The Champion System Changes Everything, Leaves Questions
The Elder Scrolls Online team has been active with reveals in recent weeks, due to how much will be changing in update 6, which itself is just the beginning for subsequent phases of changes, additions, and overhauls. So it’s not surprising that the year closes out with (finally!) details about the Champion system. While no one will get a taste of the actual update until it hits the PTS after the new year, there’s already much feedback and discussion to tide us all over until January and beyond. With all of the changes over the past six months or so and the scope of what’s to come, even Zenimax’ Eric Wroebel called this similar to an ESO 2.0. For many, it’s all a mark of the game’s improvements and the studio’s commitment to its community. Yet there are still a few elements of the update that leave unanswered questions.
The Champion System will be rolled out in a couple of phases in order to make sure that it works as expected and makes as effective a replacement for Veteran Ranks as they plan it to be. So update 6 will roll the system out by giving players who already have at least one maxed character 30 Champion points to use in the game’s new constellations. Eventually, once things are fully implemented, given the team said that players wouldn’t lose their gains, more points should be allocated as have been earned once the full system is in place. The 30-point start is merely to get everyone eligible for the new system on similar ground immediately. All Champion points will be account wide, so every character’s allotment will be based on the character you’ve taken the furthest.
There are three main constellations available - The Warrior, The Thief, and The Mage. Skyrim players will find the design familiar. Each of those three divides further into three branches, making a total of nine constellations that are full of passive goodness in which to invest your points. The Warrior covers health and defense, Mage covers magicka and offense, and Thief covers stamina and utility passives. To avoid everyone putting all their points into a single discipline, there will be a balance check on this in the form of diminishing returns. So while you can dump all 30 of your starter points into say, Thief, if you prefer stamina builds, but spreading your points around to some degree will grant the best overall return for your investment.
A few examples provided by Zenimax include Master at Arms, the skill in the Mage’s Atronach tree, which grants bonuses to armor penetration and criticals. Ritual’s master skill gives you strong buffs if below 20% health. The Thief’s Shadow constellation is all about bonuses to stealth and reduction in CC time. The Tower affects cooldowns. All nine will allow you to choose the direction you want to apply to your characters, though it is possible to unlock all of them over time. The account wide limit is 3600 points, which would be the current planned max available to anyone across all characters who chooses to invest that much time in ESO. Once the system launches, there will be a free respec, though expect respect for Champion points to cost gold sometime down the line.
Update 6 also removes the soft caps on AoEs that many have been calling for, both for PvE and PvP, but also introduces what they’re calling a “consolidation” system for buffs and debuffs. Right now, stacking buffs can make up for certain deficiencies from say, armor, as well as effectively forcing players that want to remain competitive to keep stacking the same series of bonuses. Zenimax hopes to release some of that flavor of the month (week, year) pressure by categorizing all buffs and debuffs as major or minor within their types. Everyone (including enemies) can have just one instance of a major or minor buff/debuff applied at once. And while soft caps are gone, hard caps will remain at 50% damage mitigation. While all the balance has been effectively redone on buffs, you can still try to hit up to that 50% cap, given the importance of armor.
With the many changes to abilities, buffs, balance, and more coming, things sound promising. Yet, a few questions do remain about what we can expect. With the emphasis on all of these new passives, as well as new balance with buffs and re-scaling of abilities and attributes, the 2.0 assessment does seem appropriate. It should give players decisions to make and tradeoffs to consider in the upcoming system. If you are a healer in heavy armor, expect that running out of resources is going to be a real possibility, and that armor and buffs won’t be able to make the same difference as is currently in the game. It remains to be seen just how effective all of this is, but for some time now, there really has been an issue of players unable to remain competitive while playing the character and build they want. ESO’s skill system being as open as it is, is a great thing, but as with any game like this, there are always those who will figure out the ‘best’ by the numbers builds and others who will follow. And then those getting tired of getting stomped into the floor by the rest who begrudgingly adopt some of those changes too.
PvPers should also be pleased with some of the changes, as they should help with bunching and other tactics. Yet, VR/Champion players may still have the same issues as before with the new passives. The Justice system, which will also begin rolling out in update 6, won’t launch with its PvP elements, so it will still be some wait before PvP arrives in the open game world. With so many changes, it does make sense to phase whole new systems in, but ESO PvPers are justified in feeling a bit sidelined for now. Though Zenimax did recently address the lag problems, reducing capacity, and promises to be working on all of the issues.
Yes, update 6 is huge and literally game-changing, but there are still points to address both with what the update does include and what it doesn’t. PvPers will have to wait a while for significant changes, but some of the new bonuses, soft cap removal, and Champion system should be of some real benefit. The rest seems to point to a desire for greater flexibility in play, which could benefit everyone. Though with all the changes coming to abilities and PvE systems, it will take a while before we see the full potential.