Your elders and betters.
In last week's preview for The Elder Scrolls Online, I elaborated on the single-player elements of the upcoming MMO based on the Elder Scrolls series, but touched only briefly on the multiplayer PvE and PvP elements mainly because much of it was unavailable at the time. However, Bethesda reopened the PvP world of Cyrodiil in an exclusive media beta over the weekend, and I've spent numerous hours exploring the continent, grouping with strangers in PvE dungeons, and then grouping once more to face off against other factions for the glory of the Aldmeri Dominion.
As I've said before, I tend to play the lone wolf when it comes to MMOs and I suspect that most Elder Scrolls fans will shy away from the multiplayer content, at least at the start, to get their collective feet wet. The Elder Scrolls Online expects this as well, limiting all of the multiplayer options to an alliance's second starting area, where you'll likely be around Level 8-10. From there, I was able to traverse the land independently until around Level 14, when quests would frequently have grunt groups of three enemies or would end with a boss fight that's against two bosses at once. It's still possible to get through them with good spacing, dodging, and ability usage between magic and stamina, but it's far easier to group with others.
Group dungeons, though, as the name implies, requires more than one person to complete and hopefully more than four. Having a group comprised of a specific player-created guild is even better, since you can share and store equipment from the guild bank. Group dungeons can be found simply by running around the continent or by starting the questline for The Undaunted, which begins a separate skill line as well for extra abilities. Most encounters in a group dungeon consist of hordes of around six to ten enemies with a mix of warriors, archers, and mages so it's important to be paired with other well-rounded characters. As the tank-healer templar of the group, my Armor-King needed to aggro the main baddies and stay alive long enough for the archers and mages to pick off the other enemies. Against a boss or mini-boss, dying is the worst-case scenario, as you're not allowed to revive until the rest of the group has died as well.
The final dungeon boss, an evil apparition of an elven high king, was particularly challenging with his ability to cast AoE lightning shocks and blasts that knocked me down and interrupted my attacks. On top of that, he would then summon a ball of energy from a podium, and if it reached him, he would heal and then perform a coup de grace on a player. Killing him took our group about nine attempts, but once I was able to dodge the lightning spells and pull the high king as far away from the podium so that the other players could exterminate the balls of energy before they reached him, we finally completed the quest, gaining us an extra skill point and a strong piece of armor.
PvP is a different beast altogether, involving the three various Alliances that every player is assigned at the character creation screen (the DLC Imperial race can choose any alliance): the Aldmeri Dominion, the Daggerfall Covenant, and the Ebonheart Pact. While the continent of Cyrodiil has quests of its own in between all of the forts, the PvP certainly takes precedence in part because soloing will just get you killed. Of course, the point of PvP is to conquer the other two Alliances by taking over their forts, various Elder Scrolls, and resources like the lumber mill, farms, and mines.
Winning anything other than a fort usually means gaining a temporary boost as well as disturbing the fast-travel network of shrines between forts, which can be pivotal since any players who meet their deaths are forced to respawn elsewhere and trek about two minutes away just to continue the fight. Conquering a fort is easier said than done, and requires many characters to fire siege weapons of varying elemental damage to destroy a keep's wall.
As a Khajiit, my character was automatically slotted into the Aldmeri Dominion faction, which was incredibly lucky since it seemed as though everyone else had the same allegiance. By the end of the beta PvP campaign, we had taken over much of the map, with each fort owned affording a bonus to not only the PvP, but also the PvE areas for that particular Alliance. Winning battles begets a random loot drop in the mail and earns experience in the PvP skill lines and extra skill points. The player that contributes the most to the campaign and fights for the Alliance controlling the Ruby Throne will be given incredible powers and buffs.
This presents a problem, though, especially when one faction seems to hold most of the power. The winning faction (whether that's one alliance or two) become more powerful over time, making it difficult for the other teams to make a comeback. Also, I gather that many players will make three characters, one for each faction, to experience all the content that the game has to offer. So why not switch to the character for the winning faction for PvP? And also traverse the PvE areas while having the special bonuses?
There also might be the issue of time, where players from specific time zones will have an advantage when they're all online at once, but might find their alliance weak once they return the next day. It's a problem that all persistent PvP worlds have, so hopefully ZeniMax Online Studios will find a way to balance this in the final release, in addition to the occasional bouts of input lag that disrupt combat.
The Elder Scrolls Online release on PC on April 4, 2014 and on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in June 2014.