If The Elder Scrolls Online’s last update was focused largely upon guilds, the recent peek at update four, which is set to arrive sometime next month, looks to focus squarely on groups. The preview focused on such central features as Upper Craglorn, new quests, the new Serpent trial, Sanctum Ophidia, and their various modes. Still, for those hoping for more group content, both Gamescom, where ZeniMax continued to bring out competitive 3v3 modes, and the preview of the coming update should have made for a satisfying week. PTS notes for the update were released yesterday, and while any of it is subject to change, things are looking pretty good for September.
Update four is centered around groups, especially as it comes to broaden the PvE offerings. Upper Craglorn will open, leading players to the brand new Serpent Trial, which comes in regular and increased difficulty modes. Veteran Rank cap will increase to VR14 to accommodate the new content. There’s also a new set of quests for the game, along with six new delves (and older ones getting more mobs and loot) with their combined promise of adventure and loot. These increased opportunities for loot and advancement, which some players have felt lackluster during VR, should bridge things a bit while repeatable content takes center stage. All of this is according to the plan the team set forth, and it’s nice to see these continuing to come together.
With an update focused on groups, there's no better place to begin rolling out the promised quest overhauls meant to make grouping easier and remove some solo instancing and "layers "that separate players. On that front, things look great, with 25 areas getting the overhaul in this update. Yet the new content surely takes center stage.
Dragonstar Arena will finally arrive for groups of four seeking adventure and treasure. From the preview, it looks to have its challenges, with 10 different stages of monsters to battle involved. There will be both normal and veteran versions too. Releasing both difficulties at the same time is smart, and offering more content for smaller groups is also wise. Given the response to competitive 3v3 (which has been a convention only thing but has had some influence on thinking about what players do want) and the increase in and overhauls to delves, having things to do with an easier to create group is a gap they’re filling. Having 10 stages makes it sound just adventurous enough to be a solid group challenge. Knowing that the players want more rewarding and consistent loot, it will be interesting to see both how satisfied players are with Dragonstar’s potential hauls and that of the new Serpent trial. Completing the trial will "not go unnoticed" if you do the other Craglorn trials afterward, tying things together.
One of the hardest things to do sometimes is to keep players interested, and while the planned approach to gear and economy do raise some red flags for me, there’s no doubt that the team has to work on retaining players. A greater variety of loot and gear is one effective way of doing that for some, since it is that carrot at the end of the stick of repeatable content. If you’re going to do something X number of times, might as well bring a solid group of buddies and have something shiny for your trouble. While large scale content can be fun, I’ve always had the most fun with groups of six or less because you usually have to work in closer harmony, so the group content for four looks to hit a pretty sweet spot for many who prefer to play solo or in small groups most of the time.
A new crafting trait (Nirnhoned, supply limited to Craglorn) an overhaul to Enchanting, and a new "ability altering" Enchantments on weapons dropping in the new instances, also arrive in September. And in a possible nod to the criticism over the first season Campaign rewards, the next rewards (post-patch) will also include set items for the top 10% in addition to gold. The top 2% will get a gold set item and an ability-altering weapon. Ability-altering enchantment on weapons will do things like heal the caster or AOE restore stamina to nearby allies. Enchanting as a whole should be more balanced, with increased chance to get runes. For those of us that have experience leveling Enchanting, things seem likely to not be so painstakingly slow in the future.
While there’s no doubt that ESO had a bumpy launch and the first few weeks full of hitches, things have reached an imperfect, yet greatly improved point now. The richness of the updates coming is a good sign since this sort of robust content addition and meeting a rough monthly pace for significant additions seems to be a sign of health for the project. While we don’t know just how many subscriptions the game has, there’s so far been no sign of holding back in growing ESO and it could be a good indicator of ESO’s current health.
That said, the team has had to make a few significant overhauls and admit to a few errors, but these systems (and the situations that ZeniMax has chosen to mostly observe for a while and tweak as needed) seem to also be getting attention they need. If anything, the straightforward approach from Matt Firor and co. since launch, even with the measured grain of salt one must take promises in this industry, the changes and additions we’re seeing so far are delivering.The September update really looks to improve upon multiple community concerns, while also adding content in places and categories that were missing.