The Elder Scrolls Online Previews and Interviews

The web has a staggering amount of new coverage coverage for ZeniMax's The Elder Scrolls Online this evening, and while the BethBlog has already rounded up most of it, I'll share some of the stand-out pieces for you below.

Strategy Informer (preview):
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where the action-based gameplay ends and the MMO trappings begin, but whilst fighting this certainly looks like an Elder Scrolls game. There's certain tells, though such as how characters telegraph their movements. Enemies will visibly power up for a heavy attack prompting you to lash out with a stunning attack of your own or block by using the right mouse button, and spells are similarly telegraphed.

This obviousness perhaps makes the game look a little less slick, but the end result is important, as it makes it easy for players to tell what's going on and use their skills wisely. Some skills are linked to your basic class pick of which there's three choices for each of the three alliances, making for nine total but others are instead gained through equipment.

Strategy Informer (interview):
Strategy Informer: The control scheme is brilliantly simplistic... and it's one that could, with tweaks, work pretty well on a controller. Is that something you'd think about officially supporting? I'm not talking about console development, but PC gamers playing with a pad as they might in Final Fantasy XIV or XCOM or even Skyrim.

Nick Konkle: Indeed! I think another lesson we've learned from some other RPGs is that having 500 potential options on the table at any given moment isn't actually a compelling choice. What is the compelling choice is that deck building the idea of having a large set of things that you can do but in a fight let me make sure I have just this and have some strengths and some weaknesses... I combine the character in an interesting way.

The result of that is what I'd describe as a streamlined control system which is much easier to use than perhaps Morrowwind, where you have 20 different options and you're pressing keys like shift and F9 and other things.

As far as controller development itself goes, there are a certain set of people internally who have used free third party mods third party applications to play the game with a controller and have enjoyed the crap out of it. It is something that's possible and something we've talked about, but in terms of official development there's no news on that.

RPGamer (preview):
As a fan of the Elder Scrolls series and no so much MMOs, I was surprised just how much I was getting into ESO once I got past the linearity of the tutorial zones. Under the right circumstances (read: with no monthly subscription), this would be something I could easily see myself playing through solo while occasionally teaming up with friends to go through more challenging dungeons, diving into a PvP session to storm a castle, or simply hunting for some cool new armor. This is especially true since there are no server shards that you have to be tied into. Using a technology called Megaserver, all players will log into a single server and using matchmaking features, players will be able to seamlessly team up with friends and others that they had positive experiences with without having to worry about being on the wrong server. This alone helps relieve worries of picking the wrong server and having to hope for a transfer later.

There is still plenty of time before the game launches next year, so my concerns could easily be addressed before then. This is especially true since the development staff was very interested in our feedback, no matter how critical. The message was very mixed at the initial reveal and it was difficult to truly explain how much the team was trying to make this more of a social Elder Scrolls experience and not just another MMO. That said, there are a lot of things here that make The Elder Scrolls Online a compelling experience for both MMO fans as well as those of us who simply enjoy the Elder Scrolls world and lore. And for someone who is not typically an MMO fan, the fact that this game now has my attention speaks volumes.

Ten Ton Hammer (preview):
According to Zenimax creative director Paul Sage, they're aiming for the ballpark of 150 hours of gameplay for most players to reach the level cap of 50. That said, character advancement offers so much more depth than your basic level progression system, and it would be an injustice to bring too much attention to basic leveling as a result.

Don't get me wrong; character levels will obviously matter in the grand scheme of things. Each time you level you earn one point that can be placed into Health, Magicka or Stamina which in turn helps shape the strengths of your character in combat. For example, placing points into Magicka on my dragonknight would have allowed me to use my skills more often, or begin shaping my character into more of a hybrid role.

Massively (preview):
For my time with TESO, I was able to play only the Ebonheart Pact faction, which is made up of the Dunmer of Morrowind, the Nords of Skyrim, and the Argonians of Black Marsh. Being the filthy elf-lover that I am, I went with the Dunmer. The two classes available in this build of the game were the Dragon Knight and the Templar. The Dragon Knight was described as a front-line fighter with reality-altering magic, while the Templar was more or less what you'd expect from a class called the Templar: magic, support, that kind of thing.

Now, TESO does character building a bit differently than most games in that any class can wield any type of weapon and wear any type of armor. In addition, all characters have access to a common "pool" of abilities granted by increasing skill in particular fighting styles (one-hander and shield, dual-wielding, two-hander, etc.) plus an additional pool of abilities granted by investing points (awarded upon leveling up) into one of your three main stats: health, stamina, and magicka. For instance, I invested most of my points in the stamina stat, thereby unlocking a passive sprint speed bonus and an ability that granted me health and stamina after I killed an enemy. Because of this system of progression, a player's class really dictates only the class-specific abilities he unlocks as he levels. So with that in mind, I chose the Dragon Knight because the description mentioned altering reality, and I'm a sucker for the Alteration school of magic. (preview):
But all of this gameplay goodness would be moot right, if you couldn't find your friends? Well don't worry about that either, because Zenimax has you covered. There's only going to be one (Megaserver) when ESO launches. When one (layer) of a zone fills up, it'll create another and put people into there. It's not unlike say, Champions Online or DCUO's technology. But ESO goes a few more profound steps further. You'll be able to set your preferences so that it groups you into areas with like-minded players. Want to be a lone ranger? Tell it so, and it'll put you with people of the same mind. Love to group or RP? Tell it, and it'll put you in layers with others that like to. This way there will be no fighting over what server your guild should join, or how you'll get all your guilds on the same server. yes, you can join multiple guilds in ESO too. Matt even said it might be possible to tell the game you only want to play with adults over thirty and it could do that. Though they haven't decided if that's the kind of direction they'll take it. The Megaserver will even remember the people you've played and interacted with, and put you in their zones if they're online. If you forgot to (friend) them? That's okay, it'll make sure you reconnect eventually.

On top of all this, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter will each be built into the game from the start. If you so choose, you can simply import your entire social network friends lists into the game. No battle-tags or usernames or anything like that to compile. Elder Scrolls Online will just connect right to Facebook and others because it doesn't want you to have to manage yet another (network) of friends. The team assumes that your friends in real life might likely be your friends in gaming these days, so why add a hurdle? The social panel in the game will even tell you what your friends last did in-game, like Facebook statuses so that you can congratulate them with a note or a comment. Of course, if you want this all to be private, there's that option too.

ZAM (preview):
For example, one of the main threads of Bleakrock Isle is that the invading Daggerfall Covenant forces are threatening to overrun the Ebonheart Pact inhabitants. You can tell Lieutenant Rana, local force for good that it's time for the town to make a run for it immediately, or try to find the 15 missing townsfolk first, ensuring they are not left stranded.

Being the obsessive completionist that I am seriously, it's an illness I rescued all the poor missing miscreants. This meant that when I returned to the town, all those NPCs were there, coming to terms with what happened to them in often entertaining ways, as well as showing their appreciation for my heroic awesomesauce.

Acolytes Gaming Community (preview and interview):
Q: Will you get battle leveled when you go to Cyrodiil?
A: Yes, you will get battle leveled when you enter Cyrodiil. Players will receive hp buffs, but will maintain current abilities from prior level. A level 50 will have many more tools in his arsenal, and is more effective. Siege weapons are the gateway to PvP, as you can be any level over 10 to do a siege weapon.

Q: What are the implications of the Megaserver for Cyrodiil? Is there just one realm war?
A: Half of the reason why we came up with the idea of the Mega server was to solve the Day One problem (queue / grouping with friends). The other half was to solve the I'm on a low population server and pvp is terrible, because there is not enough people to play. There will be a system that you will be able to sign up for Cyrodiil. There will be a number of campaigns running at any given time. You will easily be able to have your friend join your campaign or join theirs. The proposal right now is to name the Campaign after cities. Daggerfall Campaign, etc.