ZeniMax Online Studios had plenty to say about The Elder Scrolls Online at this year's QuakeCon in Dallas. Seven members of the design team took nearly an hour and a half to regale the excitable crowd with enticing glimpses of the game's future, eliciting cheers and applause at the most dramatic reveals.
Without a doubt, the loudest applause was reserved for Creative Director Paul Sage's part of the presentation, and since I was due to interview him right after, I paid the most attention to (and took the most notes on) what he had to say. Due to a last-minute scheduling change, I actually wound up speaking with Game Director Matt Firor instead, and the two of them helped paint what looks like a rosy picture for ESO's future development.
Put simply, a lot of changes are in the works, and they seem to be geared toward making the game more, well, Elder Scrolls-like. This would seem to be an obvious notion, but it was something that seemed rather lacking to many players.
And justice for all
By far, the biggest cheers were when Sage brought up the Justice System, whereby players could murder and thieve to their heart's content – or at least until they got caught by guards, whether they were NPCs or players. Yes, players will have the ability to become guards and enforce justice, though the exact method for doing so was something neither Sage nor Firor were willing to share at this time.
As I asked Firor, won't this mean that within five minutes of the Justice System going live, every NPC will be dead? “The first step is, you don't allow any NPC that's critical to be killed,” he told me. “But yes, we will have to put in a lot of protections to make sure it's not exploitable. We really think that the player guards will help a lot with that.” Still, for players complaining that The Elder Scrolls Online wasn't Elder Scrolls-y enough, this should be a major achievement if ZOS can pull it off well.
The big recent news was the scrapping of the Veteran Ranks system and revamp of Veteran Zones. As Firor said, despite the team spending years working on the VR system, “As the saying goes, no plan survives contact with reality. We make the game, but MMOs are a living, breathing entity. They evolve, and one of the ways they evolve is you listen to what people are saying, and if they really don't like the way something works, you take action.” This was a theme throughout most of the presentation and my talk with Firor, as the ZOS team members repeatedly stressed how much the changes to the game were being fueled by player feedback and input.
While some people might infer that ZOS is “dumbing down” content or making it “easier for noobs,” Firor offered a different perspective. While some players loved the challenge of Veteran Zones, that wasn't for everyone, and it offered few options for less-skilled players after they finished that first batch of content. “You just happened to finish the first alliance [in 1-50 content] and then you got to the next, and suddenly it was five times harder. If you want that challenge, you can go to Craglorn, go to a dungeon, go to a veteran dungeon. That's the way we want to divide up the content, so you know when you make the choice, you know you're going to the more substantially difficult PvE.”
It's in the stars
Going hand-in-hand with that change is how players will advance post-50. Though everything Sage showed us in the demonstration is subject to change, it currently looks like the Champion System will let players acquire passive abilities via a set of Skyrim-like constellations, with nine constellations divided among three major branches: combat, stealth, and magic. Players can assign points into each of those constellations, and at certain point breaks, such as 10/30/50/100, you'll get access to other passives in those constellations.
By themselves, each passive ability is small – the “not-set-in-stone” examples Sage gave were increases in blade damage, stamina increases, shock damage, etc. – and are meant to help players customize their characters even further.
Small as they are, these bonuses add up. A question I had for Firor was how “passive overload” could give veteran players with 100+ passives unlocked too much of an advantage over new players. “The points you put into it first have a far greater effect than the points you put into it later,” he said. As an example – again, not set in stone – for an ability you wanted to sink 10 points into, the first three or four might give you 80% of the ability you needed, with the final six or seven filling out that last 20%. In other words, a player with few points to spend can adopt a narrow focus and be nearly as efficient as a player who has everything unlocked.