Everything we know (and don't know) about dungeons in Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls Online

A lot of information about Bethesda's upcoming MMO has been coming out over the past couple weeks since its announcement, and the reveals aren't always encouraging. There will be a Thieves Guild questline ? Awesome. Character customization is being sacrificed for PvP balance ? Not awesome.

Yesterday, EDGE revealed the first details of The Elder Scrolls Online's dungeon systems, which the developers call " public dungeons ." From the details we've uncovered about them so far, however, that might be a bit of a misnomer. Here's what we know—and don't know—so far.

What we know

1. There will be instanced dungeons that are open to everyone

Game director Matt Firor told EDGE that these dungeons are areas of the world "designed for people who are not grouped together to go into to fight." The article mentions a low-level Daedric catacomb as one example. He also says that public dungeons were his favorite part of EverQuest and they've clearly inspired their design for their own public dungeons.

2. They will be prevalent

No specific number is given, but Firor says that "there are a lot of them." In our video , the developers refer to a player just stumbling across a public dungeon while playing in the open world.

3. You will be able to solo them

Now this is a weird one that really makes me wonder if the "public dungeon" label is a bit misleading. The way that a public dungeon is described in the article makes it sound like a lot like an open-world zone without quests and with more enemies.

Firor explains, "Each one of these public dungeons is soloable... but they're also dangerous. Lots of creatures, very close together. Basically, if you solo it, you'll need to find a place to heal, and then you might find another player there who's exactly like you, and needs help, and then you can fall in together. You'll have met someone that, hopefully, you'll want to stick around with later on.”

4. There will also be private dungeons and end-game raids

The instanced private dungeons and raids will host groups of up to six players

What we don't know

1. If there will be bosses

Bosses are never mentioned, although it seems likely that there will be some in each public dungeon area. All indication is that those bosses, if they exist, will still be soloable. That's very uncommon for what most MMO players will think of as "dungeons," but DC Universe Online does have a similar sort of content (although not public): instanced areas with dense enemies and soloable bosses.

2. How big they are

The only specific dungeon mentioned is "a grand series of catacombs with lofty ceilings and walls of rusty brown stone," which sounds expansive and, importantly, non-linear. The only mention of the number of players a public dungeon can contain is found in a different interview and is vaguely defined as "many."

3. If PvP will be allowed inside

So far, it sounds like public dungeons will be allies-only affairs. The author of the article asserts that public dungeon's are key to the socializing aspect of the game, designed to encourage players to meet one another, team up, and work together.

When Firor explains the inspiration behind public dungeons, he seems to indicate that there will be no PvP: "When you think back to the fun MMOG moments in the first generation, it's standing there, terrified, in an enclosed space, waiting for someone to come along and save you. We can't do that punitive gameplay that they did in those days, but we can put people together in places where they want to work with others.”

4. How exactly they're different from open world zones

If any number of players can run inside a public dungeon without grouping up, and that area hosts vast non-linear terrain and enemies that are soloable, what makes public dungeons different from open-world zones? Is it simply that there's a loading screen to enter it, or is it something more?

The most obvious potential answers would be that there are no quest hubs, that it's designed to be more challenging than the open-world content of the same level, or that enemies don't respawn inside of it. But nothing was specifically called out in the interview.

So what's our best guess?

If we're stepping into the uncertain land of speculation, it sounds to me like "public dungeons" will be parts of the open world that players can run into at any time that will have slightly more challenging enemies inside of them.

Location-wise, it could be very similar to the group-quest areas on Star Wars: The Old Republic's planets. Those areas in TOR are seamlessly hooked into the open world, but in TOR still break players into separate instances based on who you're grouped with--in TESO it would all be one big instance that anyone can run into at any time. In TESO, they would likely be areas of the world that would obviously appear more challenging--something that's typical for Elder Scrolls games.

For example, you could be running around a mountainside and see a door in the side of the cliff. As you approach, you see that it's labeled as the entrance to a Vampire lair. Any player can run inside of it, but you'd expect that the enemies inside, being a badass vampire clan, will likely be more difficult to take down than a couple of wandering wolves in the forest.

As you fight your way through the cave, I'd expect there to be multiple paths to travel and respawning vampires. You may also run into another player who's desperately fighting for his life against the hordes of undead blood-suckers. You save his life and he decides to help you. As you push deeper into the cave together, you spot a more powerful vampire in the distance--he's a boss. You take him down and he drops a rare item for everyone that helped. You may find a helpless prisoner then asking you to escort him to the cave entrance. You can leave at any time, or keep killing vampires for hours as other players come and go.

Again, most of this is still speculation at this point, but it is along the same lines of the general philosophy and goals for public dungeons that the developers have expressed so far. We'll keep an eye out for more details on all aspects of The Elder Scrolls Online as more information continues to be released, and will keep you updated on the site.