Tamriel Infinium: Elder Scrolls Online’s Rich Lambert on Blackwood, companions, lore, and more

Here we are at Princess Tower.
Elder Scrolls Online PC fans are in for a treat today as the MMORPG is dropping its biggest content blast of the year in the form of the Blackwood chapter and update 30. The highlight, of course, is the new map and companion system, but there’s loads more to the updates. We had a chance to chat with ESO’s Rich Lambert ahead of today’s festivities; read on as we chat about the game’s longevity, Oblivion-influences, endeavors, and more!

MassivelyOP: Matt Firor has recently said that The Elder Scrolls Online will continue “until the players leave.” With the game reportedly still growing, what kind of challenges does that create for your team, knowing that there’s no end in sight? Will we ever visit new continents in Tamriel?

ZeniMax’s Rich Lambert: We get that question a lot. As players rightly point out, we’re slowly filling out the main continent of Tamriel – and that worries players as some think that once we do we’re done. While I’m not going to give hints on where we’re going next, I will say that one of the beautiful things about the lore of Elder Scrolls is that Oblivion (i.e. – not Nirn) is an infinite realm and can be molded / changed at the whim of the Deadric Princes. We have tons more ideas and stories to tell!

The new dynamic events (Oblivion portals) operate differently than the dark anchors of old. You have stated that they’re more random and exploratory. Why the change?

Part of keeping ESO feeling new and exciting is trying new things. Over the years we have tried a lot of stuff – if we didn’t do that, players would get bored and move on. With Oblivion portals, we wanted to make them feel different than what we have done in the past, while also giving a nod to the Oblivion gates in TES4.

Please listen.

Endeavors is a new system offering rewards for completing daily and weekly tasks. ESO has previously used daily dungeon bonuses and login rewards as ways to encourage daily play. Does the introduction of Endeavors mean that these systems weren’t accomplishing that goal? Why the new currency? Why not reward players with gems? [Editors note: Last week, ZeniMax announced Endeavors won’t make the Blackwood launch.]

The endeavors system was designed from the ground up to provide in-game sourced ways to earn cosmetics. We tied them into short, easy to participate in, daily activities so that players could see the breadth of the game activities and not just small parts. In terms of new currency vs. existing – we wanted this to be as fair a system as possible, so it made sense to have everyone start from the exact same point.

The console-enhanced editions of ESO were designed to bring the game to the next generation of consoles. They make use of these platforms’ improved graphics capabilities, but they also boast better performance. Is the goal to get to a consistent player experience across all platforms? Are there challenges specific to developing the game for consoles vs. PC vs. Google Stadia?

Platform parity has always been a goal for us – we want players to have a good, consistent experience playing ESO no matter what platform or input type (mouse/keyboard vs. gamepad) they choose.

The largest challenge we face when it comes to developing the game across multiple platforms is just managing the numerous build paths. Each platform has its own set of rules or certification requirements; each has its own social systems. Keeping on top of that and ensuring ESO always meets those requirements is not always easy.

Followers and companions have long been a staple in TES games. Did you look to any of the older titles for inspiration when developing the companion system for ESO? If so, what aspects were brought forward/discarded for the new system?

We did a lot of research for the companion system and that research spanned a wide breadth of games and not just Elder Scrolls games. We obviously looked very closely at what had been done previously – a lot of the foundational pillars for our system came from Elder Scrolls (interesting characters, deep story telling as examples). Where we differ, though, is more on the progression side of things. We wanted our companions to feel like an extension of ESO, where players had the freedom to choose how their companions participated in combat and the role they would take.

The new companion system seems to have a good balance of complexity and intuitiveness. Can you walk us through the thought process behind developing the skill rotation, gear, and companion progression?

From the onset of the system, one of the main goals was that companions had to be easy to understand – we didn’t want players to have to feel like they needed to be programmers in order to be able to get the most out of their companion. As such, we landed on the concept of cooldowns and priorities for companions. They give the players tons of freedom to create interesting, repeatable behaviors quickly and easily.

ESO has been carrying much of the load of Elder Scrolls lore creation the past several years. In the past, you’ve described your close working relationship with Bethesda to make sure all new lore fits into the overall world/story of Tamriel. Have they ever stopped you and said “wait, that doesn’t fit into our plans”? Has the coordination become more difficult with the release of other ES titles such as Legends, Blades, and the tabletop game that was recently teased on Twitter?

The BGS team has been a great resource for us and have also been extremely supportive. Have they ever said, “wait that doesn’t fit into our plans?” – No, but we have definitely had a number of conversations over the years along the lines of, “You don’t quite have this aspect right, here’s a bunch of reasons why.”

In terms of coordination, it’s not been overly difficult for us specifically, we’re pretty well established in the second era at this point. Most of the time we’re just double checking that the teams have interpreted things correctly.

What is your favorite part of Blackwood/Update 30?

Favorite part? Companions hands down. That whole system turned out so great and is going to provide players access to so much more content than they’ve had access to before. I’m really looking forward to seeing players reactions on the live servers!

We’d like to thank ZeniMax’s Rich Lambert for speaking with us!
Traverse the troubled land of Tamriel in the Elder Scrolls Online! Larry Everett and Ben Griggs will be your guides here in Tamriel Infinium on Wednesdays as we explore together the world created by ZeniMax and Bethesda in one of the biggest MMOs in the genre. Larry and Ben welcome questions and topic ideas!
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