Elder Scrolls Online's dungeons will be instanced, difficult settings for group play

Elder Scrolls fans are getting really worried about next year's Elder Scrolls Online , for fear that it will simply be a World of Warcraft clone with a thin flavor of Tamriel sprinkled on top. A blog post on ESO's website describes the innerworkings of the game's instanced group-based dungeons, and what it reveals plays a little bit to each side of that argument.

In the post, developers explain that enemies in the same room will operate on a “pack mentality” basis, where an attack on any one of them alerts all of the others. Tanking members of a dungeon group will base their strategy off the knowledge that “By default, a pack of monsters spreads out, and each enemy chooses a target,” as the post explains. “Player actions can change their targets to some extent. For example, taunt abilities force an enemy to attack you for a fixed duration.”

This is worryingly standard MMO construction, as are the enumerated differences between the three members of the Tank/Healer/DPS holy trinity. The tank needs to control the fight by keeping enemies focused on him; the DPS needs to cause damage without bringing too many enemies into the scrap at once; the healer needs to keep an eye on everyone's health bars. So far, so 2005.

But lo! A ray of hopeful sunshine appears! ESO has always promised the open-ended, multiclass play that we love, where an Orc with a penchant for dual-wielding battle axes can also deploy the gentle caress of healing magic. In ESO, skill bars will change depending on the weapons equipped, allowing a single character to switch between various roles depending on their current equipment.

“Let's say your group's healer goes down during a boss battle... You swap your two-handed sword out right in the middle of combat for a restoration staff, which activates your second hotbar (where you've cleverly slotted some healing abilities). Now, you can keep the party going.”

Is this enough to dramatically mix up the rote MMO formula? Is this twist just enough to claim that their game is different, but without actually changing the fundamentals? I suspect that fans on either side of the debate will find evidence for their side.

Elder Scrolls Online is slated for a 2014 release.