Right off the bat, the thing that struck me as off about AVA in its initial incarnation is that there’s really no singular player-level reward system in place. There are some serious boons to your entire faction if you hold keeps and different POIs across the map, but without the ability to gain rewards as a player, I can’t see many folks except the hardcore AVA lovers really diving into Cyrodiil for the long term. Then I came upon the Imperial City in the center of the map and was immediately killed. No doubt in my mind, as Mike Bitton has said before: the Imperial City will be the real “reward” for the lords and ladies of AVA at some point in the near future. I’m betting on a Darkness Falls-esque setup with Matt, Paul, and Brian on the case. But until that is added, there’s just not a whole lot of incentive to partake in AVA.
But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not without merit.
The massive size of Cyrodiil cannot be overstated. Zenimax has crammed the entirety of TESIV’s map into the zone, and it’s yours for the taking. This setup actually greatly aids in avoiding some of the issues Guild Wars 2 runs into with a smaller map. There’s simply more space for small groups and even solo explorers to run around and do things. The fact that the NPCs at your home base will give you missions to scout resources, take farms, kill players, and capture keeps is just icing on the cake. There are towns and small AI-controlled camps throughout Cyrodiil, many of which have quests (which are repeatable) tied to them. This presents an opportunity for players to engage in world PVP while still partaking in contested PVE. If they can add in some major world boss fights to the area, we’ll really be in business.
With the AVA quests, PVE missions, and the XP you get for taking over map objectives, you could effectively level while doing nothing but AVA. There are resources of all types strewn about the place, and even crafting stations. Heck there are even dozens of skyshards hidden across the epically large map. You can see below that I’m “cheating” and using a UI mod that shows me their locations. What can I say? I got tired of the vague hints and just wanted my skyshards.
I also really enjoy that AVA adds yet another area of character progression to the mix by giving you two completely new skill lines that are especially helpful in PVP situations. There’s a line for assault (taking objectives) and one for support (hold them). And if you manage to be crownded Emperor (good luck), you’ll open yet another skill line to use when you’re in your campaign (the “server” you choose to call your home in AVA).
I haven’t been spending too much of my own time in AVA, mainly because I’ve been trying to spread it out across everything in the game. But I’ll admit that without serious incentives other than some faction-wide buffs, there’s not a lot of “lure” to join up in AVA unless I feel like getting my PVP fix. Once the Imperial City (or whatever ZOS has planned) is added in, AVA could easily be the new pinnacle of games with three faction warfare. I’d like to see more ownership of keeps, such as letting guilds and factions customize different aspects, but for now I’d settle for giving players more reason to fight other than Faction Pride.
That’s definitely a part of the draw, but in examples like Hopesfire, we’re currently almost double the score of our nearest competitor and this leads to a lot of people guesting to other campaigns to actually see some action. They’re not contributing to their Faction’s score, but at least they can level skills, progress their characters, and actually fight. Perhaps ZOS can add in some sort of underdog bonus to those factions who fall really far behind. Enough to help level the playing field, and keep things tense. Because once one side runs away with a campaign, it’s likely that the others will give up and stop fighting.
Though I will say today I noticed the Aldmeri Dominion making a huge push over Daggerfall on Hopesfire. This is promising. Maybe when things die down like they have in a campaign, all it takes is word to spread that keeps are ripe for the taking.
Next week I’ll put a cap on this lengthy review by going through each of our categories and scoring Elder Scrolls Online. It’s been a frustrating, but immensely fun month and I don’t think the review will mark the end of my time with ESO. This is easily a game I can see myself playing for a long time, so long as the content keeps coming and the frustrations with bugs and bots begin to ease. ESO may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m certainly enjoying its flavor.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.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.