Last week, I spent some time kicking the tires of The Elder Scrolls Online's PvE gameplay and learning its systems. Armed with that knowledge, I stood a fighting chance in checking out the PvP, and I had just enough time to learn the basics before participating in the war effort. Far from the instanced battlegrounds of World of WarCraft, the game's PvP is more akin to past games like Warhammer Online. The end result feels much more like a war, though we only got a guided taste of what it has to offer.
All PvP combat in ESO takes place in the realm of Cyrodiil, which was the backdrop for most of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The roughly triangular-shaped map is scattered with keeps, and each of the three factions starts with a foothold in one of the corners of the map. Additionally, each faction begins with a pair of Elder Scrolls and has the goal of possessing all six scrolls. These scrolls are said to award faction-wide benefits once in the possession of an alliance, but we didn't get the chance to see these benefits for ourselves.
The game's implementation of PvP is a lot to take in, so it's good that the main quest line walks you through the basics. Keeps are important to capture but require at least a full raid's worth of players if there are any defenders. Outlying points of interest near keeps, such as sawmills and mines, can be captured by smaller groups of players. Finally, solo players may find work scouting the positions of enemy raid groups or killing enemies as they travel to a fight. Fast travel is possible from a wayshrine to a keep or between keeps that are not under attack. This contributes to a strategic element for the flow of players, since you can't teleport to a keep that's under siege.
In my experience, I met up with fellow Ebonhart Pact members at a specified time on the server to join the war effort. ESO doesn't feature any built-in VoIP support, so we used a third-party tool for voice chat. Our objective was simple: Take some nearby keeps and gain more territory for our faction. We rode out from the starting area as a group and started moving toward our first target.
All outlying areas around a keep, such as mines and lumber mills, are defended by a small group of high-level NPCs. Due to the defenders' numbers and heightened aggro range, only groups of players can take over these areas. For our raid group, the NPCs were easily steamrolled, and we were able to establish a perimeter around the target keep. To claim it for ourselves, we had to break its walls, and that required siege equipment.
Siege equipment can be purchased from any quartermaster in the PvP area and consist of ballista, catapults and trebuchets. The leader of the raid group placed a series of trebuchets, and as I manned one to take down the keep's walls, other members of the group watched the perimeter for approaching enemy players. The outer wall is composed of many sections that have individual health bars. Hammer on one section with enough trebuchets long enough, and it crumbles, allowing you to advance inside. Players of the faction defending the keep can freely use the door, which teleports you to the other side, meaning enemy players can't slip in.
Once inside the keep, the fighting gets a lot more consolidated, with attackers and defenders duking it out in the courtyard and on the walls. The attackers must then deploy new siege engines in one of those two locations to hammer the keep's walls. These walls are also broken up into multiple sections, and once breached, the fighting takes place within the halls and stairwells of the keep. The objective is to take over key points inside the keep and hold them unopposed for some time to claim them as your own. Even after a keep is claimed, the fight isn't over for the attackers, who must buy repair kits to fix the holes they've created in the walls.
There are a fair amount of tactical options available. In our case, we had a second raid group attacking the other side of the keep, and the two groups breached opposing sides at the same time in an attempt to overwhelm the defenders. Other groups scouted for forward camps, which serve as temporary spawn locations for the enemy. Your faction can have other groups harassing defenders who respawned and are trying to make it back to the keep, or they could have other actions occurring in nearby areas to spread out a faction's efforts. It needs a lot of coordination, but the systems are there to make it possible.
The experience could still use a bit of tweaking. There needs to be a method of marking players, since it's hard to form up on a raid leader when there's a sea of identical player icons. The lack of built-in VoIP is a glaring flaw given the obvious need in any large-scale operations. Finally, I encountered a few instances of getting thrown across the map — sometimes 50 feet or so. One time, I even took a ballistic trajectory all the way across Cyrodiil to my death in a distant mountain range. It's probably fair to chalk up the latter issue to it being a beta.
The implementation of faction warfare in The Elder Scrolls Online is a lot more than your basic instanced battlegrounds, and it's much larger in scale. It'll take bands of players cooperating in large groups to make a dent in the enemy factions, but in my experience, it was a lot of fun. It remains to be seen how well things will balance out, but with what's in place, there is a lot of potential. We'll know more once the title launches and real players have spent time with the game and organized guilds and raiding parties.
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