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How the Justice System Will Change the Game

Elder Scrolls Online Columns - By Christina Gonzalez on December 10, 2014

How the Justice System Will Change the Game

The world is about to get a whole lot more dangerous for those of you tempted by swiping shinies and causing mayhem in Tamriel. Zenimax revealed much about The Elder Scrolls Online's long-awaited Justice System, giving details not just on how it will work for players who decide to take things that don't belong to them, but also how the very game world will continue to see changes. With a stated goal of making the game more immersive overall, the Justice System looks like it will do just that, as part of next year’s first major update.

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While much of the focus before now has been on bounties and the ability to steal items in general, from the details, the whole thing is on a much larger scale than anticipated, and should affect most players in some way. The Justice System will be on by default, but will come with a toggle for those who don't want the extra chaos. NPCs will start to perform more activities rather than just walk around or remain in the same area. AI changes coming will focus on giving NPCs personalities that will see them engage in activities. Where now you might always find some lady sleeping in her house, once the system arrives, she might be cleaning or decide to leave home for a drink at the tavern. You may find someone walking down an alley alone, or drunk and heaving at a well. These changes will get some NPCs out of static paths they were once on and leave their homes and persons vulnerable.

If you're the thieving kind, which you'll have to be if you're even curious what's in new homeowner houses you find – they're going to be locked and require lockpicks to enter. Within houses will be new goodies, like chests to pick open. Loot will mostly be appropriate to the settings, so if you steal from a more rustic home, expect less value than if you steal from richer locales. Breaking and entering and trespassing are, of course, on the new list of crimes that merit punishment (along with others like murder, pickpocketing, assault, and theft), so you had better make certain there are no witnesses to your acts.

Witnesses will be important, since if you commit a crime, you'll bear a Heat meter that will rise depending on the severity of your actions. Utilizing the familiar onscreen indicator as Sneak, you know whether or not you're hidden or detected when near NPCs, as well as know if you will be stealing something if you grab it. Making sure to steal (or worse) when out of view will increase your chance at success. The details on the system came from the lead on the new system, Scott Nixon, who made the reveals on the latest ESO Live. An example from the stream shows a player character sneaking behind a vendor and, undetected, making off with a few items. What you see is what you get when stealing, and stolen items are tagged as such, and what you can do with them is restricted. You do have options if you really like the sword you pulled off that table.

It sounds like it will be a GTA-like three-tiered system where the worse you act, the higher Heat you have and the more guards you'll attract. Heat goes up and drops much faster than bounties, but bounties last longer. Because of this slow decay and global quality of bounties, it is possible to play on the run, trying to dodge law enforcement wherever you go. Players who successfully pull off a one-shot kill unwitnessed won't see Heat and bounties. Finding an outlaw den to act as your safehouse is a good idea. Should you be able to slink away into a safe hiding spot without being caught, paying your bounty (guards will take your stolen items), or killed, you'll be able to unload your purloined goods at a fence or launder them for your own use without further consequence. Another thing that should help you avoid (or lessen) consequences? The Justice System's introduction in issue 6 will come with skill lines. If you pick a lot of locks, you'll get better at picking locks. Pickpocketing chances might go up with the more you succeed at it. More will be revealed about the system, and new features aside from the ones coming soon are being considered.

Your criminal characters will also get an infamy (bounty + heat) rating. Depending on your behavior, others may even respond to you differently. If you become one of Tamriel’s most wanted and rack up the violations in the form of high enough infamy, you'll find that NPCs refuse to even talk to you or refuse to sell you anything. Congratulations, you’re a pariah until you can get rid of it.

Some might be concerned that towns are going to be overrun by killers looking to kill NPCs simply because they are able to, or to grief players. But the team plans on instituting measures, including guards you can't kill and marking some NPCs and vendors off limits, if they are essential to player progress or completing quests. Additionally, you'll only be able to sell so many items to a fence per day, which should protect the economy. The Justice and Provisioning teams collaborated to ensure that there wouldn't be overlap or trouble for the crafting discipline.

All of this represents more significant change for the game, and it's not even the full scope of what will be coming. Already, many would hardly recognize ESO from the game it was at launch. After update 6 hits, with just how packed it will be, there's definitely no turning back. The game may come as close as it ever has to that sweet spot between a good Elder Scrolls experience and a good MMORPG.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column.