The Elder Scrolls Online PvP Experience

Ever since The Elder Scrolls Online was announced, one of the most mysterious components of the game was its PvP suite. Bethesda and Zenimax Online Studios revealed plenty of single-player screenshots, and we've even had the chance to play up through level 20 in the PvE. But it wasn't until last weekend that anyone was able to go hands-on with the player vs player material, and I was lucky enough to be a part of that group. 

PvP is locked off to players below level 10, so you'll have to have a certain amount of experience in combat to join in. Luckily, my early weekend with the game's PvE transferred over to last weekend's online skirmishes, so I was able to bring the same dual-wielding Khajit build I discussed last week over to the PvP side of things. 

The map of Cyrodiil in ESO

My findings in the competitive multiplayer were promising for a large, sweeping campaign of chaos and violence, but only if the player is heavily involved and dedicated to playing PvP regularly. The depth of the experience, and the patience required to truly get into it and master it, demands multiple hours of practice before you can start to reap the rewards of killing your fellow players.

PvP takes place in Cyrodiil, a region that should be familiar to Elder Scrolls fans. This large, triangular region plays host to a conflict between the game's three clans, The Aldmeri Dominion, The Ebonheart Pact, and The Daggerfall Covenant. The area is one of the largest - if not the largest - areas I had seen in the game thus far, despite my visits to the PvE game's large overworlds. As is typical of many PvP games, the region is large enough to warrant multiple waypoints, which you can travel between at will. While you typically travel to other regions by boat, mount or foot, Cyrodiil is reached by simply opening a menu. This will teleport you to your Alliance's camp, where you can outfit yourself for the battles ahead.

Cyrodiil has had a bad run of it since you last visited in Oblivion. Buildings have been reduced to rubble, and the fiend Molag Bal has spread his influence across the once pristine lands. Even so, his minions are few and far between compared to the pacing of the PvE, which sees you running up against some sort of enemy quite frequently. It's much more common in PvP to find a long stretch of running as you travel between your current location and your waypoint, and unlike in the PvE, you won't always be distracted by a couple of other occurences as you make your way towards your objective. It's a world that feels less full by comparison, and it perhaps intended to be filled by more players. It's hard to say how that will all shake out when there are more people playing the game, but for now there were times when the world could feel a little empty. It helps to have a mount to speed the travel.

Once you reach a conflict, PvP boils down to the standard capturing and holding objectives you're probably used to from this genre. Fortresses and bases will be up for contention, and the three Alliances will all be competing with one another to capture and hold them with the ultimate objective being to help your Alliance take the Imperial Throne. 

Operating a Siege Machine in ESO

There are four ways to speed your Alliance towards the Throne, but not all are created equal. The simplest way to contribute is through a Scouting mission, but these dull objectives simply require you to run really far, press the 'E' key, and then turn around and run back. There's almost never anything more complex than that involved, making Scouting for your Alliance a real chore. These missions are also the most common towards the beginning of the PvP experience, so as I said above, you'll need some patience.

If you're put off by the PvP, there are some scattered PvE events dotted around Cyrodiil, but they're far less involved than the PvE campaign's quests and typically just see you fighting a bunch of level 50 enemies who respawn as soon as you finish killing them all and turning in the quest. It's probably not worth your time, as you don't gain any sort of PvE progression out of it.

The other three PvP mission types all revolve around combat. You can capture a base, capture a fort, or complete a bounty mission, but all three of these generally seem to require a party, especially the capturing mission types. If you aren't travelling with a sizable group of friends, your odds of making any sort of significant contribution to the capturing of a base or fort are minimal. It was especially difficult to get a big group going in this limited beta release, but if you've got a posse of friends waiting on the game's release, and if you all plan on joining the same Alliance, you could potentially have fun taking territory for your cause, so long as you are dedicated to building up that skill set. 

Another PvP element that felt a bit lacking due to the small beta size was the construction of Siege Machines. Building these massive attack machines could lend a fantastic sense of scale to the battles, as it almost requires multiple players to work together to build and operate. With hundreds more players on the servers, the PvP should take on a new life and become a lot more enthralling - though more than likely, a lot more challenging, too. As is, it was hard to determing the effectiveness of many combat strategies, when there simply weren't that many combatants out there. The potential for an epic, prolonged siege is definitely there, though.

Sieging a base in ESO

While the battles seem as though they could be legendary, the between-mission stuff is not so likely to go down in the history books. You're cnostantly forced to trek back to your Alliance's home base to repair, purchase and upgrade equipment; there is nowhere else to do so in the massive land of Cyrodiil. You'll also reappear in your Alliance's base camp when you die, a frequent occurence for players just learning the ropes. This forces you to travel across large chunks of the huge map multiple times, another barrier to entry for new players and a likely annoyance even for experienced players. This is still a beta and Bethesda can still add locations to Cyrodiil to upgrade or respawn, which I certainly hope they do, because these long treks were my least favorite part of the experience. Owning forts can at least provide you with a spawn/warp location, and as a member of the Aldmeri Dominion, who dominated most of the weekend, this lightened my load. But I can't imagine it was much fun for other players to be constantly wandering the massive, empty landscapes in search of conflict.

In all, my impressions of The Elder Scrolls Online's PvP were mixed. My experience was definitely a factor of the low number of players online last weekend, an I can absolutely see working together with a large team to construct Siege Machines and forward camps being satisfying once the final game is out. On the other hand, my first hours in PvP were dulled thanks to large amounts of uneventful horseback riding and a series of dreadfully boring scouting missions that opened the campaign. If Bethesda can make capturing the forts and bases the primary event, and leave scouting and the scattered PvE content in Cyrodiil as filler, PvP players should have a great time online. But either way, this was not the eye-opening experience of the PvE that I had two weeks ago, as the PvP hews much closer to MMO covention. 

Expect more PvP coverage soon, and check back in April for a full review of The Elder Scrolls Online.

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