One of the defining features of The Elder Scrolls Online is how each class, while having defined skill lines isn't shackled to the traditional Holy Trinity of MMO classes. Sure, every class can fit a specific role, and ESO still relies on the trinity when grouping up. But the identity of each class is defined by its user, not so much predefined by the game itself.
The ZeniMax team also thinks about class identity, as it's been a topic on the ESO forums constantly debated.
Class identity has long been an important topic, especially in recent months on the ESO forums, in social channels, and on the dev team. This loaded term can mean different things to different people, and we all can agree it’s an important element in creating a satisfying combat experience. In an effort to improve how we communicate our vision for combat in ESO going forward, we thought this would be a good topic to dive into and share our perspective.
Elder Scrolls has long been defined by the ability to play the way you choose to play. While ESO didn't always feel that way, it has more and more the past few years since the One Tamriel update shook Nirn to its core. ZeniMax sates that when its team uses the term "class identity," it's " referring to what makes the experience of playing a class feel unique from other classes, regardless of what role the character may be fulfilling." This is broken down into two components: power fantasy and play patterns.
According to the ESO devs, "power fantasy" is how the game justifies "your character's power and how its expressed through the look and feel of abilities."
Necromancers draw their strength from death magic as they manipulate souls, flesh, and bone. Templars call upon the power of light and the burning sun. Every class should have a clearly defined source of power, and class abilities should reinforce that fantasy through their descriptions, animations, visual effects, and audio. When you see a player using class abilities, you should have little doubt which class they are playing, and it should look awesome!
These can't get in the way of how you choose to build your character, so the team strives to ensure each class is viable at whatever role you choose to take within your group. The Elder Scrolls Online developer admits though that not every class succeeds at this and its something the team takes into account with future updates and balance changes.
ZeniMax also details how play patterns - i.e. the way you interact and use specific mechanics to perform a task - inform how the team designs a specific class to feel unique to each task.
The second component of class identity focuses on play patterns, which are the specific mechanics and behaviors you have to learn, engage with, and master to achieve objectives in battle. While all healers might have an objective of "prevent ally health from reaching zero," you can achieve this through several effect behaviors: direct heals, heal over time, damage shields, and damage reduction, to name a few. Each of these effect behaviors exhibit benefits and limitations that, when combined with a triggering method, make them more or less effective in various contexts. Direct heals, for example, can quickly replenish an ally who is low on health, but you have to wait until the ally has taken damage to use it and risk a loss of cost efficiency if you overheal. You can apply this same model of thought to damage and tanking abilities.
You can check out the full blog post on the official Elder Scrolls Online website. It's definitely worth a read, especially if you've always been curious how the team approaches its class creation. Also, make sure you check out our latest column and why Shank just wants to explore Cyrodiil without PvP.