Elder Scrolls Online: Deep-diving Morrowind's new Warden class
Along with a new expansive 30-hour long story, Elder Scrolls Online: Morrowind will introduce us to the game's first new class called the Warden, a class I previewed at last week's press event at ZeniMax HQ. And although it is called a "class" because that's the term that gamers understand, Game Director Matt Firor likes to call it a "theme," and the theme of the Warden is nature.
By now, I hope you've seen the Blur Studio trailer for the Morrowind chapter. The Redguard with the giant bear in that trailer represents the Warden. He shows off many of the abilities that are specific to the Warden, including the bear pet. But of course, there's much more to the class than a fuzzy friend, so when I spoke to Game Director Matt Firor and Creative Director Richard Lambert in person, I asked them all about our new class and the role it plays in the expansion.
ESO class basics
For those unfamiliar with the inner workings classes in Elder Scrolls Online, let me explain the basics. In standard class-based MMORPGs, your character has a role and a set of abilities from the beginning of the game to the end. Sometimes, there are variations, but generally speaking, wizard abilities are separate from warrior abilities. In skill-based systems, you are given a number of character points that can be spent in a wide variety of abilities and skills. Warriors could end up having wizard abilities or even skills not even related to combat. Many times in skill-based systems, characters will level in specific skills as they use that skill. For instance, if you use a two-handed sword a lot, you will level up two-handed sword fighting.
Elder Scrolls Online marries those two systems. I like to think that it's a fairly original take on combat meta, but it's just a natural evolution of MMORPG combat (or maybe coming full circle back to classic skill-by-use systems!). Firor was spot on when he called it a theme. Every character has a huge number of skill trees to choose from. Weapons and armor, even guilds and crafting, have their own skill line. It is possible to create a perfectly viable character, filling any role, with non-class skills lines. The class adds flavor or augments these other skill lines by adding three skill lines of its own.
Warden skill lines
I was criticized in my column about the Warden when I said that Warden was the first class to really embrace all three roles of tank, healer, and DPS, but Firor kind of backed me up by saying that the Dragon Knight has the self-buffing line, the movement line, and the extra damage line, which is different from the Warden class. "First of all, the Warden is a theme, and that theme is nature," Firor explained. "How do those skills break down? Really, he has a help-allies line, an animal control/direct damage line, and the self-shielding line. It's up to the players how they want to mix and match between those and the rest of the skills."
Lambert explained in a presentation that the names of those skill lines are Winter's Embrace, Green Balance, and Animal Companion. Let's break those down a little bit.
Winter's Embrace uses ice powers to help shield the player from damage and does some self-healing. Lambert mentioned one of the first abilities shown in the Blur trailer called Polar Wind. Unfortunately, we did not get to really see this ability in the game itself, but Lambert described it as a damage and self-healing ability.
Lambert spent about twice as long describing the Green Balance skill line as he did Winter's Embrace. He explained that the support abilities for the Warden are "conal," meaning that they are targeted healing abilities and not an instant heal for everyone in the group (as some of the other classes handle healing). "You're always moving; you're always positioning yourself in gameplay," he said, hightling the key differences between the way the Warden plays vs. the other healing classes.
I'm guessing that some of the best Warden builds will have a mix of Winter's Embrace and Green Balance, but clearly, Animal Companion is the showcase skill line because Lambert spent a lot of time describing how this skill line works. Lambert detailed the abilities of the Animal Companion line extensively, spending much of the time on the Bear ultimate. The bear itself really becomes a companion for the Warden because once the ultimate is called, it's possible to keep the bear up the whole time if the player takes the correct morph. And something Lambert told me outside of the presentation is that Wardens will actually be able to control the bear's target by giving that target a heavy hit. For instance, if the player uses a bow, he can do a long draw and release with the weapon, and the target that is struck with that arrow will be the bear's new target.
When I asked Lambert and Firor independently who they foresaw actually playing the Warden, I received very similar answers.
Firor said that there ae four reasons that he could see people picking up the Warden as a class, the first one being that it was a new class. Secondly, he thought people would latch onto the nature theme of the class, the players who really enjoy the stock druid archetype. Next and the most obvious, he believed that people would enjoy the bear pet. And lastly, he believed that people who enjoy a bit of everything -- he used the term "jack of all trades"-- would like to pick up this class.
Lambert called the druid archetype a ranger archetype, but the feeling was similar in his description. He said that it would be for those players who want their character to be in touch with nature. He also argued that people who love the bow as a primary weapon would love the synergy between the class skill line and the bow skill line. And lastly, he said that Warden was the ultimate support role because it can do some of everything. If a group needed a little bit more healing, a Warden can do that; if a group needed an off-tank, a Warden could do that, too.
Based on what I saw, I do like the Warden. Although I do believe that it leans on a few gimmicks too much, like the bear and the cliff racer spammable. The balance survivability and versatility of Winter's Embrace and Green Balance will make the class formidable in PvE many situations. I've never known a pet class to be great in PvP or group-based PvE unless it was overpowered, but I am looking forward to playing the class as I solo-play my way through Vvardenfell.
Thanks to Rich Lambert and Matt Firor for taking the time to talk about the Warden. We have a more content from my visit to ZeniMax, so be sure to check it all out!