When most people think “dungeon” in recent theme-park MMO terms, they think of small-party instanced content that has a finite beginning and end. Zenimax Online Studios plans on shaking things up (at least a little bit) by throwing “Public Dungeons” into the world of Elder Scrolls Online. No, they’re not dungeons that are in the open world. Rather, Public Dungeons are best described as small zones that several players or groups can join at one time to adventure and explore in. They hold stronger monsters, unique quests and puzzles, and often (of course) better gear and rewards. During our recent trip to Maryland to play the game, we got some time in one of the first PD’s available to Ebonheart Pack players: Crow’s Wood.
Crow’s Wood is hidden in a corner of Davon’s Watch, a main city in Morrowind. Like other locations on the world map (and similar to other TES games), you might see a POI notification on your compass as you near it and then it becomes fully discovered when you get close enough. Normally, I find “zoning” a jarring mechanic in my MMOs, but I’ve come to accept it in many cases as part of the limits of technology. Here though, at least for Crow’s Wood, it makes sense. The dungeon takes place in a plane of Oblivion, and you’ll walk through a mysterious portal to get there.
You don’t need to find a group first, as the dungeon is open to anyone who wants to take part in it. Depending on how many people are in one “copy” of the PD, it’ll open another copy as needed. If your friends are in one, and you’re accidentally placed in another, you can click to join them in theirs or vice versa. Yes it’s clunky, but it works. If you don’t like “instanced” content, you won’t like Public Dungeons, but if you’re okay with the idea and benefits they offer, ESO’s Public Dungeons just might be a step above the traditional instances in many ways.
For starters, I love that it’s open like a normal zone, and not something that’s closed to one specific group. There’s no real need to find a group, and because of the game’s flexibility in class and character builds, plus the use of health and magicka potions in combat, chances are you’ll be able to manage them with a variety of party configurations. And at least early on in the game, you can likely get through the dungeon’s content solo if you’re a.) good at playing your character and b.) a bit over-level. Crow’s Wood is designed for around level five (yep, a dungeon right at level five). We were told that as you get to the bigger and later PD’s, they’ll start to require teamwork, but that goal is to make it so that you don’t spend time looking for group… you just enter and join the other folks already there. Each PD will likely have its own player-count cap, but for Crow’s Wood, we were told there was enough room inside for several groups at once to roam about and complete the quests inside.
Once we got inside Crow’s Nest, the public dungeon felt more “open” in format than typical fenced-in locales. I’m sure there will be dungeons that have a more “corridor” feel to them, it was nice to see Crow’s Wood presented as a more open area that you could explore non-linearly. It seems that in the PDs you’ll get most of your quests in the dungeon itself… no more collecting them outside and sharing them with people inside because everyone wants credit. Here’s the basic gist of the story: a sorcerer made a deal with a hagraven which would grant the former with limitless arcane power so long as he spent the rest of his days with the hagraven. But within the story of Crow’s Nest itself, you get to decide whether to help the Sorcerer get of this deal, or to force him to keep his vows to the Hargraven.
It’s safe to say that if you miss the quests in a Public Dungeon, it’ll likely be your own fault. The Crow’s Wood itself seemed fairly large too. Not normal zone big, but definitely sizeable enough to support several groups at once. My only question would be if the content inside would scale in difficulty or not based on how many people were in an area, and that’s something I didn’t get an answer to, because we ran out of time. I’m hoping that’s the case, because otherwise you’re going to have some trivialized content or frustrated players who don’t realize they need to team up with other groups to tackle everything.
Either way though, when compared to the open world where mobs and wildlife are far more spaced out, the mobs in Crow’s Wood are far more packed together. You won’t be able to just run around the bad guys and survive. You’ll have to fight your way through areas infested with spiders, wisps, and great big hulking demonic bats, many of which attack in groups. At level seven I was able to handle myself, but even though I was getting beyond the content’s level range, it was still difficult. Garrett, Massively’s Matt Daniel and I had a much easier time when we worked together. The early level content in the open world was a breeze compared to the stuff we found in the public dungeon. Especially the Wisp Mother, who fans of Skyrim will know as “pain in the arse.” An example of ESO’s Champion Monsters, she’s sort of a mini-boss in Crow’s Wood that you want to take down with at least a friend or two. Any less and you’ll be worm-food.
Sadly, before we could further explore Crow’s Nest, our time with Elder Scrolls Online drew to a close. Overall, I’m intrigued by what the Public Dungeons are trying to do. I like the stories being tied in, but with a more open and less linear progression inside. Like everything else about ESO, it promotes both narrative and exploration, trying to have the best of both worlds. I wonder how more people being in the PD will affect it and more so just how difficult things get and what the rewards will be for completing the entire place. What do you think of Crow’s Nest? Do you like the sound of a dungeon that’s open to the public at large, or do you prefer more closed-off instanced experiences?