As my Templar stood watching the flag in Fort Aleswell turn to the Daggerfall Covenant, I couldn’t help but feel a bit excited and proud knowing that I had survived the assault on the pivotal keep along the Daggerfall/Aldmeri border. Unfortunately, I also couldn’t help but feel that the experience didn’t feel “grander” than it really should have. Being apart of a group of Daggerfall soldiers using siege equipment to take a massive fort teeming with AI-controlled defenders as well as pesky Aldmeri soldiers should have felt more epic. Instead, after the initial wave of euphoria because I didn’t die, I was left wondering: “Well, what now?”
From my first experience stepping into Cyrodiil I was excited. Excited to be taking part in a section of the game I longed to plunge headfirst into. An earlier Beta session showcased PvP-only for a weekend, and while I liked the concept, there were a lot of issues. In my short experience with PvP now, I can say that they are cleared up and intensely more polished. That being said, the experience is far from perfect.
Getting Started in Cyrodiil
As you enter into your campaign, you aren’t going to be thrust headlong into mortal combat with your fellow players. PvP warfare in Cyrodiil is a lot more complicated than just rushing a keep and slicing down the opponents nearby. The game takes you through a few quests to show you around the staging area of your faction’s designs on the Imperial heartland. Here you will learn about the different ways to get PvP-related quests so there is always something to accomplish when the war has a lull.
First, however, the game will thrust you into some tutorial quests to teach you how to use the siege equipment necessary to take an enemy Keep. These come in the form of trebuchets, battering rams and ballistae. You can purchase these to set up on the battle field and are important to destroy the walls and doors leading to your target’s inner keep.
You can also find within these “starter” areas a couple of boards: Battle, Bounty, Scouting and Warfront. Each one of these boards will give you a quest to do to further your alliance’s grip on Cyrodiil. One such quest took me from Daggerfall’s staging area all the way out to scout Farragut Farm. This quest took me from literally one side of Cyrodiil to the other. In the end, the journey was worth it because along the way I was involved in a few minor skirmishes as well as able to do some quests I picked up in Cheydinhal. Another quest was tasking me with reclaiming the Elder Scroll of Chim, which had been taken by the Aldmeri Dominion. So if you are looking for a goal to accomplish while in Cyrodiil, look no further than the Mission boards.
The Combat – How’s it feel?
One of my major concerns with how the game feels and looks is its limited user interface. I felt that having such a minimalist approach to the user interface was a great way to go in PvE, but PvP would be missing out on some of the vital information needed to really excel and survive. I also felt that the free-look, soft lock approach to combat would hinder the PvP experience from feeling solid and complete. I was wrong on both fronts.
While the UI could stand to show a little more information, especially regarding who got the final blow on an enemy, the design really lends itself well to how the game is presented, especially in PvP. With the minimal UI, in front of you, you are left to focus on the task at hand: conquering Cyrodiil.
Given the massive mix of players and NPCs on screen, I thought that the combat would feel even more “floaty” than its PvE counterpart, yet it felt surprisingly solid. Add in the inclusion of siege weaponry and you’re given a much different experience than the other parts of ESO, which is refreshing. My only concern is that it will become stale over time.
Assaulting a keep happens in waves. First your party will capture the resources surrounding the keep. Doing so takes away the enemies control of the supply line and prevents them from using the Transitis system for faster defensive deployment. Once the farm, lumbermill and mine are captured, the attacking party sets their sights on the Keep/Fort itself. This is also unfolds in waves, but the waves play themselves out very similarly each time you topple a keep. Knock down the outer wall’s door with your siege engines. Flood the inner courtyard and defeat any resistance there. Once the ground troops are dealt with, deploy your engines and knock down the inner keeps door. Once done its just a matter of capturing the two flags on the inside of the keep. Rinse and repeat with the next Keep.
While you’re attacking the keep, the defender is doing everything in their power to keep you out. This means positioning archers and ranged magicka users along the walls to pick off assaulting forces, using cauldrons of boiling pitch to rain liquid death upon the attackers, or even set up siege engines of their own and lob bounders over the walls at their attackers. As I said, most of these battles play themselves out in this format, and after a while it become monotonous. What keeps me coming back to PvP are those individual battles that really stand out, those battles that are just too good that being apart of one will go down in ESO lore for years to come. In addition, too many scenarios could play out to make each battle unique and interesting.
For example: let’s say that my Daggerfall troops were on the way to liberate Chalman Keep from their Aldmeri overlords. While we are assaulting the walls from the East, an army of Ebonheart troops happens to approach from the West, essentially catching the Aldmeri Alliance in a pincer move. Do you make a “truce” with the Ebonheart to root out the Aldmeri, only to fight over Chalman once you do? Does the battle devolve into a slugging match between the three heavy weight armies as resource points and the keep itself continually change hands through the course of the battle? It’s a scenario like this that will always make PvP feel great to me, and the opportunity for something like this to break out at a moments notice keeps me on edge whenever I travel through Cyrodiil.
Tying It All Together – Becoming Emperor
The end goal of your PvP game is obviously become Emperor. This is done by taking over the main keeps that are called considered “Imperial” forts, or easily seen as the keeps that surround the Imperial city. Control all of these keeps and the person in your alliance with the most alliance points will become Emperor. Now this is important, as it gives not only the person with the title an extra skill line to then master, but the entire alliance is affected with buffs to their stats and rate of progression. This means if Aldmeri becomes Emperor, even those questing in the Summerset Isles will feel the effect, not just the ones on the battlefield in Cyrodiil. Lose one of the Imperial Keeps and your reign is at an end, but the one who became Emperor is still able to build on that unique skill line they gained while upon the throne.
The other benefit of capturing and keeping all the keeps under your control: PvE. Members of your faction will be able to more freely traverse the map without fear of coming too close to an enemy keep. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but to those fans who only want to PvE in Cyrodiil, picking your time to do so is key. Not everyone will want to be ganked trying to travel from Aldmeri lands to Bruma because Daggerfall or Ebonheart control all the keeps along the way. Using your PvP dominance could seriously aide your ability to freely quest, and that is something I’ve not experienced in another MMO.
So Why Are You Not More Excited?
I said at the top of this that I was left feeling that the “grandness” of the PvP we’ve been reading about since last year was a little lost on me. Sure the scale of some of these battles could be massive, and the hectic nature of the battlefield makes for interesting and adrenaline pumping battles. Unfortunately, I just haven’t experienced enough unique battles to feel as though PvP can be more than just measured waves of assaulting forces steamrolling defenders. In every battle I’ve played, not once have the defenders held their ground. The momentum of the attackers was just too much for the defenders to withstand. A lot of times they would abandon the keep, only to reclaim it right when the new owners left for another target. This back and forth, coupled with all of the issues logging in and out of Cyrodiil during the beta weekend, made maintaining any momentum whether attacking or defending seemed a hopeless endeavor. If I needed to step away to take care of something, I was taking a risk that I might be logged out when I came back, and logging back into Cyrodiil was next to impossible at some points of the test. Obviously these kinds of issues will be resolved come April, but it definitely is worth noting that it broke the immersion at the time.
The other reason why I just don’t feel as though most of these battles are pretty “grand” is that the general layout of the keeps are the same. Some differences here and there, but for the most part each battle plays out the same. Now that’s not to say each battle is as easy as the last, but eventually if you stick to the tried and true “Batter the doors, clear the courtyard, batter the doors and take the keep” forumla, you are pretty much going to be successful. Hopefully more scenarios like the one I hypothesized take place, breaking through the standard battle.
All of this isn’t to say PvP is bad, far from it. In fact, it is my favorite PvP I’ve played in any MMO up to this point. But for a game that has touted large siege battles since the start, I was just expecting a little bit more. Maybe that will play itself out in the end once the game is fully live and we have an entire bevy of players vying for Imperial control. Maybe I will just always feel as though something is missing to make the scale of the battle more complete. Either way, if you meet a Redguard Templar named Cystara sporting Daggerfall colors, know that I will not hold back, and I expect nothing less from you as well.
For the Covenant!