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An Argument for 'Faction Lock'

Michael Bitton Posted:
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Our Elder Scrolls Online forums are amongst our most active forums here at MMORPG.com, and one of the hottest topics as of late seems to be centered on the notion of ‘faction lock’ in ESO. If you aren’t familiar with how Zenimax Online has things set up in ESO, there are three factions that players can align themselves with and their choice of available races and adventuring zones (at least on the first playthrough) are limited by this choice.

This is, as many argue, not necessarily very ‘Elder Scrolls’. In fact, this design shares much more in common with RvR games such as Dark Age of Camelot, which as it would turn out, is a game that many of the folks currently working on ESO also worked on. Coincidence? Probably not.

Sure, there are definitely some aspects of The Elder Scrolls Online that lean distinctly more DAoC than they do Elder Scrolls, but from my admittedly limited hands-on experience with the game, Zenimax Online has also done a great job to ensure the game feels like an Elder Scrolls game first and foremost.

It’s for this reason that I’m not terribly bothered by Zenimax’ choice to do things this way. This was clearly (at least in part) an RvR focused design decision and that’s OK with me.  Outside of the actual gameplay, it was a sense of ‘realm pride’ that kept the fight going and the rivalries hot in Dark Age of Camelot, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Zenimax Online is looking to recreate that in The Elder Scrolls Online.

Of course, there are gameplay reasons to go this route, too. On the RvR side of things, it helps make the enemy much more easily identifiable, especially when there are three factions all colliding. If I know that High Elves are only part of the Aldmeri Dominion, that helps me identify targets in a chaotic battle.

It’s also helpful for TESO as far as balance goes. The Elder Scrolls series is known for having meaningful racial abilities and attributes, something not common in contemporary MMOs, but surprisingly seems to be a concept that Zenimax Online is fully embracing. Not only will characters have defining racial abilities, there are actually entire racial skill lines available to each race in the game. This can pose some serious balance issues if you allow completely freeform race selection.

In fact, when I first speculated on the notion of having racials in TESO, it almost looked to me like the arrangement of races per faction seemed to break down in a way where you could read into potential gameplay biases on a faction to faction basis. For example, the Aldmeri Dominion could be squishier overall, but may be capable of dealing higher damage. I don’t know if this is exactly how things will play out, but I could see each faction being defined not only by its lore but by these sorts of gameplay attributes.  Limiting race options allows you to offer distinct and meaningful races for each faction, because you always know what the potential makeup is for that faction, which is much friendlier for balance purposes.

I can completely appreciate the sense of disappointment I’ve been seeing from gamers, but I have a feeling this is one MMO compromise that may just pay off in the grand scheme of things. It may feel restrictive at first, but perhaps the pros will outweigh the cons once we can jump in and see it all for ourselves. Maybe I’m putting too much faith into Zenimax Online here, but I don’t think we’ve got the full picture just yet. While it’s a subject worth discussing to be sure, I’d encourage anyone who is skeptical at this point to give Zenimax the benefit of the doubt here, at least for now.

How do you feel about faction lock in The Elder Scrolls Online? Can you see any ways that this could be a positive for the game? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB