblade is highly beneficial? How will I know unless I try?

These are the questions that will dwell in the minds of Elder Scrolls fans and players until we actually begin an open beta. It is also why open beta will be critical to the game because so much needs to be worked out. Having the players mess with the character system even into the high levels will finally yield the class designs and systems that will work. However, it comes with a huge fear that all roads will lead to one perfect specialization and all players will use only that one. There are a lot of skills coming with Elder Scrolls Online. It has one of the most open character-creation systems in any MMO. There just needs to be some caution in using it.


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