AoE Target Caps in The Elder Scrolls Online

kingscrest-siegeThere has been a substantial commotion during the past 24 hours on Reddit and on the Elder Scrolls Online official forums regarding the role of AoE abilities in ESO and certain changes that ZeniMax have made to specific abilities in the latest patch which has just hit the PTS.

Today the new patch for ESO’s first adventure zone, Craglorn, was released on the public test server. You can read the full patch notes on the Tamriel Foundry forums. A lot of the changes in this patch (1.1) are exciting, particularly the addition of Craglorn itself. However, there is at least one issue in this patch that is a massive disappointment for serious PvPers and organized groups.

Within this patch ZeniMax has made a massive change to the structure and mechanics of the game. They tried to slip this change in under the radar in the following bullet point:

Fixed an issue with several area-of-effect abilities where they could erroneously hit an unlimited number of targets.

Before I analyze the effects of this change, allow me to translate this into plain English so everyone understands the issue.

Added target caps to area-of-effect abilities to limit the number of enemies which they can affect.

What this means is that abilities like Impulse, Whirlwind, Lightning Splash, Volley, as well as ultimates like Nova and Dragonknight Standard are capped at affecting a maximum of 6 targets. I’ll start with the TL;DR of this change for people who don’t want to suffer through walls of text. I’ll then go into each point in-depth.

  1. This cripples the ability of coordinated players to fight larger groups of players when outnumbered.
  2. This will greatly increase the “safety of the zerg”, further promoting zerging as the default tactic in PvP.
  3. This increases the relative effectiveness of siege weapons, pushing Cyrodiil further towards siege vs. siege rather than player vs. player gameplay.
  4. This change damages immersion, seeing AoE attacks inexplicably failing to damage enemies which surround the player.

In short, I believe that target caps are very bad for the game. If you are already convinced that target caps are damaging for the game, please let ZeniMax know why you don’t support these changes. If you don’t believe me yet, please read on for mode in-depth discussion.

Important Edit (4/26) – It has been confirmed that certain abilities already had an AoE cap in the live game. This change has therefore affected a more limited number of abilities than was previously assumed. It seems that the most significant abilities affected will be certain AoEs and ultimate abilities which previously had no cap. ZeniMax has offered to provide a list of the exact changes (which arguably should have been in the patch notes to begin with). I believe the arguments against AoE caps presented in this post are still valid and relevant for PvP in ESO.

 

1. This will cripple the ability of coordinated players to fight larger groups of players when outnumbered.

It was clearly expressed throughout development of ESO by numerous core developers, most notably Brian Wheeler, that a primary goal was to give organized groups of players the tools they need to fight against larger groups if they are well coordinated and use positioning and terrain effectively. This change flies directly in the face of this intention. If your group’s abilities can only affect at most 6 enemies, this permanently limits the possibility of fighting when outnumbered.

 

2. This will greatly increase the “safety of the zerg”, further promoting zerging as the default tactic in PvP.

If you are fighting with a group of 7 allies, at least someone in your group becomes immune to significant sources of damage. If you continue adding allies in the same place the effect is magnified, greatly enhancing the safety of the zerg. Before this change, even a large zerg was vulnerable if they were outplayed by a rival group. Given this change, ESO is in serious risk of becoming nothing but a numbers game with the side possessing greater numbers always winning regardless of player skill or group coordination.

 

3. This increases the relative effectiveness of siege weapons, pushing Cyrodiil further towards siege vs. siege rather than player vs. player gameplay.

There is already a serious issue in ESO PvP of players looking towards siege as the optimal way to fight against players. At times, Cyrodiil feels more like “siege vs. siege” than “player vs. player”. The overuse of ballistae, oil pots, and more was already an issue prior to this change. If siege engines remain unchanged, but player activated AoE abilities being capped at 6 targets maximum, this will push players even more to resort to constant use of siege weapons rather than seeking to use their own character’s skill-set.

 

4. This change damages immersion, seeing AoE attacks inexplicably failing to damage enemies which surround the player.

For a game in which immersion the typical reason cited for cornerstone gameplay philosophies, this change stands out as violating that same tenet. Being surrounded by a pack of 8 wolves, but seeing two enemies mysteriously and inexplicably immune to damage renders your character impotent and detracts from the intuitive nature of existing AoE mechanics.

 

In Conclusion

One year ago, ZeniMax developers themselves joined us in celebrating the in-game event of “The Chalamo”, an epic keep defense in which a small group of Daggerfall players fended off a massive horde of Aldmeri and Ebonheart attackers at DC’s last bastion of Chalman Keep. In fact, ZOS were so enthused by this valiant last stand that they commemorated it with an in-game poem which is readable in Cyrodiil. The subtext of this mechanical change to ESO is that ZeniMax never wants to see another keep defense like that again. The Chalman defenders would not have been able to hold the keep for 5 minutes if all our abilities were limited to 6 players.

ZeniMax didn’t have a problem with AoE then, they celebrated it when players were using it well. Now, suddenly that hordes of new players are dying if they position themselves poorly and stack in an indefensible position the solution is to neuter AoE abilities to the point that the group of players with the largest numbers is always guaranteed to win.

As I’ve said twice before, but will reiterate for clarity, this is damaging to the game. ZeniMax, please carefully consider the consequences or target caps and revert this change before the patch goes live. Don’t damage the PvP mechanics of your own way in a game that risks turning it into the second coming of Guild Wars 2.

More thoughts to come later,
Atropos