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The End Game Challenge

Elder Scrolls Online Columns - By Ryan Getchell on September 24, 2014

The End Game Challenge

Challenge, it’s what we truly crave when it comes to an MMO.  Especially those with a subscription fee like The Elder Scrolls Online. No one wants to throw money at a game and have everything handed to them.  Okay well there are some people, but they don’t count.  Filthy casuals! When I say challenge, I am referring to the bang your head on the desk difficult. What I mean is something that can’t be completed in eleven minutes. Soon as I said that you immediately thought of the Aetherian Archive trial (AA) eh? Yeah, me too. Eleven minutes isn’t a challenge, it’s barely a hurdle. Even if you’re not doing a speed run, excluding the added time for deaths, AA can be done within 20 minutes. Still not difficult. ESO is attempting to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore, but they are leaning more towards the casual. I’m not asking for Zenimax to make ESO raids like World of Warcraft or Wildstar.  Those types of things just don’t really fit into ESO.

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Issues with current Trial Design (Excluding Sanctum Ophidia Trial)

They are far too easy. Granted there are those who still have not completed them, and some who haven’t even had the opportunity to enter them, but trust me, they aren’t overly challenging. The mechanics within the Trials are mundane. There is nothing within them that really make ESO’s End Game stand out. Most commonly the mechanic that Zenimax favours is spawning adds on the players. While this is an okay mechanic, it doesn’t offer anything special to the game. Every MMO does adds as a means to increase the difficulty of the encounter. To me, I consider this a false sense of difficulty.

Zenimax has an open book to redefine end game content. Look at how they did dungeons in the single player versions of Elder Scrolls. If you’ve been following me on Twitter or on the TESO Elite podcast you’ll know, I’m not a fan of the single player Elder Scrolls (ES) games.  I may have clocked a total of five hours played among all the ES titles. That said, I do know a lot about them, and a large aspect of them is missing from the Elder Scrolls Online End Game content (minus Shada’s Tear).

Puzzles, why aren’t we required to solve hard puzzles? It would be such a simple mechanic they could add and would change the way we fight the encounter. Star Wars: The Old Republic did a fantastic job at implementing puzzle based bosses. If you ever did Eternity Vaults, or Karagga’s Palace, you would have encountered these mechanics. The pylon event in Eternity Vault required you to split your group up to ensure the two pylons on each side of the map were properly defended. When the event started you have to align the pylons in the proper sequence (which changed every week). You had to do this, all while fighting waves of creatures that are trying to prevent you from finishing. The event in Karagga’s Palace was a bit more complicated than that of the Pylon event. Bioware did a variation of the Towers of Hanoi puzzle.  As simple as it was for them to take an already existing puzzle game and implement it into the game, it made that event so much more fun.

Challenging End Game In ESO

If you’ve done the storyline in Craglorn, you would have come across a dungeon called Shada’s Tear. Personally I think this is one of the best four player dungeons I have had the pleasure of playing. It has a fantastic story line attached to it, and it is massive. It is by far one of the largest dungeons in the game. It is what a trial should have been. This dungeon has three different wings to it, each wing containing different bosses and mechanics that make the fight somewhat difficult. Much like Upper Craglorn and Dragonstar Arena, Zenimax doesn’t seem to be designing their encounters based solely on an add phase. Now, of course Dragonstar Arena is all about add phases, facing waves and waves of mobs, but when you encounter the boss, there is more than just adds, there is mechanics you need to be aware of. There is even one fight where you use an ability that is casted on you to help fight against a different creature that is attacking you. Which is something I’m going to discuss a bit more later on.

These types of events are already in ESO or very similar ones. Shada’s Tear has two of these types of encounters.  They aren’t boss related.  They are strictly progression related. Meaning, in order to continue through that wing you need to complete the puzzle.

Did Zenimax Take A Large Step Forward?

Last week patch 1.4.3 was released and with it came two large pieces of content. Dragonstar Arena (normal and veteran modes) and Sanctum Ophidia. These new additions to the ESO end game might be a large step forward for ESO. Before anyone who was interested in a harder style End Game has most likely left the game and is playing games like Wildstar, Archage, even World of Warcraft as they all offer a difficult progression style end game. Something that let the player feel like they are working for their rewards instead of having them handed to them.

The patch has been live for over a week now and only one group has successfully cleared Dragonstar Arena Veteran Mode. However no one has completed the 12 man Trial Normal mode. Yes, it is that difficult. Players need to be focused on what they are doing and know the timings of the fight. This isn’t a dungeon where someone can be carried, least not yet.

Even Dragonstar Normal mode hasn’t been completed by that many people. I have cleared it.  I did so on Tuesday with a group of Veteran Rank 14,13,12,12, characters. So it’s not impossible to do, but it is difficult.

Zenimax even announced on their forums that both Dragonstar Veteran and Sanctum Ophidia are more difficult than they were on the PTS (Private Test Server). Credit to Zenimax for doing something not a lot of games do, purposely make something more difficult.

Dragonstar employs a lot of different types of mechanics in the dungeon. If I was to compare it to something similar I would have to say Trials of Crusader in World of Warcraft. A major difference between them is, unlike in WoW’s TOC dungeon Dragonstar uses the environment of the arena to utilize added features and mechanics. Some areas in Dragonstar use traps that are in the ground (incredibly easy to avoid), while others place you in a Skyrim-ish arena. Fighting off Trolls while standing near a fire to stay warm, to increase the difficulty in Veteran Mode (as if it wasn’t hard enough already for a normal dungeon) these fires will go out forcing you to make a mad dash to another one in order to stay alive.

One area that Zenimax really needs to improve on in terms of quality End Game is rewards. In the most recent patch you can now receive legendary (yellow quality) items which is definitely an improvement of the gear you received from the other trials.

As much as it is an improvement it’s not enough. For the work and time requirement that is needed to be able to clear this content, the gear isn’t worth it. For example, I have finished my entire gear set (need one more V14 Ring) and the patch is only over a week old. Unless new gear is introduced in a patch between now and update 5, I have no reason to be doing the new content, except for achievements and armour dyes.

If Zenimax is going to continue producing these type of difficult content, they need to make the gear within them worth it. The gear obtained from doing these trials and dungeons should be better attributed gear than what can be easily obtained from doing nothing.

ESO is all about ensuring the crafter plays a unique part in the economy.  To do that, while still ensuring crafters are needed, let the gear be stat-less except for a trait, armour value, and level. This way the gear is still better than that of gear that takes no effort to get. Crafters will be able to sell enchants and temper upgrades a lot easier than they do now.  To ensure that those who are not hard core raiders / PvPers are still able to obtain the gear, allow recipes of that dungeon gear drop. One for each type of gear or piece to make it even rarer. To really put a damper on those looking for speed runs, have the styles only drop in chests/trunks/cabinets etc. Again crafters become very viable, while end gamers will feel unique, powerful, and the investment of their time will be displayed.

I hope I was able to give you some insight on what Zenimax’s End Game content should be, and the improvements they can make on 1.4’s content.

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.