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Asymmetrical Factions

Michael Bitton Posted:
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I first started thinking about asymmetrical factions with Warhammer Online back in 2008. While the classes offered as part of each of the game’s two factions initially mirrored each other to some extent, they were different enough you could still call them asymmetrical. Due to balance issues, Mythic eventually blurred these lines to the point that both factions’ classes were nearly identical to each other. Of course, if you go further back to say, Dark Age of Camelot (another Mythic MMO), asymmetrical factions were part and parcel of the experience. Indeed, these differences between factions helped to cultivate a sense of “realm pride”.

Why mention all this? The Elder Scrolls Online may be first and foremost an Elder Scrolls game, but it also being helmed by one Mr. Matt Firor, who was integral to the development of Dark Age of Camelot. Like DAoC before it, The Elder Scrolls Online puts a significant emphasis on three faction PvP (or “RvR” if you prefer) and this presents some opportunities to make some bold design decisions when it comes to the game’s factions.

Any fan of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls games will be familiar with the distinct bonuses that help set each race apart from the next. Will Zenimax Online utilize these same sorts of racial bonuses in The Elder Scrolls Online? We don’t know just yet. But if it does, what sorts of implications could they have for the game’s three factions? The races as they are currently configured under each faction present some interesting possibilities.

For the sake of this article, we’ll be using the racial bonuses used in Skyrim, the latest Elder Scrolls RPG game.

Aldmeri Dominion


Altmer (high elf)

Skyrim Bonus:

  • Highborn (+Magicka regen)
  • +Max Magicka
  • +Magic Skills

Bosmer (wood elf)

Skyrim Bonus:

  • Command Animals (charm animal temporarily)
  • Resistance to Poison/Disease
  • ‘Rogue’-geared Skill Bonuses


Skyrim Bonus:

  • Night Eye (temporary night vision)
  • Unarmed claw attacks
  • ‘Rogue’ geared Skill Bonuses

Looking at the Aldmeri Dominion, there is a significant concentration of rogue-like bonuses and magic. If Zenimax Online were to implement meaningful racial bonuses, I could see most of the rogue type players flocking to this faction. Perhaps this faction will be a bit squishier overall, but also capable of significant burst damage.

Daggerfall Covenant



Skyrim Bonus:

  • Dragonskin (absorb Magicka from hostile spells temporarily)
  • +Magic Resistance
  • +Magic Skills


Skyrim Bonus:

  • Berserker Rage (temporary +damage given/-damage taken)
  • +Heavy Armor/Melee Weapon Skills


Skyrim Bonus:

  • Adrenaline Rush (temporary +Stamina regeneration)
  • +Poison Resistance
  • +Melee/Magic Skills

The Daggerfall Covenant looks to be almost the exact opposite of the Aldmeri Dominion, with the exception of the magical equivalent in the Breton. The Orcs and Redguard represent in-your-face melee types. This faction could be better suited towards being tougher, but perhaps a bit less capable in terms of dishing damage.

Ebonheart Pact



Skyrim Bonus:

  • Histskin (temporary +Health regeneration)
  • +Disease Resistance
  • Rogue’ geared Skill Bonuses

Dunmer (dark elf)

Skyrim Bonus:

  • Ancestor’s Wrath (temporary fire aura)
  • +Fire Resistance
  • +Magic/Sneaking Skills


Skyrim Bonus:

  • Battle Cry (fear target)
  • +Cold Resistance
  • +Melee/Armor Skills

The Ebonheart Pact looks to have a much more balanced makeup based on the above bonuses. Argonians make for great rogues, while Nords are your tough melee types, and Dunmer bring the magical pain.

Obviously I’m reading a ton into this based on the racial bonuses used in previous Elder Scrolls games, but if some form of the above were to turn out to be true, I think it would actually provide players with some meaningful choice. While it’s true you can play any class in TESO as any race and even develop a particular class the way you want, that doesn’t mean that certain races couldn’t be better suited to certain classes or team roles, and this offers Zenimax Online some interesting opportunities or pitfalls depending on how things play out.

I’ve personally noticed a trend towards homogenizing the class and race selection experience in newer MMOs in the name of balance over the past couple of years. But is this really worth sacrificing the old school sense of identity of playing a certain race or class? In a game that looks to emphasize the larger scale warfare of three faction PvP, it could be possible to achieve a semblance of balance by looking at what each faction brings to the table as a whole the way the above bonuses would suggest to do, while also giving each faction its own sense of identity. I’m frankly bored of Red vs. Blue or Red vs. Blue vs. Green. I’d love to see people arguing over which faction is best for X Y or Z reason and see them throw their weight behind their opinion with a sense of pride.

And yes, I am aware of all the reasons contemporary MMOs tend to shy away from this sort of thing. Who wants to be told their Dragon Knight isn't viable because it isn't an Orc or something like that? But perhaps throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn't the answer. Instead of resigning ourselves to the notion that it may be too hard to balance, why not do your best to figure out a solution and give players some real interesting choices to make?

How about you? Would you rather things be even in the name of balance? Or would you like to see Zenimax Online embrace the diversity of each faction’s races beyond their aesthetic differences?

Share your thoughts 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