Posted Mon, Oct 22, 2012 by Sardu
According to Zenimax creative director Paul Sage, they’re aiming for the ballpark of 150 hours of gameplay for most players to reach the level cap of 50. That said, character advancement offers so much more depth than your basic level progression system, and it would be an injustice to bring too much attention to basic leveling as a result.
Don’t get me wrong; character levels will obviously matter in the grand scheme of things. Each time you level you earn one point that can be placed into Health, Magicka or Stamina which in turn helps shape the strengths of your character in combat. For example, placing points into Magicka on my dragonknight would have allowed me to use my skills more often, or begin shaping my character into more of a hybrid role.
Instead, I opted to focus on being a bit more of an avoidance tank so initially focused on Stamina. That allowed me to block attacks more often, and even quickly unlock a passive ability that let me move 20% faster while using sprint.
While character levels are a great means of marking overall progression in an RPG setting, Zenimax made the extremely smart decision to hardwire a form of alternate advancement into the game right from the word go. As you gain experience not only will it directly impact level advancement, but it will also allow you to progress your combat abilities.
As a result, TESO neatly combines the best of both worlds in terms of being both a level- and skill-based MMOG. Since you can ultimately equip and use any armor or weapon in the game, that means you’ll be able to continue refining your character’s combat style and role well beyond the level cap. And since that advancement is linked to active usage, it also means the system won’t feel like such a flat, arbitrary decision between cookie-cutter builds that more traditional talent tree systems ultimately devolve into.
While there will be plenty of other classes to choose from in the live game, for our hands-on session we were given the choice between the Templar and Dragonknight. Since Jeff opted to pilot a templar (his thoughts on the class are included below) I went with a dark elf dragonknight. For the sake of full disclosure here, I almost always play a caster as my main character, though have certainly done my fair share of tanking over the years. In particular, I’ve spent the bulk of my MMOG career playing necromancers (or the closest equivalent) in any game that has them. As such, the Elder Scrolls series always tends to crack me up in the sense that I’m already an outcast in that setting before ever taking my first steps in the world.
As for my first steps as a dragonknight, the combat style it offers will largely depend on the decisions you make for your equipped weapons or armor. For our demo time I mainly stuck to wielding a two-handed sword which transformed my character into a viable tank through the use of crowd control or other manipulations. With one skill I could pull enemies towards me and briefly stun them, and from there I had the option to either block larger incoming attacks, or use another stun to interrupt my target instead.
As such I rarely took very much damage, and could keep enemies pinned down with minimal effort. The charged attacks from my 2-handed sword certainly didn’t lack in the damage department either, so it was easy to feel like a total badass most of the time.
Bear in mind that players will have a lot more options to consider in the live game, so the dragonknight you end up creating could just as easily pick up a fire staff and equip light armor, playing out more like a caster than an in-your-face melee powerhouse.
TESO's Templar is the rough equivalent of a Templar in EverQuest II: a heavy armor wearing hybrid healer perfectly at home in the thick of melee combat. As only the Ebonhart Pact races were in the game (and due in no small part to a love of race / class irony), I chose the Dark Elves over the lizardlike Argonians and the brawny Nords. As the first NPC I met commented, the Nords are the arms of the Ebonhart nations, the Argonians are the beating heart, and the Dark Elves... well, the dark elves are the brains of the operation. And to be an effective healer, you've got to have brains.
Interestingly, ZeniMax chose to have healing ride on the Stamina attribute, which makes the decision each level harder for the Templar than perhaps any other class. More tankish templars might opt to put their points in Health to increase their survivability, while endgame Templars acting as alternate healers might with to increase their healing pool with points in Magicka. I opted to go all in with Stamina, hoping to unlock the first progression ability five points in, which simply augmented my healing. That came in handy when working both in a group and solo. The Sun Strike ability acted as a self-heal plus melee damage, and the level 6 burst AoE heal easily kept nearby groupmates off the ground. The other early ability I unlocked with the sword-and-board weapon set was a medium range direct damage ability, useful for short-range pulls, closing on archers and other ranged units, and building aggro.
The Templar might lack an early signature skill, such as the Dragonguard's Scorpion from Mortal Kombat-esque "Get over here!" grappling hook. What the class lacks in panache, it makes up for in utility. And, while I couldn't prove this for sure in the time alloted, the built-in self-heals seem to make for a bigger finesse bonus than otherwise. Finesse is a rating you get for each fight - a rough measure of damage sustained vs. damage given per encounter - with a corresponding bonus for fighting efficiently. Whether because I had a one-handed sword and shield equipped, or because I naturally kept myself topped up on health, I seemed to get "Excellent" finesse ratings more often than other folks around me.