The second media beta event for The Elder Scrolls Online was focused on the PvP aspect of the game. Before I get on a roll here with my first impressions, I'm going to freely admit to some of my more prominent biases:
- Generally speaking, I am not much of a PvP guy. I'm terrible at it and don't enjoy it enough to really want to get better. That particular bias has colored a number of my previous articles.
- I have never played games with supposedly similar PvP systems - Dark Age of Camelot, for example, was kind of "before my time." So I'm going to avoid making any kind of direct comparisons to other games, and instead focus on the overall experience.
- I was only able to participate in one of the two big events over the course of the weekend, so my hands-on time was brief. But first impressions are usually formed very quickly.
There are a couple of very good reasons why I was only able to join in on the Monday afternoon event. For starters, my character wasn't yet level 10 when the first event rolled around, owing largely to my delayed introduction the previous weekend. When there were no scheduled events, Cyrodiil was a dead zone - something to be expected on a closed beta server. I headed to Cyrodiil the moment I hit level 10, but I was really only able to do the introductory PvE-style quests.
To be perfectly honest, I could have engaged in some PvP between Friday and Monday. There were a few people hanging around in Cyrodiil during the off-hours, looking for groups and engaging in small skirmishes with the enemy. But that's not what the events were about, and dead PvP is about as depressing as a game can get. Monday's event gave me a more proper feel for what things will be like when the game goes live. And I gotta say... I didn't hate it.
For Monday's event, at least two more-or-less cooperative Daggerfall Covenant groups, totalling around 40 or 50 people, formed up with the idea to re-take a captured keep or two. The operations started with smaller-scale battles, capturing a mine and a lumber camp located near our main target. Then everyone kind of switched gears and brought out the big guns. Literally.
What I didn't know at the time was that the Elder Scrolls Online's idea of PvP is as much about manning siege weaponry as it is about circle-strafing and all the other douchey twitch combat that everyone in the damn world except for me has apparently mastered. Had I known this going in, I would have been much more enthusiastic about it. Also, I would have brought a siege engine kit or two with me.
But, since it was my first time out there and I'm not a PvP guy at heart, I had no idea what to expect or what to bring to the party. I picked up a few hints during my brief play time, though, so for future reference:
- Do the tutorials. You get some PvP currency to spend, and you can buy some necessary supplies. Also, pick up the missions posted on the bounty boards, because those pay in PvP currency also.
- There are a bunch of different things you can spend that PvP currency on, but the most important are repair kits and siege weapons. Buy some. If you plan on doing a lot of PvP, buy lots.
- You have a Soul Trap spell - it's under "World" on your skills list. Slot that skill while taking out the minor outposts and fill up some Grand Soul Gems - you'll need to buy those with regular coin, and they're not cheap, but they're damned handy when your allies start dying off in the middle of a big battle and you can't wait for them to run all the way back from the nearest respawn point miles away.
- During the gate-attack phase, keep your team's siege weapons healthy if you're not one of the guys actually firing the things. Buy some kits and use them. And if you can heal the engineers, do that, too. There's always something you can be doing if you have the consumables and spells for it.
- Oh yeah - slot the consumables in your quick-slot rotary dial thing. Open your inventory and hold Q, and put them in one of the spots there. When you want to use one, hold Q again and hover your cursor over the item you want to use, then tap Q to use it. That particular function of the game wasn't mentioned in any tutorials or pop-ups that I noticed, and is not properly explained in the siege weapons tutorial mission, but it's the only way to use the repair kits and such.
Attacking a keep is a multi-stage operation. It starts with some small-scale skirmishing at the walls, taking out the NPC guards and whatnot, and dealing with enemy players if they are present. If there are enemy players present, the most dangerous will most likely be the ones up on the walls firing arrows and spells from behind the parapets, and the only way to deal with them in that position is to shoot at them with a siege weapon.
This is basically the whole deal when capturing a smaller outpost like a mine - kill the NPCs around the flag and capture it, the outpost is yours. It's more or less simple group tactics like one might use for a boss fight in a dungeon. It requires coordination and some degree of competence, but it can be done with a pick-up group no problem.
After the NPC mop-up comes the fun part - deploying the trebuchets, catapults and ballistae. The more of these units the group has at their disposal, the quicker the gates can be busted open. Between our two mostly-cooperative groups, we had a forest of trebuchets raining buckets of fire on the keep gates. The first keep was mostly undefended - that is, it contained only NPC defenders, and no enemy players. We captured it handily, and then endeavored to repeat our victory with another Aldmeri Dominion-owned keep to the southeast.
It was really nothing personal against the Aldmeri Dominion. They just owned most of the map. They were the yellow guys, we were the blue guys.
The second keep was much better defended. Dominion players had set up inside the walls, and the fighting was brutal and bloody. Archer snipers on top of the walls made life difficult for anyone trying to pull the guards, and enemy ballistae and catapults rained fire and diseased meat on our siege weaponry.
Defending players seem to have a massive advantage. We had 40 - 50 Daggerfall Covenant players attacking the keep, and there were far fewer Dominion players defending it - it seemed like fewer than 10 at any one time - but their small force working in conjunction with the tough NPC defenders prevented us from capturing the keep. It was a close fight - we managed to push our way into the keep at one point, and had people assaulting the flag rooms. But the defenders managed to kill every one of the attackers inside the keep and drove us back out into the courtyard, and eventually back out into the field outside the walls.
I'm saying "we" a lot because I really felt like a part of the group, but I really don't feel that my terribly sub-optimal, under-geared level 10 Dragonknight contributed much to the battle. Attacking a keep is tough work for a melee character - you often take a lot of missile and magic fire before you can close in with your sword or maul, and you have nothing to throw against archers and mages up on the walls who are sniping the crap out of you. Additionally, a scaled-up level 10 character is still slogging around in trash gear and using under-powered attacks against characters that are naturally twice his level or more. Right off the bat, my character was at a disadvantage.
Compounded with this was my terrible "exploratory" character build - when I first learned early on that I could potentially use every kind of weapon, it immediately became imperative that I do so. As a result, no one weapon skill was particularly well-developed, and my DPS was quite poor. A strong PvP build will focus on only a few weapons - one of them ranged - and probably use a lot of self-heals, roots and other crowd-control, and damage-over-time effects. My lower-level Templar character, who has access to all of these at level 6, would have been more effective melee combatant overall than my higher-level but unfocused Dragonknight. And as a healer, he would have contributed a lot more to the team.
I'll say it again - normally, I hate PvP. And if this had been the same kind of skirmish-y twitch-and-gank-fest that seems to be the focus of every other game, I would have hated it here too. But I actually found myself wanting more of it after the event died out and the group dissolved. Attacking keeps with a big group is crazy fun, even for a dedicated PvE guy like myself. I got smacked down a few times by enemy players utilizing dirty tactics, sure, but most of the big-group stuff wasn't about the 1-on-1 circle-twitch battles or dog-piles that usually annoy the hell out of me. Instead, I got to use trebuchets, and that's freakin' awesome.