Updated Wed, May 29, 2013 by Dalmarus
Easily one of the most anticipated MMORPG titles of this year, The Elder Scrolls Online is looking to bring the genre back to some of its roots. For too long, players have been forced to play in completely instanced dungeons, isolated from their comrades in arms. While loading up into your own private dungeon has a certain appeal, it keeps players from being able to have spontaneous and friendship-forming interactions. For the last few weeks you've been reading my thoughts on various staples from EverQuest and why I feel we need to see a resurgence of them in today's games. After getting some hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls Online recently, it looks like part of my wish may finally come true.
The concept of public dungeons isn't new by any means, but it may seem so to today's modern gamer. It's been a very long time since we've seen their implementation and I can't wait to see their return in The Elder Scrolls Online. There's nothing like the thrill of being in a knock-down-drag-out fight to the death deep in the bowels of some horrific dungeon and seeing a friendly adventurer come around the corner at just the right moment to turn the tide of battle. Some of the best friends I ever made in games were those who either rescued me from the jaws of death or those I saved from the same fate.
When I entered the first dungeon I came across in ESO (I found three in my wanderings), I wasn't aware any of them were public. Imagine my surprise when, as I made my way through monsters and bandits alike, I saw two fellow players come running down the pathway with a train of trouble on their tail. While I have fond memories of screaming, "Train to zone" playing EverQuest, rest assured that you won’t be destroyed by a hoard of monsters running after anyone in The Elder Scrolls Online. When a monster aggros on a player, it aggros on that specific player. Anyone it passes by (assuming, of course, you didn't join in the battle), will be ignored as though they simply don't exist. When they reach the end of their imaginary leash, monsters will return to their starting point without collecting $200 or passing go. This will prevent hoards of players from being griefed and trolled by players who love to train mobs of... well... mobs... onto other players for the joy of seeing them die.
Along with other players being able to join you, another aspect from older games is making its return in ESO’s dungeons -- respawning mobs. There's nothing quite like the first time you enter a dungeon and stop to look around, just to have a group of monsters spawn on top of you. This ensures that everyone is moving forward and making progress. Hanging around too long can result in hilarious if unexpectedly deadly repercussions.
Two staples of the Elder Scrolls series will be immediately noticeable as you make your way through the depths of the various dungeons. First up are books. You’ll find tons upon tons of books on the floor, on tables, on shelves, and in other nooks and crannies. Like their predecessors, you'll want to be sure to actually search them because some of them will grant automatic skill point increases for various aspects of your character, such as light armor, one-handed weapons, etc. With an incomprehensible amount of books scattered throughout the lands waiting to be discovered, you're going to spend plenty of time hunting if you hope to ever track them all down.
The second instantly recognizable system in the dungeons is the locking mechanism you’ll find on chests. While it varies slightly from previous Elder Scroll iterations, the locking system relies on player skill to manipulate the lock tumblers in a limited amount of time. Sound is crucial for this skill as you have to listen for the correct rumble that will let you know it's time to secure that particular tumbler in place. Right now, ESO has no lock picking skill. What's this mean for players? Every lock you pick will be opened with one thing and one thing only -- player skill. A successful unlock won’t involve some arbitrary number in the cloud of your computational pixelated world, but real hand, eye, and ear coordination.
To ensure players all have a fair shot at opening chests, your character is locked out from trying again for a few seconds if you fail your attempt. This gives another player a shot at it. If they fail, they too are locked out for a few seconds while someone else attempts to open the chest. I'm excited to see how this plays out in a fully populated world. The stress induced by knowing that others are standing there waiting for their opportunity in case you fail may affect the players’ ability to open their locks under pressure. And in case I forgot to mention it, you better hope you open that chest on the first attempt, because if someone else opens it instead, that chest is gone. Sure, it will eventually spawn again, but awaiting its return won’t be worthwhile.
Unlike previous iterations of public dungeons back in the day, ESO has no kill stealing. As long as you do at least 10% of the monster’s total health in damage or healing, you will receive full credit for the kill. In other words, it always pays to help your fellow players out in combat. There is no reason not to. Today’s players may not be accustomed to working with other random individuals in dungeons, but some of my best times gaming were in similar situations. Could this be the beginning of a happier, more cooperative MMORPG community? It’s too early to say, but at this stage in the game’s development, it looks promising.