Tamriel Infinium: Cracking Craglorn’s overhaul with Elder Scrolls Online’s Rich Lambert

First and foremost: One Tamriel puts all players on an even playing field in Elder Scrolls Online PvE. Players can go where they want when they want. They can play the game the way they like in the order that they like to play it. I’ve already admitted how much I like the concept – and how much I think it feels more like an open-world, multiplayer Elder Scrolls game.

Looking back, I think the One Tamriel idea started to surface with the Orsinium DLC. What I was also interested in was how an area like Craglorn — which had always been an endgame zone cut off by the now defunct Veteran Ranks and forced group content — had changed because of this new vision of gameplay. I was really curious what the One Tamriel update did to the zone, and how it became more solo-friendly. I was also curious about the reason behind some of the changes coming in the next update. And I was also afraid that making the content more universal would make it less difficult, and frankly, unfun.

You guys are in for a real treat today. Not only did I spend some time on the test center actually playing through the Craglorn content, but I was also was able to connect with Creative Director Rich Lambert at ZeniMax Online Studios. He answered many of my initial concerns, and the gameplay through Craglorn answered the rest.

ti-header-2016-new-craglorn-03Lambert explained that One Tamriel was something that the developers wanted to do before the PC launch of the game, but because it was a “massive, risky change,” it didn’t happen immediately. “We decided to hold off until we had time to ensure it was done correctly,” Lambert explained. “When we shifted our business model to subscription-optional, we decided that would be the perfect time to test out some of the One Tamriel concepts.” Lambert and his team tested them in the Orsinium, Imperial City, Thieves Guild, and Dark Brotherhood DLC. “The responses to our DLC and, in particular, the level scaling concepts,” he continued, “were so positive that we decided we needed to make the entire game work that way.”

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Craglorn is new to me

Until this week, I hadn’t poked my head into Craglorn at all for years. I jumped in when it was considered brand-new content, but I have not been back since. At the time, I found the content far too dependent on Veteran Ranks, and the idea that I would have to do all the previous content in order to even think about doing this content annoyed me. In fact, it annoyed me so much that I quit the game for a bit. I had told myself that I would never do the Craglorn content. (That would really show those ZeniMax guys that I meant business, right?)

“One Tamriel gives solo players the freedom to experience the game in any order they wish, and it also allows higher level players to group with lower level people to mentor them. Getting friends into the game is going to be so much easier.”
What I’m really trying to say is that this week I was able to look at Craglorn with more or less brand-new eyes. I’d not seen the story or anything about it other than the how-to trial videos on YouTube.

If you’re familiar with the general mechanics of ESO storytelling, then you will be very familiar with the way that Craglorn works. The main story centers around the Celestials and The Serpent. The latter is attempting to possess the all-powerful beings for its nefarious purposes. After the first meeting with the Star-Gazers, players are sent on two different questlines that make up the main story. The zone also contains contains many side quests that are related to the main quest but are unique to the individual quest hubs scattered around the zone.

I’m not going to spoil the story, obviously, but Craglorn differs from other zones. Although the main questline can be soloed, all the side quests appear to be group-focused. Lambert told me (and I experienced this) that all the group areas and dungeons are clearly marked in the quest log and in the zone itself with a pop-ups in the center of the screen or on the door of the dungeon.

ti-header-2016-new-craglorn-01Intended skill level

“Experienced players can and will probably enjoy trying to solo all the content.” Lambert replied when I asked about the expected skill level for the zone. “Less-experienced players will be able to complete the solo path, and will probably need to bring a friend to complete the group content.” Count me firmly placed in the latter group. Even the solo content was adequately difficult for my level 50.

In fact, I found some of the solo areas difficult not because of the strength of the mobs but because of the number of NPCs in a given area. I found myself fighting sometimes six to seven mobs at once. I asked Lambert about this and how the developers had balanced the zone for solo and duos. “There are two major balance points in Craglorn now – one for the solo path and one for the remainder,” he explained. “For the solo path, we reduced the density of monsters in some places and adjusted monster health/power. For the group areas, our focus was mainly on monster health/power… density was left alone.”

I should make it perfectly clear that when I say something is difficult or that perhaps I cannot get through some area without help, I’m not really complaining. Far too many video games — especially MMOs — tend to tune toward the lowest common denominator. I know where my video game skills lie. I know I’m not even close to the top 5%. I’m lucky if I’m in the top 20%. So if something is difficult for me, I know there others who are more skilled and find this kind of content less a challenge. But at the same time, I love a challenge and welcome the opportunity to better myself as player. If a video game — especially an MMO — hands me everything, then what I gain from the game becomes less meaningful. And Craglorn is very meaningful to me, if you get my drift.

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Removing barriers

Is One Tamriel intended to encourage grouping in a sort of mentoring system with high-levels grouping with low levels, or was it meant for the solo-player because he or she can experience the story in the order that he or she likes? “In all honestly both.” Lambert said to me. “It gives solo players the freedom to experience the game in any order they wish, and it also allows higher level players to group with lower level people to mentor them. Getting friends into the game is going to be so much easier now that the level and alliance barriers have been removed.”

Overall, I’m on board with Craglorn and the vision behind One Tamriel. I have been extremely skeptical of many of the decisions that ZOS has made when it comes to ESO, but over this last year, it’s made some amazing strides toward becoming a great MMORPG, embracing its solo crowd, group-content players, and even roleplayers.

Of course, Lambert wanted to encourage everyone to help with testing out One Tamriel before it comes to the live servers. “Just jump onto PTS, head to Craglorn and start playing,” he said. “We’d love to hear about their experience exploring the zone – especially with combat balance, navigation and itemization. Just let us know if you are an experienced player or new!”

I’d like to thank Rich Lambert for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. And for everyone else, what are your thoughts? Are you encouraged by One Tamriel? Do you think you’ll give Elder Scrolls Online a go when One Tamriel goes live on October 5th (October 18th for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One)? Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online. Larry Everett will be your guide here in Tamriel Infinium every other week as you explore together the land created by ZeniMax and Bethesda. If you have any burning questions, send them his way via email or via Twitter.
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