Bethesda’s MMORPG Elder Scrolls Online is coming off of its most successful year yet having reached 10 million players. Now with more players than ever, the game’s next expansion Summerset will bring even more Elder Scrolls lore and gameplay to the MMO’s largest audience yet.
We got to speak to the Elder Scrolls Online‘s game director Matt Firor about the upcoming expansion’s new features as well as their recent milestone with the game.
Michael: How does the next expansion of Elder Scrolls Online, Summerset, affect new players, as well as those who have put hours in?
Matt Firor: ESO is not really level based. So, you can play Summerset as a brand new player who has never played the game before, as an experienced player with a new character or just bring your old character over. The game auto balances everyone’s level. You can really just log in now and go anywhere in the world; nothing is level limited.
This makes it possible to do stuff like Summerset where it’s just as appealing to new players as it is to old players. That’s why we have a tutorial but if you’re a player who has played ESO for a long time, you can just go to Summerset through the normal wayshrine and just start the story and play.
M: That is actually pretty awesome.
MF: It’s pretty cool. If you ask four ESO players what kind of game it is, they’ll give you four different answers. A lot of people jumped in and played Morrowind — which came out last June — and didn’t play the rest of the game. Now, they’ll jump in and play another 30 hours of Summerset and get a little enclosed Elder Scrolls story and they might not play again until next year. That’s fine. There is nothing wrong with that.
Then we have people who log in every day. Because we’re not level based, we support a really wide range of players from totally casual to super hardcore.
M: For people who do want to go in every day, how do you get those players to keep coming back?
MF: Well, we update the game every 12 weeks with new content. Every year — this is our schedule and we’ve held to it — we have two dungeon DLCs, a regular DLC, and a chapter; that’s a ton of new content. Obviously, you can’t make content faster than people can play it but we do a pretty good job of that.
We have a lot of deeper systems like crafting and pick-up dungeon systems so you can go grind for cool loot; we have dozens of dungeons now. We have what’s called Trials which is twelve-person, super hardcore endgame content; it’s not limited by level, you can jump in any time you want but it’s for players who have really good gear mostly and really good teamwork skills. So, there’s a lot of stuff in there.
M: Focusing more on Summerset, what are some of the new features coming to the upcoming expansion?
MF: The coolest part of Summerset is that you get to go to Summerset Isle which is the home of the Altmer or the High Elves. It’s the first time in the Elder Scrolls series since 1994 with Elder Scrolls: Arena. For people who love Elder Scrolls lore, that’s a huge moment. If you’re not so familiar with the Elder Scrolls lore, it’s cool high fantasy; it looks and feels like a cool high fantasy area, which is great.
We’re also allowing the player to join this organization called the Psijic Order which is an Elder Scrolls NPC group; it’s the first time in any Elder Scrolls game you’ve been able to do that. When you join the order, they’ll give you a new skill line so you can augment your combat skills with Psijic magic.
M: What do those Psijic skill lines do exactly?
MF: The Psijic Order is really cool. They are the inventors of magic, essentially. They live on this island that doesn’t exist in space and time; it just disappears and reappears at random moments in history.
Their skill line is time-bending. We have a cool skill right now that is called “Undo” — but we’ll probably change the name — where it rewinds your character four seconds into the past. You’ll see yourself moving backward really quickly and your mana, health, and stamina will fill back to where they were four seconds ago. So, there’s stuff like that and it’s really fun.
M: That sounds really cool!
MF: Yeah, it’s really cool when you jump off a cliff and rewind back on top of the cliff. You have to time it just right though.
M: What is the endgame if there is no level requirement to do certain activities?
MF: What we tried to do with the one Tamriel update — which was two years ago and when we introduced this level agnostic stuff — is turn the whole game into the endgame. Now, you just log in and you can choose to do dungeons, Trials, PvP, or go to the new chapter in Summerset; you get to choose where you’re going.
There is a level cap but it’s soft. There are a couple of different leveling systems that you can do to make yourself better and then crafting layers on top of that.
M: Are there new PvP options coming to Summerset?
MF: No, but we do have the main open-world Cyrodiil that has been there since we started the game so long ago. Last year, in Morrowind, we added Battlegrounds which are 4v4v4 — limited to four players per side — with four or five game types.
What we are doing with the Summerset launch is that anyone can now play Battlegrounds where previously, only people that bought Morrowind could get them. Now, anyone who owns the game can get in and play.
M: Since Elder Scrolls Online launched four years ago, how has user growth been since then? Are you seeing the player count moving up?
MF: Yeah, last year was our best year. We want this year to be even better. We are still adding players; there are tons of them every month. The game is still growing. This is why we are bringing out so much content and so many cool things. We have a huge community that plays the game and we want to make sure they have a lot of cool stuff to check out.
M: Something I personally love about MMOs — the reason why I play them, really — is how the developers keep them going. For example, something like World of Warcraft has been around for 14 years and still manages to be fresh and you seem to be doing the same for Elder Scrolls Online. What’s the process of trying to bring fresh ideas to a game that has been around for awhile?
MF: You can write a whole book about that. But every game finds its audience. World of Warcraft has hit on their audience; just look at any of their new releases and you’ll see exactly who that audience is and they do that extraordinarily well.
Our game is a lot broader than that because we support casual console players — although there are super hardcore console players too — but more casual RPG gamers that would have just played Skyrim or Oblivion. We have hardcore PvP guys. We have whole guilds that do nothing but role play; you’ll walk into an inn in the world and someone will be singing through her microphone. It’s really really cool.
What we’ve had to do is come up with an update cadence that gives something to every one of those groups on a regular basis. Every so often, there is a PvP update like with Battlegrounds last year. There is always new content because everyone loves exploring in Elder Scrolls.
We did a crafting update in Summerset where you can craft jewelry on your character as well as your armor and weapons; it lets you put magic bonuses on jewelry — like rings and stuff like that — which gives you the chance to augment your character even more.
We’re always finding little things to give to different types of players because so many different types of players play the game.
M: How long of a run do you see Elder Scrolls Online having?
MF: Games of this type take on a life of their own. Really, the answer to that question is the community; as long as there are people that log in and play, have fun, and give us feedback, we’ll keep pumping out content. So, the answer is that it’s up to the players, not up to us; so far, they’ve been very loudly stating that they want more stuff.
Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset will launch on PC and Mac on May 21 with the PS4 and Xbox One versions releasing on June 5. You can preorder it now on Amazon.
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