It’s easy for PvP to become something of an afterthought in ESO. The sprawling leveling zones, variety of quests on offer and the sheer unbridled joy of romping around Tamriel with your friends can absorb entire days by itself. So far, the game has done everything you might usually expect from an MMO but on a ridiculously huge scale – think of it like ESO is the equivalent of Lord of the Rings, and World of Warcraft is, I don’t know, fucking Willow or something.
First up, the PvP is magnificently woven into the game itself, having a real impact on the world around you and the state of the worldwide civil war. If a rival faction controls certain locations, you can’t fast travel using waypoint shrines – which has the double-edged effect of convincing unsure players into getting into the fight and really, really annoying the people who just aren’t interested. There’s a real sense of a war being waged all around you, rather than the distant and segregated battlegrounds of ESO’s rivals. Towns and cities rush to prepare themselves for oncoming skirmishes.
It takes place in Cyrodiil, which becomes the theatre of war between the three factions. As with everything else in the game, it’s bloody huge. Alongside defending fortresses or laying siege, you’re also capturing supply points – lumber, food, and ore – and all of it feeds into making your Alliance’s defenses stronger. Each keep has up to five levels of stock, and the higher the level is, the better the bonus – level one of wood might give your defenses a health boost, but a full storeroom grants them the ability to regenerate themselves.
When you’re on the offense you can alternate between using three rather realistic types of siege weaponry. Ballistae, catapults, and battering rams can be deployed all to different effects with different kinds of ammunition. Ballista bolts excel at smashing enemy players and siege engines with flaming and lightning imbued bolts, catapults deal catastrophic damage to clusters of troops with disease spreading meatbags, flaming oil, or scatter shots. The battering rams are a little more tricky, only deployable if there isn’t already a siege engine attacking the defense, with a damage bonus to walls and doors. It might not be as showy but when you consider how long the siege might go on for (Upwards of 20 minutes for the siege alone) that bonus seems rather appealing.
Alongside building siege weaponry you’ll also be using the same supplies to keep your walls in good repair – creating a PvP game with an insane amount of layers and complexities to it. Are you going to ready another catapult to hold back the troops at the gate or reinforce the wall being battered down by a gaggle of angry Nords?
You can also purchase forward camps as respawn areas for your alliance, which is deceptively important – consider the size of Cyrodiil and think about the inconvenience of having to travel back to the battlefront on horseback. It can take up to twenty minutes to get from one side of the map to the other and a lot of stuff can happen in that time.
Elder Scrolls are located in temples dotting the map and they all offer bonuses to your side when captured – think about it like a massive game of capture the flag. Grab the scroll, get it back to a temple you already control, and boom – every soldier in your army gets a bonus.
The other big feature is the “Emperor” title. If a faction controls all of the keeps around the Imperial City, the player with the highest amount of Alliance points becomes the Emperor and gets a whole new line of skills to use in defending their new title. In all my time playing, no-one has come close – it’s difficult, and without seeing it in action, it’s hard to estimate if the payoff is worth it. In time it will become obvious if the difficulty is proportionate to the reward. It’s good at least to see such a huge title be a real trial to achieve. It wouldn’t mean very much if the title was passed around more than Tara Reid in the nineties.
There is enough content in ESO’s massive PvP zone to keep even the biggest fanatics occupied for a long, long time – it could almost be a standalone experience. Obviously it’s going to take a few more months to figure out whether it’s going to stand the test of time or not but the foundations are here for a truly fantastic battleground – and that’s a statement that goes for the entirety of the game. If the content updates continue to augment an already expansive experience, we could be looking at some of the best multiplayer in modern gaming.