I had a chance to chat with the lead designers of the forthcoming Elder Scrolls MMO recently, and I asked them how combat and character progression work. Gameplay designer Nick Konkle talked me through how they've tried to apply the principles of the Elder Scrolls games into an MMORPG.
Your skill bar in The Elder Scrolls Online has six slots, so Nick explained what you can put in each one. With great enthusiasm.
"Your first two slots are derived from your weapon. If I pick up a bow they're bow attacks and if I pick up a sword then they're sword attacks. Anyone can do that and anyone can be good at it. That's sort of a touchstone of Elder Scrolls games, and we wanted to make sure we included that in here.
"Your first two slots are derived from your weapon. If I pick up a bow they're bow attacks and if I pick up a sword then they're sword attacks. If I continue to use that weapon over a period of time, I will get better with it, which will give me a wider variety of things that I can potentially do with my weapon attacks. So I can gain mastery of it by virtue of having it equipped, but I can still pick up any weapon in the game and be good with it. And that's true of anyone.
"On top of that, if I continue to use that weapon over a period of time I will get better with it which will give me a wider variety of things that I can potentially do with my weapon attacks. So I can gain mastery of it by virtue of having it equipped, but I can still pick up any weapon in the game and be good with it and that's true of anyone. I think that's an essential part of it.
"Your next three slots are derived from your class. You will have over the course of your progression many abilities and spells that you will get, more than three. But you want to pick the three that you think will support your weapon loadout in an interesting way.
"So if I picked bow as my sort of principle weapon attack I might pick three abilities that are sort of snares. And that sort of creates a character that you might understand, like: 'Okay, cool, I want to slow up a guy and pick him off and continue to kite him, cause I feel like that's the gameplay I want to do.'
"And your sixth ability is your ultimate. It's also a class ability and I will have more than one available to me through my overall progression but I can only ever put one on my bar because it's really powerful. And you're going to want to pick the one that supports that overall.
"So I might just pick Summon Frost Atronach. And a Frost Atronach's going to fall out of the sky and smash anyone he lands on, and then hang around and start beating on people. Yeah, that totally supports by rangery bow metaphor from earlier. That's the character I wanted to play.
PvP designer Brian Wheeler interjects. "People also scream 'Oh my god that is awesome' when a Frost Atronach comes down."
Nick: "That actually does happen.
"The key is that those abilities, like the weapon, I can start with and use effectively initially, but in order to master I must play with over a long period of time. Which is very much like the Elder Scrolls games, and is our own way of interpreting that.
"And then I think the sort of depth of the system in a lot of ways comes from the fact that you are allowed to swap out those abilities in whatever way you want, as long as you're not currently in a fight.
"So if I'm finding that this build just isn't working and I'm getting countered over and over by sneaky rogues or fireballs, I can take the ability that I feel is going to help me in this scenario, and build a new character and try it out, and have this sort of deck building game... I'll have varying levels of expertise with them, but by trying out various builds and various decks I'm going to become a master of all of them eventually."
We'll have more from the mouths of devs in the next few days, and our own impressions of the game on the 5th.