Reacting to TESO: Morrowind

ESO Morrowind Pose

Note: the following article originally appeared on

The Elder Scrolls Online‘s slow march to its June 6th expansion release continues ever onward, with more and more information being drip fed to the hyped up masses as we get closer and closer to the day we return to Morrowind.

Our Editor in Chief here at MMOGames, Nick Shively, recently had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of ZeniMax Online Studios for a behind the scenes look at The Elder Scrolls Online‘s upcoming Morrowind expansion. For everything we learned during his trip to Maryland, be sure to check out his write-up of the event as well as our exclusive interview with Creative Director Rich Lambert and Lead PvP Designer Brian Wheeler.

Even for the well informed, we got a lot of good information to mull over as our hype train slowly rolls down the tracks towards the expansion’s June release. Read on for thoughts, reactions, and one big disappointment from what we learned at ZeniMax HQ.

Double down on the bear

During the media flurry surrounding Morrowind‘s announcement, one of the first details we heard about the Warden’s mechanics was that the bear companion seen fighting in the cinematic trailer would actually be one the Warden’s unique ultimate abilities. During a guest appearance on an episode of the Dungeon Crawler Network’s Tales of Tamriel podcast, I realized the implications the reveal would have on the way bear builds are going to have be designed.

For those unfamiliar with The Elder Scrolls Online, the game features a weapon swap mechanic that sees frequent use in combat. In the current game, any persistent summon or toggle skill must be included on both bars to remain active through the swap. With the news that the Warden’s bear will be a persistent ultimate, the logical question that follows is – will you have to use both ultimate slots on it? Not all of my co-hosts thought that would be the case, and we discussed a number of possible alternatives.

As it turns out though, the answer is yes – it will need to be on both bars.

So obviously, this bear is going have be amazing to be worth the opportunity cost in versatility from giving up the second ultimate slot. Unfortunately, with every summon currently in the game being fairly, well, trash tier, there’s not much in the way of a precedent leading us to believe this will be the case. Can ZeniMax make the bear worthwhile without a complete overhaul of the current summon system? That remains to be seen.

The Warden, master of the bow

Speaking of trash tier (I kid, I kid), the news that ZeniMax is trying to provide a viable avenue for dedicated bow DPS is particularly intriguing. Bow DPS is currently, well, lackluster, and the weapon serves primarily as a means for stamina DPS to quickly apply DoTs before swapping back to a melee weapon. That’s far from saying it’s useless in terms of The Elder Scrolls Online‘s competitive PvE meta, but it’s always been a little disappointing that no way has yet been devised of running a decent build that spends the majority of its time using the bow.

Bow does enjoy popularity outside of competitive PvE, of course. For casual, solo PvE you can really do whatever you want without running into too much of a brick wall. And the weapon will always have a special place in the arsenal of stealthy ganking PvP builds, due to its ability to sneak attack from afar – balancing its effectiveness in this arena is actually responsible for most of the challenge in making it also work in competitive PvE. But if you want to use a bow in PvE and also be the best you can possibly be, regardless of class, bow invariably winds up being banished to the back bar.

screenshot_20170101_072538So will the Warden be able to fix that? In our interview, The Elder Scrolls Online‘s Creative Director Rich Lambert noted that the Animal Companion skill line features several stamina based ranged abilities expected to synergize with the bow, which he hopes will finally make the weapon a viable choice for a primary DPS weapon.

I’m honestly pretty enthusiastic about this news, and it’s made me a lot more interested in playing the Warden than I was before reading our interview. We have no way of knowing whether or not they’ll be able to pull this off, but if they can, I’m sure the bow Warden will be accepted as a welcome addition to the game’s PvE meta.

New directions with the Warden

So what about the Warden’s normal toolkit? We got our first glance at the Warden’s pre-morph skills during the visit to ZeniMax HQ, and what we saw is definitely intriguing.

We now know that the non-ultimate abilities in the Animal Companion skill line are not persistent pet summons, but are actually animal themed attacks where the Warden can summon a creature (or creatures) to perform an attack on their target. For someone like me who was never remotely interested in playing a pet class, this is promising news. Mechanically, these abilities all seem fairly straightforward as part of the Warden’s DPS focused skill line, but I’m especially looking forward to seeing the visual effects that will accompany these new skills. One of the more amusing (and fan servicey) skills, Screaming Cliff Racer, will summon a Dreaded Cliff Racer to attack the Warden’s target. I doubt we’ll be able to summon dozens of them, but hey, it’s close enough.

The Green Balance skill tree is the Warden’s healing tree. This tree has two abilities that really stand out to me as exceptional. The first, Green Lotus, provides the Warden with a buff that grants group healing based on damage done to enemies. I think it goes without saying that this is going to be an extremely interesting skill for Stamina DPS builds, especially if the Warden goes all in to double up on it and the PvP area heal, Vigor. Stamina Wardens may have the potentially to put out an amount of group healing with a minimal sacrifice in damage output that would be without precedent in the game’s current meta, so this may be something to keep an eye on as you’re putting your Warden’s build together.

The second interesting Green Balance skill is Nature’s Grasp, which allows the player to pull themselves to an ally to provide them with a quick heal. This skill raises a few mechanical questions. For one, I don’t believe friendly targeting is currently a thing in the game engine, as all other single target support and healing skills have been smart targeted. Will Morrowind bring with it the ability to aim at and target allies with skills, or with Nature’s Grasp simply take you to whichever player is in the greatest need? I suppose that remains to be seen.

The third and final Warden skill line is Winter’s Embrace, which features ice themed tank focused abilities. Polar Wind, which provides a heal while damaging enemies, stood out to me as something that might be amusing to combo with Green Lotus from the Green Balance skill line.

Another Winter’s Embrace skill is Frozen Device, which places a rune on the ground to warp enemies who activate it back to the tank. I definitely need a bit more information to figure out how hilarious this skill is going to be. Will it work in PvP? Almost certainly. Is it ranged (this seems a likely candidate for a morph option)? I have no idea, but man oh man will things get ridiculous fast if both are true.

The ultimate in this line has a lot of potential as well. The skill, named Sleet Storm, provides an AoE protective shield that moves with the Warden and provides a mobile defensive buff to allies. In the past, these types of buffs have all been stationary on the game’s terrain, meaning this skill’s mobility could be seriously disruptive to the PvP scene if its effects turn out to be powerful enough to warrant it being picked up by coordinated groups.

All things considered, it looks like the Warden is bringing plenty of new mechanics to the game and doing so with its own unique and instantly recognizable theme. What more could you want, really?

Nothing new for existing classes

The biggest disappointment from the press event is the solid confirmation that no additions are being made to the existing classes, even in the form of a new weapon skill line that would have been shared between the classes. Significant additions and revisions to the playstyles of existing classes are typically a major feature in an MMO expansion’s offering, so the lack of any kind of update in Morrowind feels almost glaring.

A few weeks ago, a Redditor digging about in the client files found an icon referencing One Hand + Rune, which many presumed to be an indication that a melee magicka set was being added, as mechanical support for this playstyle has been a notable omission from the game’s toolkit since launch. It’s possible that this icon is just a late surfacing remnant from the One Hand + Rune weapon set that was known to be in development during the game’s alpha, but for those who want to cling to hope, it’s not impossible that this new weapon could be coming as a base game update during a future patch.

screenshot_20170202_140032Since the game’s launch, the team behind The Elder Scrolls Online has seemed reluctant to add new combat skills to the game by locking them behind any sort of paywall. Presumably, this is the reason that skill lines for the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood are comprised entirely of non-combat passives. Could it be that this apparent philosophy has been extended to expansion chapters as well? That’s a reasonable, if not overly optimistic theory to believe.

To me, it would be unconscionable for an MMO fast approaching its third anniversary to plan to continue indefinitely without significantly adding to the playstyles of existing classes – especially when that game only has four classes to begin with. Not everyone will switch to the Warden, and for those who choose to stick with the original classes, the available skills and rotations are growing more stale by the hour. Although the timing would have made sense, a significant addition to base classes doesn’t have to come with Morrowind – but it does have to come soon.

The Wrap-Up

I really like everything I’ve heard about what’s actually coming to The Elder Scrolls Online as a part of the game’s Morrowind expansion. The Warden itself appears poised to be a real addition to the ways in which the game can be played, which, when combined with its winning aesthetic, is sure to be a hit with the fans. I mean come on, you can sic cliff racers on people!

My biggest disappointment with Morrowind so far comes from what it appears the expansion will not be bringing to the game. I wrote on Tamriel Foundry about Morrowind‘s value proposition and what exactly brings value to an MMO’s expansion just a few short weeks ago, noting then that changes to existing classes were the one big thing we hadn’t heard anything on. The news that this will not be coming at all is extremely disappointing, but I remain hopeful that this is something ZeniMax Online Studios at least has planned for a post-expansion encore. The Elder Scrolls Online needs its vanilla classes to grow to avoid going stale, as the game marches on towards passing its third anniversary, the need for that growth becomes more and more exigent.

Still, Morrowind does seem to be bringing enough to the game to keep its fans sated. The new class is exciting, 4v4v4 battlegrounds will provide a spark of short term PvP excitement for players who don’t have the time to commit to the battle in Cyrodiil, and the return to Morrowind itself is driving fans of the story wild. The Elder Scrolls Online reached its peak with the addition of the gargantuan Orsinium DLC. If Morrowind captures that magic on a large scale, ZeniMax Online Studios is sure to have a lot of happy campers.

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