In an interview with Elder Scrolls Off the Record, Lead Gameplay Designer for The Elder Scrolls Online Nick Konkle delved deep into a ton of gameplay mechanics, including crowd control, cooldowns, endgame content, crafting versus discovered loot, and ranged combat. Many standard MMO gameplay mechanics are being implemented, though perhaps tweaked a bit to make them consistent with the Elder Scrolls world fans have come to know over the years.
Just like any other MMO, crowd control is in Elder Scrolls Online to help keep fights from getting out of hand. But unlike many MMOs, crowd control will draw from a player’s finite resources in the form of magicka or stamina, so they will need to manage not only when to attack, block, or cast spells, but also when to use crowd control. These abilities will be expensive, as far as how much magicka or stamina they cost, and they won’t do a lot of damage, so the decision of when to use these abilities will really need to be weighed and evaluated based on the current situation and everything going on around the player.
“Combat is very much about using things in the correct situation, it’s a tactical usage,” said Konkle. “Because you have this limited resource, and firing the same stun several times in a row isn’t going to be good for a lot of reasons.” He went on to say that every player will have the ability to get out of stuns or other mesmerising attacks by clicking both the left and right mouse button, which also makes the player immune to all crowd control for seven seconds. This uses stamina, so it again becomes a resource management game, but the ability to get out of these stuns isn’t something that necessarily needs to take up space on the hotbar – it’s a built-in ability for every player. In addition to crowd control abilities, every character will have the ability to escape, dodge, or block. Konkle said that was built into the core mechanics of the game, so it doesn’t matter what class or armor type is equipped. An example is how players can do a double tap (left and right mouse button) to do a roll dodge, which uses stamina, but moves players out of the way of projectiles or oncoming attackers. This ability is again not something that takes up space on the hotbar, however there are abilities that players may find useful.
For example, a character could level up heavy armor and eventually learn an ability called “Immovable.” This ability makes the player immune to all stuns and knockbacks, and can be used preemptively. So if players are willing to give up a slot on their hotbar for this defensive ability, it is definitely an option and could make rushing into battle more effective. Konkle went on to say that abilities don’t have cooldowns, so while you could activate this particular defensive ability and keep reactivating it after it expires, or likewise using a powerful offensive attack over and over, you run the risk of becoming vulnerable if all your enemies aren’t defeated by the time you’ve used up all your stamina or magicka. The only things that have cooldowns in the game are potions, and those can only be used every 20 seconds. “The reason for this is pretty simple,” said Konkle. “Part of it is that a cooldown, by it’s nature, creates a rotation, because you can’t use it as often as other things. But I think more importantly, the way you message a cooldown is with a timer on the bar, which immediately gets you looking at your UI and not at the world. Whereas, if you know you can always use an ability and you’re waiting for the right situation, then you’re looking at the world trying to figure out the moment to use it – which is totally key to our philosophy. Look at the world, not the UI.”
PVE vs PVP Gameplay Styles
Konkle also talked about keeping gameplay similar throughout, whether PvE, PvP, solo, endgame, etc. He said that they didn’t want players being forced to decide which abilities are the best to use in PvP and which are the best in PvE, but rather learning what combinations of abilities work best in certain situations. The goal was to blur the lines between PvE and PvP gameplay so the decisions of which gear, weapons, and abilities must be used are no longer an issue. In essence, they want players to play the game they want to, and not feel like they’re being forced to play a certain way just to be competitive. “We make abilities that are good in both scenarios,” said Konkle in regards to PvE vs PvP. “They have the same mechanics in both scenarios. Monsters don’t behave exactly like players, but we built our monsters to teach you about the mechanics players will use against you. You learn the mechanics and use them in PvP or the endgame PvE, and you have to master the mechanics to take it to its full potential.”
Konkle wanted to clear up some misconceptions about what had been recently announced about endgame content. He said there are many dungeons in the game, most of them built specifically for up to four players. These dungeons aren’t just a bunch of trash enemies, maybe a boss, pick up some loot and leave. Dungeons will have stories that develop while played through, teaching players more about what happened there – much the same way the overworld does. Once players hit level 50, it unlocks a second mode, where they can return to the dungeons and begin playing through the second part of that story. It’s not just the same monsters with added health, but there are new monsters, new bosses, and completely new dungeon layouts. For example, doors that were previously closed may now be open, cave-ins may have occurred that cause previously used paths to be inaccessible, forcing the player to find different routes through the dungeon. “It’s not the same dungeon, it’s the completion of the story,” said Konkle. “And that’s your endgame, after you’ve played through this during your leveling experience, you can come back and find out what happened in all those different scenarios.” He stated that yes, these are currently limited to four-player runs, because they were working towards a really tight group of people experiencing this together. But after the game releases they will listen to the fans and go from there. However, he really believes people will enjoy this experience and be happy with the direction they’ve chosen.
Once players reach level 50, they will have the ability to begin adventuring in previously locked territories controlled by other factions. This will allow players to continue their story rather than be forced to start a new character or just run through dungeons or PvP again, Once those quests are completed then the third faction will open up to them. We’ll get more information for you on that when it’s available. PvP is of course a third option for endgame content, and as Konkle stated, is intended for “thousands of players.” Adventure zones aren’t being talked about too in-depth at this point, but this will be another endgame option for the player who doesn’t want to return to dungeons, play through other factions, or play PvP. They are expected to be large scale encounters in the open world. But stay tuned for more on that.
When it comes to crafting in MMOs, often times the items available to create are either not nearly as powerful as those found in the world or else much more powerful than anything else available. ESO looks to buck that trend by having craftable content comparable, but not identical, to items found in the real world. Konkle went so far as to say, “Loot from crafting and loot from dungeons is qualitatively different. Numerically speaking they might be on par with one another, but they do different things.” For example, a player could craft a piece of armor that is the ultimate piece of gear available to be made, and has a fire enchant. However similarly, players could adventure into the world and find the same exact piece of armor but with a slightly different enchant. This will make the pieces effectively identical, but keeps both items in high demand since there is only one way to get them. Additionally, while the various enchants or abilities will be different enough that players may prefer one over the other, they will not significantly affect a player’s stats in ways that makes one more functional than the other. So players will reach end game and possibly have a variety of gear that works best for them, some crafted, some discovered. “You can craft some of the best gear from scratch, and you can upgrade gear that has been found in dungeons,” Konkle said. “Crafting plays an essential role in the economy, but it isn’t the case that at the end of the game all my gear would (have to) be crafted. It would be that at the end, if I really maxed out every possible stat, I might have one or two pieces of crafted, some stuff I found from dungeons or PvP, some might be enhanced… it’s really a mix and match.”
In ESO, no longer will players be able to be facing away from their target and still hit them with a ranged attack. Players must aim their bow at a target to successfully hit them. There is a soft lock system in place that will allow players to choose a specific target within a group, aim at him, and hit them, even if there are other enemies in the way. There are tools available to help bow users, including the ability to cycle to the desired target, and a function called “padlocking,” where players can hold down a key, move around, and still stay aimed in the general direction of the enemy. Keep in mind though, players cannot mindlessly fire off arrows, they will still need to aim directly at the target (though there is a little forgiveness in place to account for a small amount of lag). Additionally, there will be skills available to players who advance through the archery skill tree, including one called “Snipe,” which allows a player to shoot extreme distances. One final note about archery, players will have unlimited arrows, and their arrows will stick and remain in the world when fired. Their arrows will be distinct to each player – based on the type of bow being used – as they match the bow and quiver that a player is using.
One last thing to touch on is the use of spell runes. A favorite tool of many mages in Skyrim, they will also exist in ESO. Konkle said there are a couple different types. Fire runes can be obtained from the Mages Guild and are available to any player, regardless of class. Enemies walk over them and they explode. There are sorcerer-specific runes, and they are more expensive, but will give mages the ability to lay traps and protection to help make them powerful characters in both PvE and PvP. Konkle mentioned one in particular called Daedric Minds, which drops three runes in front of you, and when enemies run over it, they are immobilized, allowing the player to attack them unchallenged.
Be sure to check out the full audio of this interview and so much more in Elder Scrolls Off the Record’s Special Episode 61: Live from PAX East for all the juicy details of these gameplay mechanics and more. We’ll keep you posted with any updates or changes as they occur.