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Interview: Talking The Arcanist With Elder Scrolls Online's Combat Lead Brian Wheeler

Joseph Bradford Updated: Posted:
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Earlier this morning, ZeniMax Online Studios released a new trailer showing off the combat abilities of the Arcanist, the new class launching with The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom next month. The Arcanist is getting some much deserved love from the developers heading into the homestretch as the new Chapter expansion is returning to Morrowind on PC on June 5th, while consoles will be waiting until the 20th.

From new lore drops that highlight some of the characters that players will meet in the world such as Arcanist companion Azandar Al-Cybiades to showcasing the reimagined plane of Hermaeus Mora's Apocrypha, there's a ton to dive into.

However, the Arcanist is a new class that brings a unique combat style to ESO. We touched on how they feel in practice, especially the new combat combo mechanic, Crux, in our preview from GDC. Today's video dives deeper into each skill line, highlighting clearly how Crux works and giving examples of the three distinct skill lines the Arcanist can choose from - or mix and match from each.

The video is narrated by Brian Wheeler, the Combat Lead for The Elder Scrolls Online, and we had the chance to ask Brian a few questions of our own about designing this new and unique class in ESO.

MMORPG.com: Since the PTS has been active, what has the reaction been from fans about the Aracanist, and have there been any major changes to the mechanics since that testing has been ongoing?

Brian Wheeler, ZeniMax Online Studios: Players have really enjoyed the Arcanist! So much so there’s loads of builds and videos out there even before its official launch! This PTS cycle was a bit different where the majority of balance changes went in the 4th update because we took a lot of feedback into account. While there weren’t any changes to Crux or redesigns of abilities whole cloth, we did add several additions to abilities based on feedback.  One good example of this was focused around Fatecarver and how in PVP it left you vulnerable. Instead of boosting the damage to it or making it more deadly in other ways, we added a damage shield to one of the morphs that also made you impervious to interruptions while the shield was active.  The team did a great job combing through the feedback and finding solutions that kept the core of abilities intact while hitting many of the points brought up in the PTS cycle.

MMORPG.com: With the Arcanist drawing their power from Hermaeus Mora’s realm of Apocrypha, can you talk a bit about how that influenced the visuals of each skill? What was it like envisioning how Eldritch powers would manifest in a class like this? 

Wheeler: When we initially were thinking of a new class, we knew we didn’t want to make another “scary” class or group of skill lines.  That being said we also know that Hermaeus Mora can be a pretty scary entity, so there had to be some amount of Cosmic Horror there.  We took inspiration from all over the place regarding visuals though and not just Elder Scrolls lore.  Movies, books, comics, television shows...they all had a hand in what is now the Arcanist.  We did hand gesture studies, new poses for casting, and looked into various geometric forms for the Runes.  We also dug into the color palettes of our current classes and found our lovely shades of green and purple for the Arcanist. The Art and Audio crew did a really good job setting the Arcanist apart from our other classes and that was extremely important to make the class look and sound all new. When you see an Arcanist on the field, you know it immediately!

MMORPG.com: The Arcanist’s Crux makes it a bit different to play versus other classes in the MMO. What were the conversations like behind the scenes when you decided upon this mechanic, and what was that “A-Ha” moment when you realized this could change the class for the better?

Wheeler: We did a lot of playtesting with the Arcanist. PVE and PVP alike, we had weekly if not twice a week mass tests.  There was a good skeleton of abilities in there and we were starting to get some fleshed-out visuals going as we tested several options for the Crux system. We talked about how many Crux should you have and whether Abilities should be augmented or hard-gated.  And while talks are great to get your ideas flowing, it really was driven home by the playtesting.  We found out the right amount of Crux to have to fit our fast-paced combat and to keep in line with our action-based model, none of the Arcanist abilities are hard gated by Crux. You can cast your abilities with no Crux built up, or all three. It was around this time that a lot of people in the playtests started saying they could use the whole kit of the Arcanist without any other abilities from Guilds or Weapon lines, with or without Crux, and it felt really good.  That’s when we knew we had the right mix of abilities interacting with the Crux system to create a really unique play experience.

MMORPG.com: While Crux is central to how the Arcanist works, do you foresee this style of mechanic benefiting previously released classes, or even future classes down the road?

Wheeler: Not right now, no. We’ll be keeping an eye out and listening to the feedback about the system and take that into account for any future combat additions or changes.

MMORPG.com: When I’ve played the class, I’ve really enjoyed figuring out those ways Crux can be used to impact the other skills I have to augment their power. What was the balancing like figuring out what skills would benefit from this treatment, as well as making sure they felt impactful enough to use this way?

Wheeler: One of the important questions we had to answer was “How much mechanic is too much?” We knew the Crux system and augmenting abilities would be fun and new, but we also had to experiment with how many abilities interacted with that system. Initially, we tried all of the abilities either building or spending and that felt too handcuffed...like you HAD to load your entire bar with Arcanist only.  We want people to have the freedom to do that if they want, but not force them to do that. We dialed it back, leaving a few abilities in each line not interacting with Crux at all and then it was a question of which ones are builders or spenders.

We also had to take into account leveling a new Arcanist.  It wouldn’t make much sense to give you a spender as your first ability without a builder.  This made us look at the whole class being able to fill each role of damage, support, or tanking. We wanted the Crux system to have a good flow regardless of which role you choose, so that meant each line had to have a builder a spender and then we wanted to give players the choice for their third ability.  That also meant those spender abilities were going to be focal points of Crux, so making it impactful on those was important. We wanted those augments to be additive and support the core ability and its purpose. A good example of this is Runespite Ward. Having a damage shield is great, but also activating it while having crux heals you, so it’s supporting the aspect of being a tank.  We looked at all the spending abilities this way and it turned out really well through a lot of testing and feedback!


Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore