Today I made another stop at the Bethesda booth in order to interview another developer from The Elder Scrolls Online. Lead Gameplay Designer Nick Konkle was gracious enough to sit down for a few minutes with me and discuss some gameplay mechanics. I started off the interview by simply asking how the closed Beta was going.
Nick Konkle: It’s going well. We’ve actually had a number of sessions and have gotten some really, really great feedback from a number of players on places they’d like to see improvement and we’ve actually been through a couple of cycles where we’ve been implementing those. I’m actually really excited, this weekend we have a session where we implemented a bunch of changes, and a bunch of improvements, based on peoples feedback from previous betas. It’s going to interesting to see.
Bradford: Very cool. We saw on Monday that The Elder Scrolls Online will releasing on the Xbox One and the PS4, but we also saw that the release date was pushed back to Spring 2014. Is this due to the console release, or simply for quality?
NK: No, the two are unrelated. We pushed back the date of the PC release because we wanted to ensure the best possible quality game that we have all been striving for – a AAA game that meets everyone’s expectations for an Elder Scrolls Online game. As far as the consoles, we just felt that happened to be a great opportunity with what is available, the technology, the timing of these things coming out. Also, the style of game we are creating really translates well to the consoles, so it was something that we wanted to do for a long time.
Bradford: Since we are talking about the various platforms, correct me if I’m wrong, but the PC and Mac will share a megaserver, while the Xbox One and PS4 will have their own separate servers?
NK: Yes, that is correct.
Bradford Well, let’s move on to gameplay. I actually got a chance to try the game out yesterday, and being familiar with MMOs, the part that really stuck out for me was the combat. I could move around, I click the mouse and swing my sword, Right click to block. I ended up coming across a bow halfway through my playthrough and was surprised at how seamless the playstyle transition is. I really wasn’t hindered by my decision to change how I played. I still needed to put skill points in to become proficient with my bow, but overall that freedom really kept me happy. What steps have you guys taken to ensure that freedom to choose and change your playstyle whenever you like, no matter where you are in the game?
NK: Well that statement you just said is it exactly. The Elder Scrolls has always been about you choosing the way you want to play. You pick up a bow and use it, you get good with it. Later if you want to pick up a sword and use it, you become proficient there as well. As far as the combat system, it really drives itself from the question: What is an Elder Scrolls combat system? What that is in my mind is a system that is immersive, that has the appearance that, like “I am actually swinging my sword,” not “I am facing my guy, I’m getting into position, I’m waiting on cooldown timers to finish, I’m Seeing how my DPS number is going” – that’s not a realistic and immersive combat. It’s its own combat experience, and I’m not saying that it isn’t fun, but it’s not an Elder Scrolls combat experience.
Now the more you use the weapon such as the bow, or sword, and so on, you can start to feel yourself becoming more powerful with it and you start to unlock more powerful skills and tactics to use in combat because you have become a master in it.
Bradford: Now down the road, let’s say you’re level 30 and you don’t like the way you’ve played anymore, will you need to roll an alt and start from scratch, or does this overall concept still apply there?
NK No, you can still pick up and level no matter how far you’ve progressed. There is enough experience and skill points to be earned that you can become a master at everything. It’ll take a really, really long time, but you can do it. And if at level 30 you say “I’ve never used a bow before, now’s the time to do that,” you can do so and it’ll be pretty accelerated because of the experience you will be gaining at your level.
The good news is that you will not be losing any of the progress you have in your previous set up, you know what you were doing up to that point, which you would if you rolled another character. If at any point you go “Ah, I don’t really like this, I want to go back to what I was doing,” you just pick it back up and continue from where you left off.
Bradford: One of the concepts you guys touched on at PAX East was Adventure Zones. Can you elaborate on what those are exactly for us?
NK: Still don’t have any big details to share as far as that goes yet, it’s something that is still being actively discussed internally.
Bradford: Ok, what about the Dark Anchors? Is there going to an incentive to complete these tasks?
NK: Yea, absolutely. There’s a skill line specific to the Fighter’s Guild, and the story of the Fighter’s Guild is that they have taken the contract to deal with this Daedric threat. One of the ways to do that is any Dark Anchor you see trying to pull our world into ColdHarbour, go ahead and knock that out. And every time you do that, you’re going to advance your Fighter’s Guild skill. The Fighter’s Guild Skills are pretty strong, you’ll want them. They help specifically with dealing with Daedra and the undead, with sort of the supernatural, and can really help you in a variety of situations such as dungeons, dealing with Dark Anchors, tombs and generally hard things. They will also help you against players who have chosen to become vampires and warewolves, you can use those skills in a PVP scenario. Fighter’s Guild abilities are pretty good, so advancing in the Fighter’s Guild is good and Dark Anchors allow you to do that.
Bradford: Well, is there any incentive to doing these events if you have no desire to join the Fighter’s Guild?
NK: Yes, there is! Of course these events have unusually difficult monster, with unusually difficult bosses and better than normal loot, so you can new items and experience that way. I will say, though, that I think the principal reward is to raise your status in the Fighter’s Guild.
Bradford: Nick, Thank you so much for making time to talk to me today.
Nick Konkle: No problem, thank you for having me.
(Editor’s Note: I also asked Nick about monster AI and how they had to tackle creating it due to the lack of a traditional “trinity” in the game, but unfortunately the audio from that section was almost completely undecipherable due to some technical issues I was having with my recorder. I apologize for this, but I just didn’t want to put words in Nick’s mouth!)