If you’re looking at the headline here and thinking oh no not class fantasy, then be aware: ZeniMax knows it’s a loaded term and is trying to disambiguate it in the Elder Scrolls Online blog post about the “vision for combat” we’re about to discuss right now.ZeniMax explains today. “We break down that experience into two primary components: power fantasy and play patterns.” Power fantasy, as the studio breaks it down, is the “fictional justification” of a character’s power and expression.
“Necromancers draw their strength from death magic as they manipulate souls, flesh, and bone. Templars call upon the power of light and the burning sun. Every class should have a clearly defined source of power, and class abilities should reinforce that fantasy through their descriptions, animations, visual effects, and audio. When you see a player using class abilities, you should have little doubt which class they are playing, and it should look awesome!”
Of course, one of ESO’s central tenets is “play the way you want,” so the studio is also keen to make sure that the “power fantasy” doesn’t get in the way of people building out their weirdo toons exactly the way they want to, which is where play patterns come into play: “While all healers might have an objective of ‘prevent ally health from reaching zero,’ you can achieve this through several effect behaviors: direct heals, heal over time, damage shields, and damage reduction, to name a few.”
If you’re wondering how the company is countenancing these two conflicting goals, well, you’re not alone.
“Now you may be asking yourself how non-class skill lines fit into this theoretical world of strong class identities. After all, if class abilities are the embodiment of power fantasy and class kits include all the basic tools required to fulfill a role, why would you bother with using abilities outside those kits? The team is still exploring this problem space, but our current thinking is that non-class lines should fulfill two primary purposes. First, they should allow you to ‘fill gaps’ in your build when your class kit doesn’t provide the exact behaviors you need or are comfortable with. Second, they should open up the possibility space of your character’s build, both in terms of power fantasy and play patterns, by mixing and matching from the large pool of available abilities. What we don’t want is to create scenarios where, to be effective, you feel obligated to fill a majority of your hotbar slots with non-class abilities. Forfeiting your class identity should be an option, but not a requirement to engage in PvE or PvP content. We acknowledge this is not the current reality for many classes and builds, and it’s one of the major areas for improvement we intend to tackle.”
All of this means ZeniMax is taking a hard look at classes that don’t fit into this design map, especially the “outlier” classes that are “lacking unique play patterns.”
It’s worth a look as it’s easily the most unusual blog posts I’ve ever seen come out of the ZeniMax team – we don’t often get this kind of deep-dive into the studio’s brain.