Hey there ESO fans, this past Friday we were treated to a wealth of information regarding the new Champion System coming in Update 6, and that has sparked some great discussion already about the big changes that are on the way. This past Wednesday some folks in Entropy Rising had the opportunity to chat in depth with Eric Wrobel, Systems Designer in charge of gameplay and itemization, about some of the upcoming changes. The following is a transcript of our Q&A session which we are happy to share with the community. I’ve broken the Q&A up into logical segments, but it’s a bit lengthy so buckle in and get your reading glasses on.
This is part one of a lengthy two-part Q&A session, and it covers the implementation of the Champion System in 1.6, Attribute re-scaling, and Champion System progression. Keep an eye out for part two coming tomorrow with a focus on ability changes, changes to trials, and gameplay systems like Ultimate, Synergies, and AoE caps.
Champion System Implementation
Hello everyone, and welcome to a community chat and question & answer session with Eric Wrobel from Zenimax, and we’re here with a bunch of Tamriel Foundry community members and guild members from Entropy Rising to chat with Eric in some detail about all the exciting changes coming in ESO Update 1.6 where the first stage of the Champion System is hitting the live servers. Eric, thanks so much for stopping by to chat, let’s start with an overview of what you do with ZOS and your involvement in the coming 1.6 update?
EW: Hey man, thanks for inviting me, I’m having a blast. I have a team of people that work for me for combat, and we’ve been making a lot of changes to the abilities. We also work with the team responsible for Champion as well as doing a lot of work with itemization.
So Eric, why don’t we get started with the Champion System update in 1.6. This Champion System is getting rolled out in stages, the stage that is coming with this first update is adding Champion progression, re-scaling aspects of the game, and updating abilities, but the portion of the update that is removing the veteran rank system is held for a future update, is that correct?
EW: Yep, that’s all correct. So you’ll be able to start advancing your character and making them more and more powerful through use of the Champion System and then we did a lot of sort of background support and systems to allow the game to scale. For example, we removed overcharge because what’s the point of being able to give yourself more health if it will just be reduced by the overcharge values.
What’s some of the rationale for doing this sort of staged roll out of the Champion System, particularly with regards to delaying the veteran rank removal? What are some of the main challenges you face with removing veteran ranks that is the motivation for delaying that to a later update?
EW: Yeah so, the biggest thing specifically with the veteran ranks is that all the itemization is really deeply tied to that, all the progression, and it’s just that it would have taken us significantly longer to put this patch out to you guys if we had spent the time to re-code a bunch of stuff and retest it and redo the progression. We wanted to get people to use the Champion System as soon as possible and experience it because it’s really cool and it’s a fun way to customize your character.
Is content going to need to be re-balanced when the Veteran Ranks are removed, or is the new scaling system going to do most of that work for you?
EW: So the plan when we convert all of the items over is that you’ll be able to wear all of those items and they will still have a progression, but you will just need to be level 50 to use them. So you’ll still be able use all of the gear, but there will be a sort of hidden power level on equipment which creates tiers of strength similar to what it is now, so it shouldn’t actually be a huge re-balancing effort.
Okay, so that’s interesting, so to be clear: suppose that you had a VR1 Fang of the Viper dagger that you got from your first Cadwell’s Silver zone and you also had a VR14 version that you got out of Sanctum Ophidia, there’s still going to be a differential tier of power once between those two items once Veteran Ranks are fully removed?
EW: Yeah, so you would have those two daggers and one would just say it has 200 Attack Power whereas one would only have 150 or something like that. It’s kind-of like item levels, but the infrastructure and stuff to do that is a significant rework of the systems and we just wanted to get new content and new stuff for people to do as soon as possible
Will there be anything visible to the player to see that one item is better than the other, or by how much? How will the interface communicate that a certain item is a higher level version?
EW: Yeah, we’re still working on that part of it, which is why it’s not released yet, so there are still some questions exactly what will be displayed and how that will look.
One of the big aspects of Update 6 is the re-scaling of attributes that you are doing so the Champion System upgrades that players can purchase are meaningful, so that’s another really interesting piece of the puzzle. Originally at the Guild Summit it was suggested that you might go with something on the order of magnitude of a 10x increase for the player attributes. Is that still the magnitude of the increase that you ultimately settled on? How did you converge on that degree of increase as opposed to something more moderate and what were some of the key features from an itemization and game play standpoint that sort of decided that for you?
EW: So that specifically came out of the Champion System because the way it works is you can spend a pretty large number of points increasing specific stats, and once you are giving a pretty small bonus to a stat, like if you are increasing it by 0.1%, you’re not even going to see any change in that stat with the numbers currently on live. We wanted people to be able to feel like they are progressing their character, even though they are not getting a huge increase in power. Then we had to find specific numbers, because we didn’t increase every single stat by the same amount. We had to do some balancing with different things in different directions because we changed some of the fundamental things about how the game worked as well, so there was a lot of playtesting and iteration once we got the base numbers we were hoping to use.
I’m thinking about my character right now, and when tanking this would put me at 40,000 health with Sturdy Horn active. In fact, with overcharge removed, it will be a lot higher than that. In your playtests what are some feasible numbers you are seeing in terms of the Health pool for an optimized tank character?
EW: We’ve done some work to tweak those numbers. It’s not a flat 10x re-scale anymore, all of the attributes are scaled up to varying degrees, some more, some less. For example, with Health, the ratio of Health to Magicka when you spent 1 attribute it would be 10 Magicka or 15 Health. Instead of a 50% bonus to Health, we modified it to a 10% bonus. We’ve done some tweaking so that’s why 10x isn’t exactly the number that’s true for every single stat. But you can get 40,000 health if you really commit to it.
Since enchantments and set-bonuses respect that ratio as well, are Health bonuses going to be rescaled globally to use the new ratio?
EW: Yeah, we preserved that ratio for everything across the game. So it’s not just stat picks, it’s also enchantments and other things you can get in the game like set bonuses.
Regarding the removal of soft caps, some players are concerned with this from a balance perspective and feel the system might be exploited. Have you encountered issues with players running extremely high Critical Chance or stacking insane amounts of Health? I know there are still hard caps for Armor and Spell Resist, but what are some of the challenges in balancing with no soft caps?
EW: There’s a lot of work we’e done with a number of systems to keep things balanced and in line. We have generally found that tanks are more survivable with higher health pools and better defenses, and to counter that we’ve made bosses and really powerful monsters that we expect tanks to handle do more damage with their single-target attacks. Another thing we’ve done is normalized ultimate. As you heard me talk about on Friday, you now get 3 Ultimate every second instead of a variable amount based on Critical hits, so having a higher Critical Chance is less of an imbalancing factor in the game now.
You mentioned that tanks are more survivable, does that mean the hard cap is still 50% mitigation for Spell Resistance or Armor?
EW: Yes, the caps are still a flat 50%, but you are no longer being scaled down more and more the closer you get to the cap, so it’s more viable to reach those levels without having to commit as many resources to get there.
You mentioned bosses hitting harder. From a tank point of view, I am scared for members of my raid if taunt ever drops off, particularly given how more squishy light armor will be. Are tanks more expected to tank all of the things in a pull? Or can you leave mobs free? Have you done any work on the taunt mechanic and how it works?
EW: To clarify, when I talked about damage earlier, that was more in situations where you are fighting a few monsters at a time. Like in a trial boss fight, like Serpent or one boss and it’s just the tanks job to tank that one guy it makes it more interesting for the tank and healers because now he’s hitting harder. We have not done a lot of work on the Taunt mechanic itself. I would like feedback on that to potentially adjust that, because I do feel that the taunt immunity mechanic is a little too punishing right now.
Right now, I feel like Light Armor arguably more durable than Medium because physical damage is mostly mitigated by the tank, while the party is being hit by predominately spell damage. Right now players wearing Light Armor can mitigate that damage better. Does the Champion System change how Armor and Spell Resistance are working to make Medium Armor more durable?
EW: The armor value given by a piece now also gives spell resistance. It creates an interesting interplay where it’s good to mix light and heavy because you get extra survivability with heavy and you can put fewer stat points into health and more into damage.
Regarding Light Armor and Spell Resistance; will Light Armor wearers still have an edge there because Light Armor has that passive that grants a huge boost to Spell Resistance?
EW: We are changing that passive and are changing other passives that gave you armor or spell resistance.
Currently Heavy Armor isn’t used for too much outside of tanking. Do you think these changes will realistically encourage players to use that armor type for other roles?
EW: Yeah, I think it’s more viable now for DPS to use some Heavy Armor to add to survivability. You can be a damage dealer in full Heavy Armor if you want, and in PvP the added Spell Resistance will be very useful.
Do you think that Critical Chance and Crit stacking in 1.6 is more advantageous purely for damage and less essential for overall gameplay with the Ultimate generation changes?
EW: Yeah, that’s what we wanted. Crit stacking was the king of the jungle because it didn’t have to listen to overcharge and gave you ultimate every time you hit, so it increased your damage in multiple vectors. Now it just increases your damage and gives you valuable burst in PvP.
How about the Impenetrable trait? ESO has tried to remove separation between the notion of “PvP gear” and “PvE gear”, but Impenetrable is really valuable in PvP, but completely worthless in PvE. Is that item trait being adjusted at all?
EW: We’ve made a lot of changes in Champion so there are some things that would be a nice thing to improve the game, but we didn’t have time and will have to look at it in the future. Having monsters get crits would make Impenetrable more useful; but if monsters did 50% more damage on a crit, big raid bosses could 1-shot a tank so we’d have to adjust the critical value of what a monster could do. Eventually I would like it so everything is valuable in both PvE and PvP.
Everything I have heard about the Champion System so far is focused on account-wide progression. What sorts of tradeoffs were you thinking about when deciding between account-wide and character-specific progression?
EW: Yeah, character progression involves getting bind-on-equip gear and once equipped you can’t trade it between characters, but with the champion system if you play on an alt you won’t feel like you aren’t advancing your other character by doing so, and you can adjust champion points on a character by character basis.
Take for example, a character that has been around since launch with hundreds of hours invested into it versus an alt character that just hit level 50, both characters seem like they will be just as powerful once Veteran Ranks are removed. Is there no portion of the Champion System where you are gaining some character-specific progression to replace what is being removed with VRs?
EW: Certainly if you have been PvPing, you would have more skill points and likely more skill points in general as well as other advancement specific to each character such as the Mages’ Guild. I think it’s good to encourage people to play new characters and experience the game in different ways and make different choices.
Do you worry about the fact that once everyone gets an alt to level 50 it will be too easy to max it out since the best gear is all bound to account and Champion levels are account wide. It seems like there won’t really be any character identity. Is having gear bound to character instead of account any sort of consideration?
EW: Yeah, if I could change anything about that, I think having more gear identity makes the most sense.
Do you think there will be a new meta to power up Champion Levels quickly? Currently the fastest method is to grind mobs for experience. Will you be increasing the XP rewards from some other types of activities, will doing trials, for example, be a valid way of getting that experience or is it going to be so ineffective to do trials that you might as well grind mobs to get a million more champion points?
Yeah, that’s a good point and I’ve had some feedback into the Champion System, but I haven’t dug into every single thing that team has been working on. I know they did increase the amount of experience people get from Trials to make it in line with the Champion System, but I don’t know how much they increased those values by. I know that the PTS testing is going to be extremely valuable for this, so it would be great if people could play a good amount and give us feedback on systems like that.
Let’s talk about Champion Progression. In terms of impact of progression on character power, where have you guys set the bar in terms of design regarding the portion of your attributes that are coming from champion versus gear versus levels versus allocation points. How significant really is the champion progression?
EW: In terms of stat picks, we’ve scaled that in Champion in a similar fashion that spending points in different things happens. The first couple points in Health, Magicka or Stamina in those constellations give you a pretty big increase and then spending more points after that gives you a smaller amount. That’s sort of the general philosophy of the system, and the reason we did that is to help keep a balance and a parity between the hardcore and the more softcore players. Some people will have hundreds and thousands of points and some will have only have one or two hundred but there won’t be a gigantic disparity in Health, Magicka and Stamina because people have spent their points that way.
What is going to happen to the attribute points we were given with Veteran Ranks once those go away?
EW: Yeah, that’s a good question. You still have 49 points from going from 1 to 50, but there are questions like that we haven’t quite solved yet, so that’s why we wanted to release this first before removing veteran ranks. We don’t want to take things away from people, so potentially we would let people keep them, and then people who made new characters after they earned the first couple of champion points, they would earn attribute points every 3 or 5 up to the limit that people had earned previously.
Are we going to end up in a situation where higher-end guilds feel that 1.6 just hit and we’re going to have to start farming Champion Levels immediately in order to be competitive?
EW: I think that some people are going to want to play all day and get as many champion points as possible and that’s great, people should enjoy the game the way they want. In addition to that, we have an Enlightenment System where you can get a rank or two every day with enlightenment experience that lets you get things four times faster. So hardcore people will go faster, but this is a balancing mechanic to help players with fewer available gaming hours keep up with them.
When VR ranks expanded from 12 to 14, many people complained that there were required to grind more levels to re-complete their character. Do you worry that people will feel the same way with the Champion System, that they have dropped in level and now have to grind again? I know the maximum Champion Level will take ages to reach, but until you really hit the point where the effectiveness of Champion Levels starts to drop off a lot, do you worry that people will feel that they were down-leveled?
EW: The testing we’ve been doing with veteran dungeons and trials are with people starting with 30 points in the system, which is about the same power level people are now at VR 14.
What was the motivation behind giving players 30 points for a VR14 character regardless of how many leveled alts they have on their account?
EW: We specifically didn’t want people to get a huge head start just because they played a lot of alts. We wanted to make it as fair and balanced as a starting point, but still reward players for reaching veteran ranks.