Zenimax Online Studios has announced a new “One Tamriel” system for The Elder Scrolls Online, and most of my friends seem to really like the idea. I’m not as convinced, but before I get into why let’s recap the story so far.
When TESO launched, it was an ambitious game with 3 factions, each having their own content to level through, though there was a main storyline and some guild storylines that were the same for all players. The downside of this design was that not only did you have to make sure you were on the same server as your friends, you needed to be in the same faction, too. The upside is that if you wanted to roll an alt, you could level up a 2nd (and 3rd) character through content that was new to you.
Since launch things have changed a little. Servers collapsed into mega-servers, for one thing. The new DLC/Expansions are the same for all factions, though each faction gets its own instance. Separate but equal. More importantly, recently ZOS let us start forming cross-faction groups for instanced dungeons. Since you really need a group to do instanced dungeons, this was a great change.
Back to One Tameriel; when it launches all these faction-walls get torn down (the one major exception being the PvP areas). The amount of content will stay the same but you’ll be able to go to any faction you like at any point. Aside from role-play concerns, I don’t see any downside to this aspect of One Tamriel.
Now let’s talk about leveling. At launch your journey through TESO was a classic one of leveling-up and moving from zone to zone as you did so. Cap was level 50 and vanilla TESO content leveled you smoothly through all 50 levels, presenting monsters that would challenge you each step of the way. Since then ZOS has tried a few post-50 systems, I guess (I’ve never got that far). Currently once you hit 50 you start earning Champion Points that you can spend to buff your character in various ways. ZOS is using Champion Points almost like a Gear Score to indicate character and monster power.
Dungeons are treated somewhat differently. Dungeons scale in level (with each having a minimum level), and in particular scale to the level of the group leader.
The leveling system presented another barrier to friends playing together, sort of. If I’m level 40 and my friend is level 20 and we group up, content is either going to be trivial for me, or impossible for him. Personally I don’t see this as a big deal and I’m happy to help out lower level friends but some gamers aren’t interested in playing unless they’re getting rewarded.
The DLC was different from vanilla TESO and worked something like dungeons. To make DLC packs of interest to all players, mobs are all max level, and characters get ‘bolstered’ to max level when they enter these areas. So now if I take my level 40 character and my friend brings his level 20 character, we’d both get boosted to max level and earn awards and experience appropriate for our levels. Sounds good, right?
One Tamriel brings this system to the entire world. Every mob in the world (once you get out of the brief tutorial) will be an equal match to a level 50 character with 160 Champion Points (that’s the current max level for mobs). When you leave the tutorial you’ll be bolstered to the equivalent of a level 50/160 CP character and that’s where you’ll stay forever. Of course you won’t have all the skills of a max level character so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that.
Anyway this is the aspect of One Tamriel that I’m not as sure about. My friends, who are casual players of TESO, think it is awesome because they can group up no matter what level they are. That’s true. But I don’t think many of them are thinking about what is going to happen when they’re not grouped. And let’s face it, in practical terms most of us spend a lot of time soloing whether we want to or not.
Under the current system if you find a quest or a world boss or an open dungeon that is too difficult for you, you can just skip it, gain a few levels, then come back and try it again. Maybe your gear isn’t up to snuff. Maybe you’ve put together a feeble build and are still trying to work out the kinks. Maybe it’s content intended for several players (world bosses or dolmens come to mind) but there’s no one around. You can just come back later when you’re more powerful and try again.
As someone who solos a lot, I have had to lean on this system pretty heavily at times. It goes away with One Tamriel. No longer will you be able to skip world bosses and come back and mop the floor with them later. If there aren’t a group of players hanging around, world bosses, open dungeons and dolmens will probably be beyond your ability to solo. The exception will be folks who’ve been playing long enough to get best-in-class gear and who have perfected their builds. But casual players, the ones this system seems to be built for? They’re going to be frustrated. When they don’t have a group, a lot of content is going to be beyond them.
Basically in the same way that casual solo players have to skip dungeons now, they’ll have to skip world bosses, dolmens and public dungeons once One Tamriel hits. As a casual solo player, I’m pretty bummed about this.
Of all the MMOs out there, TESO has been one of the most solo-friendly I’ve played and that’s a big part of why I enjoy it. It’s fun having that single-player story-driven gameplay but in a world where you see other players and do kind of organically help them out. To me its the best of both worlds, but I have to just skip the instanced dungeons. Fortunately for me by the time One Tamriel arrives I’ll be comfortably at cap so it won’t impact me much, but I think we’ll see a lot of casual players return and find that maybe the system isn’t quite as awesome as they’d hoped it would be.
I’m hoping there’s some aspect of this system that I’m not quite getting and that solo players will still be able to progress smoothly through all the content. I guess we’ll find out this Fall.