Friday, April 4, 2014

War Never Changes ... Well, Unless You Capture That Keep

I hit level 10 yesterday in Elder Scrolls Online, meaning I was now eligible to queue up for their PVP zone, Cyrodiil.  The zone lies in the heart of the map, equally accessible by all three factions.  Naturally, this means there's lots of war.  But, there's also lots of running.  And waiting.  And wandering.  Luckily, the zone boosts your level so you can compete against the higher level players (albeit at a disadvantage).  And there's also PVE stuff to do there too!  And since it's an entire zone, not just a match or a battleground, you can spend as much time there as you like ... killing, farming, checking out quests ... there's no "MATCH ENDS" waiting for you in 15 minutes.

The Cyrodiil area (known as the Alliance War) is actually pretty amazing.  If any of you played WoW back in the Lich King days, it will vaguely remind you of Wintergrasp ...  but 50 times larger.  There are keeps all over the map that you can capture, as well as resource areas and even Elder Scrolls temples.  Own enough Elder Scrolls and you get special bonuses for combat (no clue what they actually do yet) and you can steal enemy Scrolls just to piss them off (and get more stuff).  The resource areas (farms, lumbermills, mines) provide bonuses to the keep they surround, making it harder to siege.  More keeps you take, the more land you control, the closer you get to the center of the map.  If you take the six keeps around the Ruby Throne (the center of the map and the ostensible objective) then hooray!  Your alliance has won the Ruby Throne an conquered Tamriel and the player with the highest number of Alliance Points becomes Emperor ... for a time.  Until the other two factions get rightly pissed off and smash you to a thousand bits.  The player who becomes Emperor gets a special, permanent skill line on his character and, while Emperor, becomes a juggernaut on the field.  Think Sauron waving that big-ass mace; that's what it's supposedly like (haven't seen it yet, but folks in Cyrodiil seemed to think that was an apt description).

In the Alliance War, not only can you storm keeps but you can also build siege engines like trebuchets, catapults, and ballistae to take out walls and massacre troops (and they feel tremendous).  You can also set fire to opposing siege weapons, which is inordinately fun.  Siege weapons are bought with Alliance Points, the PVP currency you earn during the war.  I believe you can also substitute regular gold for the PVP points as well, though I don't have conversions on that.  I didn't buy any siege weapons, but I did commandeer a couple that had been left behind.  Judging from the number of weapons I saw in my battles, I'd have to say they must be fairly inexpensive.  You can also use your points to buy Forward Bases (basically spawn points) and repair kits (which heal your siege weapons or repair walls).

The feeling of unrelenting combat is pervasive in the Alliance War.  Besieging castles and wiping out the enemy force is a wonderful, visceral rush.  Knocking down walls and watching your comrades pour through the gap to kill everything with a red lifebar is amazing.  Being stuck behind a wall you know is about to fall, with a horde of viscous Dominion troops on the other side ... that's actually genuinely terrifying.  You're looking around at the meager defense force you have, praying wholeheartedly that the reinforcements get to you in time.  And when that wall falls and those enemy troops crest like a tide of angry, well-armed ants over the fallen battlements ... well, there's very little out there in the MMO-sphere that can match the absolute feeling of dread you get.

It's not all peaches and handjobs though.  The PVP zone features a lot of running.  A lot.  Sure, there are transitus shrines in every keep that allow you to dart around the map to any keep your alliance currently holds (hence, the capture of keeps becomes vital to reinforcement and advance), but running from keep to keep to start the siege process is actually a fairly lengthy affair.  Running into an opposing force moving to siege one of your keeps can be a remarkable experience.  Two armies clashing on the open field ... it's a sight to behold.  Unfortunately if your army loses that particular battle, you'll respawn at the closest keep.  Which was generally the one you were just running from ... which can be frustrating.

Rumor has it that the Zenimax team took the entirety of the map of Cyrodiil from Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and plopped it down in ESO.  From the size of the zone, I absolutely believe it.  The scale of Cyrodiil is astounding.  It's so big that it beggars belief.  I can't honestly show you ... it has to be experienced.  And to be so big and have virtually no lag?  Unheard of.  Oh yes, the Alliance War runs butter smooth.  I was in an invading force of about 75 players; we besieged the castle, stormed the walls, slaughtered the 25 or so defenders, mounted, and roared off to another castle.  With no lag.  There wasn't even a stutter, even when the western walls crumbled and we swarmed the hapless Pact defenders, burying them under a tide of iron and hatred.

But, if PVP isn't your thing then there's actually still stuff to do.  There are quest hubs dotted around the map with adventures waiting.  There are resource nodes so you can farm.  There are NPCs ... like the crypt I stumbled across while racing to reinforce our latest attack ... it was full of skeletons and I spent some time there waylaying the undead.  Heck, you could get a Nightblade to 10 and spend the entire time in the zone just sneaking around and ogling the scenery (and providing .

In short, Cyrodiil is everything I've ever wanted in a PVP experience.  Massive zone, full-scale battles, exploration, and a real sense of the ebb and flow of war in Tamriel.  I couldn't be more impressed.