Elder Scrolls Online: chaotic mass slaughter in PvP

Obviously PvP mode is a big thing in massive multiplayer online role-playing games. Lots of players don’t like it. Others love the concept of crossing virtual blades with actual humans rather than predictable computer-controlled opponents. Elder Scrolls Online introduces a PvP mode, which neatly separates the player vs player combat into a specially equipped area separate from the rest of the online role-playing game. Well, in theory.

The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) adventure begins northwest around Glenumbra. In this lush, wooded area I went all out last weekend, completing quests and keeping the peace in the dungeons. Although my character has clearly overcome the PvP hurdle of a minimum level 10, there was a problem.

On the wrong track for battle

The battle arena of the competitive multiplayer is in Cyrodiil, centrally located in Elder Scrolls Online’s fantasy world of Tamriel. So how do I get from my starting point to the action? The search for an answer to this naive question led me through areas that were way too advanced for my experience level.

Painfully, I learned just how persistent the evil creatures guarding the way could be. After I unlocked an achievement for 1,000 kills and paid a fortune to repair my threadbare kit, I was desperately looking for another way to my destination. In the depths of the menus, I found it.

Alliance war in Cyrodiil – with obstacles!

According to the Alliance menu, I could teleport myself directly into the Cyrodiil PvP area. Great, I thought, let’s go! But nothing happened. A bug prevented me from using the mouse to see the fight, so no battle for me!

Friendly teammates offered useful tips, but only restarting my PC solved the problem. I guess that’s just the way betas are. Once I got it working again, I could join an alliance and get into battle!

The usual chaos of a castle siege

When I joined the fight, it was already in full swing. I could see on the map where the action was taking place. The road spanned a huge area. With no horse, I traveled on foot for quite a while. In the center of the action, catapults were already in front of the castle wall for a shot on the castle which was ripe for attack.

My attacking group almost had the maximum 24 players, though alliances can consist of far more groups and players. There could conceivably be battles with hundreds of participants. To conduct the attack in a somewhat coordinated fashion, the group is divided into six small groups of four players, a good method for tactical skirmishes.

In reality, everything was pretty far from tactical. To be honest, getting the players to operate in an organized fashion was like herding cats. Once the castle gate gave way to the catapults and everyone made their way into the courtyard, players promptly ran directly into a deadly trap.

Elder Scrolls Online - PvP Siege

Catapults attack the castle siege gates, then the melee followed

The defenders were no longer throwing flaming debris over the wall; they abandoned the gate, retreated to the courtyard and prepared for the storm that was to come. We ran straight into two flanks. After the fatal error, we had an opportunity to respawn and improve for the next time. They managed to occupy the courtyard and enter the castle, where the same bloody massacre repeated itself.

All in all, it must be noted that tactics, good leadership, communication and time play an important role in the alliance war. In the press event, taking a single castle dragged on for quite a while. Manufacturer Zenimax Online maintains that 15 minutes is all that’s needed to take a completely unguarded castle, but it’s rarely as easy as that. And it’s also not just about conquering a castle. Wars aren’t just won overnight!

Balance, points, alliance victory and emperors

Not every player has to rush into battle. Instead, you can support players who are struggling with raw materials and custom-built siege weapons like catapults or rams. Killing enemies and conquering fortresses aren’t the only ways to get points. Whoever wins the most points at the end of a war can call himself Emperor and enjoy the benefits for himself and his alliance – until another player wins the title, of course.

Weaker players are advised to take on support roles because the very different game progress, at least during the beta, isn’t really fair. You can lay into enemies without causing them significant damage, for example, while several well-placed blows will produce nothing more than a bloody nose.

Everything at a glance: UI in combat

Keeping an overview of a 24-man group is a big challenge. Here, TESO has a distinct advantage over Final Fantasy XIV, which also introduces a 24-person view with the recently launched Crystal Tower – but has a severely impaired overview. The advantage of TESO lies in a clear, direct combat system that operates, in contrast to many competing games, without complicated menus. The user interface is tidy enough to be able to have an alliance window showing all participants in the upper left corner, so you’ve got everything in view.

Somewhere between PvP and RPG

The Elder Scrolls Online PvP blurs the boundaries of MMORPGs. There are still all the typical roleplaying classes, as well as lots of tactics more common in strategy games. The game mode feels like a live view of Stronghold Crusader from a first person perspective, while the respawns and the Conquer mode also faintly remind us of a shooter.

Megaserver is a role play killer?

A weakness of PvP in Elder Scrolls Online is  the megaserver, as we’ve already discussed. While in World of Warcraft you must make a conscious decision between a server with difficulty points for role play or PvP, or in Final Fantasy XIV, with its wolf cave completed in a PvP arena, in TESO there’s more overlap. The PvP fighting takes place in Cyrodiil, while at the same time rumors are circulating that ordinary quests and dungeons are also available.

For this reason, it’s conceivable that less interested players might be drawn into fighting in PvP. Central story elements or end game raids should be solely reserved for winning alliances. If this decision is actually made in the final version of Elder Scrolls Online, it will scare role players off.

Conclusion: hectic castle siege action with a sprinkling of tactics

Chaos, chaos and…wait for it…more chaos! This best describes my first PvP experience in Elder Scrolls Online. During the beta phase, the world was inundated with other players and the sudden back and forward between players seemed confused and urgent.

As well as this, I felt a sort of sense of community for the first time, and I’m sure that care will be taken in the final game version to include capable and performance-based alliance leaders for organized and successful castle raids.

However, the fights are pretty tough; they’re lengthy, monotonous, and poorly balanced. On top of that you need to be prepared for lots of role players disturbing the PvP: aggressive, sullen players, who aren’t fast or good enough. If there is actually an overlap of PvP and roleplaying, and PvP is needed for the conclusion of the story, it’s not something to celebrate.

In short: as things stand now, we weren’t too excited by TESO PvP and it doesn’t come close to the cautiously optimistic first impression of the rest of the game. Zenimax Online now has a lot to improve on when it comes to balancing and ensuring that role players aren’t disturbed by PvP.

Read our preview of Elder Scrolls Online!

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