Posted Tue, Mar 05, 2013 by ricoxg
So, you need the reliability of level-based progression and classes, but you really want to maintain the realism and immersive feeling of skill-based systems. What to do? Well, that’s where the folks at Bethesda showed their genius all those years ago--they used both. By tying health, stamina, and mana to a basic level-based progression system, while allowing the player to get better at weapons, crafting, and magic-use through a skill-based system, The Elder Scrolls series hit a home run. They could even penalize players for engaging in unlawful activity through skill atrophy, without actually limiting their ability.
Bethesda created a hybrid system drawing out the strengths of the various parts of skill-based progression while making up for the weaknesses of the whole. Why, then, is Zenimax changing that formula? Don’t they recognize genius when they see it. Well, I think I know what Zenimax is doing and why; you just have to take a step back and try to see if from a developer’s perspective.
We all hate the concept of the MMO holy trinity, but at the end of the day, how can you get away from it? It has to be insanely difficult to create content that’s as enjoyable for a squad of fire-slinging mages as it is for the same number of axe-wielding warriors. I think that’s the problem faces, and I believe that’s why they’ve chosen to go the route they have, with level-based classes and skill-based weapons progression. But will it work for this IP?
I actually do see this hybrid system as a big departure from the proven Bethesda model, and I object strongly to the idea of classes. We’ve seen plenty of athletes make the transition from sports to acting (and eventually even murdering, but I digress), so why shouldn’t a player be able to transition from warrior to mage? In the other Elder Scrolls games, you can.
If the only point of skill progression in weapons is to make players feel like they’re playing a real Elder Scrolls game, and true power is determined by special skills and abilities tied to classes and levels, then the system is really just a cop-out. Zenimax appears to be taking the easy road, like every other recent developer, rather than daring to build the game fans want to see. There are so many other options. Gear condition/durability could have been tied to skill rather than level. Mob abilities could have been tweaked to require more diverse groups. There’s already an ability-slotting system a la Guild Wars 2 that resolves potential PvP issues inherent with acquiring too many skills over time.
We know ESO is so much more than skills and levels, and with all the lore, PvP concepts, and other mechanics in store for the new game, I don’t think you can call the class system a deal breaker.
I can accept some slightly restrictive level-based content, though I really don’t think it’s necessary. What I really find troubling is the concept of classes with skills tied to them in an Elder Scrolls game. There are no classes in the Elder Scrolls franchise, and I know Zenimax is worried about what happens when they have the stealthy guy with a giant axe, but adding classes to a traditionally skill-based game isn’t the way to fix that problem.
Also, this idea that you should have to build content around the outdated concept of the trinity is a bit of a sticking point for me as well. If ESO is the realization of the dream many players have had while playing the earlier games, then you have to recognize that part of that dream is the idea of self-determination, a sandbox-like character design if you will.
Honestly, I think I might be preaching to the choir here. Zenimax has really gone out of their way to deemphasize the role of classes in the game, and even admitted as much in a recent post on the official site. It may be too late to rework such a core mechanic, but if they realize they’re not heading in precisely the right direction, they can take steps to minimize the impact and position themselves for a better resolution post-release. But, the first step is admitting you have a problem, at least internally. I doubt we’ll ever get a frank response on the subject, but there’s only so much openness a developer can have without suffering a lot of fan backlash, so you can’t blame them.
I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. We know ESO is so much more than skills and levels, and with all the lore, PvP concepts, and other mechanics in store for the new game, I don’t think you can call the class system a deal breaker. Zenimax has managed to grab the tiger by the tail, and they are trying to turn one of the most beloved RPGs in modern gaming history into an MMO. I can only imagine the challenges they’re facing. Still, you can’t change one of the core concepts of a franchise and expect it to go over well.
This is a noble task and a difficult one, but the way to overcome these problems isn’t to fall back on antiquated systems, but rather to forge new ones. Despite the potential issues I see on the horizon, I do still find myself excited to see where one of my favorite series of games goes next. I think the game still has a solid chance to be great, and that’s why I feel someone has to step up and say, “Dare to be different, Zenimax!” Now is the time. Build the game we deserve.