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
    Phumos

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 56

    Daggerfall

    Thank you for the information :)  Looks way more promising than I thought it would.

                                                                  Raining Pain

  2. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    You are very welcome, glad to hear you’re excited!

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  3. Profile Photo
    Redguard King

    Master

    Total Posts: 739

    Imperial Dragonknight

    Shehai

    -Combat sounds shockingly a lot more like Skyrim that I expected. That’s a nice surprise.

    -Mega-servers was a nice and welcome announcement that will solve many issues other MMORPGs struggle with.

    -While it appears the Dragonknight and Templar are EP-specific classes, it’s safe to assume they will have mirrors in each faction?

    I do have one question in regards to finishers, if you can answer it. I saw you didn’t specifically mention them in your articles, but another journalist did and went on to add they slow down time. Now, do you know if these finishing moves resemble those that we have become familiar with in Skyrim, or is it something we have come to see in previous MMOs such as SWG, AoC, etc.?

    Shehai Clydus

    Looking for a mature and experienced AvA guild? Click above and join the guild that led the charge in Cyrodiil and crowned an emperor three times! ~ Imperator Clydus

  4. Profile Photo
    ella101

    Scamp

    Total Posts: 2

    Breton

    Agreed. Looks like a great game. So much info in one big chunk of great info, overwhelming! Almost done reading it all.

  5. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Good question. The in-game map is quite beautiful, featuring a texturixed hand-drawn look. It had three tiers (that I saw):

    Province -> Region -> Zone.

    I assume that later on there will be further levels of zoom for the entire area of your faction, or perhaps the entire continent of Tamriel. Since we were only playing in the early Ebonheart Pact storyline the farthest I could zoom out on the map was the province of Morrowind. The area in Morrowind that you explore at launch is different to what was featured in TES3, which took place predominately on Vvardenfell.

    In TESO, you are exploring the rest of the province, while Vvardenfell will actually be inaccessible at launch. This is one of the areas which developers are saving it for a post-launch adventure area.

    I didn’t get the chance to look at the maps for other provinces, but judging from Morrowind the provinces are going to be quite large.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  6. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    To be honest, I’m afraid I can’t say. I played as a Dunmer and was too overwhelmed by more immediate visual distractions to pay much attention to the physiology of Argonian NPCs. Sorry to not be more help on this one.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  7. Profile Photo
    zDb1o1

    Novice

    Total Posts: 14

    Nord Templar

    i cant wait for this game any longer Tamerial we probably be my home for the next three years

    ”Remember this always, son of the north – a Nord is judged not by the manner in which he lived, but the manner in which he died.” -Ysgramor

  8. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    As you point out, its a bit hard to judge the scale of the playable area from the map alone. I will say after completely exploring one and a half zones in Morrowind, I had probably uncovered only about 5% of the Morrowind province.

    As for major cities, they will definitely be in. One of the screenshots we published from this event shows an Ordinator outside Mournhold, capitol of Morrowind and seat of the Tribunal.

    I don’t believe there is an actual “aiming” system, I think this would cause far too many technical challenges with network latency in multiplayer. It seemed to me to be more of a lock-on where you select your target your spells automatically track its movement. I could be wrong on this (I only had one ranged attack during my demo), but it felt like a target-lock system.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  9. Profile Photo
    TWD26

    Expert

    Total Posts: 287

    Dunmer

    bloody amazing good sir!

    ”For the blood of my forefathers and my sons, I have sworn to protect Morrowind.”-Vorro Rayden

  10. Profile Photo
    ZANAOFWHITERUN

    Scamp

    Total Posts: 2

    Nord

    I can’t wait! I play on PS3 so I am excited to have such a great excuse to build I really HOT computer lol

     

    ”I am Dragonborn”…Zana

  11. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    The megaserver is exactly “one wide open server”, I guess I’m not sure what you mean.

    As for guild allegiance meaning nothing, I think that will not necessarily be true. There will still be the l33t PvP crews and hardcore raiding guilds, and their success in game will still gain prestige for them as a group, the only difference now is that players can be a part of multiple “groups”, kind of like you can be in multiple “circles” on Google+.

    So, even if you are part of a hardcore, highly competitive guild, you can also have your group on the side that is a guild for all your real-life buddies who play.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  12. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    Aah, I understand. Instances will still be able to handle hundreds of players each, while each campaign in Cyrodiil can handle thousands at a time.

    EVE has the advantage of being a niche game, so it can get it’s several thousand simultaneous players into common spaces without hitting hardware barriers. TESO is going to have a much larger playerbase, so if it tried to go the EVE route, things would explode :/

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  13. Profile Photo
    tenton111

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 74

    Dunmer

    A dreugh… not sure what that is, but I can’t wait to incinerate one. Glad to see the Dwemer automatons are back. Sorcerer is probably what I’m going fo. Does anyone know if they kept destruction dual-casting?

    By the pricking of my thumbs,

    Something wicked this way comes!

  14. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    You don’t equip spells in your hands like you do in Skyrim. Those are reserved for weapons, so even as a sorcerer you would use a staff or a sword and shield, or even dual wield!

    Your spells are all cast in addition to any weapon choices you have equipped.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  15. Profile Photo
    Lithon

    Apprentice

    Total Posts: 47

    Altmer Dragonknight

    Amazing coverage TamrielFoundry Team! Good job @Atropos !

    This game will kill me! When this game comes out, my college studies will be at max! :(

  16. Profile Photo
    Scar-Tail

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 80

    Argonian

    I seriously can’t wait. I should probably just google it, but what is the exact release date again?

    Our resolve is glacial, our might is forged in fire, and our courage cultivated by the beasts of the jungle.

    We are Ebonheart. We are as one. And by this, our victory is assured. -Jorrun the Skald-King

  17. Profile Photo
    Atropos

    Administrator

    Total Posts: 3432

    Imperial Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    It’s not announced yet. Don’t believe anything you read ;)

    My best guess? Q3 2013.

    Founder, creator, and developer of Tamriel Foundry.

     

  18. Profile Photo
    Zaviel

    Expert

    Total Posts: 423

    Altmer Sorcerer

    “And so Nirn itself shook the day Zaviel, the lightning sorcerer, stepped into Cyrodiil.  Foes stood against him, and foes fell to the ground twitching and charred.”

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

  19. Profile Photo
    tenton111

    Journeyman

    Total Posts: 74

    Dunmer

    Look at the flame atronachs… and the Daedroth… can you summon Daedroth in ESO? They were my favorite in Oblivion. I called my Daedroth Sergeant Smiles… heh heh… okay, I’m going insane.

    By the pricking of my thumbs,

    Something wicked this way comes!

  20. Profile Photo
    Redguard King

    Master

    Total Posts: 739

    Imperial Dragonknight

    Shehai

    “Then RGK stood before Zaviel’s wrath, held up his mighty blade into the air, focusing all of Zaviel’s lightning using his sword as a conduit and turned it against him. Thus the Khajiit and Bosmers were liberated, and the Altmer learned humility and tolerance.” *Couldn’t resist with the confirmation of conduit synergy. =P*

     

    Shehai Clydus

    Looking for a mature and experienced AvA guild? Click above and join the guild that led the charge in Cyrodiil and crowned an emperor three times! ~ Imperator Clydus

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