We recently spoke with ZeniMax Online Studio’s creative director, Paul Sage about the hotly anticipated Elder Scrolls Online. Paul was kind enough to tell us what he could about the game but some of our questions had to remain in secret until a later date.
What is the background and setting for the game please?
The game is set in the Second Era before the rise of the Septim Dynasty almost 1000 years before the events in Skyrim. The old Empire is in disarray, and recently three powerful Alliances of nations have risen up on the continent of Tamriel. As each of these Alliances gathers for war against the others, they are almost oblivious to the fact that a dark pact between a Daedric prince and the rulers of the crumbling Empire threatens the world.
What are some of the player types and their abilities?
Players will have access to many different skills and abilities. What they choose to become an expert in is really up to them. Players can choose to become experts in certain weapons such as two-handed weapons, they can become experts in the art of healing, or they might choose to concentrate more on things which enhance their skill in armor. As they gain new abilities or skills, players will add abilities to their shortcut bar. How they fill this bar, really defines how they want to play right now, or their role.
For example, some players might choose to fill their bar with healing abilities, and they might choose to equip a healing staff. So the role they have chosen is one of healing and support. However, that same player might, on a different day, choose to go for more defensive abilities. The longer you play The Elder Scrolls Online, the broader in scope what your character can do becomes.
How will player customizations be handled?
Players will have a ton of ways to customize their character, some of which I touched on in the question regarding player types. From the very beginning players will choose which alliance they wish to become a part of, which race they are, what they look like, and what skills they wish to start with. As players gain experience in the game, they will choose to add to their health, magicka or stamina, and they will choose which abilities they acquire.
Then there are the other ways they will customize their character: which armor, which weapons and which clothing they will wear. They’ll also make choices in quests and other important situations that will further differentiate their experience from that of other players.
What will the in game economy be like?
What we hope it will be like is players will have to work hard to get the gear they really want, but will feel rewarded every time they do. Obviously having a huge economy, especially in the megaserver environment is going to be a challenge, but we are looking to make sure players never feel poor, but few should ever feel rich. Players should have enough items and in game money to play how they want.
Combat is key to the series so what can you tell us about the combat and casting system in the game?
I really feel players are in for a treat with our combat. You don’t have to hold down a button on your mouse to look around, you just move your mouse.
By default, the primary weapon attack is on the left mouse button, and the longer that button is held down, the harder the attack. Right mouse button blocks and abilities are fired off using the 1-6 keys on the keyboard. We kept the controls simple because what is happening in the game world should be more interesting than what is happening in the UI.
Our combat has a visceral feel to it; you’re looking into the world and you’re reacting to what is going on there. Players are going to feel much more in control of their character. Put simply, if someone played Skyrim or Oblivion, they’re going to be able to get right into our game and play.
What game engine are you using for the game and what are some of the features it allows you to include that are new to the genre?
Our engineering team has worked diligently on our toolset. Players are going to see a large variety of quest content in the game. There will be quests that really are different from what people have played before in MMOs. Our design team has been able to put these quests together fairly quickly given the scope of the quests. The toolset has enabled us to do that.
Also, I’ve shown the game to a lot of different people over the last couple of months. I have not had one person who hasn’t said something about the game being beautiful or pretty. That is a credit to both our art team and our tech team. When you consider that you can also get 200 players on the screen at once and it runs on PCs or MACs that are five years old, then I think you understand why the team is pretty happy with our engineers.
There is also our megaserver tech, our highly reactive combat, our customizability, etc.
What have been the biggest challenges in creating the game and the biggest rewards?
I’d say making sure a service is up and running alongside the game is probably the biggest challenge. You have to have a huge IT effort, customer service team effort, as well as just making the game. You also have to make sure those things are seamless for the player. Players just want to play the game, they don’t care about all those other things unless they aren’t working.
One challenge on the game side has to be making three completely different alliances, each with a completely unique experience. Also challenging is taking something that people really love, like Elder Scrolls, and crafting the right amount of familiarity for fans of the series, while making sure it is still fun in a huge online multiplayer setting.
Tell us about the mass combat abilities of the game and how day/night combat will work please as what we saw at E3 last year looked amazing.
You might be referring to what we call ‘synergy’ abilities. Those abilities are special abilities where one player casts it, and another player can augment it. The system is incredibly simple and is not meant to be a timing puzzle. As long as the player is aware of what is going on around him or her, then it is as easy as walking into a specific area and pressing a key. Again, we want to encourage people to cooperate and have fun playing together.
There is a day/night cycle, but we aren’t commenting on how or if that would affect combat at this time.
Will the game have a branching storyline as it appeared at the E3 preview that players could chose quests and side missions that would alter the look of the landscape and gaming universe.
Players will be able to make a lot of choices in the game. A branching storyline would seem to imply there is only one, and so I want to be careful and say that there are lots of different story lines and many have choices that affect the outcome of that storyline as well as the player’s experience throughout the rest of the game.