There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not The Elder Scrolls Online gets this or that right over the past week or so, but what is really going to make or break ESO is the quality of the game’s Alliance vs. Alliance warfare. Face it, AvA is the feature that really has the potential to set ESO apart from its peers; it’s the game’s secret sauce. Aside from Guild Wars 2, there simply aren’t any other contemporary MMORPGs out there that are pushing large-scale three-faction warfare and this is where ESO makes its play.
As someone who loves PvP, but has been frustrated with all the focus on smaller instanced conflicts over the last few years, it’s ESO’s Alliance War that I’ve been most eager to put to the test. This past weekend, I had an opportunity to do just that as part of the massive beta test. This was a great opportunity to not only find out how well Alliance War plays, but also how well it plays under significant strain.
Before we get to our impressions, though, let’s talk a bit about what Alliance War actually is (or feel free to skip below if you’re familiar with all the basics!). Beginning as early as level 10, players can fight for their alliance in a three-way campaign for Cyrodiil’s Ruby Throne. There are potentially multiple campaigns going on at once and players will have to select a home campaign in order to benefit from their alliance’s conquests outside of Cyrodiil. It’s possible to guest in other campaigns or switch your home campaign for a significant sum of Alliance Points. Each campaign lasts three months and capturing territory as part of the Alliance War confers alliance-wide benefits (both in and outside Cyrodiil) while held, with the ultimate goal being to capture all six keeps surrounding the Imperial City and crown an Emperor.
Keeps are captured using siege weapons to smash down outer walls and rams to crack open the gates. Other siege weapons include ballistae, which are used to destroy enemy siege weaponry, and catapults, which are great for taking out players. Keeps are also surrounded by smaller structures such as lumber mills, mines, and farms. Keeping control of these structures and upgrading them will make it harder for the enemy to siege the associated keep by providing bonuses to keep walls, gates, and guards. There are also smaller outposts available for capture and these can be taken by a smaller force.
Once all six keeps surrounding the Imperial City are captured, the player with the highest score on his or her respective alliance’s leaderboard is crowned emperor. Becoming emperor unlocks a unique skill line permanently for your character. However, the abilities that come with this skill line are significantly more powerful while you retain the crown. In addition to the skill line, emperors will also have access to a unique armor set, though there isn’t any information available on this armor set just yet.
Players contributing to the war effort will rack up Alliance Points, which are used to level up your Alliance Rank and as currency to purchase siege equipment, forward camps, mercenaries, weapons and armor, and more. Unique skill lines specific to the Alliance War are also unlocked upon entering Cyrodiil for the first time.
Each alliance also houses two Elder Scrolls in temples protected by two keeps and a set of gates. Sieging these keeps will unlock access to the enemy alliance’s scrolls, which your side can capture and store on scroll pedestals in any of your alliance’s six original keeps. Like anything else in Cyrodiil, capturing Elder Scrolls confers alliance-wide benefits.
Cyrodiil also features a ton of PvE content for players to partake in. While ESO features only a single ‘megaserver’ to play in, I like to think of doing PvE in Cyrodiil as filling the role of an open PvP server experience with the ability to essentially gank other players who are doing quests. Just about everything you’ll find in the PvE areas is also available in Cyrodiil, including quests, public dungeons, Mundus Stones, Skyshards, and perhaps even Dark Anchors.
I’m just going to come out and say it: Zenimax seems to have gotten it right with Alliance War. I enjoyed playing through ESO’s PvE content up to level 10, but my main goal was to hit level 10 and open up PvP. I was anxious to find out if Zenimax would be able to pull it off well and judging by how much time I spent there once I got in, I’d say things are looking pretty good so far.
Oh, and yes, there will be plenty of Guild Wars 2 comparisons, because frankly, there are quite a few similarities between both games’ three-faction (or server) warfare.
What immediately stood out to me once I could queue for Cyrodiil was the fact I’d only need to queue for one particular zone. One of the issues that bugged me most about ArenaNet’s implementation was the segmented battlefield. I never felt agile enough to respond to changes on the ground since WvW was split into four different zones (three borderlands and one central area) each with its own population cap and potential queue to consider. Cyrodiil is one single seamless battlefield and once you’re in, you’re in.
Cyrodiil is also gigantic. No, seriously, it’s huge. Apparently, Zenimax Online took the exact heightmap from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and converted it into the game. Basically, take the entire world of Oblivion and that’s how large of a battlefield you’ve got to play with.