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How Class Imbalance Works for ESO

Elder Scrolls Online Columns - By Ryan Getchell on November 18, 2015

How Class Imbalance Works for ESO

The Elder Scrolls Online has to be one of the most unbalanced games ever to be designed. Dragonknights have a high DPS value with an impressive amount of survivability options. Sorcerers are probably the most annoying classes to fight against with their easy escape abilities. Nightblades have their high burst damage, doesn’t matter if they’re melee range or shooting you from a distance, and Templars are the worst of them all. They have the ability to keep themselves alive while sustaining a decent amount of DPS. Due to all of these imbalances The Elder Scrolls Online has to be one of the best games to play.

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For the last little while Zenimax has been doing a “Reasons to Play ESO” campaign via their social media outlets.  One of the main reasons to play ESO has to be the sheer amount of discrepancies between classes and players. I’m sure a lot of you are shaking your head and thinking I’ve gone insane. Imbalances do not make for fun game play. But hear me out and let me explain before you grab your proverbial pitch forks and torches.

I feel uniqueness in video games has fallen to the wayside to make room for carbon copy gameplay. Every first person shoot is the same now, any competitive gameplay is the same. There is very little differences between one team and another, which to me makes for boring gameplay. You end up doing the same thing every time. Prior to playing MMOs I used to be a massive counter strike and Rainbow Six competitive player. Going to local and regional tournaments back in the 90s and one thing I noticed back then and it’s still true today, humans are predictable. No matter the map, you knew exactly which way people would go, you’d know what they’d do if you shot them once, where they’d go. To me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, this doesn’t demonstrate skill. It shows your ability to memorize. If you don’t believe me, watch competitive FPS players on Twitch. You’ll see people playing the same way every time.  You’ll even see people “pre-shooting” around corners because they know (statically) there will be someone there. I’m not saying they aren’t good at what they do, they are.  They do a lot of work to get as good as they are. But if you throw in a variable, an unpredictable situation, you’ll see a lot more variety in gameplay.

This variety is what I am talking about when I say imbalances make for good game play.  ESO offers a ton of variety. You don’t know what you’re going to be encountering from one fight to the next. The amount of possible builds a class can make has to surpass the 100,000 mark (too lazy to do the math, anyone want to volunteer to do it in the comments?) While there are “ideal” builds not every player is going to play them. Those unique builds could kill an ideal build if played strategically. It’s no longer just about who shot first, who has the quicker trigger finger. It’s all about placement, openings, follow ups, defense and offensive abilities. One mistake won’t always kill you unlike in carbon copy gameplay.

In carbon copy gameplay you know the rotation your enemy is going to be using and you know how to defend against it. Because of this, your playstyle gets put into a turn based type of play. You know the enemy is going to do a fireball, so you counter it with X ability, which the enemy will follow up with Y ability, to which you follow that up with Z. It becomes an endless battle until someone makes a mistake or is too slow on attacking or defending.  Whereas when you’re fighting another player in ESO you don’t know for certain what the other player is going to do. If you throw a fireball, you don’t know how the other player is going to counter.  There are so many possibilities the best you can do is guess.

ESO isn’t a predictable game.  As I said there are ideal builds, but I for one typically never play the ideal builds. I might play variations of them but I will never play them the way other people will because I like to be that variable, I like to be the unknown. Sometimes it gets me killed in PvP.  But other times it makes me the victor and the other person is left questioning his build or screaming at their monitor.

ESO will never be a balanced game like World of Warcraft is now (not perfect but closer than most games). This is because of the way ESO is designed with massive PvP battles and the 12 man trial groups. You can’t balance a game when you have 12+ people all with different builds doing the same things successfully. Trial times might be different but a win is a win and to balance strictly because a kill time is faster is difficult to do.

With the release of Orsinium we were given Maelstrom Arena. This arena is a solo driven combat arena for players to test their skills and abilities in different situations. This arena could bring some class changes as we’re going to see exactly how classes rank against each other as well as other classes in the Veteran mode. If Dragonknights are able to do the arena in 15 minutes yet Nightblades are taking 30 minutes to complete the dungeon clearly there should be a concern about the Nightblade sustainable DPS. Here’s hoping that Maelstrom will bring some interesting balance changes to the game.

On a side note, I have my fingers crossed that Zenimax releases some form of PvP arena as well. Either a 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4, and make it so you can only queue up by speaking to someone in a town in Cyrodiil. While you waiting for the queue you’re in Cyrodiil so you’re engaged with PvP. Any enemy players that want to be an annoyance will be near that NPC waiting for people to come queue. Of course the NPC should be located in a house that has PvP disabled but once you’re queued you cannot stay in the house, forcing people outside in Cyrodiil to engage in PvP. Just a thought, but I hope small scale PvP comes in 2016.

What are your thoughts, do you think ESO is imbalanced or do you think it offers a sense of uniqueness and variety when fighting?

Ryan Getchell / Ryan is our resident Elder Scrolls nerd, and columnist for Zenimax's MMO. When he's not out killing things in Tamriel, he's working in IT professionally.