Hands-On With The Elder Scrolls Online

This past week, I was afforded the immeasurable privilege of visiting the ZeniMax Online studios in Hunt Valley, Maryland to attend a small media event unveiling many of the cornerstone features of The Elder Scrolls Online. Matt Firor, Paul Sage, and the other lead developers of the project personally outlined their vision for the game, and explained the philosophy underlying its design. Not only were some major new features announced for the first time, but we were given several hours with which to actually play the game and experience these tenets of gameplay for ourselves. It was a fantastic event, and to make things even better, I’m allowed to talk about it! What follows is a series of five articles which fully detail my experience. I can guarantee they are worth your time, so click through, and let’s get down to it!

This first article is intended to give you a snapshot view of the major talking points which were revealed during the event, while the follow up articles go into a much greater level of detail about various mechanics. Without further ado:

I.  The Elder Scrolls Online features responsive, real-time, action combat.

This was one of the most refreshing and surprising announcements of the day, as ZeniMax Online had previously suggested that ESO was going to use a more conventional turn-based hotbar combat system. This was hinted at during the developer interviews surrounding the E3 unveil, as reported in the Development FAQ on this very site:

The Elder Scrolls Online cannot use the same real-time combat model that has been a feature of recent TES games. (Development FAQ)

Despite these initial doubts regarding the action combat mechanism in an MMO setting, the awesome systems team at ZeniMax Online was, in fact, able to create the exact style of action combat that MMO fans have been requesting for years. The combat system in TESO is nearly identical to what players are used to on the PC version of Skyrim. The hotbar still exists and provides players with a variety of spells and abilities to use during combat, but weapon attacks, blocking, and shield bashing all happen real time using familiar mouse controls. I delve much more deeply into the intricacies of this system in my full article Combat in The Elder Scrolls Online.

II. The entire player population of The Elder Scrolls Online plays on one single server.

This was an absolutely huge bombshell, and it’s not a joke. Everyone who is playing TESO is connected through ZeniMax’ “megaserver” technology, removing the problems associated with separate shards or servers. Matt Firor went into significant detail about the motivations inspiring this decision and the technology ZeniMax Online is using to achieve this.

We want to solve the day one problem of shards […] Day one is probably the worst experience you’ll ever have because you don’t know where your friends are, you don’t know what server they’re on, your guild tells you ‘everyone get on this server’, but by the time you get home from work that night the server is full and doesn’t let you create characters there anymore, so you create a character on another shard, but three days later you have to ditch that completely to play where everyone else is.

As a veteran gamer, I can empathize with this experience, and ZOS recognizes the barriers that this mentality imposes towards community formation and interconnectivity.

Everyone plays on one server, and one network, everywhere. So your friends are always available to you […] No shards, just create a character, click play, and get in the game, the game will figure out where to put you. No more ‘server full’ and no more ‘ghosttowns’. We’ll never have to close shards because they are empty, and there will never be server queues.

Moreover, the game intelligently places you with your friends, guildmates, and other gamers who have similar interests within the world. Naturally, the entire player population cannot coexist within a single world instance, so the megaserver technology creates multiple copies of zones as required, and groups together similar players in order to naturally create an optimized social gaming experience.

If you are logging into Stonefalls, the game is going to look for instances of Stonefalls where your friends are logged in, or your guildmates are logged in. Over time the game becomes very intelligent about who you like to play with, and it will place you into game spaces with those people. So eventually you will end up playing with the same people, the people you want to play with every night.

This is obviously a huge step forward for social gameplay. Past MMOs have attempted to circumvent the social barriers created by shards by allowing cross server chat and grouping, however the communities of these games are permanently fragmented, and the adoption of a technology that naturally diffuses this problem will herald a new era for MMO gaming. TESO gives players richly featured tools to connect using a single friends list, and the ability to see what all your friends are doing and form groups directly through the friend interface.

Players will fill out a questionnaire that describes their own preferred playstyle to assist the megaserver in allocating similar players to their game space. You can specify preferences for roleplaying, age groups, and degree of socialization. By flagging your character as “I want to meet new people and join a guild” you will be put into spaces with other players who are also interested in meeting new people, and with guilds who are recruiting new members. Alternatively, you could specify “I want to play solo tonight”, and the server will place you into a game space with other people who are interested in soloing, so you won’t be pestered with frequent group invitations.

III.  The Three Faction PvP Campaign System

While the megaserver technology solves a host of problems for PvE connectivity and social gaming, one of the best parts of separate servers is the tight knit community that forms, creating close friendships, rivalries, and competition. In a “best of both worlds” move, ZeniMax Online is able to retain this by segmenting Cyrodiil into multiple parallel “campaigns”. Players select into the campaign of their choice, and each campaign pits the same players and guilds against each other in perpetual three faction RvR. Within their campaigns, players will develop a strong affiliation for their own alliance and recognize frequent friends and foes across the battlefield. You can read much, much more about the specific details of the PvP system in my amazing interview with Brian Wheeler, lead PvP designer of The Elder Scrolls Online.

IV.  Social Integration and Networking

The team at ZeniMax wants to make sure that MMOs “don’t exist in a vacuum anymore”. Early MMOs pioneered many of the concepts that we observe in modern social networks, but now these social networks are bigger than any single MMO. By designing a system that allows players to bring their existing social connections into the game with them (if they desire), ZeniMax has created a way to bridge the disconnect between gaming circles, and social circles. When you create an account for The Elder Scrolls Online, players have an option to import their Facebook friends. Any friend who also has an Elder Scrolls Online account will automatically get added to your friends list in-game. The team at ZOS is currently working with Twitter and Google+ to implement similar functionality for those social platforms. This would allow players to create a guild page on Facebook (or as a circle on G+), and import the guild en masse when the game launches. ZOS wants to give players the ability to continue using their existing social network instead of being forced to rebuild and rediscover all your connections when starting a new game.

For similar reasons, players are allowed to join multiple guilds in TESO. Everyone has more than one group of friends they play with; you might be involved with a raiding guild, a PvP team, a roleplaying group, or a bunch of real life friends or coworkers. Forcing players to choose a single guild experience throws up unnecessary barriers to gameplay, so in TESO you can participate in multiple guilds, allowing you to be placed into areas with all your overlapping social circles represented. This allows a player to choose who they want to play with at any given time through being a part of multiple groups.

V.  Four Playable Classes Unveiled

We got the first look at four of the playable classes for the Ebonheart Pact, two melee specialized classes and two spellcasters. The Dragonknight is an offensive fighter class, naturally suited towards using either two handed or dual wield weapons, and aided with useful magical abilities that allow them to maneuver across a battlefield and control the opposition. The Templar features a more defensive approach, resembling a classical Paladin using restorative magic to heal himself and allies. Similarly, the Sorcerer is an offensive spellcaster with a versatile array of magical abilities. Lastly, the Warden was not described in detail, but is likely a more defensive mage, specializing in beneficial spells and group healing. You can hear a lot more about my own gameplay experience with a Templar in the follow-up article: Gameplay Impressions of The Elder Scrolls Online.

 VI. Fourteen New Screenshots

I’m thrilled to release fourteen brand new screenshots of the game that showcase the beautiful environments and dramatic combat of The Elder Scrolls Online.

Excited for the presentation!

While these were the biggest revelations of the day, there was a veritable ton of information that we discovered while talking with the many developers on hand, and actually playing the game ourselves for several hours. The following four articles go into much further detail regarding many aspects of the game.

Lastly, the comments section of this or any of the articles can be considered as an “ask me anything” opportunity to inquire about any of the thousands of details which I discovered during the presentations, gameplay, and interviews. I encourage you all to check out the articles, and feel free to post your questions or reactions in the comments below!

127 responses to “Hands-On With The Elder Scrolls Online”

  1. Profile Photo
    Zaviel

    Expert

    Total Posts: 423

    Altmer Sorcerer

    OMG OMG OMG, you sir are amazing.

    I’ve drank from the well of power, and there is no turning back.” – Zaviel Crae`Nyth

  2. Profile Photo
    Phazius

    Master

    Total Posts: 833

    Dunmer Dragonknight

    Entropy Rising

    Leo, you lucky SOB. Deffinatly more insterested now that there is info out there :P

  3. Profile Photo
    timedragon1

    Novice

    Total Posts: 21

    Breton

    That Megaserver may come in handy if you wan’t to meet your friends(Game or real life) you can just ask to meet in a certain area instead of having to specify which server and having them forget which one soon after.Hopefully it will hold for awhile if not always.I’m really looking forward to this game.

    Lok Thu’um diii fahdon

  4. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Thanks Zav, it was a great experience. I’m really excited to be able to share it!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  5. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Yep, it sounded like the ZeniMax CMs had a pretty busy schedule planned for the next few months, so this is just the beginning!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  6. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Yep, that’s the main idea, is to allow you to play TESO with all of your friends, not just the ones you happen to be on the same server with. They also made it sound as if there are ways to travel to your friends within the world, so grouping up may be even easier than you think!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  7. Profile Photo
    Asguard

    Apprentice

    Total Posts: 25

    Nord

    Awesome!

    So if I’m getting this right, I play on the same serves as everybody, but I have the possibility to filter the players so that I can e.g. only play with other role-players?

    Am I right?

  8. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    That’s absolutely correct @Asguard. I’m not sure what the exact filtering priority is though. My best guess based on the way they described the system is that it will look to pair you with friends and guild-mates first, then fill the rest of your game space with people  who have similar prefernces (like roleplaying).

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  9. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I get what you’re saying, but it’s sort of hard to judge the potential racial diversity with only three examples. I didn’t linger for too long in character creation, but I did check out the basic options for each of the three Ebonheart races. I remember Argonians had a nice variety of potential skin tones. They were a number of sort of earthy greens, reds, browns, etc…

    Hopefully this won’t be a concern for Argonian fans in the long run!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  10. Profile Photo
    Rial

    Moderator

    Total Posts: 2773

    Argonian Sorcerer

    Sorry, that was me up there. No idea why I wasn’t logged in.

    I really liked the colourful feathers the Argonians got in Skyrim and I hoped I would see them again in ESO, since they already took some models straight out of Skyrim (the Dwemer Centurion, for example).

  11. Profile Photo
    Asguard

    Apprentice

    Total Posts: 25

    Nord

    That’s absolutely correct @Asguard. I’m not sure what the exact filtering priority is though. My best guess based on the way they described the system is that it will look to pair you with friends and guild-mates first, then fill the rest of your game space with people  who have similar prefernces (like roleplaying).

    Great!

    Isn’t the Megaserver quite a pleasing feature for Tamriel Foundry since I believe you mentioned that your goal is to get everybody here on the same server?

  12. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Yeah, it opens some very nice doors for us. We are still planning on exactly the best way to proceed given this turn of events, but it will ultimately be great for the community.

    I’ll probably put together an article in a week or so about what the megaserver means for Tamriel Foundry’s future.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  13. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    I’m not positive about feathers, I didn’t play around with the Argonian creation options enough to be sure. Each  race did seem to have some “accessory” or “decorative” options to choose from, though.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  14. Profile Photo
    redguard83

    Adept

    Total Posts: 245

    Redguard Dragonknight

    This is so awesome I’m at a loss for words! ^^

  15. Profile Photo
    Lordshayne

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 1641

    Breton

    One server? There goes any chance of me playing. Did they not think about the fact some people have terrible connections? I mean, the rest looks great and thanks for the info and all, but now I’m really worried about my ability to play the game itself. All of the players on one large server will require quite the internet connection, and my router can barely handle someone streaming a 240p video on youtube while I play BF3 online.

     

    Unless I read it all wrong, then I better begin to find some ways to improve my router. Anyway, I have a trip for Ubisoft Montreal in two days to get a peak at Assassin’s Creed 3, so your not the only one getting early access to games. Even if your early access was, well, extremely early. :P

     

  16. Member Avatar
    Shaigh

    Master

    Total Posts: 829

    Yikes, so much info. love it

     

     

  17. Profile Photo
    Blade

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 1608

    Bosmer

    This isn’t how the megaserver works. The server will be divided by copies of the game world, so no area you’re playing in will become to overly populated. Also, connectivity won’t change based on that, if your internet is garbage, your internet is garbage.

  18. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3063

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Exactly what @Blade said. You will be partitioned into an instanced version of each zone along with your personal friends and other players who have requested similar gameplay preferences. The raw number of other players you interact with inside a zone should be roughly comparable to what you have seen in other MMOs, but there will be many parallel (but temporary) partitions of the world space.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

    Guildmaster of Entropy Rising.

    Occasional Twitch Streamer.

  19. Profile Photo
    Lordshayne

    Grandmaster

    Total Posts: 1641

    Breton

    Alright, now I understand. Now everything’s looking back up.

     

  20. Profile Photo
    Arinvald

    Adept

    Total Posts: 106

    Dunmer Templar

    This all sounds excellent! So much new info absolutely dumped onto our heads at once. Was already excited about the game but even more so now.

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